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,
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,
account covers a heart attack and, later, a severe intestinal
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
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
a flashpoint for decades.
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I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, when Eisenhower was president. His
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
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
from war in Egypt - and Hungary, which the Soviet Union crushed
its short-lived revolution of late 1956 - he made the US the key
world power, supplanting colonial Britain and France in the
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
Mollet, his French counterpart, as their scheme to regain control
the Suez Canal from Egypt collapsed. …