19 JULY 1957, Page 8

The Canal and Mr. Connell

By LORD ALIRINCHAM tin latest attempt to justify the Government's I Suez policy has been made by Mr. John Connell, in a book* which suffers from bias, irrelevancy, selective presentation of facts, emotionalism, stylistic infelicity, bad print and excessive length. Its title immediately betrays the inherent weakness of the author's case and his lack of critical sense. Napoleon observed to the Governor of St. Helena that Egypt was 'the most important country in the world.' This must be rated one of his more inane remarks, and Mr. Connell's use of it is a masterpiece of unconscious irony. In Napoleon's day the most important country was undoubtedly England, and if he had succeeded in grasping this fact he might never have found himself on St. Helena. His obsession with Egypt lured him into a fruitless and dis- astrous expedition which only by a hair's-breadth failed to put an early stop to his career. Sir Anthony Eden was less fortunate.

Beneath Mr. Connell's assertiveness there is an interesting undertone of doubt and deprecation. Even he cannot be as brazen as most of the Government's supporters were in the brave days of last November. 'Neither the British nor the French analysis,' he says, 'when put to the test, was proved completely right; nor was either demonstrated to be utterly wrong or dishonour- able.' Of Nasser and his•people he writes: 'The man was not a Hitler, the Egyptians were not the Germans; the potentiality for evil might be limited and fitful, the lust for vengeance was as great.' And of the military operation against Egypt : 'The psychological aspects , were woefully ill-considered, belatedly and in accord- ance neither with sound principles nor with clear directives.' (My italics throughout). It is evident from these passages that the defence is being forced to shift its ground.

Mr. Connell's method is to give his own version of British policy in the'Middle East since 1945, which enables him to devote .a large part of his book to events preceding the Suez crisis and to an exposure of the Socialists' record. This was admittedly bad, but it has little or nothing to do with the Government's recent performance. Bevin made a hash of Palestine, and he and his col- leagues may therefore be said to have added to the troubles which anyway existed, and would have continued to exist, in the Middle East. But they cannot be held responsible for the national- isation of the Suez Canal Company, which was mainly due to causes beyond their control or sub- sequent to their term of office. Above all, they cannot be blamed for the amazing and cumulative folly with which the Eden Cabinet reacted to Nasser's coup.

In dealing with Middle Eastern history since the war a British author may be forgiven for showing a slight prejudice in favour of Israel, since British Governments have tended to err in the opposite sense. But Mr. Connell carries his Zionist sympathies too far. He gives the impres- sion that, while the Arab countries were all in * THE MOST IMPORTANT COUNTRY. By John Con- nell, (Cassell. 16s.) varying degrees guilty, Israel was innocent, enlightened, restrained and dignified. Without wishing to excuse Arab fanaticism, one may fairly remark that Jewish fanaticism has also been a potent and harmful factor. Mr. Connell does not, for instance, bother to mention in his narrative the Jewish raid on Gaza in February, 1955, of which Guy Wint and Peter Calvocoressi in their excellent 'Penguin' (Middle East Crisis, 2s.) write as follows : 'This raid . . . is one of the most fateful dates in Middle East history. For up to that moment Egypt had been rather less active against Israel than the other Arab countries. . . . The Egyptian frontier with Israel was only lightly garrisoned. The Jews took the frontier guards by surprise, and not only defeated the Egyptian frontier force but humiliated it.' This incident is referred to, not by the author, but in a letter from Mr. Harold Macmillan which he cannot resist quoting. But fir this inadvertent reference his readers might never have known about the Gaza raid.

The question of 'collusion' was revived in an acute form when two French journalists, Merry and Serge Bromberger, published their account of the Suez crisis. This is now available in an English translation (Secrets of Suez, by M. and S. Bromberger : Sidgwick and Jackson, 12s. 6d.; Pan Books, 2s. 6d.). Any such account must be treated with caution, but since there is reason to believe that this one owes much to high official sources in France its allegations are important and cannot be lightly dismissed. Mr. Connell's efforts to allay suspicion are fit only for a laugh. Thus he argues that the meeting between Eden, Mollet, Pineau and Selwyn Lloyd on October 16 of last year could have had no 'clandestine' pur- pose, since the British Ministers took with them Sir George Young, 'the Foreign Otlice's chief spokesman and contact with the Press.' The pertinent fact, however, is that the four Ministers were closeted together in complete secrecy, with- out the assistance of Sir George Young or anyone else. The Brombergers' story that Mallet and Ben- Gurion met on V illacoublay airfield about a week before the Israeli attack is countered even more naively. 'Throughout the whole of September and October,' says Mr. Connell, 'the Prime Minister of Israel was at home in Israel, and every day of those two months has been accounted for by his personal secretariat.' When a man has something to hide the most unlikely people to spill the beans are his private secretaries, and their de/nen/is are surely quite worthless as evidence.

