A gripping tale of international intrigue and betray-al, Eisenhower 1956 is the white-knuckle story of how President Dwight D. Eisenhower guided the United States through the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. The crisis climaxed in a tumultuous nine-day period fraught with peril just prior to the 1956 presidential election, with Great Britain, France, and Israel invading Egypt while the Soviet Union ruthlessly crushed rebellion in Hungary.
David A. Nichols, a leading expert on Eisenhower’s presidency, draws on hundreds of documents declassified in the last thirty years, enabling the reader to look over Ike’s shoulder and follow him day by day, sometimes hour by hour as he grappled with the greatest international crisis of his presidency. The author uses formerly top secret minutes of National Security Council and Oval Office meetings to illuminate a crisis that threatened to escalate into global conflict.
Nichols shows how two life-threatening illnesses—Eisenhower’s heart attack in September 1955 and his abdominal surgery in June 1956—took the president out of action at critical moments and contributed to missteps by his administration.
In 1956, more than two thirds of Western Europe’s oil supplies transited the Suez Canal, which was run by a company controlled by the British and French, Egypt’s former colonial masters. When the United States withdrew its offer to finance the Aswan Dam in July of that year, Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalized the canal. Without Eisenhower’s knowledge, Britain and France secretly plotted with Israel to invade Egypt and topple Nasser.
On October 29—nine days before the U.S. presidential election—Israel invaded Egypt, setting the stage for a “perfect storm.” British and French forces soon began bombing Egyptian ports and airfields and landing troops who quickly routed the Egyptian army. Eisenhower condemned the attacks and pressed for a cease-fire at the United Nations.
Within days, in Hungary, Soviet troops and tanks were killing thousands to suppress that nation’s bid for freedom. When Moscow openly threatened to intervene in the Middle East, Eisenhower placed American military forces—including some with nuclear weapons—on alert and sternly warned the Soviet Union against intervention.
On November 6, Election Day, after voting at his home in Gettysburg, Ike rushed back to the White House to review disturbing intelligence from Moscow with his military advisors. That same day, he learned that the United Nations had negotiated a cease-fire in the Suez war—a result, in no small measure, of Eisenhower’s steadfast opposition to the war and his refusal to aid the allies.
In the aftermath of the Suez crisis, the United States effectively replaced Great Britain as the guarantor of stability in the Middle East. More than a half century later, that commitment remains the underlying premise for American policy in the region.
Historians have long treated the Suez Crisis as a minor episode in the dissolution of colonial rule after World War II. As David Nichols makes clear in Eisenhower 1956, it was much more than that.read more
This is a very good book. I now understand the position we are in in the Mid-East. We could use people like Eisenhower now to get us out of the quagmire we have gotten into at home and abroad. I feel everyone should read Eisenhower 1956.read more
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Generally when one thinks of our thirty-fourth president, one thinks of golf. Indeed, during Eisenhower’s eight years in office (from 1953-1961) he played almost 800 rounds of golf. Plagued by a football knee injury however, he was never satisfied with his score, and once grumbled, “If I don’t improve, I’m going to pass a law that no one can ask me my golf score.”But Eisenhower was much more adept than his diversionary life suggested, even if the fact that the press played up his avocations (he was also fond of painting) tended to obscure his successes as President. One of the greatest of his achievements was the commanding way in which he handled the Suez Crisis of 1956.In that year, America’s closest allies pursued a course of action profoundly adverse to U.S. interests and which also brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. In the greatest secrecy, Britain, France, and Israel prepared and conducted an invasion of Egypt in response to Gamal Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal. Gamal Nasser came to international attention in 1952, when he and a group of army officers overthrew the monarchy of Egypt and Sudan. He became president of Egypt in a military coup in 1956. Nasser wanted to build the Aswan High Dam to regulate the flow of the Nile River, and sought financial aid from the United States. The U.S. was willing to assist the Egyptians only if they installed financial controls that the Egyptians considered infringement on their sovereignty. The Soviet Union was willing to assist Egypt under less onerous terms, but the U.S. used its leverage in arms sales to dissuade the Russians. Unable to find satisfactory financing for the dam, Nasser then nationalized the Suez Canal, planning to use revenue from operation of the canal to pay for the dam.The British envisioned the canal as an important strategic asset because it greatly reduced travel time by sea to its prize colony, India. Even though the canal lay entirely within Egyptian territory, Britain and France owned nearly all the