475. Letter From President Eisenhower to Swede Hazlett1

Dear Swede: [Here follows discussion of the Presidential election campaign and Republican politics; extracts are printed in Eisenhower, Waging Peace, page 85.]

The Mid East thing is a terrible mess. Ever since July twenty-sixth, when Nasser took over the Canal, I have argued for a [Page 944]negotiated settlement. It does not seem to me that there is present in the case anything that justifies the action that Britain, France and Israel apparently concerted among themselves and have initiated.

The 1888 Treaty says nothing at all as to how the Canal is to be operated, although it did recognize the existence of the “Concession” dating, I believe, from 1868. I think, therefore, that no one could question the legal right of Egypt to nationalize the Canal Company. And what really became the apparent or legal bone of contention was, “Shall the world’s users of the Canal, which is guaranteed as an international waterway in perpetuity, be privileged to use the Canal only on the sufferance of a single nation?” Even this, in my opinion, is not the real heart of the matter.

The real point is that Britain, France and Israel had come to believe—probably correctly—that Nasser was their worst enemy in the Mid East and that until he was removed or deflated, they would have no peace. I do not quarrel with the idea that there is justification for such fears, but I have insisted long and earnestly that you cannot resort to force in international relationships because of your fear of what might happen in the future. In short, I think the British and French seized upon a very poor vehicle to use in bringing Nasser to terms.

Of course, nothing in the region would be so difficult to solve except for the underlying cause of the unrest and dissension that exists there—that is, the Arab-Israel quarrel. This quarrel seems to have no limit either in intensity or in scope. Everybody in the Moslem and Jewish worlds is affected by it. It is so intense that the second any action is taken against one Arab state, by an outsider, all the other Arab and Moslem states seem to regard it as a Jewish plot and react violently. All this complicates the situation enormously.

As we began to uncover evidence that something was building up in Israel, we demanded pledges from Ben-Gurion that he would keep the peace. We realized that he might think he could take advantage of this country because of the approaching election and because of the importance that so many politicians in the past have attached to our Jewish vote. I gave strict orders to the State Department that they should inform Israel that we would handle our affairs exactly as though we didn’t have a Jew in America. The welfare and best interests of our own country were to be the sole criteria on which we operated.

I think that France and Britain have made a terrible mistake. Because they had such a poor case, they have isolated themselves from the good opinion of the world and it will take them many years to recover. France was perfectly cold-blooded about the matter. She has a war on her hands in Algeria, and she was anxious to get someone else fighting the Arabs on her Eastern flank so she was [Page 945]ready to do anything to get England and Israel in that affair. But I think the other two countries have hurt themselves immeasurably and this is something of a sad blow because, quite naturally, Britain not only has been, but must be, our best friend in the world.

Only a star-gazer could tell how the whole thing is going to come out. But I can tell you one thing. The existence of this problem does not make sleeping any easier—not merely because of the things I recite above, but because of the opportunities that we have handed to the Russians. I don’t know what the final action of the United Nations on this matter will be. We are struggling to get a simple cease-fire and, with it, compulsion on both sides to start negotiations regarding the Canal, withdrawal of troops, and even proper reparations. But the possibility that both sides will accept some compromise solution does not look very bright, and every day the hostilities continue the Soviets have an additional chance to embarrass the Western world beyond measure.

All these thoughts I communicated to Eden time and again. It was undoubtedly because of his knowledge of our bitter opposition to using force in the matter that when he finally decided to undertake the plan, he just went completely silent. Actually, the British had partially dispersed some of their concentrations in the Mid East and, while we knew the trouble was not over, we did think that, so far as Britain and France were concerned, there was some easing of the situation.

Just one more thought before I close this long letter. There is some reason to believe that the plan, when actually put into effect, was not well coordinated. It looks as if the Israeli mobilized pretty rapidly and apparently got ready to attack before the others were immediately ready to follow up, using the Israeli attack as an excuse to “protect” the Canal. In any event, British and French troops, so far as I know, have not yet landed in Egypt. Apparently there has been bombing of airfields, nothing else.

If you have any bright ideas for settling the dispute, I, of course, would be delighted to have them. From what I am told, Walter Lippman and the Alsops2 have lots of ideas, but they are far from good—about what you would expect from your youngest grandchild.

Give my love to Ibby and the family.

As ever,3

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries. Personal. In Mandate for Change (p. 455), Eisenhower describes Captain Everett (SWEDE) Hazlett as a long-time friend and correspondent who had been raised in the same town as the President, attended the same high school, but had entered the U.S. Navy rather than the Army.
  2. Syndicated columnists, Joseph and Stewart Alsop.
  3. Printed from an unsigned copy.