Anthony Eden Essay - Critical Essays


Anthony Eden seemed destined for greatness. A Member of Parliment at age twenty-six, in 1935 he became the youngest British foreign secretary since the eighteenth century. Early in World War II, Winston Churchill identified Eden as his preferred successor as prime minister if he should become incapacitated. Eden’s marriage to Churchill’s niece, Clarissa, after the war reinforced the public impression that Eden was Churchill’s heir apparent. By the time the Conservative party had returned to office in 1951, however, Churchill had developed reservations about Eden’s ability to serve successfully as prime minister and sought to delay his promotion to that office. Previous biographers have viewed Eden’s brief tenure as prime minister as having justified Churchill’s reservations because of the disastrous Suez policy he carried out in 1956.

Eden’s decision to collaborate secretly with France and Israel in an invasion of Egypt culminated in the humiliating withdrawal of British forces from that country, a political crisis within Britain, and a glacial freeze in British relations with the United States, which virtually ended any illusion that the wartime special relationship still existed between the two countries. While previous historians have attributed these consequences to Eden’s flawed judgment, James defends Eden, claiming that his Suez policy would have been successful had it not been for the intervention of the United States.

Although Eden claimed to be intervening to ensure that Egypt did not interfere with the passage of oil through the Suez Canal, James’s study demonstrates that Eden’s real purpose was to depose the Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Eden acted without the approval or knowledge of the United States, and James suggests that Eden was misled about the real position of the American government by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who was personally sympathetic to Eden’s policy. President Eisenhower, however, was enraged by Britain’s resort to force; diplomatic and financial pressures from the United States were important factors in Eden’s decision to abandon the operation after British troops had secured control of the Suez canal.

This is the official biography of Eden, and it benefits from being the first account of his life to be based on Eden’s own papers and on recently released Cabinet papers pertaining to the Suez crisis. The author is a Conservative Member of Parliament who has written several notable biographies of Conservative political leaders.