The Paris Peace Conference
In the strange new diplomatic game of appeasing American sensitivities on the Ottoman settlement, Lloyd George and the British believed that, in Faisal and his Arab irregulars, they had an ace in the hole, a façade to rule behind.
Backing self-determination in order to get the Americans to put pressure on the French.
On 10 October 1918, Lord Hardinge addressed a letter to Balfour in which he explained that within the Foreign Office during the last 18 months, preparations had been made for the setting up of the necessary administrative machinery for the coming peace conference. These were now ‘almost complete’, and Hardinge therefore suggested that Balfour would seek Lloyd George’s approval of this scheme so that the Foreign Office had the necessary authority to contact the relevant government departments ‘to perfect this machinery, which it is the duty of the F.O. to prepare’.¹ Sir Eric Drummond forwarded Hardinge’s letter to J.T. Davies, one of the Prime Minister’s private secretaries, two days later. Drummond emphasized that the foreign secretary ‘would be grateful if the Prime Minister could let him have his opinion as soon as possible’.² Lloyd George did not reply. Four days later, Drummond again wrote to Davies, explaining that ‘Mr Balfour is most anxious to have a reply as soon as possible. Could you expedite matters?’³ Although the War Cabinet had a preliminary discussion on the requirements for a peace conference the next day, the Foreign Office did not receive the necessary authorization to go ahead. On 19 October, Drummond wrote yet another letter to Davies, stressing that Hardinge’s proposals only concerned the ‘mechanical part’ of the matter,⁴ but this was to no avail. On 21 October, the War Cabinet decided that General Smuts would prepare ‘a British brief for the Peace Conference […] The War Cabinet had thus deter- mined that the Foreign Office was not to be at the centre of the organisation of the Peace Conference’.⁵ This also implied that not Hardinge, but Sir Maurice Hankey would be the principal British functionary at the conference. According to James Headlam-Morley, of the Political Intelligence Department in the Foreign Office, this constituted ‘a very grave slight to the Foreign Office and to Lord Hardinge’.⁶
It took almost another two months before arrangements were finalized. On 17 January 1919, the day before the official opening of the peace conference, Lloyd George announced that Hardinge would be ‘Organising Ambassador’, ‘in charge of the Administrative organisation of the whole Departmental mission’, and that Hankey would act as ‘British Secretary to the Peace Conference’. According to Hankey it was all ‘very awkward, as it ought to have been Lord Hardinge’s job, and he has brought over a huge organization. However, he has been most charming about it.’⁷
Instead of being in a domineering position at the peace conference, the Foreign Office had been sidelined. At Paris, it took Balfour and the small group of Foreign Office officials in the British peace delegation some months before they finally realized that it was not they, but Lloyd George and whoever for whatever reasons enjoyed his confidence (but never someone from the Foreign Office), who were in on all the major decisions − including those with respect to the settlement of the Syrian question − and that they were mere bystanders, watchers of policy making instead of policy makers. At London, Curzon and the remaining Foreign Office staff from the start understood that their role in the peace process would be confined to that of a spectator, commenting on the events that seemed to be happening in Paris, but it also took them several months before they realized that the members of the Foreign Office section of the British delegation, notwithstanding they were actually there, fulfilled the same role. In the middle of April, Sir Ronald Graham was instructed by Curzon to write privately to Sir Louis Mallet to complain about ‘the delay which seems to occur in supplying us with official information on which we can act regarding the decisions arrived at’. At Paris, Robert Vansittart was sympathetic, but it was ‘almost impossible to keep the F.O. informed to their satisfaction when we are not informed to ours’. Mallet assured Graham that ‘the most stringent instructions for the regular transmission of news’ had been issued, but that perhaps ‘the conditions under which we are working – which it is difficult to explain in a letter – are more to blame than the officials’. He nevertheless tried his hand at an explanation. The difficulty was that ‘so far as individual Sections of the British Delegation at the Astoria [the hotel in which they were staying; R.H.L.] are concerned, we rarely receive, except occasionally through private channels, on which it is not often easy to take prompt action, any official intimation of the decisions reached’. Delays were therefore ‘often unavoidable, owing to the complicated machinery which the work of the Conference has obliged it to evolve’.⁸
