In This Review

Descent To Suez: Foreign Office Diaries, 1951-1956
Descent To Suez: Foreign Office Diaries, 1951-1956
By Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh
Norton, 1987, 380 pp

The diaries of a British diplomat who, from 1951 to 1954, was the private secretary of Anthony Eden, then the foreign minister. A companion to John Colville's The Fringes of Power, Shuckburgh's account is perhaps more egotistical, but it is a readable and revealing source. Fascinating glimpses of international politics, of Churchill's whimsical impetuosity, of Eden's all-absorbing ambition to become his successor-all against the background of great crises from Indochina to Palestine. It describes a time of Britain's steady decline, inadequately perceived and acknowledged at the time; also a time of friction between the U.S. and the U.K., though President Eisenhower emerges here (as elsewhere) as a shrewd, active leader. There are startling details, such as Dulles' plans in 1954 for an Anglo-American military rescue operation in Indochina in order to replace the French. From 1954 to 1956 Shuckburgh was in charge of Middle Eastern questions, and his exasperation with Jewish pressure and Israeli politics was great. Suez was the culminating failure of British leadership in those years. A corrective of nostalgia: the "special relationship" was always troubled by what in British eyes seemed American arrogance and lack of deference, and the early 1950s had their share of folly and faulty leadership.