Je Ne Regrette Rien: The Fall Of Sir Anthony Eden
by David Semple
August 27, 2018
Sir Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary December 1935-February 1938, Dominions Secretary September 1939-May 1940, War Secretary May-December 1940, Foreign Secretary December 1940-July 1945, Leader of the House of Commons November 1942-July 1945, Foreign Secretary October 1951-April 1955, Deputy Prime Minister October 1951-April 1955, Prime Minister April 1955-January 1957
WINSTON CHURCHILL’S INDIAN SUMMER
Sir Anthony Eden was the first British prime minister to confront the stark limitations of British power after the end of the Second World War, during the new postwar era of Pax Americana which accompanied the twilight years of the British Empire. He was also the last British prime minister to act independently of the United States on the world stage. During the early years of the Eisenhower presidency and the last years of the second administration of Winston Churchill, British and American interests in the Middle East conflicted.
Eden, as foreign secretary, tried to build an alliance designed to protect British interests in the Middle East and southwest Asia, and to keep the Soviet Union out of the region. President Eisenhower, however, was determined to end what he saw as “British colonialism” in the Muslim world for fear that this would drive Arab nationalists into the Soviet orbit.
Eisenhower was too obsessed with the geopolitics of the Cold War to see the dangers posed to the West by Islamic imperialism and third world dictators. Eden understood that, in the age of the nuclear deterrent, the Soviet Union was less threatening to the international order than dictators like Egypt’s Nasser, who, like the mullahs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was willing to challenge the West with his Muslim imperialist agenda.
Anthony Eden was the rising young star of British politics during the 1930s. Like his contemporary and successor as prime minister, Harold Macmillan, he served as an officer in the First World War and entered politics as a Conservative Member of Parliament after the fall of the Lloyd George government. Eden entered the cabinet as Lord Privy Seal and Minister for the League of Nations in 1934. A year later he became Foreign Secretary at the age of thirty eight, an office he held three times over the next twenty years. After his resignation from Neville Chamberlain’s government in February 1938, he joined the Conservative backbenchers who dissented to Chamberlain’s foreign policy of appeasing Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
Churchill and Eden did not become close allies until Eden joined the wartime coalition in May 1940. Although Eden opposed the Munich agreement in October 1938, he was by no means an active opponent of Chamberlain’s appeasement policy. Whereas Churchill was in the political wilderness, where he was the lone voice opposing the rise of Nazi Germany for most of the 1930s, Eden was an insider whose differences with Chamberlain were more in policy detail rather than in outright opposition to appeasement. After returning to the Foreign Office in December 1940, Eden took a secondary role to Churchill in the conduct of British relations with America and the Soviet Union. Eden was an Arabist, while Churchill was a Zionist. Eden was a Continentalist in favor of appeasing Stalin and Charles de Gaulle, while Churchill was an Atlanticist in favor of appeasing Roosevelt.
Eden’s diplomatic strategy was built on strong European alliances to preserve the balance of power on the continent, whereas Churchill’s wartime strategy was tied to the bedrock of the Anglo-American alliance. In the end, Russia provided the blood to defeat Nazi Germany, whereas America provided the money and arms that brought victory to the Allies in 1945. During wartime, Churchill showed more foresight than Eden. Churchill had gambled everything on dragging America out of isolation to beat Hitler. His Anglo-American alliance survives to this day, whereas Russia remains the enemy of the free world.
At the end of the war, Europe was left in ruins. The American eagle and the Soviet bear overshadowed the exhausted British lion. Britain still possessed the second largest economy in the world, but the postwar election brought to power the Labour administration of Clement Attlee, a government dedicated to building a socialist welfare state at home instead of building on the potential of economic investment in the British Empire. Attlee scuttled India and Palestine very quickly after the war, leaving a disastrous legacy of Islamic terrorism in India and the Middle East which continues to cast a dark shadow over the world of 21st Century. The British Empire became the British Commonwealth.
The American-dominated NATO Alliance, with Britain and the nations of Western Europe as junior partners, found itself facing down the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact in a Cold War between Anglo-Saxon freedom and Russian communism which lasted for over forty years.
America towered above all other nations as a world superpower, stronger than any other country, including the Soviet Union. However, America was a republic, not an empire. The American new world order was built upon the principles of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points of 1918, except this time America would become an active member of the international community. Since the end of World War Two, the United States has acted as the policeman of the free world. European colonialism was no longer accepted. Churchill signed on to the American vision of this new post-colonial order with the Atlantic Charter of August 1941, based upon the principles of self-government, abandonment of the use of force and free trade.
Britain continued to be a great power after the war, if not the equal of the United States. After the initial postwar independence of India, Burma, Pakistan, Ceylon, Jordan and Israel during Attlee years, the Churchill government that was elected in October 1951 continued to play the role of the dominant power in the Middle East. Britain still possessed a massive empire in Africa and the Pacific. Despite the formation of the Council of Europe and Churchill’s speech about the formation of a “United States of Europe”, neither Churchill nor Eden had any intention of joining any continental federation such as the Schuman Plan. Eden favored a united Europe but not British membership of a federation. The Americans wanted Britain to take the lead in forming a united Europe but Churchill and his foreign secretary had other ideas. Anthony Eden did not want Britain to play the role of a second rate power; rather, the first priority of the new government was the unity and consolidation of the Commonwealth, the second the Anglo-American alliance, and the third “a United Europe, to which we are a separate closely-and specially-related ally and friend” in the words of Winston Churchill.
Anxious to revive the Anglo-American unity of the war years, Churchill and Eden headed to Washington early in 1952 to a distinctly cool reception by Harry Truman and Dean Acheson. The Americans were more interested in the Cold War while the British had major problems in the Middle East. A socialist government had nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company the year before. Eden wanted to take military action against the Iranian regime of Mohammed Mossadegh, whom he called a “little more than a rug merchant who ought to be brushed aside as he deserved,” whereas the Americans accused the British of behaving like rug merchants themselves and called for Eden to come to terms with Iran. The Americans saw reds under the bed in Iran and feared a communist takeover should Mossadegh be toppled from power, whereas Eden disagreed.
Truman and Acheson were more sympathetic to nationalism in the Third World than the future of the British Empire.
Egypt posed another problem for Britain. The Suez Canal, built by the French and part-owned by Britain, had been a neutral zone under British protection since 1888. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 gave the United Kingdom military control over the canal zone in return for withdrawing her troops from Egypt. The new Wafd government of Egypt repudiated the treaty the same month Churchill returned to Downing Street.
Churchill wanted to take a strong line against Egypt, whereas Eden wanted to re-negotiate the treaty. The Americans, however, refused to become involved in the negotiations unless requested to do so by Egypt. Instead, the CIA overthrew King Farouk and replaced him with a military leader, General Nequib. Increasingly, the Americans worried about Britain’s ability to play the role of great power in the Middle East and feared that British weakness would allow the rise of Soviet power in the region. America began to contemplate the prospect of reducing British influence in Iran and Egypt as they had done previously in Greece, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The following year, the new Republican administration of Dwight Eisenhower overthrew the Mossadegh regime in Iran and allowed the Shah, Mohammed Pahlavi, to rule as an absolute monarch with support from the United States.
In May 1953, the Eisenhower administration decided to pursue a strategy of allaying Arab fears of British imperialism, to replace the British in the Middle East in order to keep the Soviets out, and to do the latter by pressuring Churchill to modify his policies towards the Arab states without directly stepping on British toes.
Anthony Eden had different ideas. Whereas the Americans wanted a united Arab alliance under the leadership of Egypt, Eden wanted to form a wider British-dominated regional alliance directed against the Soviet Union, eventually called called the Baghdad Pact, which included Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran. Israel wanted to join this arrangement but was rejected due to the lack of a comprehensive peace agreement with the Arabs. Britain wanted Jordan to join but King Abdullah refused in the face of domestic opposition and external pressures from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United States.
