4 MARCH 1960, Page 7

Half Circle

By IAN GILMOUR sled Hitler and Mussolini as though they were nice gentlemanly figures of the pre-1914 era; and tIltr Anthony Eden treated President Nasser as ugh he was Hitler or Mussolini. 'History,' as 12. .1111iP Guedalla pointed out, 'does not repeat Itself; historians repeat themselves.' This, applied ENERALS commonly wage war with the whi4ae . weapons and ideas of the one before. Poii- a les tr ns do much the same. Neville Chamberla:n )1.16 of aft' 1 ae

tto ..

ferr politicians, more or less sums up Suez. Not ciytial qoulte, of course, since the politicians• did not do °nj Hitler and Mussolini what they did to Nasser. at th they were so obsessed with the fear of making Willa t h same mistake again that they failed to notice as far at the new situation was quite different. Sir Anthony tells us that the themes of his crvIcC 11„eitt, °ire are 'the lessons of the Thirties and their bus.one to the Fifties'; and at first sight no file is better qualified either to know these Wrote or to apply them. Yet a general who had a book saying that the reason why things 4d gone wrong in the last war was because we "uttd acted differently from the way we should very acted in the one before would not be taken sery seriously. Is the nature of military experience f° verY different from that of experience of :reign affairs? Obviously there are many i,ss°11s to be learned from the Thirties, just as that are from any other decade; for instance, c at to sacrifice other countries for your own hot is both foolish and wrong. But it :s hot necessary to have been Foreign Secretary to have learned that. In the technique of diplomacy th e handling of negotiations, knowing when to make e a concession and when to be firm, the best way of steering a conference, drafting a telegram, utriuting a document, finding a formula, lining the party and The Times, guiding Parliament In all these matters experience in Whitehall is undoubtedly valuable. And his vast experience, °11Thined with his natural talents, made Sir FULL CIRCLE. (Cassell, 35s.)

Anthony technically an excellent Foreign Secre- tary. Whenever he was faced with a purely diplomatic problem, such as negotiating with the Chinese over Indo-China, patching up European differences after the failure of EDC, or haggling with the Russians over Germany, he handled it beautifully.

But diplomatic technique merely implements policy : it does not create it. For the creation of a successful foreign policy other things are needed : among them a firm grasp of this coun- try's interests, a realistic appreciation of her strength and, above all a knowledge of what is happening in the rest of the world. And in these matters experience of office is not necessarily valuable and may even be a positive handicap, since the mind is liable to have become fixed in the very different conditions and attitudes of twenty years before. This is what happened to Sir Anthony. He tried to deal with such problems as the union of Europe or the nationalisation of the Suez Canal as if they had arisen before the war. In this, if in nothing else, he resembled Lord Palmerston, who, owing to changes in world conditions which he had not understood, was less successful in his conduct of foreign affairs to- wards the end of his life than he had been many years before.

Since it is Sir Anthony's belief that Suez was the Thirties all over again, President Nasser has to be made to look as dangerous and as much like Hitler as possible; and since he is seeking to justify Israel's attack on Egypt as well as the Anglo-French intervention, all the blame for bad Israeli-Arab relations has to be ascribed to Egypt. Sir Anthony frequently talks about President Nasser's 'dictatorship,' and says that 'he has folloWed Hitler's pattern, even to concentration camps and the propagation of Mein Katnpf among his officers.' But Britain's ally and protege Nuri es-Said was also a dictator, and concentra- tion camps were a rather more prominent feature of his regime than of Nasser's. Indeed, the chief difference between the two regimes was that Nasser's was popular and Nuri's was not. As for Mein Kampf, having made this statement Sir Anthony promptly retracts it in a footnote; and the only other two alleged resemblances between Nasser and Hitler he can think of are mastery of propaganda and the fact that both called them- selves Socialists.

Naturally none of the obvious differences be- tween Nasser and Hitler and between the Egyptian regime and Nazism are mentioned. Hitler's revo- lution was a plunge back into barbarism; Nasser's is genuinely regenerative. Hitler was responsible for the murder of millions of people; Nasser is strikingly humane. Hitler was neurotic; Nasser is not. Hitler was a megalomaniac; Nasser is not; in his lack of personal vanity, indeed, he com- pared favourably with the Western leaders.