British Preparations for the Peace Conference
On 17 November 1918, Arnold Wilson continued his campaign against the Anglo–French Declaration of 8 November (see ‘The Foreign Office’s Window of Opportunity and the Joint Declaration’). He telegraphed to the India Office that he ‘with experience of my political officers behind’ him, could ‘confidently declare country as a whole neither expects nor desires any such sweeping scheme of independence as is adumbrated if not clearly denoted in Anglo–French Declaration’. He claimed that the best course of action was ‘to declare Mesopotamia to be British protectorate, under which all races and classes will be given forthwith maximum possible degree of liberty and self-rule that is compatible with that good and safe government to which all nations aspire, but so few now enjoy’.⁹ In a note on ‘Policy in Arabia’, Sir Arthur Hirtzel confirmed that is was ‘not improbable from such evidence as is available that we might get a British Protectorate, in the sense of Sir P. Cox’s first alternative (see ‘Mitigating or Abolishing the Sykes–Picot Agreement’), accepted in Iraq, if we worked for it at once’, but rather doubted its expediency considering ‘the effect that this would have on Franco–Arab relations in Syria and the French sphere. A British Protectorate in Iraq would be interpreted by the French as entitling them to a protectorate in Syria.’ At the same time, the India Office should take a stand against the ‘tendency to sacrifice Mesopotamia and British and local interests there to diplomatic exigencies in Syria’, seeing that ‘the material interests involved in Mesopotamia are far too great to be jockeyed away merely for the sake of diplomatic convenience’. British pledges to Hussein moreover related:
Only to those areas in which we can act without detriment to French interests, and we ought to take our stand firmly on that ground, and not allow our- selves to be used by the Arabs to secure their interests in Syria at the expense of the French. That, how- ever, is what we are doing at present; and in doing it we risk losing the fruits of the Mesopotamian campaign for the beaux yeux of King Hussein and his scheming sons.
Britain therefore ‘neither by honour or interest’ was bound ‘to defend the Arabs against the French’. It was in addition a dangerous illusion to think that the French would ‘allow themselves to be eliminated from Syria […] or that, if they do, they will allow us to take their place’. Syria was ‘too deeply graven on the heart of France for that’. Continuing support of Arab nationalist ambitions in Syria could only mean that ‘we incur the ill-will of France, and we have to live and work with France all over the world’.¹⁰
Hirtzel’s note was circulated to the Eastern Committee, which held a series of meetings from the end of November until the middle of December to prepare the British case for the peace conference ‘in regard to the Turkish territories which had passed into our occupation or under our sway’. The first meeting, on 27 November, was devoted to Mesopotamia. As far as the future administration of the country was concerned, there was consensus that a British-controlled Arab state, ‘under an Arab Amir, including Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul, is an ideal solution’, but a wide divergence of opinion existed on who should be that Arab emir. Cecil personally favored Abdullah, because from all he had heard he would do ‘tolerably well if we have the right man to control him. He is a cleverish fellow, I understand, and is thought to be the cleverest of the Sherif’s sons. He is a sensualist, idle, and very lazy.’ Edwin Montagu fully agreed that ‘if Abdullah is the lascivious, idle creature he is represented to be, he is the ideal man’, but did not think that this needed to be decided before the peace conference started. There was time to consult experts like Gertrude Bell and Sir Percy Cox.
