Interesting comparison in The Conversation. Excerpt: 60 years after Suez: a tale of two prime ministers
Does history repeat itself? Never perfectly or precisely, but some of the parallels between Anthony Eden’s handling of the 1956 Suez Crisis and Tony Blair’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq are worth pondering. In both cases prime ministerial decision-making dictated the course of British policy and laid bare some of the weaknesses of the British political system.
First, take the conjuring of the threat. Both men framed their struggles in existential terms. For Eden, the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company at the end of July 1956 by the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, represented a threat to national survival.
A man whom Eden likened to Hitler or Mussolini would have his fingers wrapped round the nation’s economic windpipe. Whenever Nasser wished he might squeeze and strangle the country. “It’s either him or us. Don’t forget that”, Eden warned.
The path to war on both occasions has certain eerie parallels. Both men resorted to the creation of a sort of inner circle or kitchen cabinet of key ministers backed by sympathetic officials. For Eden it was the Egypt Committee, a select group which included the key hawks in the Cabinet such as the chancellor of the exchequer, Harold Macmillan.
For both men, the military timetable also overshadowed diplomacy. A deadline for military action was imposed by weather conditions in the region. For Eden, an amphibious assault on Egypt had to be launched before the middle of November 1956 – while for Blair the deadline was late March 2003, after which the heat of the Iraqi spring and summer would hinder operations. Admittedly in Blair’s case that deadline was also imposed by American war plans.
Both leaders resorted to the United Nations to prepare the ground for war. Neither got what he wanted. While Eden’s foreign secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, made some progress at the UN in agreeing principles for the operation of the Suez Canal, the pretext for war Eden sought – which would put Egypt clearly in the wrong – was elusive. Meanwhile, for Blair, Security Council resolution 1441, passed in November 2002, proved a double-edged sword. While it was later used as the legal justification for war, it also crystallised the division in the international community. Without a second resolution explicitly justifying war, France and Russia opposed military action.