The usual fairy stories of Egyptian ambition of empire are served up. No mention is made of the fact that Arabia was divided into inde- pendent States after the first war to suit British and French convenience; or that most Arabs want to weaken these barriers. Sir Anthony tells us that 'it was Britain's national interest to main- tain the independence of Jordan, which was an outpost of Iraq.' Even if that were true, it would surely be at least as legitimate for Nasser to seek to unite the Arab world as for Britain to try to keep it divided. Nasser is accused of threatening the independence of the small Arab countries: nothing is said about Nuri es-Said'; plans to do the same.

On Israeli-Arab relations, Sir Anthony talks about Egypt's proclaiming herself still at war with Israel, but says nothing of Iraq not only being still at war with Israel but even refusing to sign an armistice. Several rightly critical references are made to Egyptian fedayeen raids on Israel, but Israel's raid on Gaza in February, 1955, which was their cause, is not mentioned. Sir Anthony refers to heavy Israeli casualties from Arab border violations; but not to the heavy Arab casualties from Israeli border violations. Nothing is said of the Israeli occupa- tion of the demilitarised zone of El Auja, nor of the three other major attacks Israel made on Egypt during 1955. Much is made of Egypt's refusal to comply with the UN resolution on Israeli shipping and the Suez Canal; nothing is said of Israel's refusal to comply with the UN resolution on refugees. Sir Anthony refers to his Guildhall speech in 1955, in which he put for- ward certain suggestions on the Israeli-Arab dispute; he does not mention that Nasser wel- comed that speech and that Israel condemned it. He makes much of the importance of putting a UN force between Israel and Egypt; he does nit add that when a similar proposal was put forward by the UN in 1955 it was accepted by Egypt ani turned down by Israel.

On Suez and the events leading up to it, then, Sir Anthony's book is very far from being history. But it is a useful historical record of

some of the things that went on in his mind at the time. If he does not mention the Gaza raid now, we can be confident that in 1956, too, he had erased it from his mind. When Nasser nationalised the Canal, all Sir Anthony's previous

thoughts about the Arab-Israeli conflict went overboard. From then on all Egypt's past and THE SPECTATOR. MARCH 4, 1960 present actions were wrong. Anything that did not fit in with what Sir Anthony wanted to do was excluded from consideration in the same way that it has been excluded from his memoirs.

On the morning of July 27, 1956—the day after the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company the Government, Sir Anthony tells.us, decided that 'they could not allow Nasser to control the Canal in defiance of international agreements • and that even if they had to act alone they Could not stop their short of using force to protect position.' Thus before they knew for cer- tain whether or not Nasser's action was illegal, Whether force was militarily feasible, or how Arab or world opinion had reacted to the nationalisation, and before they could possibly have fully considered the consequences of mili- tary action, the Government decided that if they did not get their way they would use force. 'And even when it became clear that the nationalisa- tion Was not illegal, that the plan to grab Ow. 'anal by force was a military absurdity, that world opinion was against force, that Arab °pinion was almost 'solidly behind Nasser, that British policy could' only be imposed by force, and that force was likely to have disastrous con- sequences both in Egypt and in the rest of the Arab world, they did not change their minds. Perhaps the Cabinet thought that its refusal to allow its policy- to be altered by new facts and subsequent knowledge showed strength. If so, Ministers deceived only themselves. It is the weak, not the strong, who find it difficult to change their minds, and the Cabinet's consistency through changing circumstances—its refusal to allow events to influence its basic decisions—indi- cates that it was less the interests of Britain than the personal feelings of Ministers that were ultimately determining policy. The Government and Sir Anthony had for some time been accused of weakness, and here was a chance to prove the accusations false. The frustrations of failure strengthened and supported the urge to be tough. ,,rhe nationalisation of the Canal' Company, Iollow _ on the failure to bring ing up the Baghdad Pact, the dismissal of General Glubli, and the growing popularity of President Nasser, was Proof that the British policy of backing Iraq against rn Egypt, pro-Westernism against neutral- ism, the old guard against the new generation, and of trying to preserve Britain's pre-war position in the.Middle East—in short, the policy of the Baghdad Pact—had failed. The only way that Sir Ant hotly and the Government could conceal this failure both from the public and from themselves sas to reach for their gun, and pretend to be Znag. 'Anthony, be a king,' was, as it were, the 'ainspring of action, and 'Nasser is Hitler' was nierelY a rationalisation and a reinforcement of a desire to demonstrate that the Government was strong and resolute—that Eden to Churchill was not as Addington to Pitt. a The Principal impression given by Sir Anthony's account of his Government's policy and actions over Suez is, indeed, of frivolity. All the comings thegoings, all the telephone calls and telegrams, ne circulation of papers, the briefings and the Plans, the consultations and secret conferences 11-all this activity smacks more of a tantrum than P2liCY. (If only Nasser had acted like Hitler and had nationalised the Canal 'over a weekend, '31r Anthony and his senior Ministers would have had time to reflect on the news before making decisions and before listening to the views Nuri es-Said, who was dining at 10 Downing Street on nationalisation night.) British policy was fundamentally frivolous in that there was no proper appraisal of Britain's position in the Middle East, nor of her interests and how they would be affected by the use of force; nor any sober appraisal of the effect on the Canal of the nationalisation of the Canal Company; the welfare of British subjects and property in Egypt was virtually ignored; there was no consideration of what sort of government would follow- Nasser's—Communist, Moslem Brother- hood, Wafdist, Farouk, or none at all; there was no consideration of the possibility of reprisals against our oil interests elsewhere; no attention was paid to the advice of our diplomats on the spot (Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, our Ambassadm in Cairo, does not even appear in the index), means were not related to ends--although thz military plan involving days of delay was ob- viously impracticable, it was nevertheless adopted. no thought was given to the fact that France wa's plainly an undesirable ally in the Middle East; and finally, when all else had failed, the British Government was prepared to use Israel against Nasser, although this could not fail to bring down upon us the hostility of the entire Arab world.