The main topic of discussion was how to get rid of the Sykes–Picot agreement, that ‘unfortunate Agreement, which has been hanging like a millstone round our necks’, as Curzon put it, and to which ‘the French seem disposed to adhere most tenaciously’. Lord Robert held fast to his opinion that ‘the French are in an unassailable position. If we cannot induce them in any way to abandon the Agreement, we cannot go back on our signatures,’ and that the only way to make the French change their minds was to get the Americans in on the side of the British. However, American support would not be forthcoming unless the British had the Arabs behind them, as ‘the Americans will only support us if they think we are going in for something in the nature of a native government’. Although Curzon doubted whether Britain was still bound by her signature in view of the fact that the Sykes–Picot agreement had been ‘concluded under conditions wholly different from those existing now’, the Eastern Committee found no fault with Cecil’s tactics. Smuts concurred that the Americans were ‘the only people who can get us out of […] this impossible situation’, and that the best way to achieve this was ‘to get the Arabs behind us’, while General Macdonogh emphasized that he had already suggested in a paper that ‘the only way in which we could get out of the Sykes–Picot Agreement was by a combination of President Wilson and the policy of self-determination’.¹¹
The Eastern Committee discussed Syria on 5 December. In his opening statement Curzon declared that ‘if we consult our own feelings we should all of us like to get the French out of Syria altogether’. Although he did not fail to mention Hirtzel’s position that Britain should back the French at the expense of Feisal; after all, the French are a great Power, and you have to be on good terms with her in different parts of the world […] see her through to the best of your ability, and do not be too much concerned about the Arabs’, Curzon clearly favored the opposite policy. In this connection he questioned Balfour on whether the proposed policy of backing self-determination in order to get the Americans to put pressure on the French would work:
Is it possible that, when we sit down to the Peace Conference, President Wilson might say, and might get us out of a great difficulty by saying, ‘Here we are inaugurating a new era of free and open diplomacy; the various States of Europe have bound themselves by all sorts of unscrupulous secret engagements in the earlier years of the war; before we enter into any arrangements for the future let us sweep all those off the board; let the Sykes–Picot Agreement go, let the Agreement with the Italians go, and let us start with a clean slate?’ If that is impossible, may I suggest that our line of action probably should be this, to back Feisal and the Arabs as far as we can, up to the point of not alienating the French […] Ought we not to play the policy of self-determination for all it is worth? […] We ought to play self-determination for all it is worth wherever we are involved in difficulties with the French, the Arabs, or anybody else, and leave the case to be settled by that final argument knowing in the bottom of our hearts that we are more likely to benefit from it than any- body else. Balfour confirmed that ‘self-determination – the broad principle of self-determination – is the one that we should work for’, but warned against the eagerness with which Curzon appeared to be ready to play the card of self-determination. The British:
Ought to be most careful not to give either the French or the Italians the impression that we are trying to get out of our bargains with them made at an earlier and different stage of the war. If the Americans get us out well and good […] But it is all- important that we should not only not do it our- selves, but that we should not either appear to do it or really do it.
Now that the war was over, ‘the price in both cases, so far as we are concerned, must be paid without chicanery. If the Americans choose to step in and cut the knot, that is their affair, but we must not put the knife into their hand.’ Cecil, too, cautioned against ‘pressing self- determination, quite apart from treaty obligations, too far’. Echoing Hirtzel, he also stressed that, however much the British might wish to get the French out of Syria, it would:
Be an awful mistake if we think we can get rid of the French out of Syria […] you will never get the French to give up the whole of Syria without the most tremendous convulsion. They would rather give up anything in the world than give up that claim to Syria; they are mad about it, and Cambon is quite insane if you suggest it. I am sure you will never get them out of Syria, and we ought to make up our mind to go for some settlement which will give them some position in Syria, however unpleasant it may be to have them there.¹²
British predominance in greater Syria
The resolution on Syria adopted by the Eastern Committee one week later nevertheless completely disregarded Cecil’s (and Hirtzel’s) warning. It contained a maximalist programme, which envisaged British predominance in Syria, and expected the French to give up their rights under the Sykes–Picot agreement in area ‘A’, and even the Syrian parts of the blue zone, in order that an ‘autonomous Arab State, with capital at Damascus’ would have access to the sea. In exchange, Britain was magnanimously prepared to ‘support the French claims to a special position in the Lebanon and Beirut […] and at Alexandretta’, keeping in mind that it was ‘essential that no foreign influence other than that of Great Britain should be predominant in areas A and B’.¹³