America eventually joined as an observer and negotiated treaty arrangements with each nation individually. Syria refused to join. Egypt was the most important state in the Middle East and also the most awkward for both the United States and Britain. After an attempted assassination of deputy Egyptian prime minister Gamal Abdel Nasser by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1954, General Nequib was put under house arrest and Nasser eventually emerged as the new president. Nasser preferred a policy of neutrality, and did not want to join any Anglo-American defence arrangements. Neutrality soon evolved into pan-Arabism.
The Egyptian leader wanted to lead the “Arab nation.” King Farouk, two decades earlier, held similar ambitions to be the leader of the Arab world. Nasser saw the Baghdad Pact as a British imperialist alliance designed to undermine the Arab League and to make the Arabs subservient to both the West and imagined “Zionist” influences.
A Tripartite Declaration between Britain, France and the United States was signed in 1950 to legitimize the sale of arms to the countries of the Middle East. It was designed to maintain a fair balance of arms between Israel and the Arab states. The Arabs and the Israelis were not consulted by the great powers, however, so Arabs were sold arms by the British but the Americans refused to sell arms to Israel. Relations between Israel and the Arab states were hostile. Following the war of independence and their successful defeat of the Arab invasion forces in 1948, Israel concluded armistice treaties with Iraq and Jordan. The armistice with Egypt was seen by the Israelis as having ended the state of belligerency, whereas Egypt did not nullify the state of war. A phoney war developed between Egypt and Israel, with Egypt refusing to recognize Israel, and actively stopping ships bound for the Jewish State in the Suez Canal, in addition to closing it off to all Israeli ships.
There were also tensions along the border between Jordan and Israel. Britain was bound by treaty to defend the Hashemite kingdom in the event of a state of war. The Arab nations remained hostile to Israel. They never accepted the presence of a Jewish State on what they deemed to be Muslim lands. This state of permanent hostilities was made quite clear by the Egyptians: “The Palestine war has not ended! The Egyptian blood which has warmed the land of Palestine is a marker, and we must march in the direction to which it points so that we may gain the victory to which our holy saints desired.” War against Israel was thus part of a jihad against all non-Muslims, following the literal instructions of Mohammed in the Koran. It wasn’t just a question of Arab nationalism or self-determination, it was the inability of the Arabs to abandon the concept of jihad, or holy war. As long as Muslims were unable to allow other religious faiths equality in the Middle East, the Arab world was unable to have normal relations with Israel.
Having concluded that peace with Israel would be impossible, Nasser began to prepare for the prospect of resuming the war of 1948. Egypt supported Palestinian fedayeen raids from the Egyptian-held Gaza strip, raids which went deep inside Israel’s borders. Some of the raids reached Tel Aviv. The Israelis retaliated by attacking Gaza. Nasser then put further restrictions on Israeli ships in the Suez Canal and restricted Israeli airspace over the Gulf of Aqaba.
By this time, Egypt and Britain had negotiated and signed a full treaty which allowed for a twenty month period of evacuation of all British troops from the Suez Canal base. Britain retained the right to return to Suez, in the event of a war, for a further seven years. The Suez Canal company would remain under British-French ownership until it reverted to Egyptian ownership in 1968. Britain’s joint headquarters for the Middle East was moved from Suez to Cyprus. Israel felt vulnerable under this arrangement as there would no longer be a Tripartite Army close enough to stop any Egyptian attacks on Israel.
On September 27 1955, an announcement by Nasser came over Egyptian radio: “We have accomplished one of the revolution’s great aims, namely, the creation of a strong national army.” Egypt concluded an arms deal with the Soviet Union which would change the balance of power in the region and threaten Israel in particular.
Abba Eban, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, recommended “that Israel opt for a plan to overthrow Nasser.” Britain was unable to offer any support. “Israel must be made to understand that the West cannot afford to estrange the Moslems,” was the advice to Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan from his permanent secretary, “Otherwise the Arab states will fall entirely and come under Russian domination and it will be impossible for the West effectively to protect Israel.”
By the time Winston Churchill retired as Prime Minister, Anglo-American relations were still fraught with differences. After the death of Stalin, Churchill wanted to make peace moves towards the Soviet Union but Eisenhower remained sceptical. Eden argued that little had changed in Russia since the Stalin era. Churchill remained devoted to the Anglo-American alliance until the end, yet he feared that the Americans might lose patience with the Soviets and resort to a showdown against what Eisenhower referred to as the “evil and savage individuals in the Kremlin.” Eden was very critical of America’s failure to sign the Geneva Conference accords which brought the French war in Indo-China to an end.
Churchill refused to compromise with Egypt on Suez, whereas Eden preferred negotiations with Nasser. The Americans favored appeasing the Egyptians and put pressure on Churchill to negotiate a deal on the Suez Canal base.
Eisenhower was determined to mediate a peace deal between the Arab states and Israel. He thought that if he could end the Arab-Israeli conflict, this would bring the Arab countries on the side of the West in the Cold War. Britain supported the peace initiative to gain American support for an expansion of the Baghdad Pact. America, however, remained suspicious of this alliance as it sustained British influence in the Middle East, which Eisenhower saw as ultimately driving the Arabs towards the Russians.
To Eden, the Baghdad Pact was necessary to sustain British interests in the region as compensation for withdrawal from Suez. To the Americans, British plans risked the destruction of Western interests.
The Arab-Israeli peace initiative ultimately failed when Nasser rejected it, as he preferred to wait until things had calmed down in the Arab world. David Ben-Gurion, who returned to the office of Israeli Prime Minister, knew all along that peace was unacceptable to the Arabs.
As Anthony Eden entered Downing Street in April 1955, the world was still a dangerous place, made more dangerous by the very real possibility of a nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. Some progress for the Western alliance had been made with the recent formation of the Pacific region SEATO defence treaty, the conclusion of the Austrian peace treaty and further peace deals on the Cold War fronts of Korea and Indo-China. But that ideological Cold War which had started at the end of the Second World War between the former allies in the war against Nazi Germany was more tense than ever in both Europe and Asia. With the emergence of Soviet and American rivalry in the Arab world the Middle East was now explosive.
Eden visited Nasser in Cairo two months before becoming prime minister, where Nasser proceeded to rail against the Baghdad Pact. At a reception for Nasser at the former British Embassy, Eden spoke perfect classical Arabic, charming Nasser with Arab proverbs and lectures on Islamic history. In that grand setting of the British Embassy, which the Egyptian leader had never before visited, Nasser saw the difference between the two worlds: “What elegance! It was made to look as if we were beggars and they were princes!” Although Nasser felt that he might be able to do business with Eden, the two men took an instant dislike to each other. In particular, Eden refused to accept Nasser as the spokesman for the entire Arab world.
Churchill possessed a better understanding of the realities of world power than Eden, including the limitations of post war British power and the importance for Britain of the American alliance. Eden resented American efforts to interfere with British initiatives. John Foster Dulles, the American Secretary of State, wanted the United Kingdom to be a regional power and felt that Eden was a throwback to the age of colonialism. Eden now found himself prime minister of a nation much reduced in stature and influence across the globe since the end of the war, its former world hegemony having been supplanted by the United States.
Anthony Eden’s policy was to resist imperial decline. He disliked Dulles, a Wilsonian internationalist who distrusted the colonial powers. Eden still wanted Britain to be a global power but knew she could only continue to play this role as long as the British treasury could afford the costs. What now undermined the ability of Great Britain to act as a world power was the legacy of Clement Attlee. Britain had since 1945 become an expensive welfare state with nationalized industries and expensive bureaucratic overheads. It was going to be very hard for a welfare state to be a warfare state.
Eden entered Number 10 Downing Street almost fourteen years after first being notified by Churchill that he was to be heir apparent on November 11th 1941: “Dined with Winston, Brendan only other present. W talked of future and suddenly said that if anything happened to him I should have to take over.” In his memoirs, Eden referred to this as the beginning of his long era as crown prince. On his retirement, Churchill spoke to his private secretary about the prospects for his successor: “I don’t believe Anthony can do it.” Churchill had kept Eden waiting to the bitter end, often promising to retire and then putting it off for one reason or another. In fact, he wanted to die in office, like his former boss Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. But he couldn’t continue to put retirement off forever.
