Robert Eden was a British politician who was the first Conservative Prime Minister to rule the United Kingdom from 1955 to 1957. The queen appointed only 15 Prime Ministers during her 70-year reign, and Eden was the first to serve as Prime Minister under Queen Elizabeth II. The article explores his career, attitudes toward U.S. foreign policy, and failures as a diplomat.
Anthony Eden’s career was largely successful during the 1950s, but his life turned out to be very short. He suffered severe exhaustion and resigned on health grounds in 1957. The Suez Crisis also played a major role in his career. The French, who were at war with the British, also aided the rebels, selling rifles to the EOKA guerrillas in Cyprus.
Eden’s career took a traumatic turn when he decided to take military action in Egypt during the Suez Crisis. His decision, which was made in alliance with the French and Israelis, proved a military success, but proved to be a political disaster. The Suez crisis also led to Eden’s mental state becoming impaired. He also suffered from high fever and recurrent episodes of cholangitis.
His career had reached its zenith two years earlier, when he had persuaded a recalcitrant Winston Churchill to accept a new treaty with Egypt that allowed the British to withdraw from the Suez Canal zone and grant Egypt full national independence. However, his career subsequently deteriorated.
Eden’s political and diplomatic position on the Suez crisis is controversial. He was under pressure from the French and the right-wing of the Conservative party to use military force to resolve the crisis. In addition, he was weakened by ill health. French Premier Guy Mollet’s Government was also keen on a military solution, arguing that it would put an end to Nasser’s rule and his support for Algeria. However, Eden rejected the idea of an invasion as damaging to Anglo-Arab relations.
Although the Americans sympathized with Eden, they felt that war was unlikely to end the crisis. The British and French argued that the canal was too important to risk the lives of both sides. Despite their disagreement, they remained committed to the Suez canal. In spite of this, they hoped that warnings would be enough to dissuade the Egyptians from pursuing a military option. However, Eden’s judgment was flawed. He misjudged the reaction of the Americans and the Western Alliance, and he had underestimated Nasser’s humiliation.
Eden’s reaction to the Suez crisis was far from the proper response. He had rushed into the crisis, thinking himself a foreign affairs expert. He did not trust Nasser, as he thought he resembled the European dictators of the 1930s. He also felt pressured to follow Churchill’s lead. However, his actions enraged the USSR, the UN, and the British people. He also drew the attention of the French Ambassador and the American Charge d’Affaires.
Despite the tensions, Britain and France agreed to a secret plan to end the crisis. Despite this secret, the Israelis and French invaded Egypt in October 1956. The Anglo-French had been secretly supporting Nasser and the Israelis, but they had not informed the other ANZUS powers of this plan.
There have been some historians who claim that Eden acted wrongly by using force in the Suez Crisis. However, this interpretation does not match the historical evidence. Eden hoped to resolve the crisis through a peaceful means, but his diplomats let him down and undermined his dual-track strategy. In addition, his ill health was another factor in his downfall.
It is not hard to discern Anthony Eden’s attitude to American foreign policy from his comments in 1956. He supported preventive “police action” against Egypt. In a Cabinet meeting, he linked Egypt’s nationalist strongman with the pre-war Fascists. Nonetheless, he was wrong to identify him as such.
Eden’s political career spans more than three decades, including positions as Foreign Secretary under Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain. His weakness for foreign policy was obscured, however, as Winston Churchill groomed him for Prime Ministership and the Conservative leadership. Although he was popular and pertinacious, Eden was a foreign policy failure. He was out of step with history and the world’s power.
Eden had grave misgivings about American foreign policy. He was wary of the escalating cost of defense and the increased state power of the U.S. He was also frustrated with Dulles’s “brinkmanship” policy, which involved flexing America’s muscles in dealing with the communist world. Eden was also opposed to American aerial strike operations in the Middle East.
Despite his good intentions, Eden’s failure to negotiate with the U.S. ended up ruining his reputation as a peacemaker. Moreover, he led Britain to its worst defeat in the 20th century. While he was pretending to follow international law, he acted in a hurried and rash manner. He also neglected the United Nations and its delegates.
After he had made his choice to focus on foreign policy, Eden had little experience with domestic or economic policy and left it up to his deputy Rab Butler. As a result, he failed to see the importance of developing closer economic ties with western Europe. He delegated many of these tasks to Rab Butler and other senior ministers.
Eden’s diplomatic maneuvers were interpreted by some historians as preparation for invasion, but Pearson argues that he was right to hope for a peaceful settlement. While his diplomatic strategy failed to bring about the end of Nasser’s control over the canal, Eden is seen as a tragic figure. His cabinet members undermined his dual-track strategy, and his poor health conspired against him.
Afterwards, Eden was replaced by Harold Macmillan, who had extensive experience in foreign affairs and was an excellent choice for the post. However, the damage Eden’s failures caused to relations between the U.S. and Britain was significant. After his appointment, the relationship between the two nations has improved.
As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Eden had to make a decision regarding the future of Egypt. His position was pushed by the French and the right-wing of his Conservative party. In addition, Eden’s health had deteriorated, which forced him to seek a military solution. France was interested in an invasion because it would likely bring an end to Nasser’s regime and the support of Algeria. Eden, however, rejected the invasion as harmful to Anglo-Arab relations.
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