This week in history: The Suez crisis

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 24 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

Eisenhower, who had been kept in the dark about what his NATO allies were up to, was livid. Speaking at a Republican rally in Philadelphia on Nov. 1, Eisenhower said: “We cannot and will not condone armed aggression — no matter who the attacker, and no matter who the victim. We cannot — in the world, any more than in our nation — subscribe to one law for the weak, another law for the strong; one law for those opposing us, another for those allied with us.”

Then, compounding Eisenhower's fury, events in Eastern Europe exploded. In his book “Eisenhower: In War and Peace,” biographer Jean Edward Smith writes, “The fighting in Egypt was upstaged early on Sunday, November 4, when Eisenhower learned that the Soviet Union had intervened with a massive military force to snuff out Hungary's brief experiment in democracy... Eisenhower dispatched a sharp letter to (Soviet Premier Nikolai) Bulganin asking that the Soviet troops be withdrawn from Hungary, but with the Middle East on fire, chose not to press the issue further.”

Eisenhower recognized how hypocritical it was for the leader of the Western world to criticize the Soviets on their heavy-handedness in Hungary even as Britain and France had invaded Egypt. Eisenhower demanded that British Prime Minister Anthony Eden agree to a cease-fire and begin to pull out of Egypt. When Eden equivocated, Eisenhower said bluntly, “If you don't get out of Port Said tomorrow, I'll cause a run on the pound and drive it down to zero.”

With the United States actively hostile to its aims, Britain and its allies signed the cease-fire on Nov. 6, the same day that Eisenhower won his second presidential election. Eisenhower's tough stand during the crisis did much to convince voters that he was much better suited to international affairs than his Democratic rival, Adlai Stevenson. British and French units were required to be out of Egypt by mid-December.

The Suez Crisis is seen as Britain's last great attempt at imperialism. It ended in a loss of prestige for Great Britain and the resignation of Eden. Within a few years France would lose Algeria to the rebels, and Israel would face an increasingly militant, hostile and humiliated Egypt.

Ultimately, the UN placed the canal under the Suez Canal Authority of Egypt, which agreed to pay off the shareholders of the Suez Canal Company and maintain a neutral right of passage for all ships.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com

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