In his final days in the Foreign Office, Churchill asked Eden how he had got on with Harold Macmillan at a meeting in Paris. “Very well, why?’ Churchill replied “Oh, he is very ambitious.”
ANTHONY EDEN AND THE SUEZ CRISIS
Israel is surrounded by Muslim countries, all of which want the Jewish State to disappear. Modern laws in the West have their genesis in the laws of Moses. The Anglo-Saxon journey to freedom has its roots in the exodus of the Hebrew people from Ancient Egypt. Christianity is a Jewish religion and the Christian Bible includes the original Jewish Bible. Modern Israel owes its creation to the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The Churchill White Paper of 1922 set out the Zionist terms of the British Mandate of Palestine, which was approved by the League of Nations that year. Since the 1920s, both Mandate Palestine and the State of Israel have been on the front line in the Muslim jihad against the West.
The Arab terrorist campaigns against the Jews of Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s turned into a full scale military invasion of the State of Israel in 1948, which was followed by Israel’s defeat of the Arab states. However, the 1949 treaties of armistice concluded by Israel with the Arab nations did not bring peace to the Middle East. The Arab war against Israel was then and still is today a religious war inspired by the Koran. The Arab terrorist campaigns of the 1950s, which continued to be conducted by Syria, Jordan and Egypt against Israel, were campaigns of Islamic terrorism. In 1956, the Israeli war against terrorism would become an Anglo-French-Israeli war on terror. Israel was to find itself with military allies for the first time since the rebirth of the Jewish State.
Egypt under the leadership of Nasser embraced the pan-Arabist fantasies of the former King Farouk, which, since the 1930s, had undermined co-operation between the Zionist leadership and the Egyptians. Nasser insisted on the Palestinian “right of return”, knowing full well that overwhelming Israel with too many Arabs would destroy the Jewish State and bring it back into the Islamic umma. For the Muslim world, the continued existence of Israel represents the failure of modern Islam. The Arab goal, however, was not to create a Palestinian state. Jordan annexed Judea and Samaria from Israel after the 1949 armistice, and made no attempt whatsoever to create a Palestinian state. Jordan was created out of Eastern Palestine, so the West Bank was treated by the Hashemites as just another province of Jordan.
Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion came to the conclusion that the Arab states would only make peace with Israel when they finally realized that they could no longer destroy the Jewish State. Nasser made too many territorial demands on Israel which were designed to undermine Israeli security. Ben-Gurion insisted on face-to-face meetings with Nasser but the Egyptian leader refused to meet him. President Eisenhower launched an Arab-Israeli peace mission in January 1956, which ended in failure within two months.
The Israelis realized that Nasser was playing for time, waiting for the Soviet arms shipments to kick in, thus giving Egypt the advantage in the next war against Israel. Ben-Gurion rejected the idea that Israel should be sacrificed in order to achieve Arab alliances. Nasser used the “Palestine card” against joining the Baghdad Pact, accusing the British of using the pact to isolate Egypt.
British Prime Minister Anthony Eden blamed Nasser both for the March 1956 dismissal of British General John Glubb Pasha by King Hussein and Jordan’s refusal to join the Baghdad Pact. Eden was fast coming to the conclusion that the Middle East was not big enough for both himself and Nasser. He therefore decided that the Egyptian leader must be eliminated before Nasser did any more harm to British prestige in the region. He ordered British security services to assassinate the Egyptian dictator.
After the failure of the Robert Anderson peace mission for the Arab-Israeli conflict, Eisenhower launched Operation Omega, designed to delay any potential American investment in Nasser’s Aswan project until the final British withdrawal from the Suez Canal zone. America decided instead to divide the Saudis from the Egyptians. Both Britain and the United States were asked by Nasser to provide loans exceeding $400 million to finance Nasser’s ambitious project for the irrigation of the Nile River valley and the building of the Aswan Dam hydroelectric project. With the arms deal from the Soviet Union in place, there was an implicit threat from Nasser he would turn to the Soviet Union if the West refused to offer funds for Aswan.
The last British troops from Port Said were withdrawn on June 13 1956 under the terms of Eden’s 1954 Suez Canal Agreement with Egypt. Harold Macmillan was moved from the Foreign Office to the Treasury because Eden wished to control his own foreign policy. His successor, Selwyn Lloyd, was less threatening to the prime minister. Macmillan was already pessimistic about coming to terms with Nasser on Aswan and feared the consequences of the Suez Canal withdrawal: “If we lose out in the Middle East, we lose the oil. If we lose the oil, we cannot live.” Then on June 17 1956, the Soviet foreign minidter visited Egypt and made an offer to finance the Aswan Dam project. Dulles then withdrew the American offer to finance Aswan and Nasser responded by nationalizing the Suez Canal on July 26.
Britain still had military bases in Iraq, Cyprus, Aden and Malta, but Eden’s Suez Canal agreement with Egypt was seen by rebel Conservative MPs as a huge blow to Britain’s prestige in the Middle East. The right wing Suez Group in the House of Commons viewed the withdrawal from Suez as a scuttle similar to Palestine and India, repeating the British appeasement policy of the 1930s. Churchill critically told Eden during the 1954 negotiations with Egypt that he did not know that Munich was on the Nile.
Formally elected in June 1956 as president of Egypt in a Soviet-style election, Nasser was now dangerous to the West. Eden viewed Nasser as an agent for Soviet penetration into the Middle East. The Cold War was not cooling down during the post-Stalin era. Nasser’s ambitious political plan to form a league of Arab republics threatened to bring war between the West and the Muslim world, with Russia allied to Islam. Eisenhower had frustrated Britain’s strategic planning in the region for three years, undermining the Baghdad Pact, and feeding the ambitions of Nasser by forcing Britain to negotiate with Egypt over Suez.
Yet, Eisenhower’s anti-imperialist strategy towards Britain failed to bring positive American influence over the Middle East. America did not fill the gap in the balance of power created by the resulting reduction in British influence. Dulles and Eisenhower, like Truman and Acheson before them, were too obsessed with destroying the British Empire in their ideological war against colonialism. Thus, America undermined Britain, fed Nasser’s delusions of grandeur to become leader of the Islamic world, and opened the door for Soviet hegemony in the Middle East.
King Faisal of Iraq and his Prime Minister, Nuri es-Said, were dining with Eden at Number 10 Downing Street when news of the Suez nationalization reached London. The Iraqi prime minister told Eden to “Hit Nasser. Hit him now, and hit him hard.” Nuri es-Said went so far as to advise Eden that he should tell the Israelis to attack Egypt. Before leaving, Nuri es-Said and Eden walked past a bust of Benjamin Disraeli, whereupon the Iraqi observed: “That’s the old Jew who got you into all this trouble.” The Suez crisis was about to drive Eden, an Arabist, into an alliance with Israel, to help get him out of that trouble. Upon being informed about the Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal, Labour Party opposition leader Hugh Gaitskell observed: “It is all very familiar. It is exactly the same thing that we encountered from Mussolini and Hitler in those years before the war.” An emergency meeting later in the evening of senior cabinet ministers and military chiefs was decisive; Nasser must be “disgorged” and Britain must retake the canal.
Suez was set to become the bitterest political crisis in Britain since Munich in 1938. In the 1930s, those who opposed Munich were the anti-appeasers on the right, who wanted to fight Hitler. In the 1950s, those who opposed Britain’s defence of her national interests at Suez were the Marxist appeasers, who favoured Soviet influence over the world political stage to that of the British Empire. In the post-Attlee socialist era, the British people were learning to love foreign tyranny and oppose traditional Anglo-Saxon freedoms.