The distance between Sir Anthony's ideas of the Middle East and reality is indicated by his talk of our 'authority' there. It is true. that we had authority in Iraq, which was the chief reason for Null es-Said's unpopularity. We also haJ some authority in the Gulf Sheikhdoms, though even Sir Anthony would hardly suggest that an attack upon Egypt would be anything but an embarrassment to our friends in the Gulf. But in the Middle East as a whole we did not have authority, and there was no more reason why- we should have had it there than in, say, India. Even in Iraq. Nuri's anxiety that his fellow Ara') ruler should, be humbled merely indicated his own weakness.

It seems not to have crossed anybody's mind that Nuri's ideas and -policy were wise neither for himself nor for Britain. There was no excuse for miscalculating Arab feeling; even Iraq had to express cautious approval of the nationalisa- tion of the Canal Company. An attack on Egypt, even a successful one and one without the Israelis, would inevitably have inflamed Aril, opinion, weakened or overthrown pro-Western government's and would probably have led II serious sabotage of the oilfields and pipelines. Britain's interest in the Middle East and in the rest of the world lay in working with nationalism against Communisin and not in helping Com- munism by fighting the principal nationalist. Even if the view had been taken that Preside it Nasser was a menace and must be removed, that issue should have been kept separate from the quarrel over the Canal. The popularity of the nationalisation of the Canal Company made it the worst possible ground to fight on—advice which President Eisenhower gave at the begin- ning of September; but he was ignored.

Since so much of Sir Anthony's case depends upon it, it is surprising that he does not include in the book a full and serious argument on the illegality of Nasser's nationalisation of the Canal Company. As can be seen from a telegram he sent to President Eisenhower, 'We should not allow ourselves to become involved in legal quibbles about the rights of the Egyptian Government to nationalise what is technically an Egyptian Com- pany,' Sir Anthony at the time seems to have suspected that nationalisation was legal. In his book he devotes two paragraphs to the question. In his first he says that 'there was a strong legal argument to advance, based upon the close link between the Convention of 1888' (guaranteeing freedom of navigation through the Canal) 'and the concession to the Canal Company.' But :I: there is a strong legal argument to advance, why does not Sir Anthony advance tt? (He can hardly have been deterred from doing so by the fear of boring his readers.) In fact, the Convention of 1888 stated that it was not to terminate with the end of the Canal Cortmany's concession, so that it is clear that there was no necessary '(or legal) connection between the Convention of 1888 and the Canal Company.

