The Suez Crisis
New world crises were erupting while the Republicans and Democrats were involved in their election year battles.
In early 1956, Knowland was a leader in a congressional effort to block a U.S. loan to help Egypt build the Aswan Dam on the Nile River. The dam was thought to be a crown jewel for Egypt's new leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Israel was worried that a loan would mean that the United States was leaning toward Egypt and away from Israel. Knowland warned Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that Congress was against the loan and that the administration should "proceed at its peril." Dulles told Knowland he was "pretty sure we are not going ahead." On July 19, President Eisenhower did indeed announce that the United States would not be participating in the dam project.
A week later, Egypt reacted by seizing the British-held Suez Canal and denouncing the Western powers. Nasser justified these actions as a response to the U.S. decision to pull out of the Aswan project, announcing that he planned to build the dam from revenues earned from the canal. Despite summer-long negotiations, Egypt rejected efforts to halt nationalization of the canal.
On September 8, Knowland met with Dulles and "expressed very strongly" that the country was not prepared to back the British and French in military action to take back the canal. Britain, he said, was an undependable ally. He said he hoped the British wouldn't start a war "which needs our help. I don't think public opinion would be ready to support that." Knowland believed that the United Nations should step
in and use its influence against armed aggression, and Dulles said that he had refused to assure the British and French that the United States would oppose a UN resolution calling for renunciation of force. That was the right thing to do, Knowland told Dulles.
There were serious foreign policy concerns elsewhere in the world. In Europe, on October 23, 1956, the Hungarians revolted against Soviet domination of their affairs, but resistance was soon crushed by Soviet troops and tanks that rolled through their cities. No Western power rallied to Hungary's cause.
Less than a week later, Israel, whose ships had been denied passage through the Suez Canal since 1950, launched an invasion of Egypt, aided by the British and the French. The world once again was brought to the brink of war when the Soviet Union threatened to intervene with atomic weapons if the British and the French didn't pull out. Knowland, shocked by the British action, rushed to the White House to tell Eisenhower not to let the British "drag us into another one of their wars." Ike exclaimed later to one of his aides, Emmet Hughes, "If that isn't the silliest damn kind of talk."
The United Nations, led by the United States, condemned the British, French, and Israelis, and a cease-fire was declared on November 7, 1956, the day after Eisenhower's reelection. The British and the French quickly withdrew their troops, but the Israelis remained in the Sinai Peninsula. That became a sore spot with the Eisenhower administration.
The new year of 1957 opened with the president introducing the Eisenhower Doctrine, a policy he would ask Congress to approve that would give him the power to protect the security of Middle East nations against communist aggression. Eisenhower had revealed the doctrine on New Year's Eve and met with congressional leaders the next day to discuss it. The proposal had gotten into the newspapers before Knowland was told about it; once again, the failure to inform him raised his ire. Eisenhower wanted the doctrine to be the first order of business when Congress convened. Indeed, he felt so strongly about the need for the doctrine that he made a special appearance before a joint session of Congress on January 5, 1957, to urge its passage. "If the nations of [the Middle East] should lose their independence," Eisenhower said, "if they were dominated by alien forces hostile to freedom, that would be a tragedy for the area. . . . Western Europe would be endangered just as though there had been no Marshall Plan, no North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The free nations of Asia and Africa, too, would be placed in serious jeopardy. All this would have the most adverse, if
not disastrous, effect upon our own nation." The doctrine called for use of U.S. troops in the Middle East if the countries attacked by Soviet forces requested help. Eisenhower also asked for approval of $100 million in economic aid in the Middle East.
Knowland's reaction was predictable. He would support a policy that would prevent Soviet aggression, so long as the details were worked out in Congress. The doctrine wound up passing in the Senate by a 72-19 vote.
John Foster Dulles noted that Israel was holding out. The Israelis wanted concessions from the Egyptians, including UN police occupation of the disputed Gaza Strip and free passage of ships through the Tiran Strait, which would give Israel access to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Though Dulles did not disagree with Israel's position, he said that he could not support any concessions that were made at gun-point. He urged Israel to pull back, allowing the United States to try to get the concessions through negotiations, but the Israelis refused.
