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Historians will be grateful to Kent, of the London School of Economics, for this monumental collection of valuable British documents on the British evacuation of Egypt after World War II.

The major theme of this collection, all taken from the British Public Record Office, is the military and strategic significance of Egypt and the Middle East up until the Suez crisis, and especially the British airbases in Egypt from which American B-29s would have launched a strategic air offensive against the Soviet bloc in the event of a world conflict. As I have shown1, all Western military planning for the Middle East was designed to buy time for that offensive.

In his long introduction, Kent, oddly, ignores this goal and so dismisses British military planning for the Middle East as a vain effort to preserve a pathetic façade of prestige and status in the region, implying that Britain should gracefully have reconciled itself to second-class power status and exited from the Middle East. But had it done so, the Soviets would have moved into the vacuum and the West could have lost the Middle East, with its strategic bases and oil, not to speak of the rich minerals of Africa.

Also surprising, Kent blames the Baghdad Pact for having brought to the surface every latent conflict and rivalry existing within the Middle East and providing the catalyst for the developing crisis which ultimately engulfed the Middle East in 1956 with the second Arab-Israeli war. But did the West really provoke the Iraq-Egypt rivalry for hegemony over the Arab world? Had there been no pact, would Gamal Abdel Nasser have been a docile client of the West? In fact, the pact did not alienate Abdel Nasser; note that London initially declined to join the pact precisely in an effort not to anger him. Washington tried to woo Abdel Nasser with armaments and aid (offering to help finance the Aswan after he had shattered the Middle East arms balance by buying a huge quantity of Soviet arms, via the Czechs). Moreover, the Baghdad Pact provided the Western allies with a very useful foothold along the Soviet Union's southern tier. All this was not about the saving of British face.

1 Michael J. Cohen, Fighting World War Three from the Middle East: Allied Contingency Plans, 1945-1954 (London: Frank Cass, 1987).