Anthony Eden found himself going against the grain of British political opinion both in the 1930s and the 1950s. Harold Macmillan and Winston Churchill were former Munich rebels who now embraced taking military action over Suez. “I think that Britain and France ought to act together with vigour,” Churchill wrote to his wife. Dining with Macmillan a few days later, Churchill advised his former colleague “that unless we brought in Israel it couldn’t be done. Surely if we landed, we must seek out the Egyptian forces, destroy them and bring down Nasser’s government.”
At the first cabinet meeting after Nasser’s aggression, an Egypt Committee was formed, including Eden, Macmillan, and former Munich rebel Lord Salisbury. American Ambassador Winthrop Aldrich attended this cabinet and reported back to Dulles that the British intended to use force against Nasser. Macmillan froze all assets of the Egyptian government and the Suez Canal Company in London. The Suez nationalization was seen by Britain and France as an Egyptian betrayal of the Suez Canal Treaty and a threat to the economic interests of the West.
France also wanted to keep Egypt’s Arab nationalist and military influences away from their large North African colonial possessions. Newly elected French socialist Prime Minister Guy Mollet wanted to end Nasser’s hegemony in the Arab world. Harold Macmillan told US diplomat Robert Murphy, in London to meet Eden, that “if Britain did not accept Egypt’s challenge” the country would become “another Netherlands.” Murphy asked that the use of military force be relegated to the background while diplomatic solutions were pursued. Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion noted in his diary: “The issue confronting Eden is how to get the US involved so that should action be taken, it will not be done with only the authority of France and England.”
Harold Macmillan, in a memorandum to Eden, suggested that Israel’s involvement “would be helpful if Egypt were faced with the possibility of war on two fronts’, believing that Israel would become involved in the conflict at some stage. Deeply shocked at the suggestion of Israeli involvement, Eden asked the foreign secretary to caution the Israelis against war. Israel had already received delivery of French arms purchases, including jet planes, late in 1955. After British and America pressure on the French Cabinet, France’s defense minister agreed to hold off providing further arms to Israel even though the supply contract had been signed. This temporary arms embargo imposed by the Anglo-Americans was short-lived and deliveries of French arms resumed in 1956.
France was facing a rebellion in Algeria which was being enflamed by Egyptian radio propaganda broadcasts and external assistance from other Arab states. The French government concluded during the spring of 1956 that it was in their interests to arm Israel: “France must fight Nasser, and Israel is the best weapon France has”, concluded the new French Defence Minister Maurice Bourges-Maunoury. France needed Israeli intelligence reports in the fight against Nasser, whom the French were convinced was provoking the Algerian revolt. Israel and France and Britain were facing the same enemy in an Egyptian revolt against the great powers across the whole of North Africa.
Advised by Murphy that Eden was likely to use force, John Foster Dulles was sent by Eisenhower to London to obtain British acceptance to an international conference in London, set for August 16, which would endorse the principles of international control over the canal. Britain and France agreed to an American proposal that a public body be formed to operate the canal, representing all the nations which were signatories to the 1888 Suez Canal Convention.
Eden still favoured a diplomatic solution with American support which would make military action unnecessary, but he was willing to use force in the last resort. Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies was sent to Cairo on September 4 1956 to tell Nasser that London and Paris were serious about using force unless he accepted the eighteen nation proposal made at the conference in London for international control of the canal. Nasser rejected the plan. Eden then announced that he wanted a diplomatic solution by September 10 or he would take military action. Dulles came back with another plan, the formation of the Suez Canal Users Association (SCUA), in order to stall Britain and France from taking their case to the United Nations.
SCUA was a provisional arrangement to operate the Suez Canal and share the revenues with Egypt. In fact it was a ruse, designed to put off a resolution to the conflict until after the American presidential election in November. Eisenhower was uncertain about his prospects for re-election and did not want a war in the Middle East to ruin his election campaign, in which he promoted himself as a “peace” candidate. Dulles called for a further ten day delay for the eighteen powers to join SCUA, while Eden called for a Security Council meeting for September 26.
Dulles then asked Eden not to use military force until after the presidential election, telling him that he and Eisenhower were determined to bring down Nasser. Eden came to believe that there was no hope of achieving an Anglo-American understanding on Suez after remarks by the American secretary of state at a press conference in early October. He came to the conclusion that Nasser was “now effectively in Russian hands, just as Mussolini was in Hitler’s.”
Israeli intelligence was following the movement of Algerian rebel leaders, arms supply routes and the training of rebels in other Arab countries. This information was invaluable to the French, therefore the “French invasion of Israel” for the supply of airplanes and other arms to defend the Jewish State from Egypt was now in full flow.
A secret conference in June at a half-deserted military base in Vermars led to the formation of a French-Israeli military alliance to overthrow Nasser even before the Suez nationalization. Moshe Dayan attended the negotiations, re-assuring the French, who wanted to stop Nasser above all else: “The Arab empire Nasser is dreaming about will not rise unless Israel surrenders. So long as Israel exists he cannot realize his desire.”
The Vermars arms deal changed Israel’s military capacity immediately and finally provided Israel with the arms to meet the military threat from Egypt, with its Soviet arms deal concluded by Nasser in 1955. Ben-Gurion approved of the plan and was ready to embrace further co-operation with the French as equal partners.
On September 18, Shimon Peres, from the Israeli Defence Ministry, went to Paris to discuss further arms purchases with Bourges-Maunory, and Israel agreed in principle to join a French military attack against Egypt. An Israeli delegation with Foreign Minister Golda Meir visited Paris a week later. Concerns by Israel about the reliability of the British were raised. Meir agreed that Israel would join French military operations against Egypt even if the British backed out.
On October 14, Anthony Eden met the French Foreign Minister at the request of Guy Mollet, together with Deputy Chief of Staff Maurice Challe at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat. Eden’s junior Foreign Office Minister, Anthony Nutting, was present at this meeting, during which Challe outlined the Franco-Israeli plan to retake the Suez Canal. Israel would attack Egypt across the Sinai Desert. The French and British would give Israel enough time to take control of most of the desert. Then the French and British would order both the Egyptians and the Israelis to withdraw from the Canal Zone. Anglo-French forces would then intervene and occupy the Canal Zone to protect it from damage resulting from the fighting.
Two days later, Eden and Selwyn Lloyd met with Mollet and his Foreign Minister in Paris. The British agreed with the French that they had been deceived by Dulles over the SCUA plan. As far as Eden was concerned, the 1950 Tripartite Declaration no longer applied to Egypt. He supported military intervention to protect the canal. The French feared that America would side with Egypt and “allow the annihilation of Israel.” Eden agreed with this analysis and confirmed to Mollet that Britain would intervene if the Canal Zone was threatened.
The Challe Scenario was then presented to Israel. Eden warned the Israeli government in writing that Britain would intervene on the side of Jordan should Israel attack the Hashemite kingdom. Ben-Gurion did not trust Eden and rejected the British declaration. Dayan and Peres struggled to convince Ben-Gurion not to miss this golden opportunity to get rid of Nasser. So the Israeli prime minister finally agreed to meet with British officials.
Anthony Eden hinted to his cabinet colleagues that there might soon be an Israeli attack on Egypt before the meeting at Sevres, near Paris, at which Selwyn Lloyd discussed the concept of a comprehensive Middle East agreement with French representatives in the presence of Dayan and Ben-Gurion. Moshe Dayan presented the Challe Plan. Lloyd was not enthusiastic, preferring a small scale operation instead of a real war. The next day, after further discussions between the French and the Israelis, French Foreign Minister Pineau flew to London to meet Eden.
The British prime minister finally gave his approval for the plan. Everyone involved agreed not to discuss the plan with the Americans. On October 24. Pineau returned to Paris to meet the Israelis. Ben-Gurion was very doubtful about the plan but he also finally agreed to approve it. The written treaty, called the Protocol of Sevres, was prepared, with all parties agreeing to keep it secret for the full lifetime of the participants.
