As the Middle East marked the 50th anniversary on October 29 of the Suez Crisis that effectively ended European colonialism, a half century of US hegemony in the region also appeared to be coming to an end, according to a growing number of analysts here.

The observation is based primarily on the serious damage done to Washington’s position in the Middle East by its 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, where more than 140,000 of its troops remain bogged down in what seems likely an increasingly futile effort both to crush a Sunni insurgency that it failed to anticipate and prevent a larger sectarian civil war.

In addition, however, the passivity or obstinacy of the administration of President George W Bush in failing to revive any kind of Arab-Israeli peace process, particularly in the wake of the war between Israel and Hezbollah or the ongoing deterioration of the Palestinian Authority, appears to have brought both Washington’s influence to an all-time low On October 29, 1956, Israel invaded Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula and within a few days occupied the Suez Canal zone that had been recently nationalised by the government of Egyptian President Gamal Nasser. Pursuant to a plan worked out in advance with the two European governments, Israel then invited Britain and France to send their forces to the area as a buffer. When Nasser rejected their offer to do so, they invaded anyway.

US President Dwight Eisenhower, who had not been informed of the three countries’ plans in advance, responded by threatening to “pull the plug” on the British pound and even to remove the US nuclear umbrella from all three countries if they did not cease fire and commit themselves to a speedy withdrawal, one that was completed by early 1957. To most historians, the crisis and the humiliation inflicted on the invading powers spelled the effective end of western European colonialism in the region and the advent of US pre-eminence, a pre-eminence that was successively enhanced by the aftermath of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the 1978 Camp David accords, and the end of the Cold War a decade later.

“The US has come to be seen as the colonial power, and, if anything, worse than the old (European) ones, because they were viewed as having an economic agenda while the US is seen as having both a resource-extraction and an ideological agenda,” according to Chris Toensing, editor of the Washington-based Middle East Report (MER). In addition, the Bush administration’s failure to exercise any demonstrable pressure on Israel to seriously engage the Palestinians in a peace process, its transparent support for Israel’s military offensive and bombing campaign in Lebanon last summer’s war with Hezbollah, and its rejection to date of renewed Arab efforts to promote the 2002 Saudi peace plan in the wake of the Lebanon conflict have effectively destroyed the image of Washington as an honest broker.

“Our strong point was always that we were the only power that could do anything with the Israelis,” according to Richard Parker, a retired foreign service officer who served as US ambassador to Algeria, Morocco and Lebanon during the 1970’s. “We still have that influence, but the key is whether we’re prepared to use it. If not, it’s going to waste away.” — IPS