At the Eastern Committee’s next meeting, on 18 December, it seemed that Lord Robert had set aside his scruples about pushing self-determination at the expense of the French, but this time it was Balfour who urged that the French – and the Italians, for that matter – would never accept this. A policy based on self-determination was ‘most admirable and logical, and wholly consistent […] It fits in with all the theories, and with the fourteen points of President Wilson, but it does not fit in with the Powers we have to deal with – the French and the Italians. They are not in the least out for self-determination, they are out for getting whatever they can.’ When Cecil retorted that the French and Italians were imperialists, Bal- four agreed, ‘exactly. They are Imperialistic and quite frankly so […] The French may not be quite as frank [as the Italians], but that is exactly what they are thinking of.’ It was now Balfour’s turn to echo Hirtzel, when he pointed out that the French would say ‘By all your arrangements, the Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1915 [sic], and all the rest of it, equality is what we look to’. Cecil naturally could not but admit that ‘the French have a good contractual claim’, but if the French insisted on equal treatment than they had no other option than to make it their business that the native populations liked them and, if they failed, ‘we cannot help that’. To which Curzon gleefully added that the French were bound to fail, as ‘none of these nations in any circumstances would ever con- sent to be protected by the French’.¹⁴
To the Eastern Committee it was quite clear what Britain’s policy in the Syrian question ought to be. It was the policy Cecil had advocated for months, but that still had borne no fruit. The Sykes–Picot agreement was obsolete and had to be cancelled, but because the French re- fused to contemplate this and Britain was bound by her signature, it should be left to the Americans to bring pressure on the French to give up their Syrian claims. However, the former would only be prepared to do so if Britain was seen to embrace the principle of self- determination. Moreover, taking a stand on self- determination cut both ways. It not only promised an elegant way out of the Sykes–Picot quagmire without Britain having to break her word, but also clearly served British self-interest because, if left the choice, the Syrian population would certainly vote for a British mandate.
What was scarcely considered during these sessions was the alternative policy of coming to an agreement with the French on the Middle East before the peace conference started. On 9 December, Balfour briefly touched upon this possibility, only to reject it right away:
That is the one thing the French want. If I were to go to the French to-morrow and say, ‘Will you make common cause with us against everybody; we will support everything you want which does not affect our interests, and you must support everything which does not affect your interests.’ I have not a doubt that we should come to an agreement. We should come to it at the cost of our own principles, probably; at the cost of our obligations to the Arabs, probably; at the cost of our friendship with America, probably; and at the cost of our friendship with Italy, probably; but it could be done. I do not think it ought to be done.¹⁵
What Balfour and the members of the Eastern Committee were unaware of was that Lloyd George had done precisely that, just eight days before. On 1 December 1918, Clemenceau and Marshal Foch had arrived in London and had received a triumphant welcome. As Hankey related in his diary three days later, ‘Clemenceau had been really affected by his welcome. Ll.G. had seized the opportunity to demand first Mosul and then Jerusalem in the peace terms. Clemenceau, in his malleable state, had agreed, but had said “But Pichon will make difficulties about Mosul”.’¹⁶ Two days before, after a conversation in which Cambon had reiterated his view that ‘England and France should settle all the questions in which they were in any way interested, before the Conference began; so that when the President came over he would find himself face to face with a united opposition and a accomplished fact’, Balfour had warned Lloyd George that this would be ‘little short of insanity’. According to the foreign secretary, Colonel House, who due to illness was unable to come to London, was ‘undoubtedly anxious to work with us as closely as he can and it would be fatal to give him the impression that we were settling, or had at least desire to settle, great questions behind his back’,¹⁷ but the Prime Minister did not heed Balfour’s advice. He also did not bother to inform his foreign secretary of the deal he had struck with Clemenceau. The policy advocated by the Foreign Office and adopted by the Eastern Committee – playing the card of self-determination in order to induce the Americans to step in and pressurize the French to accept that the Sykes–Picot agreement was obsolete – had been relegated to the dustbin even before the peace conference had started, but it would be some months before the Foreign Office and Eastern Committee would find this out.
