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The Eisenhower revival meets the 25th anniversary of the Suez fiasco (October 1956)--in a crackling (only occasionally discomfitting) combination of popular and diplomatic history with a knockout cast. The ""series of galvanizing events"" is well-known to the informed but probably not recalled--as Time correspondent Neff contends--by the general public: the US withdrew its offer to help finance the Aswan High Dam; Nasser retaliated by nationalizing the Suez Canal; Britain, France, and Israel, each for its own reasons, jointly attacked Egypt; the US, appalled, introduced the UN resolution condemning the attack; Britain and France withdrew in disgrace, Israel pulled back warily; the US emerged the dominant power in the region. (And Nasser was a hero.) As bits of the story have come out over the years, two major questions have remained unanswered: how did the British-French-Israeli conspiracy take shape? What influenced the US response? Neff has new information bearing on those questions--from archival research and from correlating published accounts--but he is more interested in 1) presenting the big picture; and 2) highlighting Eisenhower's role. So he reconstructs the tangle of historical forces that pitted nationalist strongman Nasser against the British and French, and their lagging ally the US (who were promoting the Baghdad-Pact, anti-Communist alignment--and denying Egypt arms); that convinced Zionist firebrand Ben Gurion that Israel would have to protect its own interests; that prompted France to sell arms to Israel and prompted Egypt to seek arms from Russia . . . thus setting off the ""series of galvanizing events."" Neff's account picks up the personalities (why, for instance, French socialist Guy Mollet ""began seeing Nasser as another Adolf Hitler""), pronounces on the misjudgments (the Allies' ""excessive enmity"" toward Nasser--plus their failure to appreciate his weaknesses), and balances Israeli and Egyptian bellicosity. Meanwhile the US, after failing to block Nasser (through CIA stunts too), is looking for ways to (in Eisenhower's words) ""take [him] down a peg""; the US election-race is on; public opinion (antiCommunist to pro-Israeli) is ranged against Nasser; and in the aftermath of the canal-nationalization, Dulles knows that ""the British and French are really anxious to start a war, and get us into it"" and Eisenhower warns Eden not to expect the US to automatically join in--though ""initial military successes might be easy . . . the eventual price might become too heavy."" But only unpreparedness briefly delays the British and French. And when the attack finally comes (the French in secret collusion with Israel--lest ""perfidious Albion"" back down), the US, uninformed, hoping to exploit the Russian invasion of Hungary, presses for a cease fire in the UN--even as Eisenhower is writing to his oldest buddy: ""this is something of a sad blow because . . . Britain not only has been, but must be, our best friend in the world."" Like the other recent Eisenhower reevaluations, this shows him canny, commonsensical, and articulate. But it's also a remarkable story developed on every front.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Linden/Simon & Schuster