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May 17, 2016


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Regional expertise would help.

In the early years of the war, the middle class/urban Arab elite had two secret societies seeking Western support, particularly a landing at Alexandretta and then compromises. Hussein (and maybe other people) strung them along, and then the Allied-friendly Ottoman units got fed into the Gallipoli campaign and were dead.

In lieu of negotiating with burghers and urban intellectuals, who were dead or detained at this point, the Western powers got Hussein, negotiating for his dynasty, claiming on behalf of the Arabs--and even that, they screwed up.

The British and French diverged sharply on what the terms you mention meant. The Heshemites didn't get to keep independent kingdoms in Syria, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia, tends to open the way of feeling robbed.

(And Syria and Iraq faced reprisal campaigns, that included widespread targeting of civilian populations. There were neighborhoods in Damascus named after the intensity of the bombing they took.)

In a context where three quarters of adult males were conscripted, malnutrition and starvation that resulted--plus a plague of locusts in the Arab Levant--killed off a 1.5 million civilians, in addition to about a million military casualties, and then about 800,000 long-term military disabilities out of a pre-war imperial population of 20 million is a high price to pay.

And if, instead of post-war reconstruction, you get a bunch of bait-and-switch with even greater privation and casualties, eventually, it's easy to consolidate on a single shorthand as the basis for all that misery, especially if you're unfamiliar with international relations and don't understand what negotiations about what occupying your country mean.

Isn't that the argument? Sykes-Picot itself wasn't the betrayal; it was the divergence from the letter and spirit of the agreement what was the betrayal. As you wrote, "The Heshemites didn't get to keep independent kingdoms in Syria, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia."

Or did I miss something in your reply?

(Minor clarification: my memory is that the big reprisals came rather later, during the 1925-27 revolt. If that's right, it's congruent with my argument that Sykes-Picot wasn't the problem.)

Sorry, I should be clearer, and I went back and checked my sources.

First, on the matter of the revolts: Iraq and Syria rose in revolt promptly--Iraq in 1919 and Syria in March 1920--though regional revolts popped off as soon as the French showed up various locations in 1919--when the French invaded and abrogated the Constitution and tossed Hussein, complete with reprisals. The 1925-1927 revolt, initiated by the Druze and Kurds, led to the 1930 negotiation of the semi-sovereign Republic of Syria.

It's that revolt and suppression, on reflection, undermines your argument. Even within McMahon-Hussein v. Sykes-Picot, there was divergence on Syria and Mt. Lebanon; France thought they were getting subordinate colonies, rather than protectorates, and Sykes didn't tell one side from the other. This was noted both within the British government and to Lawrence and his representatives when they deployed into Syria in the final phases of the campaign.

But, let's go to some quotes. Scott Anderson's "Lawrence in Arabia" is a rather basic consensus level history, so I figured it's probably the least controversial source for this. Plus, I have it on Kindle, so, easier to post.

from p. 270 of "Lawrence in Arabia"

"While they differed in specifics, all three indicated it had actually been Mark Sykes, not Hussein, who had first come up with the Lebanon-Baghdad formula. More troubling, the king appeared to have come away with a radically different idea from the Allied envoys of what that formula meant."

"Sherif, one of the most courteous of men, absolutely loyal to me and with complete faith in Great Britain, was verbally agreeing to a thing which he never would agree to if he knew our interpretation of what the Iraq situation is to be.” In his distressed—and rather repetitive—twelve-page letter to Clayton, Wilson detailed how he had repeatedly pressed Sykes to clarify exactly what Hussein intended by the offer, only to have his concerns brushed aside. Instead, Wilson reported, the entire affair had been marked by a breezy refusal on Sykes’s part to get into particulars. If less emotional, Newcombe’s protest was in many ways more striking."

"From Newcombe’s vantage point as a British officer, this assurance by Sykes, conjoined to Hussein’s obviously limited awareness of what he was agreeing to, meant the British government now had a moral obligation to see the Arab Revolt through to the end. “Otherwise we are hoodwinking the Sherif and his people, and playing a very false game in which [British] officers attached to the Sherif’s army are inevitably committed, and which I know causes anxiety in several officers’ minds in case we let them down.”

and p. 291:

"Nowhere was this conflict more glaring than in Syria, a land the British had now essentially “sold twice,” recognizing its independence in the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, recognizing its domination by France in the Sykes-Picot Agreement."

So, this does look like a betrayal; you can't sell a used car twice.

Let me see if I've got it. Here is the bill of particulars:

(1) The French never intended Area A to be a sphere of influence within an Arab state; rather, from Minute 0 the plan was a separate satrapy.

