Moore on the Suez crisis

Posted by Helen Monday, July 31, 2006

Charles Moore’s article in Friday’s Daily Telegraph dealt with the present Middle Eastern crisis and the somewhat incredible comparisons certain misguided British politicians (alas, the one he singles out is a great supporter of the CHG, Sir Peter Tapsell) have been making between Israel’s actions against Hezbollah and the German Nazis’ actions against the Jews in 1943.

Inevitably, Mr Moore looks at the background to the fact that, no matter which way one looks at it, European countries have next to no say in what is likely to happen in southern Lebanon or Gaza.

Part of the reason is recent politics and a refusal to understand that in order to be strong in international affairs one must be strong militarily but that is outside this blog’s scope.

However, all roads lead back to the Suez crisis:

“This week marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the last Middle East crisis in which Britain acted without concerting with America. On July 26, 1956, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, nationalised the Suez Canal. Britain accounted for a third of the ships passing through the canal at that time, and we feared that Nasser had put his foot on our windpipe. Eden, perhaps reeling from his good fortune in having employed the young P. Tapsell, concocted a secret plot with France and Israel to regain control of the canal by violence and bring about the fall of Nasser.

Ignoring the delicacies of a presidential election in America and a president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had publicly made it clear that his country opposed force, we went ahead and invaded Egypt on November 5. Furious at having been deceived, America immediately refused to support the pound in the markets, and we crumpled almost overnight.

The then chancellor, Harold Macmillan, who supported the attack from the first but ratted on it in November, wrote in his diary on August 18: "…if Nasser 'gets away with it', we are done for… It may well be the end of British influence and strength for ever." Well, Nasser did get away with it, and British power in the Middle East did collapse.

We have now passed half a century in which the ultimate responsibility for these decisions has passed from us (and from France) to America. Unless we seriously propose to try to regain that responsibility, either alone or in concert, we do well to try to work closely with America rather than acting like a querulous octogenarian. Mr Blair's efforts in Washington yesterday to search for a ceasefire that prefers durability over immediacy are perfectly sensible.

Yet Mr Blair is bayed at by all parties and most of the media. It is as if, having relinquished power, we Europeans now wish our own powerlessness upon the rest of the world. We make vaporous and offensive Nazi comparisons. We preach that unilateral action is always wrong. That position can be maintained only by people who do not have to make life-and-death decisions. It is cheap and immoral.”

Who says we can learn nothing from history?


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