It’s not available on the website, but the Washington Post has a great op-ed piece by Henry Kissinger about the last time the West couldn’t agree on how to deal with a Middle Eastern dictator. Kissinger’s Post op-eds are always twice as long as the standard Post length, and it’s rare that I can work my way through the Doctor’s ponderous prose all the way to the end. But, perhaps because this one is a history lesson, I breezed right through it. Here’s a summary of Dr. Kissinger’s lesson.
In 1956, Egyptian President Nasser, the foremost post-colonial radical leader in the Middle East, nationalized the Suez Canal. France and England denounced this action and called for the use of force to reverse it. But the U.S. balked because President Eisenhower wished to disassociate us from colonialism and to earn the good will of post-colonial regimes for use in the struggle against Soviet ambitions. The U.S. accepted the European goal of internationally guaranteed use of the Suez Canal, but rejected the use of force to bring this about. Thus, Secretary of State Dulles used the United Nations to stall England and France.
In exasperation, England and France (aided by Israel) went to war with Egypt. The United States joined with the Soviet Union to cause the United Nations to condemn this action. By withholding support for European currencies in financial markets, we forced England and France to back down.
What were the consequences? Nasser showed no gratitude and tilted more and more towards the Soviet Union. A few years later, he invaded Yemen, and eventually he unleashed the Six Day War against Israel. Pro-western regimes, including Iraq’s, toppled throughout the Middle East. The Soviet Union, seeing the West divided, sought to exploit the division and provoked a series of crises over Berlin. Finally, France decided to build its own nuclear deterrent.
Today, the French and the Germans cannot stop the U.S. from accomplishing its mission, as we stopped France and England in 1956. Thus, the consequences for the Middle East of French and German failure to back the U.S. in toppling Saddam Hussein would not be profound. But Kissinger believes that the consequences for Europe would be, and that they would redound largely to the detriment of France and Germany, and the European project they are promoting.
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