The next day, Eden presented the important terms of Sevres to his cabinet colleagues, saying that Israel was going to attack Egypt to end the threat of Nasser’s expansionist pan-Arab policies. After almost a decade without any military allies, Israel finally had two unexpected allies in France and Britain. America was not proving to be a reliable ally for the Jewish State. Indeed, it would take another decade before the United States improved its relations with Israel under the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.
France was facing Muslim uprisings in North Africa and Egypt. Great Britain was about to begin its first war against the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq in 1941. Nasser represented the greatest threat to the nations of the West from the Muslim world since the fall of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.
Meanwhile, in America, a Republican president was trying to win re-election, completely unable and unwilling to act decisively against Nasser.
Anthony Eden, years later in retirement, recalled a conversation he had during the 1940s with Conservative MP Enoch Powell, the future prophet of Britain’s crisis of multiculturalism: “Ah, Enoch, dear Enoch! He once said something to me I never understood. He said, ‘You know, I’ve told you all I know about housing, and you can make your speech accordingly. Can I talk to you about something that you know all about and I know nothing? I want to tell you that in the Middle East our greatest enemies are the Americans.’ You know, I had no idea what he meant…I do now.”
HAROLD MACMILLAN AND THE COLLAPSE OF BRITISH POWER
Appeasement of the United States was at the centre of Churchill’s foreign policy from the day he entered Downing Street in 1940, looking to the Anglo-American special relationship through which to exercise British power following the defeat of Germany. America, on the other hand, wanted Great Britain to become a regional power subservient to the world leadership of Washington DC. France and Britain tried to cling to their empires, whereas the Americans desired to create a world without colonialism.
Anthony Eden wanted to continue to conduct an independent foreign policy. He was not an imperialist like Churchill, but wished to put British interests above those of the United States when those interests were in conflict with American interests, much as Charles de Gaulle was later to do during the 1960s. Churchill agreed with the pursuit of British interests but not at the expense of the special relationship with America.
During the last years of the post-war Churchill government, Eden grew disillusioned with the special relationship, suspecting that the Americans wanted to be the sole world power. Churchill was willing to support this post-war new world order, for in his world view, the English-speaking peoples were stronger working together in the creation of a global order run on Anglo-Saxon principles. The half American Churchill was resigned to letting the United States create the post-colonial new world order, whereas Eden was much less close to the Americans. He knew that the limitations of British power after the fall of Hitler meant that the United Kingdom was now a regional power and could no longer play the role of a world power.
Eden also feared that Britain could not forever afford to depend on the favours of the United States. What would happen should the interests of politicians in Washington DC come into conflict with those of politicians in London?
One alternative that appealed to Eden was reviving the Entente Cordiale of April 1904 with France. In June 1940, the French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud asked the British for consent to make a separate peace with Nazi Germany. The response was a British proposal for a Franco-British Union, drafted by British diplomat Robert Vansittart, together with Jean Monnet of the French Economic Mission in London. This plan was supported by Charles de Gaulle and accepted by Paul Reynaud, resulting in the withdrawal by Churchill of the Cabinet’s previous consent to let the French surrender. Despite having the support of Reynaud, other French ministers opposed the idea, preferring that France become a Nazi province instead of a British Dominion. Reynaud then resigned and Petain formed a new government, which concluded an armistice with the Nazis.
At the height of the Suez Crisis, it was now the turn of Prime Minister Guy Mollet to propose a union of France and Great Britain, but this was rejected by Eden. “When the French Prime Minister, Monsieur Mollet, was recently in London”, according to a British document from September 1956, “he raised with the prime minister the possibility of a union between the United Kingdom and France.” Mollet then gave Eden an alternative plan for France to join the Commonwealth. Eden told his cabinet secretary, Sir Norman Brook, that he thought “we should give immediate consideration to France joining the Commonwealth” and that Mollet “had not thought there would be difficulty over France accepting the headship” of Queen Elizabeth and that the “French would welcome a common citizenship arrangement on the Irish basis.” The French counter-proposal was eventually rejected and France went on to sign the Treaty of Rome in 1957.
Anthony Eden was not a supporter of European federalism, so it is unlikely that he would have joined the new European Economic Community. But he was in favour of having a close alliance with France in the event that America became isolationist and turned its back on the world.
America and Britain developed different visions of the post-war world during the 1950s. Truman and Eisenhower looked upon Britain as just another ally, regarding Churchill’s special relationship as a conflict of interest with America’s policy of treating its NATO allies even-handedly, not favouring one ally over the others. Australia and Canada, who looked to Britain for Western leadership before the war, now looked to America.
Eden was frustrated with attempts by John Foster Dulles to put off any resolution to the Nasser problem until after the November presidential election.
Although he genuinely tried to resolve the Suez problem through the United Nations, he had come to realize that America was too complacent about the threat posed by Nasser to Britain and Europe. Nasser trashed the 1954 Suez Canal Treaty with Britain, acting aggressively to prematurely nationalize the canal. This impulsive and dangerous action by Nasser showed that the Egyptian president could not be trusted to keep his word and honour existing treaties. Now, Russia was being invited into the Middle East by an opportunist Arab leader who was unfriendly to the Western powers.
America tried to undermine the Baghdad Pact, which was Britain’s defensive alliance designed to prevent Soviet penetration into the region. In fact, America was too busy courting dictatorships in the Third World when Eisenhower should have been supporting the interests of his allies in NATO. This made both France and Great Britain feel abandoned.
At the same time, Israel pursued with great success the conclusion of an arms deal with France after being repeatedly rejected by America and Britain during the years following the 1948 Declaration of Independence. Now, in October 1956, France successfully brought Britain and Israel together as reluctant allies, after seventeen years of British hostility to Zionist interests which started with the premiership of Neville Chamberlain.
Nasser’s Arab nationalism posed a serious threat to the West. The combination of Arab nationalism and Soviet communism posed a danger to the oil supplies of Western Europe and Britain. America was putting domestic politics above the defence of the West. Eisenhower created divisions in the Anglo-American alliance, which in turn gave Israel two new allies in its defence against terrorism from the Muslim world.
Israel’s sovereignty was threatened by its Muslim neighbours, which refused to make peace and recognize the Jewish State. The nationalization of the Suez Canal by Nasser was a direct threat to Britain and France. Many in the Arab world looked to Nasser as a leader who could unite the Muslim world against Israel and the West.
On the other hand, Nasser was hostile to the Hashemite regimes in Iraq and Jordan. So Eisenhower’s appeasement of Nasser was misguided in the face of the reality of a divided Arab world. France faced revolution in North Africa and Britain faced the prospect of complete political humiliation in the Middle East from Nasser’s revolution. Egypt’s powerful radio broadcasts incited Arab revolution against France in Algeria.
Islam was not the driving force of the Nasser phenomenon, but Islamic conflict with Western culture was never very far below the surface.
Suez, however, was the opening act in the clash of civilizations that dominates our world in the 21st Century. Nasser’s reckless Suez gamble was every bit as significant as the attack on the twin towers on 9/11. Britain, France and Israel, like Bush’s America, were ready and willing to defend the West. President Eisenhower, like Barack Obama, chose to put off the inevitable confrontation.
Harold Macmillan was one of the original Suez hawks, even more determined to take action against Nasser than the traditionally diplomatic Anthony Eden. Both statesmen understood the danger posed to Britain’s diplomatic and economic power by Nasser’s dynamic Arab revolution in the Middle East. Harold Wilson later accurately described Macmillan as “first in and first out” at Suez.
Macmillan and Eden were not close with each other, although both were close with Churchill. During the 1930s, the young Macmillan had been an obscure backbencher, whereas Eden saw the heights of political glamour as foreign secretary. It would be fair to describe Macmillan as more philosophical and intellectual than Eden, the master diplomat who had negotiated the partition of Indo-China and agreed to Britain’s exit from the Suez Canal zone as relations between Britain and Egypt reached an all-time low during Churchill’s second government.
