After Suez: Adrift in the American Century

Martin Woollacott

I.B. Tauris 2006
A book review by Danny Yee © 2014
There are some obvious, if weak parallels between the 1956 Suez Crisis — when the British, French and Israelis attempted to seize the Suez Canal and the Sinai — and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but Woollacott's scope in After Suez is much broader. It offers a history of Anglo-American policy in the Middle East in the second half of the 20th century, in thematic chapters.

"The Roads from Suez" describes the short-term effects of Suez on Israel, Egypt, America, France and Britain. And "England's Fall" gives an account of the Crisis itself from a British perspective, in the context of the Second World War and the end of Empire.

"Two Faces of Freedom" traces the history of Western intervention in the Middle East in the name of freedom and democracy, through decolonisation, the Cold War, ideas of humanitarian intervention, Al Qaeda, and Iraq. And "The Search for Perfect Force" describes changing military ideas: the limitations of resources, the cliché of Israeli military prowess, lightning wars, proxy wars, smart wars, and so forth.

"From Suez to Iraq" traces the history of the Anglo-American relationship, covering the 1953 coup against Mossadegh, the erosion of the partnership in the 60s and 70s, Thatcher and Reagan and the Falklands War, and Kosovo and Afghanistan and Iraq and Blair's one-man crusade. And "Magic Carpets" traces the role of "magical thinking" in foreign policy and the broader power of ideas and ideologies.

In just 150 pages, this is necessarily a high level, broad-brush account, though it saves on space by assuming a general knowledge of the region's history. After Suez is, however, enlivened with some brief personal perspectives: it opens with the experiences of a British paratrooper and an Israeli reservist in 1956, Olivia Manning's heroine Harriet Pringle features, and so forth. Woollacott is a journalist rather than a historian and this is a summary and a sampling rather than an analysis or an argument, but it's also accessible and informative.

April 2014

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%T After Suez
%S Adrift in the American Century
%A Woollacott, Martin
%I I.B. Tauris
%D 2006
%O hardcover
%G ISBN-13 9781845111762
%P 176pp