The late U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower reportedly once said his biggest regret was "Suez."
The event he was referring to began 50 years ago, on July 26, 1956, when the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the British-and French-owned Suez Canal.
A few months later, British, French and Israeli forces were all involved in a conflict against Egypt. Militarily, they won. But President Eisenhower, against the advice of his cabinet, refused to support them. When subsequent British economic problems threatened a run on the British currency, a requested IMF loan had to be approved by the United States. Eisenhower refused and Britain had to withdraw.
The loss of the Suez Canal very quickly led to the dismantling of the British Empire. Within a decade almost all of Britain's colonies had gone, mostly replaced with unstable, often despotic, dictators that lined their own pockets at the expense of their own people.
The British learned through the Suez crisis that they could not do anything independently of the United States; the French learned never to trust America.
The Arabs were emboldened by Suez. Arab nationalist movements spread throughout the region, resulting in the overthrow of moderate, pro-Western monarchs like King Faisal II of Iraq in 1958, whose country had a functioning parliamentary system. His violent overthrow led eventually to Saddam Hussein's reign of terror, U.S. and British intervention and a war that is seemingly without end.
Disillusioned with Arab nationalist leaders like Gamal Abdel Nasser and Saddam Hussein, many, if not most, of the peoples of this unstable region are now turning increasingly to Islamic fundamentalism, further destabilizing the area.
Eisenhower later recognized the best solution at Suez would possibly have been for the United States and Britain to work together to ensure permanent control of the canal so that the free flow of oil would continue. A joint Anglo-American presence likely would have kept the region free of Soviet domination, important at the time. Such a presence would also have been an effective buffer between Israel and the hostile nations that surround the fledgling Jewish state.
There are also a couple of sobering lessons for the United States from the Suez crisis of 50 years ago. It was a friend that pulled the plug on Great Britain and its empire. Following two world wars, the British had run up considerable debt, weakening their dominant position in the world. They were also militarily overextended.
Sound familiar? The United States is also militarily overextended and has run up considerable debt. In fact, the country is borrowing about $2 billion per day, which means the war in Iraq is being financed by foreign money. That, in turn, means "friends" can pull the plug any time!
The other lesson for America is just how quickly things can change. Three years prior to the Suez Canal crisis, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned as the head of the world's greatest empire. Leaders of the many nations that made up the Empire and Commonwealth were present, and the coronation was followed by an incredible display of military power. Nobody that day would have predicted that it would all unravel within a few years and that Great Britain would never be great again.
Suez spelled the death of the British Empire. It was also a big American blunder and a major contributor to the catastrophic events of today.
To blame it on President Eisenhower may be too simplistic. Daniel 2:21 reminds us that God "removes kings and raises up kings"—He is the one behind the rise and fall of nations. God, who gave the British their preeminence, as promised to their ancestor Ephraim thousands of years ago, also broke the pride of their power (Leviticus 26:19), leaving them defeated in the eyes of the world by an inferior force of an upstart nation. WNP