Dulles then floated the idea of UN sanctions against Israel. It may have been no more than a feint, but Knowland would have none of it and he wasted little time making his views known. He telephoned Jack Bell, the Associated Press reporter in the press gallery. "Jack," he said, "if you want to come down to my office, I'd like to give you a statement I think you might be interested in." He wasn't waiting to find out what Eisenhower thought he should do or say: this proposed sanction had to be squelched right away. When Bell showed up in Knowland's office, the senator handed him the statement written in pencil. It called even the slightest consideration of sanctions immoral. Although Dulles contended he was bluffing, Knowland felt that even to intimate any such action was uncalled for, especially in light of the U.S. failure to do anything about the Soviet massacre of Hungarians. Knowland received widespread coverage and reaction from around the world when his statement was carried by the Associated Press.
The senator followed up by saying he would resign as a delegate to the United Nations if sanctions were imposed on Israel. He had called Dulles on February 1, 1957, to plead Israel's case against sanctions. But Dulles replied, "If we cannot get the Israelis out of Egypt the Russians will get them out and in the process we will lose the whole of the Middle East. I don't see how we can have any influence with the Arab countries if we cannot get the Israelis out of Egypt. We have tried everything short of sanctions." Told that the president was endorsing the sanctions, Knowland warned, "I've gone along as far as I can and this will mean the parting of the ways."
"I think you should study this," Dulles said. "We can't have all our policies made in Jerusalem." Knowland replied, "I agree, but sanctions are pretty serious. I would like to know the timing. I want to send in my resignation [as a UN delegate] before the delegation votes on sanctions."
On the Senate floor on February 6, Knowland showed his obstreperous temper by becoming the first politician of national standing to lash out against the unfairness of the United States threatening sanctions against Israel while having done little about the Soviet Union's treatment of Hungary. Knowland drew on his sense of right and wrong to point out once more the incongruities of the Eisenhower administration's foreign policy. He said that to punish Israel while "sidestepping the larger aggression" of the Soviet Union would be "immoral and insupportable," a sign of a double standard. His critics would argue in response that the standards were the same; but as a practical matter, they just couldn't be enforced against the Soviet Union.
On February 11, 1957, Knowland launched an attack on the United Nations that was widely interpreted by political reporters as the opening salvo in his 1960 campaign for the presidency. He told an audience at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., that the United Nations had five defects in how it functioned: the abuse of veto power by the Soviet Union, a growing double standard of international morality, the increasing trend to bloc voting, an expanding tendency to interfere in the internal affairs of member nations, and the unwillingness of many of the eighty members to share the costs and other obligations of the United Nations.
Knowland complained that since the United Nations' inception, the Soviet Union had recorded seventy-nine vetoes in the Security Council while the United States had exercised none: "Unless the Soviet Union can be expelled from membership in the meantime, that Godless communist totalitarian dictatorship holds a veto in perpetuity on any charter amendment." He feared that if bloc voting continued, "preconceived viewpoints may act to prevent the United Nations from functioning on the facts presented."
Knowland pointed out that the United States paid nearly a third of the costs of UN operations. "It is going to be very difficult to expect the nations which are bearing the heavy burden of costs to continue to assume that burden if smaller nations under the sovereign equality section of the charter continue to insist on the voting of obligations without a willingness to assume their full share of the burdens." He also noted that in Korea the United States supplied more than 90 percent of
the resources "used to gain the stalemated armistice. . . . Never before in all of our history have our field commanders been so handicapped or our men asked to die in a war they were not permitted to win."
The senator called for a reappraisal of the United Nations. "It is unfortunate for that organization that some of its friends oversold it to the people of the United States," he said. "Perhaps, because of that, we expected more than it was able to accomplish." In particular, he cited the example of the General Assembly's passing ten resolutions between October 27 and January 10 opposing Soviet repression in Hungary. "Nations can die while delegates talk," Knowland said. The United States should make it clear that American foreign policy "should not be tied as a tail to a United Nations kite." Based on the United Nation's record, he argued, "no nation, including our own, dare risk its security on the United Nations' ability to function effectively."
