The Middle East and the United States: A Historical and Political Reassessment

By David W. Lesch | Go to book overview

1
The Ironic Legacy of
the King-Crane Commission

James Gelvin

In the immediate aftermath of World War I, a U.S. observer in Syria wrote:

Without visiting the Near East, it is not possible for an American to realize even faintly, the respect, faith and affection with which our Country is regarded throughout that region. Whether it is the world-wide reputation which we enjoy for fair dealing, a tribute perhaps to the crusading spirit which carried us into the Great War, not untinged with the hope that the same spirit may urge us into the solution of great problems growing out of that conflict, or whether due to unselfish or impartial missionary and educational influence exerted for a century, it is the one faith which is held alike by Christian and Moslem, by Jew and Gentile, by prince and peasant in the Near East. 1

If, during the three-quarters of a century that have passed since these words were written, those who have chronicled the relations between the United States and the nations of the Middle East have had few, if any, opportunities to repeat our observer's findings, they can at least take solace from the fact that the goodwill that may have existed seventy-five years ago has been dissipated precisely because of U.S. intervention in the "great problems" engendered by the destruction of the Ottoman Empire.

The first official U.S. foray into the politics of the post-Ottoman Middle East came about as the result of a suggestion made by President Woodrow Wilson to the Council of Four entente powers ( France, Great Britain, the United States, and Italy) assembled in Paris to determine the terms of peace. In an attempt to resolve an acrimonious dispute between Britain and France over the future disposition of the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, Wilson suggested the formation of an interallied commission on Syria. The commission would travel to the Middle East "to elucidate the state of opinion and the soil to be worked on by any mandatory. They should be asked to come back and tell the Conference what they found with regard

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