It was Eden’s diplomatic success in 1954 that alienated him from the Suez Group of Conservative backbenchers led, amongst others, by Macmillan’s son-in-law Julian Amery, with sympathetic support from Winston Churchill himself. Eden, the popular anti-appeaser of the 1930s was transformed into Eden, the appeaser of Nasser, in the eyes of the Suez Group. Macmillan, like Churchill, was half-American, and his political career belatedly saw some success during the war when Churchill appointed him Minister Resident in North Africa, where he developed a good working relationship with Eisenhower. As Eden’s foreign secretary, he was not a success, with Eden wanting to control his own foreign policy, so the malleable Selwyn Lloyd was brought into the cabinet to replace Macmillan, who became Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Harold Macmillan was, at this stage in his political career, unlikely to reach the top of the greasy pole, nor was he likely to return to the more glamorous horizons of the Foreign Office as long as Anthony Eden remained in Downing Street.
In September 1956, Macmillan visited President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles in Washington. In that meeting, the American president was not frank with his British colleague about unilateral action against Nasser. According to British Ambassador Roger Makins “Mr. Macmillan referred to the remarks made by Mr. Dulles in his TV interview of September 23 about the use of force which had been very helpful to us. The President was aware of them and also expressed approval.”
Macmillan was thus convinced that Britain could rely on American support in the event that the use of force was necessary and went on to advise Eden that Eisenhower would not object to military action over Suez: “Ike is really determined, somehow or other, to bring Nasser down. I explained to him our economic difficulties in playing the hand long, and he seemed to understand. I also made it clear to him that we must win, or the whole structure of our economy would collapse. He accepted this.”
However, it was also made clear to Macmillan by the Americans that no action should be taken before the US presidential election on November 6. Here, we see Macmillan’s first costly error during the Suez Crisis. His second mistake was even worse, overconfidence about Britain’s financial reserves once the military action started. In Washington, Macmillan made no attempt to take up a loan from the International Monetary Fund in the event of a sterling crisis that might be caused by an invasion of Egypt. Dulles and the US Treasury Secretary, George Humphrey, had been conciliatory about easing conditions for the post-war American loans.
In his memoirs, Macmillan admitted his assumptions were proved “tragically wrong” yet he returned to London convinced that Eisenhower would “lie doggo” should Britain and France use force at Suez.
Liberal leftists tend or tended to view the Sevres Protocol between Britain, France and Israel as underhanded or an act of devious “collusion”. The verdict of history has been to label Eden as a “war criminal.” However critically the appeasers of the 1950s looked upon the actions of the Anglo-French-Israelis attacking Suez, this arrangement between allies was by no means unusual in British history. No cabal of senior ministers deceived British government ministers. The Cabinet was fully aware of Sevres and the impending Israeli attack on Egypt.
On October 29, Israeli paratroopers were dropped deep inside the Sinai Desert, catching the Egyptians by surprise. Egypt then attacked the Israelis and a full scale war started. Britain advised Nasser that, under the 1954 treaty agreement with Egypt, Britain had the right to intervene in Suez should the Canal Zone come under the threat of war.
On October 30, the British and French governments gave both the Israelis and the Egyptians ultimatums to withdraw ten miles from the Canal Zone. The Israelis agreed but Nasser refused. The next day, Anglo-French planes began bombing Egyptian airfields. Eisenhower knew full well that this was collusion between Britain, France and Israel: “Bombs, by God, what does Anthony think he is doing? Why is he doing this to me?” During a long phone call between Washington and London, Eisenhower flew into a rage, reducing Eden to tears.
The Eisenhower Administration spent three years undermining Eden’s strategic policies in the Middle East, which were designed to defend the region from Soviet infiltration and instability resulting from Arabist anti-Western nationalism. This endangered French and British interests in North Africa and oil supplies to Europe. Dulles, Humphrey and Eisenhower were angry with both Macmillan and Eden. Dulles was then hospitalized and replaced by the Anglophobic Herbert Hoover, son of the famous American president.
On November 1, Nasser ordered the Suez Canal to be blocked, sinking ships in the process. Suddenly, Britain’s oil lifeline was under threat. Egypt asked Syrian intelligence to blow up the pumping stations in Syria and thus Iraqi oil was cut off to Europe. On November 2, the United Nations adopted an American resolution for a ceasefire. Egypt agreed to the ceasefire while the United States cut military and economic aid to Israel.
On the same day, Canada’s foreign minister, Lester Pearson proposed the idea of using a UN emergency force for the Suez Canal Zone, in order to make Britain’s task easier. On November 3, Great Britain accepted the UN Emergency Force but refused to commit to a withdrawal date. The United Nations then rejected an Anglo-French request for their military forces to be included in UNEF. The next day, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary to put down a revolution against communism.
Left-wing anti-war demonstrations filled Trafalgar Square on the evening of November 4. According to historian Barry Turner, “the public reaction to press comment highlighted the divisions within the country. But there was no doubt that Eden still commanded strong support from a sizable minority, maybe even a majority, of voters who thought that it was about time that the upset Arabs should be taught a lesson. The Observer and Guardian lost readers; so too did the News Chronicle, a liberal newspaper that was soon to fold as a result of falling circulation.”
In his book “Our Times” A N Wilson writes that “the bulk of the press, the Labour Party and that equally influential left-learning party, the London dinner party, were all against Suez together with the rent-a-mob of poets, dons, clergy and ankle-socked female graduates who deplored British action, they did not necessarily constitute the majority of unexpressed public opinion.” In fact, opinion polls conducted later that week showed that over 50% of the public supported the war.
That same evening, as demonstrators took to the streets of London, Eden discussed the UN resolutions with his cabinet colleagues, explaining that a letter from Dag Hammarskjold made it clear that “it now lay wholly within the capacity of the United Kingdom and French Governments to bring the hostilities in Egypt to an end.” Britain was asked to reply to the letter by midnight.
During an adjournment of the cabinet meeting, Eden told Macmillan and Rab Butler that he would resign should the cabinet vote against carrying on with the military operation. In the end, the Cabinet voted to continue the war. Butler, the appeaser of 1940, supported the action reluctantly. Only two ministers voted to postpone the invasion of Port Said.
In Port Said, paratroopers from Britain and France landed at dawn on November 5. The Russians, in the act of crushing the Hungarian revolution, sent letters to both allies threatening to attack Western Europe. A proposal from the Soviet Union for a joint US/Soviet police force military action was rejected by Eisenhower, who told the Soviets that any attack on Britain or France would be met with a full response from the NATO alliance. Anglo-French forces were successful in taking much of the Suez Canal Zone without suffering many casualties. Israel controlled the Sinai Desert and Gaza Strip. Nasser’s regime was on the verge of falling.
The next day, oil supplies from the Middle East were largely cut off. Eisenhower contacted Eden to ask for a few extra days in order to seek a peaceful solution. The American President told Eden that he was fully aware of “Harold’s financial problems,” referring to the the sudden decline of Britain’s dollar currency reserves that was threatening drive the country towards bankruptcy.
Eisenhower secretly declared economic warfare against Britain and went out of his way to initiate a run on the pound in order to whip his British ally into shape. Eisenhower threatened Eden directly: “if you don’t get out of Port Said tomorrow, I’ll cause a run on the pound and drive it to zero”. The Americans asked Saudi Arabia to stop providing oil to Britain and France. Thereafter, Britain could only buy oil from the United States and the Americans were refusing to sell oil to Britain and France.
Britain now faced the prospect of complete economic collapse. The situation was worse than that in 1940, when President Roosevelt extracted much of Britain’s economic wealth in return for the Lend-Lease deal. Britain in 1940 was still very rich and powerful, controlling the world’s largest empire, still a great power, in practice the policeman of the world. Britain in 1956 was economically and politically dependent on the United States, with half of its empire already gone, but no longer an independent great power.
America was the world’s first superpower, now in direct political conflict with Great Britain for the first time in the 20th Century. Sixty years of British appeasement of the United States was now about to end in humiliation for the government of Anthony Eden.