In an unsigned memorandum prepared on February 14, 1957, for Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson by his staff, Knowland was accused of himself holding contradictory positions, at the same time wanting to restrict the veto power of the Security Council and criticizing the United Nations for invading the internal affairs of member nations. Regardless of whether his points were valid, the authors noted, the speech put Knowland "on a course which is bound to bring about increasing collisions with the administration." As they pointed out, "He is criticizing the United Nations for 'defects' which cannot be changed at the present time under any circumstances. Since they cannot be changed, he is bound to become more and more critical and more insistent that either the Soviet Union get out or we get out. It is inconceivable that this or any other administration would take the United States out of the United Nations or act to expel the Soviet Union from the United Nations. In other words, there is no middle group upon which both Senator Knowland and the Administration can stand." To a Democrat, this was not necessarily bad news, as the memo concluded: "Since Senator Knowland is a strong personality who is not likely to retreat from any position he believes is right, and since the Administration cannot retreat, the results should be interesting."
In an interview in 1970, Knowland said, "I am sure that the State Department was a little unhappy about the statement. . . . I think it is maybe one of the few instances where a statement by a senator caused them to take a second look at the situation. I pointed out in a Senate speech and in a statement which I made that to impose sanctions on a small country, when they had lacked the courage to impose it on
the Soviet Union for what was perhaps even a worse situation, was morally wrong, and what was morally wrong could never be politically right."
On February 20, in a meeting with Johnson, Knowland, and about fifteen other congressional leaders, Eisenhower explained why he was considering UN sanctions against Israel. He believed that Egypt would allow no oil shipments through the Suez Canal unless Israel gave up its war gains. In addition, he said, the Arabs might seek Soviet aid. "And then the whole thing might end up in a general war," Eisenhower said.
According to Ike's chief of staff, Sherman Adams, Johnson's expression indicated that he was not going to budge in his opposition to the sanctions and Knowland "was wearing his classical toga of lofty defiance." They argued again that Dulles was applying a double standard. "Nobody likes to impose sanctions," Eisenhower answered, "but how else can we induce Israel to withdraw to the line agreed on in the 1949 armistice? The Arabs refuse to discuss a permanent settlement until that move is made." Johnson told Eisenhower that he and Knowland agreed on their opposition to sanctions. "After all, there are times when Congress has to express its own views," Johnson said. "I certainly have no objection to that," Eisenhower replied. "Thank you," Johnson responded with a wry smile.
Knowland said if sanctions were not imposed, some other alternative had to be found to force the Israelis to leave the occupied territory. He suggested that a neutral zone be established between Israel and Egypt, but Henry Cabot Lodge pointed out that a similar solution had been before the United Nations three weeks earlier and had found no support. Finally, Knowland agreed that the United States could not avoid voting to sanction Israel, but only if sanctions were also applied to the Soviet Union. "How much support could be found for applying sanctions against Russia for its failure to comply with the UN resolution on Hungary?" Knowland asked. "The UN will never vote for sanctions against either Russia or the United States," Lodge replied.
When Johnson and Knowland left the meeting, Johnson told reporters, "Our views have not been changed."
As it turned out, the threat of sanctions was enough to pressure Israel to withdraw. Nine days after Eisenhower had announced his willingness to take the issue to the United Nations, Prime Minister Golda Meir said that all Israeli troops would be withdrawn from the Gaza Strip. In the end, Nasser built his Aswan Dam with a $554 million loan from the Soviet Union. It also took the work of 35,000 Egyptian laborers
and 2,000 Russian technicians. Nasser died in 1970, just a year before the massive dam was dedicated.
