Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is working Capitol Hill in advance of his attempt to be confirmed as the new U.S. Secretary of Defense. Like an expectant father passing out cigars, Hagel did a little shopping this week, and reportedly bought over thirty copies of “EISENHOWER 1956” by David Nichols to give out as gifts to Obama, Biden, and others. Hagel, as a Senator, kept a statue of President Dwight Eisenhower on his desk, and as a teacher, a picture of General “Ike” Eisenhower on his wall.
I happen to have a copy, and it might be helpful to skim it and get an possible idea into what the Hagel may have distilled from Eisenhower and the Suez Crisis of 1956. According to David Nichols, in 1956, Ike was facing re-election as well as a serious health crisis, he viewed the attack on the Suez Canal by the Three Musketeers of Great Britain, France and Israel as naked aggression, and as bad as the USSR’s roll into Hungary. By 1956, the US dependence on imported oil had grown from 5% to “an alarming” 20%, and Ike saw it would grow even more. While many historians treat Suez as a minor incident, the book’s author posits that for Dulles and a tough, cautious, quiet, highly organized Eisenhower it was a major crisis and could have led America into a superpower war. Ike trounced the pro-Israel Adlai Stevenson, forced the Western powers to withdraw from Egyptian territory, sought even-handedness between the Near East parties, and his Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957 supplanted the UK with the USA as the Middle East’s negotiating power. In 1960, Ike met Nasser at the UN and reminded him that he overcame powerful interests in Congress (pro-Israel interests) and his own WWII allies to aid Egypt during the Suez Crisis.
What can we take from the book? Ike ended the Korean action in 1953, did not commit troops to Indochina in 1954, scolded his allies in 1956, was slow to pickup a sword, sought arms reductions with the USSR, approved covert actions, and entered Lebanon in ’58 knowing no or few troops would be harmed. He leveraged the UN, and cultivated King Saud as a counter to Egypt’s Nasser. The book fails to mention that the Arab states and Nasser, high on his Suez “victory,” were awful allies after 1957 (or it blames Dulles and Ike’s heart and gastro problems, and not Ike directly for this). But most likely, if Iran of 2013 is Egypt of 1956, we can assume that Hagel is not the type to allow an attack on Tehran, and a Secretary who will not let American policy be compromised by Israeli desires. The book also posits that Ike did not like reading long memos, and much of what he knew about Nasser, the Aswan Damn, and Egypt was filtered through Dulles, so a smart leader won;t just rely on the memos s/he receives from the Secretary.