Eisenhower 1956

Article excerpt

Current headlines about Egypt make this account of Eisenhower's handling of the 1965 Suez Canal crisis particularly compelling.

Reading Eisenhower 1956 last month while Egypt shed Mubarak made

David A. Nichols' examination of Dwight D. Eisenhower's

tumultuous reelection year specially absorbing. While this

scrupulously reported book focuses on 12 months during which the

popular Republican fought strenuous battles both political and

personal, it also illuminates today's Middle East, helping to

explain why relations between Egypt and its neighbors, particularly

Israel, are so volatile.

Nichols' revisionist work presents an Eisenhower more complex,

pacifist, and deliberate than the man portrayed in the print- and

radio-dominated media of his day. This tightly written, chronological

account covers a heart attack and, later, a severe intestinal illness

that threatened Ike's reelection; betrayal by Britain and France,

his staunchest allies in World War II; Israeli belligerence

spearheaded by David Ben-Gurion that eerily presages Benjamin

Netanyahu's contemporary approach; the mixed legacy of

sharp-tongued Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and the largely

incompetent record of his brother Allen, director of the Central

Intelligence Agency; the rise of Arab nationalism as embodied in

Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser; and the West's continuing

dependence on Middle Eastern oil transported through the Suez Canal,

a flashpoint for decades.

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I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, when Eisenhower was president. His was

an avuncular image: benign, sunny, hands-off. Defiantly

middle-of-the-road, Ike infuriated those eager for a more overtly

progressive leader like Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate he

trounced in 1952 and 1956. Eisenhower was not a favorite of

intellectuals, but Nichols shows he was very much a thinker.

He also posits Eisenhower as a highly effective leader deathly

afraid of nuclear disaster. Not only did he keep the United States

from war in Egypt - and Hungary, which the Soviet Union crushed in

its short-lived revolution of late 1956 - he made the US the key

world power, supplanting colonial Britain and France in the Middle

East and effectively legitimizing Nasser.

One of the most fascinating tracks of Nichols' narrow but deep

account is the fall of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden and Guy

Mollet, his French counterpart, as their scheme to regain control of

the Suez Canal from Egypt collapsed. …

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