Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Disregarding the Atlantic "Special Relationship": The Eden Cabinet in the Lead-Up to the Invasion of the Suez Canal Zone

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Disregarding the Atlantic "Special Relationship": The Eden Cabinet in the Lead-Up to the Invasion of the Suez Canal Zone

Article excerpt

I. British policy in the Middle East and growing strains in the Anglo-American partnership in the mid-1950s

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the United Kingdom played a major military and strategic role in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. Its military presence extended from southeast Asia to Libya, with a large base in the Suez Canal zone as its principal stronghold. By the end of the war, France, Britain's traditional rival in the Middle East, had been unceremoniously expelled from Syria and Lebanon. Yet British hegemony was more apparent than real in both economic and military terms. As early as 1947, in Greece, American influence replaced that of Britain, which lost the Indian subcontinent in the same year, with its human and geographical assets. Grappling with the insoluble Jewish problem in Palestine, the British government, strongly encouraged by Washington, left the territory, experiencing its first important defeat in the Arab world. After the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the American-engineered coup against Prime Minister Muhammad Musaddiq resulted in a new setback, as Iran, a former client state, became an American satellite. The Anglo-Egyptian Agreement on the evacuation of the Suez Canal Zone represented a major turning point in British Middle Eastern policy as Britain, in 1954, relinquished the keystone of its military operation in the region, yielding to hostile action by the nationalist Egyptian regime and, again, strong American pressure. Yet, Anthony Eden and the Foreign Office were striving to adapt British policy in the Arab world to their country's diminished means without sacrificing what were considered vital national interests, particularly oil assets. (1)

After 1954, the main foundation for a strong British presence or influence in the region was based on Britain's close relations with the conservative monarchies, particularly Libya, Jordan, and, above all, Iraq. In London, ministers saw Saudi Arabia, a close American ally and Iraq's dynastic rival, as an adversary, but the main enemy was nationalist Egypt, whose anti-imperialist rhetoric and actions were directed specifically against Britain. Nevertheless, the Foreign Office attempted to lower the degree of hostility in Cairo, even though, somewhat inconsistently, the Cabinet was striving to develop the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO, also called the Baghdad Pact), a diplomatic arrangement particularly infuriating to the Egyptians. To the British, the Baghdad Pact, which comprised Iraq, Turkey, Britain, Iran, and Pakistan, was the ideal umbrella under which they would be able to protect their regional system of alliances and their programs of military and economic aid from being criticized as simply a continued imperial presente. (2) But two difficulties stemmed from this diplomatic endeavour: Egypt would retaliate with increased anti-British subversive action and propaganda, and Britain became further dependent on the political and economic support of the United States. Indeed, one of the major weaknesses of this policy was that the US did not want to be bound to the course of British policy in the Arab world, even refusing to consider Egypt a hostile power after the large Czech arms deal in the fall of 1955. Thus, several causes of tension in the so-called "special relationship" derived from the rival Middle Eastern designs of the two partners. This study will concentrate on the way the Suez Crisis brought about a spectacular if temporary rejection of the Anglo-American partnership on Britain's part. More specifically, in the context of a diplomatic triangle, it will shed light on France's important symmetrical role, in opposition to that of the United States, until its influence prevailed in October 1956 thanks to both British domestic factors and international circumstance.

II. Diplomatic setbacks in the Middle East and the growth of anti-Americanism in the Conservative Party (December 1955--June 1956)

In the six months before Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, the Eden Cabinet suffered several reversals which provoked a great deal of exasperation. …

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