The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism

The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism

The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism

The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism

Synopsis

This is a far-reaching study of how Britain's postwar Labour government attempted to sustain a vision of Britain as a world power. Committed to the liquidation of the old British Empire, the government sought to develop new relationships in the Middle East as a replacement for India, hoping to halt the decline of the Empire by putting it on a new basis. Caught between the forces of anti-British nationalism and American anti-colonialism, the attempt was ultimately destined to fail; but it marks a crucial phase in the story of British imperialism and of Middle Eastern history.

Excerpt

This book is about British disengagement in the Middle East during the period of the Labour government 1945-51. Labour's 'grand strategy' was to refrain from direct intervention and to conciliate the 'moderate' nationalists. My purpose is to delineate the changing nature of British influence in the Middle East. The history of the period may be interpreted as the unsuccessful attempt to transform the system of domination, whether in the form of alliances, concessions, or direct rule, into a relationship of equal partners. The aim was to prevent the initiative from passing to 'anti-British extremists', and to sustain British influence by economic and social reform, in order to maintain Britain's position as a 'world power' with a predominant place in the Middle East. Non-intervention and 'partnership' thus may be regarded as an alternative means of preserving British power.

The actual withdrawal (aside from the evacuation of parts of the 'northern tier' and the former Italian colonial empire) was limited to Palestine, where the British had to cut losses in 1948, and to Iran, where they were evicted from the oilfields in 1951. The Palestine problem is the major disruptive element in the story. Arab nationalism, frustrated in Palestine, could not be appeased. In a large sense the book is a comment on the British response not only to Arab nationalism but also to Jewish and Iranian nationalism. Anglo- American efforts to resolve the Palestine problem form a major part of the volume. Another part concerns the revolution brought about in the economic affairs of the Middle East by the American innovation of the fifty-fifty split in oil profits, and the Iranian as well as the British reaction. Above all the book deals with the perpetual source of friction between the British and the Egyptians: the Canal Zone and the question of British evacuation.

The book does not systematically examine the Middle Eastern policy of the United States, but sometimes the focus shifts to the American side because otherwise the dilemmas facing the British cannot be fully understood. This is especially true in the case of Zionism. On the question of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine the Americans and the British were fundamentally divided, no less on the ethical issues than on those of power politics. To some extent in the United States there was a fusion of the Zionist movement . . .

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