In late summer of 1957, Knowland led the fight to strike $4 billion from the administration's budget request and Eisenhower was clearly annoyed. During a press conference, he was asked if he intended to punish Republicans who did not support his spending plan. He answered by equivocating, "I don't think it is the function of a president of the United States to punish anybody for voting for what he believes." And, he said, referring to a possible change in leadership, the Senate's organization is a matter for Senate decision." But on August 29, when Eisenhower and Knowland had another of their frequent breakfast meetings, they discussed Republicanism and agreed that despite newspaper columnists' attempts to create a schism between conservative and liberal Republicans, they were in accord in much of their thinking.
The next day, Eisenhower wrote to Republican National Chairman Meade Alcorn that Knowland stood among the first four or five senators who had supported measures the president had proposed. "With one or two exceptions over the five-year period, his differing vote has been based upon some detail or technical feature," Eisenhower said. "We have, at times, differed on applicable policy in foreign affairs—but in important administrative projects he has led the fights for approval." Eisenhower called the charge that he and Knowland were at opposite ends of the political spectrum a "gross exaggeration." The president undoubtedly was reacting to the Democrats who had slashed his budget, gutted his foreign aid, and played politics with civil tights. While not exactly putting himself in Knowland's camp, he told Alcorn, "He and I [agree] that we are conservatives."
Later, Eisenhower was asked by a reporter if he planned to support those in Congress up for reelection during 1958 who opposed him on budget matters as strongly as those who did not. Knowland undoubtedly took note of the response. "I hope," Eisenhower said, "I am never accused of being so namby-pamby that I don't have degrees of enthusiasm about people who stand for me and who stand against me. I most earnestly believe that the Congress and the White House should be occupied and controlled by the same party, for the reason that you can then fix responsibility. . . . When it comes down to who I am for enthusiastically and who I am for because he is a Republican, there is a
very wide difference." (Knowland surely would remember that statement in 1958, when Eisenhower half-heartedly campaigned for him.)
To Alcorn, Eisenhower urged that the party should "hammer away continuously on the subject of unity." That unity, he said, should be based on a few common doctrines such as opposition to the trend of "increasing dependence of every citizen upon the Federal government," the equality of all citizens, and the practice of sound fiscal policies. The president called the policies "essentially conservative principles applied to 20th century conditions." With such a policy, he believed, "there are a thousand details and technicalities on which we can disagree and still not destroy the essential unity of the Republican Party."
On that same day that Eisenhower was defending him, Knowland was meeting with Secretary of State Dulles concerning the possibilities of hostilities in the Middle East. As Dulles saw it, the situation was dangerous: the Soviets were trying to extend their orbit to Syria and then on to Jordan. And with Egypt on the other side, Israel would be surrounded by aggressive enemies. Dulles told Knowland that the United States "had to be ready, if necessary, to provide assurance against direct Soviet military intervention, assuming this was requested by our allies or under the Eisenhower Doctrine." While the possibility of hostilities was not so imminent as to justify any general discussion with Congress, Dulles "did not want [him] to go away without knowing that such a possibility, even though remote, did exist."
Knowland replied that he thought the American people would have been more willing to back action in Hungary than in the Middle East. But Dulles pointed out that "it was one thing to use United States military force to drive the Soviets out of a position where they were and another to interpose United States force between the Soviet Union and some new area which they might be intent upon attacking. The first would surely mean general war; the second probably not."
On January 30, 1957, an incident in Japan centering on an American soldier drove another wedge between Knowland and Eisenhower.
Specialist 3rd Class William S. Girard of Ottawa, Illinois, accidentally killed a Japanese woman who was looking for brass casings on a firing range seventy-five miles north of Tokyo. Because Girard was not on official duty at the time, he was turned over to Japanese authorities for prosecution under the Status of Forces Treaty agreed to with nations
where U.S. troops were stationed. That touched off a storm of protest in Congress; Knowland was among those arguing most adamantly that the United States should have jurisdiction over its soldiers on foreign soil. In the House, Representative Frank Bow of Ohio introduced a resolution calling for an end to the Status of Forces Treaty.
