We turned on the TV this morning to hear that the Suez Canal backlog was cleared. After paying the normal $500,000 transit fee per ship, the 400 or so delayed vessels are all plying their trade again. And there, to illustrate the news story, was an aircraft carrier. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower had also passed through the canal. And typing 400 reminds me that this is journal 400.
I journaled here on the Ever Given blockage. I mentioned Aida and the 1967 closure but purposefully ignored the 1956 Suez Crisis. I thought it a distraction to my story lines. Then I saw the aircraft carrier this morning.
Seeing it reminded me of The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan. He recounts how Nasser was ruling Egypt in 1956 when the US decided that the Aswan Dam was a threat to American cotton production. Nasser calculated that nationalising the canal could only have benefits for Egypt among which would be the fees which could fund the dam. American self-interest had potentially catastrophic consequences for Britain, France and Europe who both controlled the canal and relied on it for the the shipments of oil that powered their economies.
‘It was essential, reasoned President Eisenhower, that ‘the Arabs [not get] sore at all of us’. If they did, oil supplies from the Middle East might collapse altogether, because both of the canal’s closure and because production might be stopped or embargoes introduced in countries in the region naturally sympathetic to Egypt when it was being so brazenly bullied. As one senior British diplomat had already conceded, any reduction of supply would have its own devastating consequences.’
And as Frankopan writes, Britain and France were forced into a corner. They sent troops but withdrew them when a cease-fire was demanded by UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld. The abortive military action alienated the Middle East, Nasser won and the mistrust of Britain sent its economy spiralling, taking sterling with it. Then Britain was refused support by the IMF and Eden was ejected as Prime Minister. ‘In barely four decades, Britain had gone from world mastery to holding out its cap and begging for help’.
Soviet tanks had rolled into Budapest. Eisenhower had survived a heart attack. Stephen Graubeard says of Eisenhower in The Presidents that ‘neither the president nor his secretary of state understood either crisis, in part because each knew too little of how the situation in both the Middle East and Eastern Europe was changing’.
The Suez Crisis ‘prompted a significant change in posture from the US, articulated in what became known as the Eisenhower doctrine. Keenly aware that the Soviet union was looking opportunistically at the Middle East, the President told Congress that it was essential that ‘the existing vacuum’ in the Middle East should be filled by the United States before it is filled by Russia.’
And sixty five years later the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 2, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and many of its 3,000 crew was to be seen on breakfast TV. What should we think?
Some of my refresher sources for Eisenhower today, all of which are by authors known to challenge orthodox histories:
The Presidents by Stephen Graubeard (2004) – ageing former General Eisenhower believed that conventional warfare was dead and that the next war would be have to be nuclear.
The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan (2015) – Eisenhower also supported the Ayub coup in Pakistan thereafter selling missiles, fighters and tactical bombers, which Ayub paid for from the 65% of the national budget he allocated to his military.
The 20th Century by Clive Ponting (1998) – it was Eisenhower that helped bring McCarthyism to a halt if only because McCarthy decided the military had been infiltrated too – but the threat from communism remained uppermost in the former General’s mind.