Monday, July 24, 2006


Every so often we're reminded of why it can be worth taking a look at William Rees-Mogg's column in the Times (UK) and today's definitely merits a mention. One doesn't have to buy into his classic Tory worldview to appreciate the little asides, not to mention the benefits of having been around for so long. His topic is the Suez crisis, for which a series of 50th anniversaries are now approaching. But consider his acknowledgment of what would now be considered hopeless conflicts of interest:

In 1956 I was writing leaders for The Financial Times. I had been commissioned to write a brief life of the Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, a man whom I liked and admired. I had also become involved as an assistant speech writer to Eden, specialising in economic policy. I saw him during the early months of the Suez Crisis; he was always calm, courteous and thoughtful. I am not sure that my varied connections would be thought acceptable nowadays; they did in fact break down early in November when it became apparent, not least to myself, that I could not properly write The Financial Times’s comments on prime ministerial speeches to which I might myself have contributed.

Nevertheless, I observed the development of the Suez Crisis from a privileged vantage point. In addition, I fought the Chester-le-Street by-election in September as the Conservative candidate; I went around the mining villages saying that we should not appease Colonel Nasser. The Durham miners did not have the least wish to appease Colonel Nasser; unfortunately they had no wish to vote for me. That was the only by-election between the nationalisation of the canal and the invasion of Egypt.

Anyway, his more serious point, which you'll only get if you read the whole thing, is that Eisenhower screwed the British in the crisis and the world has paid the price ever since. And he's referring not just to the US pulling the plug on the Anglo-French-Israeli scheme after its military success in seizing the Canal, but to the preceding summer of fruitless negotiations after the canal was nationalised -- the failure of which led the British to see the virtues of the more radical French-Israeli plan to invade.

It's helpful when reading Rees-Mogg's column to have a chronology of the crisis at hand; note the plus ca change aspect to it, as old friends such as the Gaza strip, Ariel Sharon, the Fedayeen, and a UN peacekeeping force all make an appearance. Thankfully, the world has progressed since then, and Rees-Mogg's account of lackadaisical US diplomacy amid turmoil in the Middle East leading to many unintended consequences couldn't happen today.

UPDATE 26 July: The anniversary of the nationalisation of the canal is today. Nasser had been annoyed by the US blocking a World Bank loan for the Aswan Dam the week before.

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