On investigating the workings of the treaty, Eisenhower found that in 14,000 other cases U.S. soldiers had been treated fairly by the Japanese having jurisdiction over them. He decided that the United States shouldn't go back on its word to its allies because of one such incident, and thus he said he had no choice but to fight the Bow resolution. But Knowland believed that turning the serviceman over to the Japanese violated the serviceman's basic rights and the rights of all other American soldiers stationed overseas.
On May 28, Knowland met with Dulles, who told him that the United States "had no practical alternative to allowing the Japanese to go ahead and exercise jurisdiction in the Girard case. I pointed out that this had already been agreed to and I saw no practical way of retracing our steps without throwing doubt upon the value of our agreements and raising a storm which might sweep us out of all the Western Pacific." While Knowland remarked that this would be "tough," he did not indicate approval or disapproval.
On July 9 at a meeting in the White House, Eisenhower, who had originally helped draft the agreement, tried to explain its importance to Knowland. But the senator would not be persuaded. In what Eisenhower aide Sherman Adams called a "most angry scene," Knowland exploded. He demanded that Eisenhower issue an executive order ensuring an American trial for any American soldier accused of a crime on a military post or on military duty in any foreign country. He pounded the table and roared, "A young man drafted in peacetime, sent overseas against his will, assigned to a duty—by God, I don't think he ought to be turned over for trial. He's wearing the uniform of our country. I wouldn't want my son to be treated that way. We're being derelict toward them."
Eisenhower assured Knowland that before Girard was turned over to the Japanese, the authorities promised the United States a light sentence if he were convicted. He was worried that passage of the Bow resolution could mean that a foreign country might refuse to allow American servicemen into their countries, because they would be in effect exempt from that nation's laws. Eisenhower told Knowland that he would not yield in his opposition to the Bow resolution. "If the Re-
publicans desert me on this issue, I'll be more disappointed than I have been about anything that has happened to me since I've been in office." He said the amendment would threaten U.S. security, alienate its friends, and "give aid and comfort to those who want to destroy our way of life."
The Democrats also were pushing for passage of the bill to embarrass the Republicans. That, coupled with the president's plea, led the Republicans to back off. Knowland's ire cooled somewhat when he learned that Girard, after being found guilty, received a suspended three-year sentence. The Bow resolution quietly died.
Such run-ins with the president were leading several columnists to call for Knowland's resignation as Republican minority leader. But Eisenhower publicly remained aloof and refused to be involved in any question of party leadership. "It has never even crossed my mind to ask the resignation of anybody," he said, "because they are not direct subordinates of mine." He agreed that Knowland had differed with him "on some very important points and I think some of them are critical and they represent real differences, but it does not mean that he is my enemy; it means that he has got some very strong convictions on the other side of the fence."
The president rejected going behind the backs of congressional leaders and said he would talk directly to them in his "quiet conversational way." "I am not one of the desk-pounding type that likes to stick out his jaw and look like he is bossing the show," Eisenhower said. "I would far rather get behind, and recognizing the frailties and requirements of human nature, I would rather try to persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him, he will stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared and then he is gone."
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik , the satellite that sent shock waves around the world. Knowland went to Eisenhower, telling him that it was psychologically necessary to work quickly on a "lunar probe." But Ike said he was not interested in any glamour projects, especially reaching the moon. "We have no enemies on the moon," he said.
Years later, Knowland recalled that there was a feeling of disbelief in both the House and the Senate that the Soviets could put a satellite in space while the United States had no similar capabilities. The senator
disagreed with Sherman Adams, Eisenhower's chief of staff, who at the time downplayed the Soviet accomplishment. Knowland himself was not surprised by Sputnik , because he had sat on the Joint Atomic Committee for thirteen and a half years and he knew that the Soviets had the capability. But he suggested that the United States could have been first and should have been first, "for psychological reasons if not for any other reason."
At a White House meeting of Republican leaders in February 1958, Knowland reiterated his plea to put up some kind of a rocket. "If we are anywhere near it, we ought to push it." But again Eisenhower rejected his pleas, saying that the country should not make an all-out push without knowing the costs.