Suez and Saddam
The Guardian, 19 February 2003
The failure to stand up
to Adolf Hitler is increasingly being invoked as a reason for standing
up to Saddam Hussein. In a clear allusion to the appeasement of
the 1930s, Tony Blair insisted that, “all our history –
especially British History – points to the lesson that if
international demands are not backed up with force, the result is
greater insecurity.” But to compare Saddam to Hitler is to
greatly inflate his importance and the danger he poses to international
order. A much closer parallel is the Suez crisis of 1956.
Anthony Nutting, who resigned over Suez, called his book No End of a
Lesson. Tony Blair would be well advised to ponder some of these
lessons before embarking on another imperial adventure in the Middle
Anthony Eden thought that he was applying the lessons of the 1930s in
dealing with Gamal Abdel Nasser and the result was a fiasco that
brought his own career crashing down. Eden demonised Nasser,
personalised the issues, and went to the length of colluding with
France and Israel with the aim of knocking Nasser off his perch.
The chiefs of staff had deep misgivings about the war. One senior
officer exclaimed: “The prime minister has gone bananas. He
has ordered us to attack Egypt!” Britain attacked Egypt
without the authority of the UN and it was roundly condemned for its
aggression. There is, however, one important difference between
1956 and the current crisis. Over Suez the US upheld the
authority of the UN and led the pack against the law-breakers.
Today the Bush administration is hell-bent on the use of force to
topple Saddam, with or without UN sanction.
Tony Blair would be taking a huge gamble if he ignores public opinion
and joins George Bush in an imperialist war to oust the Iraqi
dictator. Wars rarely go according to plan and they invariably
have unintended consequences. The Suez war brought to an end
Britain’s moment in the Middle East. Eighteen months after
the attack on Egypt, Britain witnessed the defenestration of her royal
friends in Baghdad. A war on Iraq today could go badly wrong,
result in heavy casualties, fuel terrorism, and end up by destabilising
the entire region. As the moment of truth approaches, Tony Blair
would do well to reflect on the lessons of Suez. Politicians,
like everyone else, are free to repeat the mistakes of the past, but it
is not mandatory to do so.