stock in the canal company and Britain had controlled and operated the canal since the 19th century. The British stationed 80,000 troops in the canal zone to protect its interests. The British and the French could not envision the canal to be operated by mere Arabs (thought to be not even able to make water run down hill). Moreover, the Europeans distrusted Nasser, a dictator in his own country who was openly seeking to be the leader of the Arab world. Meanwhile, Israel and Egypt had been engaged in numerous deadly border skirmishes since 1948. The Israelis were eager to attack Egypt and annex more territory as a buffer zone between the two countries. The British, French, and Israelis secretly concocted a wild scheme whereby the Israelis would attack Egypt from the East. Britain and France would then intervene militarily to protect their vital interests in the canal. In mid-October 1956, just before the American presidential elections, the Israelis invaded Egypt, and the British and French launched a large expeditionary force that they had secretly assembled in Malta and Cyprus, ostensibly to separate the Egyptians and Israelis, but actually to retake the canal. Seeking to establish their influence in the Mideast, the Soviets threatened to use all necessary force, including nuclear weapons, to prevent the Europeans from taking the canal.Eisenhower was just recovering from a severe heart attack. His Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was also very ill. Nevertheless, during this crisis with the world at the brink of war, Eisenhower managed to keep his composure. Through deft diplomacy and careful manipulation of the procedures of the United Nations, he led an American effort to persuade the British and French to withdraw from Egypt, avoid a world war, all the while keeping the Soviet Union from establishing a foothold in the oil rich Mideast. (It may have helped that the Soviets had their hands full elsewhere, as they were busy brutally putting down popular uprisings in Hungary and Poland.)Eisenhower realized that Egypt was completely within its right to nationalize the canal with appropriate compensation to the British and French shareholders of the canal company. He also firmly believed and asserted that the law was the same for Egyptians as it was for his long time allies. He rightfully felt betrayed by Britain and France, which had kept their machinations secret from him. He had to take sides against his close friends and allies from World War II to prevent World War III. Moreover, he had to confront a strong pro Israeli lobby and a staunchly pro Israeli Democratic party during a period immediately before the presidential election. All this while conducting his own re-election campaign while his Secretary of State was hors de combat and he himself was recovering from his own medical crisis! Discussion: Nichols gives us an arresting description of a strong, decisive leader under great pressure. If anything, Eisenhower is portrayed even more favorably than in Michael Korda’s stridently positive Ike, An American Hero. Eisenhower is surely our most underrated modern president. He had the guts to tell our two closest allies to discontinue a policy near and dear to them. Moreover, he defied a recalcitrant and uncooperative Israeli government, just before a presidential election no less, and forced them to cede territory they had just taken from Egypt by force of arms. Compare the reluctance of our more recent presidents to sacrifice electoral advantage and assert American strategic interest by not objecting to Israel’s construction of additional settlements in occupied land! Eisenhower 1956 reads almost like an adventure novel with the president as the chief protagonist. But that quality may be its biggest shortcoming. It contains more detail (at what time did Ike arise, how did he sleep, what did he eat) than I found interesting in a book even about very important historical events. On the other hand, Nichols’s analysis is keen, albeit sparse. Note: An excellent map is included, as well a number of photographs of the key players(JAB)read more
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Making a well-documented case that the Suez crisis and the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary destabilized the cold war's balance of power, Eisenhower scholar Nichols (A Matter of Justice) presents a day-by-day and hour-by-hour depiction of these events. He draws on newly declassified documents to describe with rare accuracy and immediacy how Eisenhower, recovering from a heart attack and major surgery, acted with intelligence and foresight to defuse the threats. Nichols also provides the policy background to underscore the crisis's magnitude. His linear narrative keeps the reader on track despite the many cross currents: Egypt's flirtation with the Soviet Union, the British and French governments' "program of deception," and an Israel unwilling to agree to a cease-fire. As France and Britain's actions escalated the crisis, Eisenhower threatened potentially draconian sanctions, such as withholding financial aid and oil from the Europeans, in order to secure a cease-fire. Nichols rightly emphasizes the end result of the crisis, the Eisenhower doctrine, which placed the U.S. in the role of guarantor of Middle East stability, a policy that has remained in place for more than half a century. 8 pages of b&w photos; map. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.