Uppgång och fall i historien om imperier

Mats Björkenfeldt

“On Wednesday, July 28, 1954, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden announced in the Commons that a draft agreement had finally been reached to end Britain’s seventy-two-year-long military presence in Egypt. ‘Those in Britain who see the agreement as a surrender to prestige and safety should consider soberly the alternatives,’ editorialized The Times. Gamal Abdel Nasser, now thirty-six, initialed the document for Egypt.”

Det var slutet på en historia som började 1798 när admiral Nelson besegrade Napoleon vid slaget om Nilen, varefter britterna ockuperade Egypten 1882.  Trots att det brittiska imperiet tillhörde segrarmakterna, var man nu på väg att falla sönder, liksom romarriket på 400-talet och de Osmanska- och Habsburgska rikena under det första världskriget. Derek Leebaert, tidigare professor vid Georgetown University, skildrar ingående, hur det brittiska imperiet inte steg åt sidan för den allt mäktigare supermakten USA, i boken Grand Improvisation. America Confronts the British Superpower, 1945–1957 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2018), från vilken ovanstående citat är hämtat.

Indien hade blivit självständigt 1947. Och några år senare identifierade “High Commissioner McCloy […] a larger problem, and one that he believed was even more significant than the threat posed by Russia: that was ‘the collapse of the British Empire’”. Ett fenomen “that could suck the United States into wide-reaching power vacuums while the drums of world struggle beat ever louder in London and Washington”.

McCloy var USA:s high commissioner för Tyskland från september 1949 till augusti 1952. Han är känd för att ha benådat många nazistiska krigsförbrytare. Den amerikanske ambassadören i Tyskland David Bruce höll med McCloy: “The UK’s collapse is one of the most dramatic events of recent history.”

I boken skildras vidare hur den iranske premiärministern Mohammad Mosaddeq (1882–1967) blev störtad i en statskupp 1953, orkestrerad av Storbritannien och CIA, efter att Iran hade nationaliserat det brittiska företaget Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

Före statskuppen hade Mosaddeq träffat president Truman och i FN förklarat orsaken till nationaliseringen. ”At the National Press Club, he spoke of the ideals of 1776 and of indepen­dence from the British Empire and received rousing applause.” Truman lovade en “careful consideration” för ett lån på 120 miljoner US-dollar.

Mosaddeq återvände hem via Kairo. ”At the city’s King Farouk I Airport, he received a hero’s welcome. According to Egypt’s well-controlled press, two million people lined the streets to greet him.”

I London “Churchill faced economic turmoil.”

CIA hade haft en liten representation i Iran sedan 1947, vilken höll en låg profil, då annars “the British would have squashed it”. ”Iran was British turf, and anything more substantial would have been regarded as meddling.”  Men ingen “at State [Department] or in the CIA was particularly hostile to Mosaddeq”.  Man var dock bekymrad över “the consequences of Mosaddeq’s inability to reach agreement with the British […].”

“In Tehran, government officials, reporters, businessmen, and local thugs were bribed to support the shah, and – after fits, starts, and violence in the streets –on August 19 a royalist army general consolidated the pieces to overthrow Mosaddeq.” Hans liv sparades tack vare krav från USA:s ambassad. “A new government, more attuned to Western interests, enabled an American consortium to break the British monopoly and work with the AIOC (renamed British Petroleum the next year) in operating Abadan and the oil fields, splitting profits with Tehran.”

Några år senare lät Nasser nationalisera Suezkanalen, varpå Storbritannien, Frankrike och Israel startade krig. Men “U.S. pressure for an unconditional cease-fire had forced the British to yield, which was a decision otherwise unacceptable for any great power. France then had to fold, because its troops were under British command. But all three invaders had yet to leave Egyptian soil, and the canal remained blocked.” Den konservative premiärministern Anthony Eden (1897– 1977) blev så förödmjukad att han kollapsade.

USA:s president Dwight Eisenhower  kunde nu skära pipor i vassen, när han i oktober 1957 konstaterade: “There is going to be a great psychological advantage in world politics to putting the thing up. But that doesn’t seem to be a reason […] to grow hysterical about it.”

Professor emeritus i historia och internationella relationer Andrew J. Bacevich skriver om boken: “A nation in decline that persists in imagining itself indispensable is a menace to itself and to others. So it was with Great Britain after World War II. So too it is with the United States today. With sparkling prose and deft characterizations, Derek Leebaert examines the relationship between those two countries – the one on the way down, the other reaching its zenith – in the first decade of the postwar era. The result is both revealing and immensely instructive. This is historical revisionism of the very best sort.” Boken ger ”global insights for today”, framhålls på bokomslaget.

Ja, huruvida USA, med sina cirka 800 militära baser över jordens yta, ska gå samma öde till mötes som ovan nämnda imperier återstår att se.