A: Henry Kissinger said the following about this
It takes perseverance to find a policy which combines the disadvantages of every course of action, or to construct a coalition that weakens every partner simultaneously. [X] managed just that feat. [Diplomacy, Simon & Schuster, 1994 (paperback), p. 541.]
Q: What is the
Wikipedia provides a brief summary of the crisis:
The United Kingdom objected strongly when the Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalized the Suez Canal Company on July 26, 1956. By this stage, two-thirds of Europe's oil was being imported via the canal. The
United Kingdomsought cooperation with the United Statesthroughout 1956 to deal with what it maintained was a threat of Israeli attack against , to little effect. Egypt
The alliance between the
United Kingdom, France, and Israelwas largely one of convenience; the European nations had economic and trading interests in the Suez Canal, while wanted to reopen the canal for Israeli shipping and end Egyptian-supported fedayeen incursions and hit-and-run raids. Israel
[Inexplicably omitted here is the part where
Israelinvaded in late October 1956 as a pretext for British and French forces to “intervene” to separate the warring parties, thereby regaining control of the Canal. - YB] Egypt
When the Soviet Union threatened to intervene on behalf of Egypt, Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester B. Pearson feared a larger war and proposed a plan to separate the opposing forces by placing United Nations forces between them to act as a buffer zone or 'human shield'.
Eventually, pressure from the
United Statesforced the United Kingdom, France, and to withdraw. The crisis resulted in the resignation of the British Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden. This marked the completion of the shift in the global balance of power from European powers to the Israel United Statesand the USSR, and was a milestone in the decline of the British Empire.
Harry from Crooked Timber compares
[T]he parallels are striking. In both cases, it is clear that a small handful of policymakers were determined to undermine the targeted dictator, and were not about to be deflected by stupid facts. In both cases democratic scrutiny simply didn’t operate; neither Blair/Bush nor Eden were subject to the kind of hard questioning by their cabinet colleagues that should have stopped them, or at least forced them to act less precipitously. And in each case, as we know only too well in the case of
, neither politicians nor military had any kind of long term plan. Iraq
These are fairly vague parallels, that, while accurate, could have also applied to virtually every American military action since WWII.
There exist more exact similarities between the two conflicts.
From Kissinger again, we see that American neocons were not the first to claim that the perils of
Francewas even more hostile [than Britain] to Nasser. Its major interests in the Arab world were in Moroccoand , the former a French protectorate, the latter a department of Metropolitan France containing a million Frenchmen. Both North African countries were in the process of seeking independence, for which Algeria Nasser’s policies provided emotional and political support. The Soviet arms deal raised the prospect that would become a conduit for Soviet arms to the Algerian guerrillas as well. “All this [is] in the works of Nasser, just as Hitler’s policy [was] written down in Mein Kampf,” declared Egypt ’s new Prime Minister, Guy Mollet. “ France Nasser[has] the ambition to recreate the conquests of Islam.”
The analogy to Hitler was not really on the mark. Implying that Nasser’s
was determined to conquer foreign nations, it ascribed a validity to Middle Eastern borders that the Arab nationalists did not recognize. The borders in Egypt Europe—except for those in the Balkans—reflected in the main a common history and culture. By contrast, the borders of the Middle Easthad been drawn by foreign, largely European, powers at the end of the First World War in order to facilitate their domination of the area. In the minds of Arab nationalists, these frontiers cut across the Arab nation and denied a common Arab culture. Erasing them was not a way for one country to dominate another; it was the way to create an Arab nation, much as Cavour had built Italy, and Bismarckhad created out of a plethora of sovereign satates. Germany
However inexact their analogy, once Eden and Mollet had nailed their flag to the anti-appeasement mast, it should have become clear that they would not retreat. They belonged to the generation, after all, that viewed appeasement as a cardinal sin, and
as a permanent reproach. Comparing a leader to Hitler or even to Mussolini meant that they had moved beyond the possibility of compromise. They would either have to prevail or lose all claim to governance—most of all in their own eyes. [p. 531] Munich
The dynamic duo then pioneered a UN-baiting tactic used to similar effect nearly 50 years later:
After [Secretary of State] Dulles’ October 2 press conference abjuring the use of force a second time, a desperate
Great Britainand decided to go ahead on their own. British and French military intervention was now only a few tactical moves away. One of these was a final appeal to the United Nations, which had played a curious role throughout the whole affair. At first, France Great Britainand Francehad sought, with American backing, to avoid the United Nations altogether, fearing the Nonaligned group’s solidarity with . As they edged closer to the end of their diplomatic tether, however, Egypt Franceand did appeal to the United Nations as a sort of last perfunctory gesture to demonstrate that, because of the world organization’s utility, they had no other choice than to act alone. The United Nations was thus transformed from a vehicle for solving international disputes to a final hurdle to be cleared before resorting to force, and, in a sense, even as an excuse for it.  Great Britain
Here’s the setup:
The British and French expedition had been ham-handedly conceived and amateurishly implemented; designed in frustration, and lacking a clear-cut political objective, it doomed itself to failure.
And the punchline:
could never have supported so flawed an enterprise. [543-44] United States
Kissinger apparently has more faith in American foreign policy than I do, but it’s true that the relatively cautious Eisenhower at least attempted to avoid costly military entanglements, which is more than can be said of virtually every president since. By the current decade, the roles of the players have been switched somewhat, with the
Leon Hadar sketches one possible future for the
United Statesand Israelemerged as victorious from the military campaign, not unlike the British, French, and Israelis after the 1956 Suez Campaign against , they found themselves totally isolated in the international community and facing enormous diplomatic and economic pressure to reverse their policies. As oil prices soared to more than $125 per barrel, Venezuela imposed an oil embargo on the United States, and China threatened to create the conditions for the collapse of the dollar by selling her U.S. Treasury bonds if Washington did not agree to convene an international conference on the Middle East that would determine the political future of Iraq and Lebanon, as well as take steps toward imposing a peace accord on Israel and Palestine. Egypt
Jim Henley reacts:
The possibility of
Chinareacting to an Israeli or American strike on with the same sort of economic blackmail weapon Eisenhower deployed against the anti-Egyptian allies 51 years ago seems intriguingly plausible. It would have the same means - appeal to the local nationalisms of the region - and ends - oust the old hegemon(s) and become the new one. Iran
It remains to be seen whether the