Right now it’s incredibly hard to read about Suez without thinking about Iraq, and it’s a mark of Peter Hennessy’s confidence that Iraq will long be remembered as a disaster of epic scale that he repeatedly draws comparisons between the two events in his marvelous new book, Having it So Good (UK), (US). The book is a history of Britain in the 1950’s, and I’ll impose a brief review on you later. Suez doesn’t dominate the book, but it is the pivotal moment of the decade if not, in fact, the whole postwar period in terms of Britain’s relationship with the world. And the parallels are striking. In both cases, it is clear that a small handful of policymakers were determined to undermine the targeted dictator, and were not about to be deflected by stupid facts. In both cases democratic scrutiny simply didn’t operate; neither Blair/Bush nor Eden were subject to the kind of hard questioning by their cabinet colleagues that should have stopped them, or at least forced them to act less precipitously. And in each case, as we know only too well in the case of Iraq, neither politicians nor military had any kind of long term plan.
But surely, surely, Suez was nowhere near as disastrous in terms of human carnage? Surely, because the Americans acted so, well, correctly, forcing the Brits to back off, the day was saved, if not for Eden, for the world? Surely my title question is ludicrous? That’s what I’d have thought. (Eszter, at least, might want to read on.)
Now, I’m no historian, I just like reading about these things. And every Briton is aware that our adventure in Suez deprived our government of the ability to protest the Soviet invasion of Hungary, our government’s response to which was at least as shameful as its involvement in Suez. But Hennessy reveals, in a footnote, that a forthcoming book (for which I cannot find any details, but as soon as I do I’ll get it and report back) by Jonathan Haslam shows that:
the Anglo-French invasion had the unanticipated effect of precipitating the overthrow of the anti-communist regime in Hungary by the Red Army. It reversed a decision taken by the Soviet leadership on 30 October to pull out completely and rearrange relations with its unhappy neighbour on a more equitable basis.
Just re-read that a few times. I had to stop reading for a couple of days to absorb the enormity of it. This is, of course, good news for Bush and Blair. Iraq has to get a lot worse before they can claim Eden’s mantle.