For four years Eisenhower had done his best to destroy what was left of the British Empire. He had gone out of his way to undermine Britain’s dominant role in the Middle East. Eisenhower had taken the side of Egypt during the Churchill government’s negotiations over Britain’s military withdrawal from the Suez Canal Zone. At the time, Eden accommodated the Americans, mainly because he realised Britain had no other choice but to pull out.
However, the foreign secretary clashed with the Eisenhower administration during the Korean War, making it clear that the Churchill government opposed the use of nuclear weapons in the conflict, an option which the president was seriously considering. During the confrontation with China over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu, Eisenhower again threatened China with nuclear war, whereas the British government recognized that these islands belonged to Communist China and not Free China in Formosa. This refusal of Eden to play ball with the United States in Eisenhower’s dangerous brinkmanship with communist countries embittered the American president against the former foreign secretary.
Anthony Eden had dared to act as the leader of an independent great power by attacking Egypt and trying to overthrow Nasser. Eisenhower was about to get his revenge against Eden for putting British national interests ahead of the political agenda of the American administration.
Harold Macmillan met Selwyn Lloyd before an early cabinet meeting to announce the run on the pound: “In view of the financial and economic pressures we must stop.” Fifteen percentage of British gold had already evaporated. The US Federal Reserve was selling British currency. Macmillan’s efforts to obtain financial assistance from the US Treasury presented the British government with a threat. He was told by George Humphrey that America would only bail out Britain if there was a ceasefire in Egypt by midnight of the same day. Washington was obstructing British efforts to obtain an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund.
In Cabinet, “Macmillan put the fear of God” to his colleagues about the nation’s finances. Eden wanted to continue the war. Only three ministers supported him.. The rest were either doubtful or they wanted to stop. After Lord Salisbury conceded that “we have played every card in our hand, and we have none left”, the Cabinet agreed on a ceasefire. The French were furious when they were informed of this decision.
Eisenhower won his election. Nasser was saved by the Americans. Anthony Eden was betrayed and humiliated. Britain’s forty years of hegemony in the Middle East was coming to an end at the will of the United States. Now the American president was going to remove Eden from office.
The next day, November 7, Eden called Eisenhower, who was now calm and referred to the Anglo-American rift as “a family spat.” Up until this point Eisenhower could have extended a gesture of support to his British and French allies in order to come to an arrangement whereupon Eden and Mollet might save some face in the confrontation with Nasser. Eden suggested to Eisenhower that they convene a three power meeting with the French. Eisenhower at first accepted. Then he changed his mind and called Eden back to cancel this arrangement with the excuse that he would first need to consult the new Congress. In fact he the anti-British Herbert Hoover Jr advised him not to meet the British and French leaders.
This was the last conversation the president had with Eden. He now made up his mind to support Nasser in order to appease the Arab world. From here on in, Eisenhower refused to communicate directly with either Eden or Selwyn Lloyd. He completely froze them out and proceeded to deal with London through conversations between his ambassador in London and three senior ministers, Harold Macmillan, Rab Butler and Lord Salisbury.
In the election, Eisenhower lost control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives to the Democrats. He was anxious to replace the Anglo-French forces in the Canal Zone with emergency force from the United Nations. The final allied withdrawal from Suez dragged on into December.
Eden’s health was on the verge of collapse. On November 21, Downing Street announced that he was “suffering from the effects of severe overstrain. On the advise of his doctors he has cancelled his immediate public engagements.” Clarissa Eden, in her memoir “From Churchill To Eden” writes, “The doctors at this point insisted Anthony should get away. Anne Fleming offered her husband Ian’s house in Jamaica for a few weeks’ rest, which we accepted. This was thought a mistake, but a spell in Berkshire or somewhere would not have been any good, as Anthony would simply have gone on working.” This is the crossroad where the fictional world of James Bond novels, which were inspired by Ian Fleming’s work in the world of espionage during the war, meets the drama of high politics. The Edens were to stay at Goldeneye, which was the holiday home where Fleming wrote all the James Bond novels. Eden’s wife, Clarissa, was a close friend of Anne Fleming, the author’s wife, who was having a secret love affair with Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell during the period of the Suez Crisis. Ian Fleming was thrilled at the publicity he would get from having the prime minister stay at Goldeneye.
On November 23, Eden and his young wife, who was the niece of his predecessor Winston Churchill, flew to Jamaica, accompanied by newspaper headlines like “Eden: Sunshine Trip. Off to Jamaica tomorrow: he stays in charge.” Nothing could be further from the truth. From this day onwards, Eden was not consulted in advance on Cabinet decisions. Rab Butler took charge of the Cabinet and Harold Macmillan took charge of the government. On December 7, The Spectator commented “Jamaica has done more damage than Suez to Sir Anthony’s standing in his party at Westminster”.
Macmillan met American Ambassador Winthrop Aldrich to discuss borrowing British-owned securities from the US Federal Reserve as the financial crisis worsened. Aldrich told the British Chancellor that members of Eisenhower’s government remained pro-British, but they could no longer work with Eden, with whom the President was still angry. Aldrich wrote to acting Secretary of State Hoover to ask for financial aid for Britain, subject to the condition that “the cabinet is completely to be reshuffled.” A prime minister more conductive to American wishes might succeed Eden.
According to Aldrich, Macmillan was “putting a proposition to us they will either have to withdraw from Egypt, and have their Cabinet fall, or else they will have to renew hostilities, taking over the entire Canal.” Macmillan was asking for “a fig leaf to cover our naked mess”, for which he would arrange for the troop withdrawal from Egypt and the replacement of Eden.
Eisenhower was worried about the fall of the British Government and met with Hoover and Humphrey to discuss how to keep the Conservatives in power. In the end, Eisenhower came out in favour of Macmillan over Butler as Eden’s successor because he had been impressed with Macmillan as the “outstanding one of the British he served with during the war.” Dulles and Humphrey visited London on December 12 and Macmillan described the meeting as being “like a business deal.” America would invest in Britain’s re-organization, “but, of course, when you’re re-constructing a business that was in difficulties, the personnel problems could not be ruled out.” To Macmillan’s question, “Don’t you change the board?” Humphrey replied, “Well, since you ask me, I think it would be as well if we could deal as much as possible with the directors.”
Anthony Eden returned from Jamaica two days later. As a result of actions taken by both Butler and Macmillan in his absence, and the importance of saving the Anglo-American alliance, Eden’s days in Number 10 Downing Street were numbered. By offering financial aid, together with a loan agreement, the Americans had made it clear that they expected Eden to be forced out of office because Eisenhower had lost confidence in him. On December 22, the Anglo-French military forces were withdrawn from the Suez Canal Zone.
On January 9 1957, Eden resigned and Harold Macmillan moved into Number 10 Downing Street. The Eisenhower Doctrine was announced, offering military and economic aid to countries in the Middle East in order to keep them out of the Soviet orbit. It wasn’t very successful.
THE FAILURE OF AMERICAN POLICY
Nasser, now under Soviet influence, continued to cast a dark shadow over the region during the 1960s. He was directly responsible for the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq and almost succeeded in destroying the regime of King Hussein in Jordan.
Eisenhower belatedly came to the conclusion that he had made a mistake in supporting Nasser against his British and French allies in November 1956. But it was now too late. Failure to support Eden, Mollet and Ben-Gurion against Nasser resulted in the rise of Soviet influence, with Egypt, Syria and Iraq becoming Soviet satellite states at the end of the 1950s.
Thanks to Eisenhower, British hegemony in the Middle East was replaced by Russian hegemony, not American hegemony. Nasser’s pursuit of domination in the region ended in failure. His was unable to remove the Hashemite regime in Jordan. His fought an unsuccessful war in Yemen, which was followed an even more unsuccessful war against Israel in 1967, the Six Day War. In the end, it was Israel, not Britain or the United States, which defeated Nasser.
