Eisenhower's Containment Through "Action by Inaction" During the Suez Canal Crisis

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Taylor Dukes
American Presidency
Richard Skinner
March 15, 2012
Eisenhower’s Containment Through ‘Action by Inaction’ During the Suez Canal Crisis The 1950’s demanded a certain kind of American President: one tranquil enough to reside over a post-WWII society, and yet bold enough to propel the country through the Cold War. Though a description of “Ike” Dwight D. Eisenhower as a strong central leader heavily contradicts the construed image of a “kindly grandfather figure, a bit inarticulate and above politics, a man who enjoyed golfing and trout fishing over the routine chores of running the government’ (Neff 37), it is certainly apt. Eisenhower demonstrated a bold daringness in his time as President; one that was masked by a “combination of cunning and common sense” (Neff 58) that was crucial during the zenith of the Cold War. Eisenhower’s clever use of constrained, drawn-out diplomatic power came into light during the 1956 Suez Crisis, in which the President refused to work alongside its common allies of Britain, Israel and France in invading Egypt following the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Through exhibiting both a restraint of force (by refusing to send troops to Egypt) and a use of force (through diplomatic actions that would bend the involved powers to the will of the US), Eisenhower was able to establish not only the image of a moderate figure both in domestic and foreign respects, but the dominance of America as a peacekeeping power in the Middle East that rivaled other Western (and more importantly, Soviet) influence in the region. In both the events leading to and the events highlighting what is now known as the Suez Crisis of 1956, Eisenhower would subtly exercise full executive power through the repeated use of action by inaction; that is, refusing to act immediately in light of a crisis and instead using meticulous planning, close and informal consultation with cabinet members, and a blend of diplomatic pressure and placidity in order to assert America’s dominance in the region-and, consequently, over communism. The nationalization of the Suez Canal occurred at a time of pandemonium-ridden relationships between several international players: The United States, Great Britain, France, Israel, the U.S.S.R and Egypt. Tensions had reached a peak point between oil-dependent Western European powers and the rise of Arab nationalists who promoted a rejection of influence from non-Arab powers. Helping to stir the pot even more was the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, which could be traced back to Great Britain’s occupation and influence in the area, especially in regards to actions such as the Balfour Declaration and the White Paper that would make the Western Powers appear pro-Zionist and, consequently, anti-Arab. The expunging of Western influence from the area that began during this time, particularly by pan-Arab Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, ran concurrently with the rise of the Cold War that exasperated hostility between the democratic Western powers and the Soviet Union. A dedication to containment, along with an intimate series of ties between the US and the oil-dependent European powers, inevitably led to American involvement in the area, beginning with the Eisenhower presidency. Eisenhower arrived in the Oval Office in the planning stages of one of the US’ first (and, arguably, most controversial) major involvements in the Middle East. Only eight months into his Presidency did he, by “use of the president’s ‘good offices’ and a Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored coup” (Kingseed 29), remove Iranian Prime Minister Mossadeq from power. The placing of the US-supported Shah back into power, alongside a promise of “assistance in the event of a Soviet attack” (Kingseed 30), not only reflected the extent of the oil-dependency of Great Britain and French in the region, but offered evidence that Eisenhower’s policies in the region would be primarily pioneered by “the president’s personal desire to...
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