In his second paragraph, Sir Anthony says that 'it was implicit in the Convention of 1888 that the operation of the Canal should not be entrusted to any single Power.' But he gives no evidence for this statement. and the object of the Con- vention was to safeguard the right of navigation through the Canal, not to protect the Suez Can it COmpany. Otherwise Sir Anthony relies for the establishment of his case upon such expedients as calling his chapter on nationalisation 'Theft'— the introduction of the language of crime is surely imprudent, since if the nationalisation of the Canal was theft, the bombardment of Port Said was murder: remarks like 'Nasser had himself stated that he intended to use the Canal revenues to build the Aswan Dam [which] was cleanly illegal,' without explaining why it was more reprehensible and illegal to use revenues for such a purpose than for paying out dividends to share- holders; and the often-repeated statement, in the apparent belief that frequent repetition makes something more true and more plausible, that Nasser had seized control of the Canal ';it defiance of international agreements.' In fact, the nationalisation of the Canal was legal, and Nasser broke no international agreement.

Sir Anthony still seems to be in some confusion as to the difference between the Canal Company and the Canal. He talks about President Nasser's 'seizure of the C'anal.' But Nasser did not seize the Canal; it was already his. The Anglo- Egyptian agreement of 1954 says quite unequivo- cally: 'The Suez Canal . . . is an integral part of Egypt.' What -Nasser did was to nationalise the Canal Company. Whoever owned the Canal Company, Egypt controlled the Canal, as was clearly shown by the exclusion of Israeli shipping from the Canal before the nationalisation of the Company and when British troops were still in the Canal Zone. The nationalisation of the Canal Company made the exclusion of a particular nation's shipping from the Canal no easier and neither more nor less provocative than it would have been before nationalisation. Nationalisation might make easier the infliction of minor irrita- tions upon a particular nation's shipping, and it was eminently reasonable to ask- for safeguards and assurances against discrimination. But both the Indian and the Egyptian proposals would, if accepted by Britain and France, have afforded protection against such eventualities. Inter- nationalisation of the Canal was an excessive demand, and the Egyptians were well within their rights in rejecting it.

Sir Anthony vehemently denies Nasser's allega- tion that internationalisation was a cloak for colonialism, but he himself tells us that the primary worry of the French was the effect Nasser's action would have in Algeria and that the British Government decided that 'failure to keep the Canal international would inevitably lead to the loss one by one of all our interests and assets in the Middle East.' On Sir Anthony's own showing, therefore, Britain and France were primarily actuated by colonialist considerations. Internationalisation was merely colonialism dressed up and made to look respectable. The fact that the real object of the British and French was not to safeguard freedom of navigation in the Canal but to safeguard their interests elsewhe:-,: by humiliating Nasser necessarily meant that it was impossible to negotiate a settlement satisfac- tory to both sides. Nasser naturally refused to humiliate himself; and any settlement acceptable (i.e. non-humiliating) to him was for that very reason unacceptable to Britain and France. From at least September onwards, therefore, inter- nationalisation was not a solution; it was a battle cry.

But although force had been decided upon— unless, of course, Nasser consented to humiliate himself without it—a pretext was still necessary. The 'Pretexts' Committee had worked hard. One after another of its expedients was tried, but all failed to do the trick, either because of the d&- laying actions of Dulles (his Suez Canal Users' Association proposal compelled Britain and France to postpone the invasion which had been fixed for September 16) or because Nasser (after the unpleasant manner in which he nationalised the Canal) behaved with perfect correctness. Despite the exodus of the pilots, the Canal worked well; whether ships paid dues to him or not. Nasser let them through; Dulles made it clear that the Suez Canal Users' Association was not going to be used by the Americans as 'an excuse to shoot our way through.' And so by October the British and the French Governments had either to conclude a reasonable agreement with Egypt at Geneva and bring all their troops home again or to use the Israelis. They decided upon the Israelis.

Sir Anthony makes no explicit confession or denial of collusion, but, as was argued in an article, 'Eden, Dulles and Collusion,' in the Spec- tator of February 5, there can be no serious doubt after reading his account that the Israeli attack and the Anglo-French intervention Were decided upon at the famous meeting in Paris on October 16 of Eden, Lloyd, Mollet and Pineau with no advisers present. That there was collusion and that the conspiracy was formed on October 16 has been widely known for years, but Sir Anthony's de facto admission of it may have been inadvertent. It means that practically all the things he and his fellow Ministers said at the time about Suez— necessary police action, forest fires, separating the combatants, no time for consultation. etc.----were untrue, but Sir Anthony does not seem to have noticed this, and so he says,them all over again in his book. As a result his memoirs, which for some time have had a rather surrealist quality. become from October 16 onwards an essay in schizophrenia.

