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Monday, June 14, 2021

George and Clemenceau: Dividing the Middle East

After the First World War, the British and French governments started the process of identifying the territories in the Middle East that they wanted to control. In December 1918, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had a meeting with his French counterpart Georges Clemenceau in London to have a blunt conversation on how the Middle East was to be divided among the allies. Here’s how their conversation went:

Clemenceau: “What do you want?”

George: “I want Mosul.”

Clemenceau: “You shall have it. Anything else?”

George: “I want Jerusalem too.”

Clemenceau: “You shall have it.” 

Clemenceau wanted to establish a protectorate over Syria, to which George agreed. George identified Palestine as the territory which he must control if he was to protect the Suez Canal. Clemenceau agreed to let George have Palestine. (Source: The Papers of Lord Maurice Hankey, Secretary of the Imperial War Cabinet and top aide to David Lloyd George)

In light of the knowledge of the disastrous fate of the interventions in the Middle East from 1918 to this day, this exchange between Clemenceau and George seems naive, arrogant, and quixotic.

If Clemenceau and George knew history, they would have realized that the West had been failing in the Middle East for more than two thousand years. The Western Roman Empire failed to control the Middle East. The Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantines) failed. The three centuries of crusaders could not make any headway in the Middle East.  

The policy of Clemenceau and George failed, not only in the Middle East but also in Europe, with the result that there was a Second World War.

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