Skip to comments.The Curse of Lawrence of Arabia
Posted on 11/09/2002 11:30:57 AM PST by Politically Correct
THE CURSE OF LAWRENCE OF ARABIA by Jack Wheeler
The most legendary American journalist of the 20th century was Lowell Thomas. I had the opportunity to meet him in 1978, when we were both guests on The Merv Griffin Show. Off camera, I asked him, "Do you feel you contributed, however inadvertently, to the political mess that is the Middle East today?" He looked at me sharply and asked me what I meant. "Well, after all," I answered, "it was you who gave Lawrence's promise to the Hashemites so much power." His eyes narrowed, and he responded, "That was a long time ago."
In 1917, Lowell Thomas was a young, ambitious journalist in search of an interesting story in the lost backwater of World War I. In Jerusalem, he met a small (5 foot 4) British Army captain assigned as a liaison officer to Arabs living in a desert no one had ever heard of. Thomas saw his chance. His breathless dispatches had the purpose of creating a myth around the liaison officer who had begun teaching Arab tribes to blow up Turkish trains nobody cared about in the desert nobody ever heard of.
The liaison officer's name was T.E. Lawrence, but Lowell Thomas called him "Lawrence of Arabia." In 1919, Thomas went on a lecture tour in the United Kingdom and United States, showing pictures of Lawrence posing in a sheikh's robes in a London studio, and entranced audiences with stories about the 'White King of the Arabs.' By the time the Treaty of Sèvres was negotiated in 1920, with Lawrence in attendance and the media mob hanging on his every word, the British felt compelled to keep Lawrence's promise to the chieftains of an Arab tribe called the Hashemites.
The political structure of the Middle East today is the result of that promise. The Treaty of Sèvres permitted the British to seize pieces of the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the Middle East for centuries, but joined the Germans in WWI. Instead of British colonies, the pieces were called League of Nations 'mandates,' for which the Brits needed puppet rulers.
One of these 'mandated' areas was the west coast of Arabia, a desert region called the Hejaz. Lawrence had promised the chieftains of the Hashem tribe that if they would join the British against the Turks, they would get to rule the Hejaz as their own kingdom. Thus the Hashem patriarch, Hussein Ibn Ali, became the King of the Hejaz.
At Lawrence's insistence, the Brits installed Ali's son Feisal as ruler of the 'mandate' of Syria, divided the 'mandate' of Palestine in two, and installed Feisal's brother Abdullah as ruler of the part east of the Jordan River (the western part eventually became Israel 28 years later, no thanks to the British).
Lawrence (and Thomas) had bought into the phony claim that the Hashem tribal leaders were directly descended from Mohammad himself. The Hashemites claimed that this assumed mantle of Islamic holiness gave them a right to rule, without elections, all Arabs everywhere. So the Brits created the Hashemite Kingdoms of Hejaz, Jordan and Syria. Except, the chieftain of the Wahhabi tribe from central Arabia, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, kicked Ali out of Hejaz, took it over, and called his entire conquered area Saudi Arabia - while France claimed Syria was their 'mandate' and kicked out Feisal.
As a consolation prize, Lawrence insisted the Brits install Feisal as the ruler of yet another "mandate," that of Mesopotamia. Created out of three former Ottoman vilayets (provinces) without any regard to national coherence, this area was renamed Iraq. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan still exists (the current ruler, Abdullah II, is the first Abdullah's great-grandson), but the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq was erased (with the entire "royal family," including Feisal's grandson Feisal II, slaughtered) by a military coup in 1958. Through the help of Soviet KGB agent Yevgeny Primakov, Saddam Hussein completed his control over the Iraqi military regime by 1979.
The bottom line to this saga is that Iraq is not a real country - like, say, Persia (Iran) which has existed for 2,500 years. It is an artificial construct and can only be held together by force. Iraq and its people have no history of nor familiarity with democratic institutions. The three former vilayets of which it is composed still have no mutual cohesiveness. Mosul in the north is Kurdish, Basra in the south is Shiite Arab, Baghdad in the middle is Sunni Arab. The Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis all hate each other. It takes a Saddam to hold the place together.
And that's why Saddam has been kept in place and allowed to ignore all those U.N. Resolutions. A disintegrated Iraq could easily mean an independent Kurdistan, which the millions of Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iran would clamor to join, splitting apart those three countries. It could mean an independent Basra, or just an inchoate anarchy, another Somalia. The fear of these post-Saddam scenarios is what drives much of the international frenzy against GW taking Saddam out.
It is to GW's enormous credit that he has the intelligence to realize that the threat of Saddam's rule vastly outweighs the threat of its dissolution, and the determination to eliminate the former. It will be near impossible, however, to eliminate the latter. Let us hope that GW accepts this reality and assiduously avoids desperate attempts to put the Humpty Dumpty of a post- Saddam Iraq back together.
America's and the world's security must no longer be held hostage to a promise made by a junior British officer to a bunch of camel-herders wandering around a lost desert 86 years ago - a promise made important by an ambitious journalist's romantic froth of promotional puffery, resulting in incalculably tragic consequences as the Curse of Lawrence of Arabia.
for the Daily Reckoning
It is interesting how incidents that people make without a second thought often come back to bite 'em ......and not only bite 'em but bite them really hard .....and bite them often!
This makes me think of our Founding Fathers and their fore thought as to what their actions would have on citizenry yet unborn. I guess it does pay to think about the extenuating circumstances of one's actions.
Not Peter Jennings?
You know, this article sounds like a Paul Harvey "Rest Of The Story" piece.
I would create a country called New Palestine up in the NW corner and move all of those Clymers there. Give the Kurds the Northeast Corner. Give Kuwait a Defensible Border, Give Jordan an oilfield or two. Recreate Mesopotamia. Give the Shiites the marshes where they live.
Call this new space the Arab Confederation and make Louis Farrakahn King and Hillary Clinton Queen. I don't think this all that far-fetched. After all, our government is giving Maine to the Somalis.
This seems a good place to urge everyone who has never seen the classic film, "Lawrence of Arabia", to go rent it *now*.
There's a reason it's ranked as one of the greatest films of all time. It's absolutely stunning.
And the film itself gives a lot of insight into the points made in this thread, as well as a number of other relevant observations (like how just when Arabs are approaching victory, they end up fighting among themselves).
On top of all that, it's a dazzling example of the art of filmmaking, and world class acting by legendary actors (Peter O'Toole, Omar Shariff, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, etc.)
T.E. Lawrence: "I killed two people. One was yesterday. He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was... well... before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol and there was something about it that I didn't like."
General Allenby: "That's to be expected."
T.E. Lawrence: "No, something else."
General Allenby: "Well, then let it be a lesson."
T.E. Lawrence: "No... something else."
General Allenby: "What then?"
T.E. Lawrence: "I enjoyed it."
Wow I always wondered what a real country was.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.