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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hagel gets Eisenhower all wrong

WaPo's David Ignatius reports that Chuck Hagel is a big fan of Dwight Eisenhower, and particularly of Eisenhower's handling of the 1956 Suez crisis (known here as the Sinai campaign).
The British, French and Israelis — unbeknown to Eisenhower and his advisers — were secretly plotting to roll back Nasser’s control of Suez. Their tripartite alliance, code-named “Operation Musketeer,” was formalized in an Oct. 24 secret protocol that specified that Israel would invade the Sinai Peninsula five days later. The three collaborators designed what Nichols calls “smoke screens” to conceal their plans from the United States.
When the Israeli invasion came on Oct. 29, a week before the U.S. election, Eisenhower was irate. He told Secretary of State John Foster Dulles: “Foster, you tell ’em, goddamn it, that we’re going to apply sanctions, we’re going to the United Nations, we’re going to do everything that there is so we can stop this thing.” The United States did, indeed, win a cease-fire resolution at the United Nations, despite opposition from Britain, France and Israel.
Eisenhower took a political risk. He was blasted by his Democratic rival, Adlai Stevenson, who charged on Nov. 1 that if the United States had acted more forcefully to support Israel, it might have avoided war. But Ike prevailed, winning reelection, forcing the attackers to withdraw from the canal and enunciating a strategy for U.S.-led security in the region that came to be known as the “Eisenhower Doctrine.”
How does this story apply to modern-day Israel and America — especially for an Obama administration that, while committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, devoutly hopes to avoid military action? The parallels are impossible to draw precisely, but it matters that the cautious and fiercely independent Eisenhower is a role model for the prospective future defense secretary.
There's just one catch: Eisenhower later regretted forcing Israel to withdraw from the Sinai
Peter Golden in his "authorized biography" of Max M. Fisher "Quiet Diplomat" (1992) relates that in October 1965 Fisher met with President Eisenhower in Gettysburg to get agreement to accept the U.J.A. medal for his role in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps twenty years earlier. French General Pierre Keonig leader of the French Resistance and British Field
Marshall Alexander were also to be honored.
Golden reports that toward the end of the visit Eisenhower "wistfully commented 'You know, Max, looking back at Suez, I regret what I did. I never should have pressured Israel to evacuate the Sinai'" (all references are to pages xvii and xvix). Eisenhower's remark astonished Fisher.
Fisher was not the only one who was told of Eisenhower's change of mind. Nixon told Golden: "Eisenhower...in the 1960s told me -- and I am sure he told others -- that he thought the action that was taken (at Suez) was one he regretted. He thought it was a mistake."
Although Fisher knew this for 27 years before publication of his "authorized biography" he evidently never sought to give it publicity beyond the biography. It is still essentially unknown. Had Eisenhower's rethought position been known in 1965, it might well have been helpful to Israel. After reading the biography, I wrote Fisher asking why he hadn't publicized this change in Eisenhower's thinking. Unfortunately, he canceled our scheduled meeting in Jerusalem.
The Gettysburg visit brought a change in Fisher's life aspirations. Golden relates that Eisenhower "almost as an afterthought" as they started to depart said: "Max, if I had a Jewish advisor working for me, I doubt I would have handled the situation the same way. I would not have forced the Israelis back." Fisher was "struck...with the impact of epiphany. If Fisher had been unsure of the of the extent of power an unofficial advisor could wield with a president, he now had his answer, and from an unimpeachable source: the influence exerted could be decisive. It was exactly the role Fisher hoped to play."

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