Israel withdrew from Sinai in March 1957 under threat of American sanctions. For Ben-Gurion, the Suez-Sinai War was a major victory. Faced with Muslim hostility on all borders, the Jewish State was unable to retreat into false complacency about peace with its Arab neighbours.
The people of the State of Israel were resigned to facing a third war with the Arabs. However, Israel bought ten years of relative tranquillity thanks to the military defeat inflicted on the Egyptians in the Sinai. In France, the Jewish State now had a reliable ally for the first time. Ben-Gurion remained bitter with the British even after Suez.
In conversation with future Labour minister Richard Crossman during a visit to Israel by the Englishman after the British withdrawal from the Suez Canal Zone, David Ben-Gurion admitted to Crossman that Israel had once made an offer to join the British Commonwealth: “Well, the offer is withdrawn.”
For Great Britain, the withdrawal from Suez was a disaster, the biggest political disaster since the fall of Singapore to Japan in 1942. Singapore showed that the British Empire was fragile in front of the whole world, defeated by an upstart Asian power. Suez brought an end to Britain’s time as a world power, humiliated by two former colonies, Egypt and the United States. Britain was no longer an independent great power. Harold Macmillan’s seven years as prime minister brought about the dissolution of the British Empire and the collapse of British economic power. Macmillan taught the English to play the role of Greeks to America’s Romans.
Winston Churchill wrote a short public statement about Suez just two days before the Anglo-French landings at Port Said in November, arguing “that our American friends will come to realize that, not for the first time, we have acted independently for the common good.” Churchill was a supporter of the British military action against Nasser from the beginning and justified the Israeli invasion of Sinai, writing that “the frontiers of Israel have flickered with murder and armed raids”, accusing the Egyptians of putting Israel “under the gravest provocation” to attack Egypt, the country which had “been the principal instigator” of the Arab terrorist raids on the Jewish state.
The Sinai-Suez War of 1956 found Britain and France trying to uphold the international order in the face of Egypt’s discriminatory policies against Israel after Nasser’s illegal nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Eden saw Nasser as another Mussolini, who must be stopped, or else the Middle East would face the same problems with dictators as Europe had done during the 1930s. In the end, Eden was right. Egypt intended to attack and destroy Israel during the late 1950s. The Sinai-Suez made sure this did not happen.
The Israeli preemptive strike on Sinai and Egypt’s subsequent military defeat by the IDF put off the prospect of another Arab war against Israel for ten years.
Britain and France could have removed Nasser from power. But Eisenhower betrayed his allies and forced Eden to end Anglo-French military operations against Egypt. Nasser’s survival after Suez made Egypt’s genocidal-in-intent 1967 Six-Day War against Israel inevitable. Upholding the rights of the Egyptian dictator, Eisenhower threatened Britain with oil sanctions and brought about the demise of the democratically-elected government of Sir Anthony Eden.
Professor Vernon Bogdanor wrote about Suez in The Daily Telegraph in July 2016:
“Eden was the first British prime minister to recognise that the real threat to international order came less from the sclerotic Soviet Union, a weak and cautious power which was highly risk-averse, than from radical Third World dictators. Nasser was but the first of a series of brutal Arab leaders – the list includes Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and Bashar Assad – all of whom posed real threats to international order.”
He added: “We have not yet found a satisfactory way of dealing with these threats. Intervention at Suez in 1956 failed; so, arguably, did intervention in Iraq in 2003. The Syrian civil war, meanwhile, offers a graphic illustration of the costs of non-intervention. Suez is too often seen as a throwback to the imperial past. Sadly, it proved a pointer to the world in which we now live, and we are still living in its shadow.”
The failure of the British-French joint military action against Nasser sent France into the arms of Germany and resulted in the Treaty of Rome, designed to bring an end to the independent nation states of Europe and replace them with a federal European empire.
Harold Macmillan, Eden’s successor, ended up putting Britain on a path towards socialist corporatism inside the European Union. Sir Anthony Eden was the last prime minister to put British national interests ahead of those of the Americans and Europeans. Once Harold Macmillan entered Number 10 Downing Street, British independence slowly began to disintegrate, until it came to an end when the government of Edward Heath signed the Treaty of Rome during the 1970s.
Anthony Eden was the greatest diplomat of his generation, and yet he was vilified by the Americans and the left-wing establishment in Britain for taking military action against Egypt at Suez. He remained for the rest of his days convinced that “the joint enterprise [the alliance with France and Israel] and the preparations for it were justified in the light of the wrongs it was designed to prevent. I have no apologies to offer.” Interviewed ten years after resigning from public office, Eden stated: “I am still unrepentant about Suez. People never look at what would have happened if we had done nothing. There is a parallel with the 1930s. If you allow people to break agreements with impunity, the appetite grows to feed on such things.”
In 1956, during the year of Suez, French composer Charles Dumont wrote a song entitled, “Non, je ne regrette rien”, later made famous by Edith Piaf’s 1960 recording. This could be Anthony Eden’s epitaph. He died in 1977, the year Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan was forced to go begging to the International Monetary Fund for a humiliating financial rescue package. Those were very dark days for the British nation, no longer sovereign within the European Economic Community, but a wretched shipwreck of a state in chronic economic decline.
Winston Churchill died in January 1965. His funeral was the largest state funeral in world history up until that time, watched on television by hundreds of millions of people around the globe. On that day, January 30, it was as if the British people were burying not just the man who saved the Western world in 1940, but also the nation’s greatness.
“My chief memory is of the pall-bearers, in particular poor Anthony Eden, literally ashen gray, looking as old as Clement Attlee,” wrote Labour MP Richard Crossman. “It felt like the end of an epoch, possibly even the end of a nation.”
In June 1967, as Eden celebrated his seventieth birthday, Israel celebrated its victory over Nasser’s Egypt in the Six-Day War. “There was quite an extraordinary atmosphere of joy and celebration in the pretty Georgian house at Alvediston that Clarissa and Anthony have recently bought”, according to Cecil Beaton. “Despite his plastic duct and continuous fever, Anthony had reached seventy. It was his birthday and the events of last week were a wonderful present. They have meant that, in principle, Anthony’s much criticized policy on Suez, and his distrust of Nasser, were correct.”
David Lloyd George created the British Empire in the Middle East by defeating the last Islamic Caliphate during the First World War. He also issued the Balfour Declaration, which led to the creation of the British Mandate of Palestine, now the State of Israel. Without control of Egypt, Iraq and Palestine, Britain would have lost the Second World War. The Sinai-Suez War of 1956 proved that Britain could no longer play the role of the dominant power in the region without the support of the United States. The Americans learnt that, by betraying their allies, they would find themselves unable to protect their interests in the region.
The Soviet Union became the dominant power in the Arab world as a result of Eisenhower’s betrayal of his allies. After Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon chose to support Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the United States replaced Russia as the dominant power in the Middle East. What Nixon and Johnson realised, but Eisenhower failed to realise until it was too late, was that the key to stability in Middle East was to support the State of Israel.
Only by supporting Israel can the United States fight Islamic imperialism and promote the cause of stability and freedom in the Middle East. Sir Anthony Eden and Guy Mollet came to this conclusion in 1956.
Eden has become a scapegoat for the collapse of British power in the Middle East. David Carlton, in “Britain and the Suez Crisis”, argued that “Eden was faced with unprecedented pressures which make it impossible not to feel a measure of sympathy for him. How could he, the heir to Churchill, simply meekly tolerate the stunning blow to British prestige deliberately and brutally inflicted by Nasser? Yet how could he act decisively in the face of American hostility and of a divided cabinet?…In short, so far as taking action against Nasser was concerned, he was probably damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.”
After the resignation of Eden, Harold Macmillan favored a foreign policy which turned England into a junior partner of the United States. Macmillan no longer had any confidence in the future of Britain. He transformed the Conservative Party, the traditional party of empire, into the party of Europe. Anthony Eden did not support British membership of a European federation. And neither did the English people.
je ne regrette rien: the fall of sir anthony eden Copyright 2018 david robert semple