America and Great Britain shared differing views on how the 1956 Suez Crisis should be handled, as a letter written in September by President Dwight Eisenhower to Prime Minister Anthony Eden made very clear.
“We have a grave problem confronting us in Nasser’s reckless adventure with the canal, and I do not differ from you in your estimate of his intentions and purposes. The place where we apparently do not agree is on the probable effects in the Arab world of the various possible reactions by the Western World. You seem to believe that any long, drawn out controversy will inevitably make Nasser an Arab hero. This, I think, is a picture too dark. I believe we can expect the Arabs to rally firmly to Nasser’s support if there should be a resort to force without thoroughly exploring and exhausting every possible peaceful means of settling the issue. Nasser thrives on drama. If we let some of the drama go out of the situation and concentrate upon deflating him through slower but sure processes (such as economic pressures, Arab rivalries, a new pipeline to Turkey, more oil for Europe from Venezuela. I assure you we are not blind to the fact that eventually there may be no escape from the use of force. But to resort to military action when the world believes there are other means available would set in motion forces that could lead to the most distressing results.”
Why did Eisenhower take this view especially in view of the fact that Great Britain was probably America’s closest ally in NATO? Various theories have been forwarded for Eisenhower’s approach. One was that America acquired relatively little oil through the Suez Canal (about 15% of their national requirement in 1956) and the economic importance to America of the nationalisation of the canal was minimal. US investments in the Suez Canal Company was also negligible. Another theory is that Eisenhower wanted to be seen as a man who could broker peace at an international level in regions that could be described fragile in terms of peace. 1956 was election year in America. One of the more accepted views is that Eisenhower feared a huge backlash amongst the Arab nations if Egypt suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the British, French and Israelis – as seemed likely. Would this push Egypt more and more towards Moscow? Would other Arab nations then follow? It was well known that the USSR wanted a permanent warm water naval base in the Mediterranean Sea, which her Black Sea’s fleet could use. Would Nasser’s rejection of the West lead to a much greater Soviet influence in this important diplomatic zone? Eisenhower’s fears came true. Soviet money financed the dam at Aswan and the Egyptian military received Soviet equipment.