(2) Britain knew this and deliberately misled its Arab interlocutors.

(3) Sherif did not understand what he was agreeing to with respect to the Mediterranean coastline.

I'm having some trouble understanding no. 3. Help?

1) Yup, and killed a lot of people setting it up when it turned out that literally no one wanted it, except France.

2) Sykes misled Hussein. There were no other long-term Arab interlocutors, which makes this whole thing problematic, but it makes historical documents w/n the British foreign office suspect in terms of whom agreed to what, with Sykes leading a whole lot of people on.

3) which leads us to your last point: Sykes double dealing, and sluggish/limited communication between London, Cairo, and Sykes meant that London believed that Hussein had agreed to X when Hussein had agreed to Y. Hussein, when confronted with other evidence, would insist that the British were honorable, insist he was getting Y, and then be surprised X arrived.

According to meetings with TE Lawrence and other officers, here's what Hussein thought he was getting, c. May 1917, was as follows: "“The main points,” [Lawrence] cabled Clayton after his second meeting with Hussein, “are that he had altogether refused to permit French annexation of Beirut and the Lebanon.… He is extremely pleased to have trapped M. Picot into the admission that France will be satisfied in Syria with the [same] position Great Britain desires in Iraq.… In conclusion the Sherif remarked on the shortness and informality of conversations, the absence of written documents and the fact that the only change in the situation caused by the meeting was the French renunciation of the ideas of annexation, permanent occupation, or suzerainty of any part of Syria.”" (p. 352, "Lawrence in Arabia")

At the same time French satrapizing of Syria, annexation of Lebanon, and etc were all "agreed to" by him in the version given to the Foreign Office by Sykes.

On the one hand, it looks like Sykes is a huge asshole and probably a pathological liar--who was caught out around this time by the Foreign Office--and you could claim that he was he, not the British, who screwed over both Hussein, with whom they negotiated, and the Arabs at large. But the British don’t denounce him, the framework or apologize to Hussein or Arabs in general. [This claim is viable because we have Sykes' cable to London saying that Hussein had agreed to maximal French claims at the same time that we have Lawrence's letter to Clayton quoted above]

On the other, given the choice between the various plans, it shouldn't be surprising that the British ended up supporting French claims at the end of the war, but that does constitute breach of contract/deception/misleading Arab interlocutors, because them's the breaks in IR.

But this initial first-rate fuck up, and if this was in M&A, people would get charged with fraud.

Also, I'd forgotten how flat out NUTS this process was, which is why my initial comment was a bit unfocused.

It's also amazing in the sense that it's a totally plausible and totally implausible narrative cluster.

What's with the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence? There the part about French claims along the coast are made pretty clear. (The renunciation of other French claims is also made pretty clear, but I'm trying to reconcile the different claims about Hussein's thoughts on Lebanon.)

On which front and which account? Most of the historiographical gore goes to fighting about Palestine with regards to the Balfour Declaration, which wartime cabinet minutes give to "the Arabs."

We know from Clayton, Wilson, and Lawrence that at various points in negotiation that Hussein wanted Lebanon under the same formula as Baghdad, while all of them also agreed that they KNEW that what Hussein thought that meant in terms of administration would not be what would happen, as per the section quoted above that includes: "Sherif, one of the most courteous of men, absolutely loyal to me and with complete faith in Great Britain, was verbally agreeing to a thing which he never would agree to if he knew our interpretation of what the Iraq situation is to be...From Newcombe’s vantage point as a British officer, this assurance by Sykes, conjoined to Hussein’s obviously limited awareness of what he was agreeing to..."

Moving forward: "The reason Hussein was resisting the Lebanon-Baghdad linkage was simply because he didn’t want any French presence anywhere, not because he somehow knew Baghdad was slated to fall under permanent British control. The only way Hussein could have known that was if Sykes had told him of that clause in Sykes-Picot, and Sykes most certainly had not...That afternoon, as the Northbrook sailed out of Jeddah harbor, Georges-Picot could believe France had just been handed Lebanon, while King Hussein could believe he had just maneuvered France into accepting the future independence of all of Syria." (p. 317-18)

In this context, Lebanon is a unit within Syria, the same way that Westchester County is part of New York State.

The British tend to refer to it as "Moslem-Littoral Syria," rather than the Francophone way, either "Lebanon" or "Mount Lebanon" why may be while there's confusion. Does that help?

Because if he doesn't want any French Presence anywhere, that would include Lebanon.

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