Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Anniversary of a Middle East Mistake [link]

July 26 was the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies in Western diplomacy. Back in 1956, Gamal Abdul Nasser, President of Egypt, nationalized the Suez Canal. Soon thereafter, England and France convinced Israel to stage an invasion of the Sinai peninsula in order to retake the canal.

You can read an excellent analysis of these events at the link above, written by Arthur Herman for the Weekly Standard's website.

Herman writes:

By any objective standard, Nasser's seizing of the canal was theft. Until that July, it had been administered by a private company headquartered in Paris and owned by international shareholders. Nasser had even signed an agreement recognizing the Canal Zone's autonomy two years earlier, which allowed Great Britain to pull out the last troops from its bases in Suez.

* * * *

So, when the British high command informed Eden it would take six weeks to assemble enough ships, planes, and men to take back the canal and topple Nasser, Eden turned to the French for help. They in turn appealed to the Israelis. For some time the Israelis had wanted to wipe out the Palestinian guerrilla bases which had sprung up along their border with Egypt since the 1948 war, camps run by a Palestinian student-turned-Nasser flunky named Yasser Arafat. So Israel's chief of staff, the 41-year-old Moshe Dayan, drew up a plan with the help of a young paratrooper colonel named Ariel Sharon for an incursion into Gaza and Sinai in coordination with an Anglo-French landing at Suez. The Israelis assumed the West would back up bold action against hit-and-run terrorists and those who supported them.

But they, and their allies the French and British, had not reckoned on the United States. President Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, were preoccupied with the Cold War. Like their Democratic predecessors, they were reluctant to support any move that smacked of "colonialism," no matter how justified. And Eisenhower, in Stephen Ambrose's words, was "uncomfortable with Jews" and never understood the threat Israel faced from its Arab neighbors. So the Americans refused to endorse the Suez invasion. "We do not want to meet violence with violence," Dulles said--words that have a disturbing echo today. Then the Americans went further. If the British and French attacked Egypt, Eden was told, the United States would not back them up in the United Nations.

Finally, in late October, after weeks of hesitation and prevaricating, the British, French, and Israelis struck. The British and French Operation Musketeer was a stunning success; in the face of the Israeli attack, Nasser's army collapsed. French paratroopers and tanks were poised to roll into Cairo. But then, with American encouragement, U.N. secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld became involved.

To this day in elite circles, his name is treated with pious reverence second only to Gandhi and Martin Luther King. After his death, his face even graced an American postage stamp. In fact, Hammarskjöld was arguably the worst secretary general in the history of the United Nations. He was certainly the most devious. He was the bleak prototype of another U.N. apparatchik, his fellow Swede Hans Blix. Smug, icily cerebral, essentially humorless, he possessed a smooth arrogance that concealed a bottomless pit of liberal guilt.

* * * *

To Hammarskjöld, the issue was simple. If you were European and white, you were always in the wrong. If you were nonwhite, you were a victim of something and ipso facto in the right. Even so, Hammarskjöld's U.N. resolutions would have remained so many scraps of papers had President Eisenhower not threatened to break the pound sterling on the world's financial markets. Eden's will to fight burst like a soap bubble. French and British troops began pulling out in March 1957. Nasser triumphantly claimed his canal; Israel withdrew from Gaza and the Sinai.

The Suez crisis was over. But the damage it did was, and remains, incalculable. Eisenhower had wrecked the trust between the United States and its former World War II allies for a generation; in the case of France, for all time. If anyone wonders why French politicians are always willing to undermine American initiatives around the world, the answer is summed up in one word: "Suez."

Suez destroyed the United Nations as well. By handing it over to Dag Hammarskjöld and his feckless ilk, Eisenhower turned the organization from the stout voice of international law and order into at best a meaningless charade; at worst, a Machiavellian cesspool. Instead of teaching Nasser and his fellow dictators that breaking international law does not pay, Suez taught them that every transgression will be forgotten and forgiven, especially if oil is at stake.

* * * *

This, in the end, was the most egregious result of Suez. Hammarskjöld had ushered in a new era of international gangsterism, even as the U.N. became an essentially anti-Western body. Its lowest point came less than two decades later, in 1975, when it passed a resolution denouncing Zionism as racism and a triumphant Yasser Arafat addressed the General Assembly with a pistol strapped to his hip.

Suez destroyed the moral authority of the so-called world community. Fifty years later, we are all still living in the rubble.

How true! How true! Two flawed men, suffering from different weaknesses, worked on parallel paths to emasculate international law and turn it into a farce. Millions of people have died (and billions ultimately will die) because of inability to maintain a strong element of JUSTICE as a part of international law. Now, the UN is a tool of the lawless and the barbarous who seek to plunder the world and rape their own people...and keep the those countries with moral authority away.


Anonymous John Handforth said...

I was in grade school when Israel, Britain and France joined forces against Egypt. This article has altered my insight considerably. I was raised in New York, which, on the whole has always borne worse than a dislike for the United Nations due to the behavior of most of the diplomats.

I also remember having the whole public school being given two minutes of silence so that we could pray for President Eisenhower after his heart surgery. We did the very same thing for Dag Hammarskjöld so that he would have the wisdom and courage to resolve the conflict between Israel and Egypt.

Israel did get a lot of bad press during this incident on the national level, but not as much in New York, where I was raised. At the time, it was said that there were more Jews in New York than there were in Tel Aviv and they contributed heavily to both the welfare of New York and to Israel. I have noticed some bad press during this conflict.

I just wanted to say thank you for a great article that helped to change my viewpoint about Dag Hammarskjöld.

9:50 AM  

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