A world leader and brilliant diplomat. That’s how Anthony Eden saw himself.
In 1956, during his second year as Britain's Prime Minister, he gave the green light to an audacious plan to topple the Egyptian government. Joining with the French, he would seize control of the Suez Canal, showing the world that Britain remained a preeminent power in the Middle East.
Eden knew the Yanks might have misgivings about the plan. And so, one of his ministers recalled, he resolved to “conceal his hand from the Americans.” Better to just go ahead, he thought. Once troops were on the canal, the trusty Americans would have no choice but to back him up.
He was wrong.
President Eisenhower refused to jump into a risky military adventure that offered more perils than promise. Without American support, British and French forces were forced to withdraw. Eden left office soon thereafter.
The “brilliant” diplomat now rates as one of Britain’s least successful leaders of the 20th century.
In the 2013 Syrian Crisis, Washington and London swapped places. Like Eden in 1956, President Obama felt he had to do something to demonstrate the U.S. was still a force in the Middle East. And he assumed his trusty ally would come on board to give his initiative international credibility.
Obama didn’t make the mistake of not telling the British what he was up to, but he fared no better than Eden.
The president planned to repeat the course he had taken in Libya and to begin military operations quickly, without congressional approval. He pressured British Prime Minister David Cameron for immediate support, so he could strike over the long weekend, while U.S. lawmakers were still out on summer recess. With luck, the military could punish Assad and call it a day before Congress reconvened.
That timing, though perfect for the president, was not good for Cameron. Governing through a fragile coalition of conservatives and liberals, Cameron’s hold on power is shaky. The notion of undertaking military operations without the consent of parliament was unthinkable.
Cameron wanted to push the attack off for a week, to allow time for recalling Parliament and briefing both front- and back-benchers on why the operation was necessary. Obama, however, would hear none of it. He wanted to strike sooner rather than later.
The hastily reassembled Parliament rejected the call to arms. Now, Obama was stuck. Without the backing of the Brits, he would have to go it alone. The president blinked ... and punted the whole issue to Congress.
After a week of briefing lawmakers, Obama had even less support than when he started. That was when the White House jumped on the Russians' face-saving “plan” for Syria.
When asked about his Chinese-fire-drill approach to Syria, the president declared, “I’m less concerned about style points, I’m much more concerned about getting the policy right.” That’s a blatant misdirection. His miscues were errors of substance, not style.
From the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Obama has seemed more concerned with how it might affect his international Image and his domestic political stock rather than pursuing a foreign policy best calculated to protect and advance American interests.
He has demonstrated a profound lack of leadership in a crisis. Worse of all, like Eden after the debacle in Suez, he has ended in a bad place.
The Assad regime now is better off now than when Obama started his intervention. The likelihood of the civil war dragging on is greater. The meddling influence of Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia is strengthened. And the dangerous role of al Qaeda is not diminished.
Anthony Eden had better days.
- James Jay Carafano, a Washington Examiner columnist, is Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.