It must be said in passing that the Bromberger book is a terrible revelation of what has happened to France. Its theme is that a great French exploit was marred by British irresolution—a theme which may be gratifying and consoling to the French, but which bears little relation to the truth. Many Frenchmen who are still oppressed by a sense of their country's failure in 1940 may be glad to read of Britain's failure in 1956; but in reality France's degradation last year was even worse than Britain's. The whole nation— politicians and people—showed a collective chauvinism, a community of wrong-headedness, an almost monolithic acceptance of false values, which we at least were spared.

Returning to Mr. Connell, one must draw atten- tion to some further faults in his book. The state- ment is made yet again that the Canal was 'a simple matter of life and death' to Britain, though it has been repeatedly shown that this is a gross exaggeration. Another familiar accusation, which appears more than once, is that Eisenhower's ultimate concern was for the result of the Presi- dential election. This is a palpable lie. Of course he wanted to be re-elected, but few men have shown a more striking readiness to do their duty whatever the cost in votes. When he announced that his Government would honour its pledge under the Tripartite Declaration he was in grave danger of losing the support of American Jewry. Mr. Connell ignores this point. He also says that the President was indignant when he received the news of the Anglo-French ultimatum, without bothering to add that this news reached him in the form of an agency report. The British Govern- ment's failure to consult or inform other Com- monwealth Governments is not even mentioned.

The Commonwealth, indeed, seems to have no meaning for Mr. Connell; for him it is only British interests and British prestige that count— an approach which, in the modern world, is self- defeating. His attitude towards India, and in par- ticular towards Mr. Krishna Menon, is the most telling clue to his general state of mind. He exhibits the passionate unreasonableness of a man whose, racial and cultural superiority has been challenged and who is becoming a prey to persecution mania. 'India's economic reliance ' upon the Canal was considerable,' he says, 'but neither it nor India's membership of the British Commonwealth could prevent either Mr. Nehru or Mr. Krishna Menon from giving their active support as, well as sympathy to Egypt.. . . Vindictiveness, resentment and cold, burning hatred glittered behind the facade of their elaborately phrased public platitudes.' Mr. Con- nell is not the one to complain of elaborate phraseology; his own mode of expression is not exactly terse. And what on earth does he mean by 'cold, burning hatred'? He can be allowed one of these adjectives, not both.

When writing of Mr. Menon 'his language is quite unmeasured. He describes him as being 'of obscure South Indian lineage' and 'inveterately and intransigently hostile to Britain.' At one point he says that he 'folded his dark wings and dropped plummet-like from the sky'—meaning that he arrived to represent his country at the United Nations! Now for all 1 know Mr. Connell may be descended from the Sun, but his origins make no difference to what I think of his political ideas or, for that matter, to my estimate of him as a human being. So much for 'lineage.' As for Menon's alleged hostility, I have it on good authority that he worked harder than anyone to devise the formula whereby India was enabled to remain a member of the Commonwealth while adopting a republican constitution. He also worked very closely with Sir Anthony Eden in bringing about the Indo-China settlement—and many other instances could be cited. He has even Played his part in Mr. Connell's own sphere of public service, as a member of the St. Pancras Borough Council.

It is wicked nonsense to pretend that India was trying to undermine us during the Suez crisis. Quite apart from sentiment, why should she act against her own economic interest? If only the Indian plan, rather than Mr. Dulles's, had been supported by our Government at the first Lancas- ter House Conference, we should have settled the Canal dispute on the best terms possible in the circumstances, and the Commonwealth as a partnership would have scored a notable diplo- matic triumph. Even later than this the situation was not hopeless. According to Mr. Connell the proposal that British, French and Egyptian representatives should meet at Geneva on October 29 'petered out in the arid sands of Mr. Nehru's and Mr. Krishna Menon's activities.' In fact nothing came of it because the British and French Governments had foolishly committed themselves to internationalisation of the Canal and were the prisoners of their own doctrine— if not of their own clandestine intrigues. What- ever the truth about collusion, it is hard to deny that these two Governments preferred violence to negotiation.

Mr. Connell is for ever denouncing the narrow and hysterical nationalism of the Egyptians and others, but he is himself infected with the same spirit—and with much less excuse. It is significant, perhaps, that he should be the biographer of W. E. Henley—a natural war poet who was denied the emotional satisfaction of fighting in war. Mr. Connell's case is different, though parallel. He is by nature an old-fashioned imperialist who yearns for the sort of Empire which has passed into limbo. He is a Curzon for Killearn) manqué. But his frustration, unlike Henley's, is not in the least poetic. It is merely pathetic.