Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

High Anthony

Did Drinamyl, a combination of amphetamines and barbiturates, destroy the British Empire? Or at the very least impair the judgment of its Prime Minister, during one of the gravest moments in British history? In a new book David Owen, a physician and one of the youngest foreign secretaries in history, traces the influence of illness in the personal judgment of various world leaders, including one of his predecessors, Sir Anthony Eden. Blessed with matinee idol good looks, a fine sartorial style and impeccable manners, Eden served three times as Foreign Secretary, and was Churchill's closest ally and lieutenant during his two terms as Prime Minister. Widely popular in the country, and generally respected as one of the century's most effective foreign secretaries, he succeeded Churchill as Prime Minister in April of 1955 with great promise; quickly calling and winning a snap election. In a little more than a year and a half he was out of office, forced out by ill-health and one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in the country's history.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, the opportunistic young military office who helped overthrow the Egyptian monarchy, only to then seize power for himself. Seeking to consolidate his power, both in Egypt and establish his credentials as the leader of the Arab world, he seized control of the Suez Canal. The proximate cause was the refusal by the American government to finance construction of the proposed Aswan Dam, later built with Soviet assistance. Nasser's long-term goal was the removal of British influence in the Middle East, replacing its near century long hegemony with an Egyptian one. Although built by French engineers, the majority of the shares were owned by the British government, thanks to the quick thinking of Disraeli and his friends in the Rothschild banking family during a financial crisis in 1875.

To Eden, who had resigned as Foreign Secretary in 1938, in part, because of Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement, Nasser was a latter day Mussolini and nationalization, something akin to the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. President Eisenhower, and his usually bellicose Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, saw the Suez Crisis differently. Supporters, in principle, of decolonization and keen to supplant British influence in the oil rich region, the American government refused to support military action. It was at this moment that Eden, arguably, committed one of the gravest strategic errors ever made by a minister of the crown. Overestimating the importance of the special relationship in Eisenhower and Dulles calculations, and Britain's comparative economic strength, he launched a plan of subterfuge remarkable for both its scale and complexity.

British, French and Israeli representatives meet in secret at Sèvres, near Paris, and agreed that Israel should invade the Sinai. Using this as a pretext an Anglo-French force would invade and seize the canal, arguing that it was attempting to keep apart the warring parties. The protocols of Sevres, as they became known, recalled the Great Power deals of a different era, like the Sykes-Picot Agreement which divided the Middle East between Britain and France during World War One. 1956 was the era of the Superpowers; Britain and France were now firmly in the American orbit. The deception of Sevres was too convenient and complex not to be discovered. In a less democratic and, from geopolitical perspective, bi-polar world this might not have been a problem. Eisenhower, fearing a Soviet response and greatly annoyed for having been kept out of the loop by Eden, forced London and Paris to agree to a cease-fire and withdraw. Eden had gambled that Nasser's flirtation with the Soviets would compel Washington to accept, if none too happily, an Anglo-French fait acompli over Suez. Instead Eisenhower threatened to, literally, starve Britain into submission if it did not agree to an American cease-fire plan. Much of Britain's war debt was held by the American treasury, Eisenhower threatened to dump enough of this debt on world markets to force a collapse in the pound. A nation dependent on imports of food to survive, Britain would be unable to feed itself. Eden, from force majeure conceded and went to seek medical treatment.

During the tense months of Summer and Autumn 1956, Anthony Eden stood at the center of Anglo-French efforts to retake the Canal. Had he been able to persuade Eisenhower to, at the very least, not interfere in his efforts to undermine Nasser, there would have been no Suez Crisis as we understand it. The retaking of the Canal would have been a dramatic coup for Eden and Britain and probably would have broken Nasser's power. When an elected Persian government nationalized its oil industry, Britain responded by orchestrating a coup - in conjunction with the CIA. Having successful defied a major western power, something no Arab leader had done in centuries, Nasser became a regional hero and icon for decades. Emboldened by Egypt's success a wave of nationalizations swept the Middle East, granting the region's dictatorships a flood of oil wealth to sustain their regimes.

If the sin of Suez lies with Washington, for failing to support British efforts, the error of the crisis lies with Eden, for miscalculating American and, to a lesser extent, Commonwealth support. Neither proved willing to follow London's, and his, lead. Owen points to a medical reason for Eden's poor judgment, a combination of prescription drugs required to deal with a recurring infection, itself the result of a botched surgery to remove gallstones. A slip of a doctor's scalpel may have altered the course of history for the worse. The counter argument to this is that nothing, not even Eden's considerable powers of persuasion, could have convinced Eisenhower to support a military retaking of the Canal. He might, however, in the fashion for which Dulles brothers (John Foster's brother ran the CIA) were well-known even then, have orchestrated a coup against Nasser. The Egyptian dictator was extremely popular, but so was the Iranian government the CIA had overthrown less than three years earlier. Over the long-run, however, Eden looks the most prescient. If Nasser was no Mussolini in the making, the failure of will at Suez established a de facto policy of appeasement toward the Arab world. Two years after Suez the Iraqi monarchy, a British puppet, fell to an Army coup, a military regime was installed and later taken over by Saddam Hussein.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings


Anonymous said...

Scholastic post. Of course Pearson was able to capitalize on Eden's strategic mistake by his Nobel Prize winning innovation of UN Peecekeeping. The end of the British Empire also meant the beginning of the United Nations as we know it today, where nothing really gets solved and the world just slumbers on in general futility.

Lord Best said...

In Edens defense, he did give his name to a superb style of hat.
In the UNs defense, some of its departments do excellent work, notably World Heritage. It is the security council and 'league of nations' set up which is ineffective, not the entire organisation.

Nuno Castelo-Branco said...

We faced the same problem with our 13 years war in Guinea, Angola and Mozambique. The americans where doing their war in the Vietnam but they impeached by all means the sell of military equipment to our army. Exactly in the same moment they where using the Azores base to supply the US Army and their israelis allies. The foreign affairs must to be deal with a certain dosis of oportunism, I mean, realism. If we must prejudice them, we should not hesitate, because they've caused much damage to their formal allies around the world. sprecially the fatefull ones.