Sir Anthony uses two arguments to excuse Israel's attack on Egypt; firstly, that 'the fedayeen had resumed their activities with increased inten- sity.' Possibly the fedayeen had resumed their activities, but certainly not 'with increased inten- sity.' There had been at the most two fedayeen in- cidents. And from the nationalisation of the Canal Company to Israel's invasion of Sinai it was the Israelis, not the Arabs, who were aggres- sive. Between July 24 and October 28, by her raids and frontier violations, Israel killed some 135 Arabs (mostly Jordanians), while the Arabs, by their frontier violations, killed some thirty-li'; had Israelii. Moreover, whenever in the past israe' and had taken fierce action against any of her neigh,. of bours, Britain (presumably with Sir Anthony'` approval) had joined most of the rest of the Security Council in condemning her. As 1:11 as October, 1956, Britain condemned Israel her large-scale attack on the Jordanian villak of Qalqilya and praised Jordan's restraint 1'1 not retaliating. Yet Sir Anthony now says 01; the Israelis 'had to take some counter-action What he does not say is that under the Tripa0 Declaration Britain had an obligation to pro01 such action, not to promote it. Secondly, Sir Anthony says that an EgYPti3/1 a r, attack on Israel was- 'imminent."The risks 01. it tailed in the seizure of the Canal having N`r buy clearly negotiated, all was being got ready lt)' the next objective.' Sir Anthony does not rec°'d that as late as July Mr. Selwyn Lloyd said oil( balance of arms was in Israel's favour, or 0131 S.11 his Under-Secretary repeated this statement Stu August. Even if in two months the balance h3'1,1 tilted in the Arabs' favour (it had not), it o°111, hardly have tilted enough to make an Arab attav' possible. When Israel began the Sinai invasion Many of Egypt's MiGs were still in their crate' the bulk of the Egyptian army, was west Of lb' Canal in readiness for an Anglo-French attaj, and the Egyptians had in the Sinai only one-thirn of their heavy guns, one-quarter of their ton°

and 30,000 men, half the number they usual!'

had there. The allegation that Israel forestall)

an Arab attack is thus palpably false.

The fighting that had been planned at the Paris meeting duly began. In 9rder to help Britain's Arab friends and to safeguard the British position in the Arab world, the British Government did the one thing most certain to damage both t and it—combine with Israel. And in the name Ol the sanctity of international agreements (though nla no international agreement had in fact bed by broken by Nasser) the British Government 10. wri ceeded itself to break two international agree' ments—the Tripartite Declaration and Britain's pledge to the UN not to go to war save in accord; ance with the Charter. Could frivolity go furt het% The Government claimed to be acting to kar the Canal open and to protect British subject' in Egypt; it succeeded in closing the first on'' jeopardising the second. It claimed to be separte ing the combatants; it had thrown them togell''1' It claimed to be 'disclosing' the extent of Russian armament and infiltration in Egypt; it disclosed nothing more than was known in August. ht claimed to be acting to put teeth into the UN the setting up of a UN force; when moves '0 made in the UN to set up such a force, it I\ 6:` failed to vote. for them, It claimed to be actilll to stop the war (which it had in fact promote'l) between Israel and. Egypt; it insisted on goi through with its attack though both sides agreed to cease fire.

These contemptible contradictions, prevaricn. tions and downright lies flowed directly from IV conspiracy of October 16, and indirectly lroni, the irresponsible and feckless decision of July to use force if necessary. British politicians inaV poor and unhappy conspirators; 'honest the best policy' would have been a more owl° lesson for Sir Anthony to have grasped than all" number of lessons from the Thirties. The had come half, not full, circle. The democrats and the dictator changed places. The peacemakers of the Thirties became the aggressors of the Fifties. The democrats relied on force and fraud, the dictator behaved like a gentleman. The British and French Governments cast President Nasser in the role of Mussolini; he did not play. the part, so they played it themselves.