For Hankey there remained the delicate problem of how to harmonize the Eastern Committee’s resolutions on British desiderata in the Middle East, which had been formulated for adoption during a meeting of the Imperial War Cabinet at the end of December in preparation for the peace conference, with the secret verbal agreement between Lloyd George and Clemenceau. He pointed out to the Prime Minister that it would be ‘extremely difficult’ to adopt the resolutions with respect to Syria and Palestine ‘en bloc’, ‘involving as they do the cancellation of the Sykes–Picot Agreement’ while Lloyd George through his deal had implicitly accepted that it still held good. Sir Maurice suggested that the best way to handle this was ‘for the Imperial War Cabinet to take note of these Resolutions and to give a free hand to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to do the best they can, while freely recognising that the cancellation of the existing agreement can only be effected with the consent of both parties’.¹⁸ Two days later, Hankey reported that he had succeeded. He had ‘been very careful to leave a free hand to Mr Balfour and yourself’, while the Imperial War Cabinet with respect to Syria ‘would support the adoption of some plan in harmony with the Joint Declaration by the French and the British governments, published on the 9th November, 1918, and based on the resolutions of the Eastern Committee rather than on the Sykes–Picot Agree- ment’.¹⁹
The Hijaz at the Peace Conference
On 4 November 1918, Sir Edmund Allenby telegraphed to Sir Henry Wilson that he considered ‘it very important that King of the Hedjaz should be told immediately that he will have the right and will be invited to send an Arab representative to any Inter-Allied Conference regarding settlement of liberated areas where Arab interests are concerned, and that this representative will attend Peace Conference’.²⁰ Sir Reginald Wingate for his part ex- pressed the hope that an ‘invitation will be sent to King as soon as possible. Presence of a representative might go to mitigate his disappointment at details of final settlement.’ He also believed that Faisal, in view of his ‘personality and knowledge of Syrian conditions’ was ‘particularly suitable’ as the king’s representative, and that ‘if and when invitation is transmitted to King I could suggest this if you concur’. Sir Eyre Crowe hesitated to agree with Wingate’s proposal because ‘we are not […] quite free agent in a matter of this kind and I apprehend the French would raise every kind of objection to having Faisal, whose anti-French sentiments are notorious, admitted to an inter-allied conference’. Cecil did not share Crowe’s scruples. He minuted that ‘it would be best to ask King Hussein to nominate the Representative letting it be known that we should regard Feisal as the proper man’.
T.E. Lawrence meets with Faisal
After consultations with Lawrence a telegram was sent to Wingate on 8 November, containing a message from Lawrence to Hussein informing the latter that there would be:
Conversations in fifteen days’ time between the Allies about the question of the Arabs. General Allenby has telegraphed that you will want to have a representative there. If this is so, I hope you will send Feisal, since his splendid victories have given him a personal reputation in Europe which will make his success easier. If you agree please telegraph him to get ready to leave Syria […] You should meanwhile telegraph to the governments of Great Britain, France, America and Italy telling them that your son is proceeding at once to Paris as your representative.²¹
Wingate held up Lawrence’s message pending further instructions, because he feared that ‘King Hussein may be somewhat perplexed by this message’, as it came from Lawrence and not from the British government. George Kidston reacted that he did ‘not see how we can possibly invite any person to be represented at an allied Conference without first consulting the other members of such Conference, and such consultation will not only waste valuable time but the French will probably put up a most determined opposition to Hussein being invited at all’, but Lord Robert was undeterred. On 11 November a telegram was sent to Sir Reginald in which he was given to understand that ‘the fact that Colonel Lawrence’s message was sent to you in official telegram should have made it clear that it was in accordance with considered views of His Majesty’s Government’, and that it was ‘most regrettable that valuable time has been lost by your holding it back. It should go forward at once.’²²Two days later Wingate informed the Foreign Office that Hussein had instructed Faisal ‘at the desire of His Majesty’s Government […] to proceed to Paris at once’. Kidston was much embarrassed by Hussein’s formula. It unduly com- promised the British government as the French ‘almost certainly’ would find out about it and take offence. Crowe observed that they had better try to make the best of it, and inform the French that in view of Hussein being worried about the peace settlement, the British government had ‘suggested that the best course would be for the King to depute Feisal for this purpose’. Telegrams in this sense were finally sent to Paris, as well as Washington and Rome, on 19 November.²³
On 22 November, Faisal sailed from Beirut for Marseilles. Lawrence was to meet him there and to accompany the Emir throughout his sojourn in Europe. That same day, Lord Derby notified the Foreign Office that the French government had reacted to the news of Faisal’s coming in the way that Crowe and Kidston had feared. They desired ‘to give their point of view before agreeing to despatch of Emir Feisal or any other delegate of King of the Hedjaz’, and maintained that Faisal could only come to Europe after ‘the two governments especially interested’ had agreed on Faisal’s status, which, as far as the French government was concerned, would be that of ‘a private envoy of King of Hedjaz in order to plead cause of an Arab group which should only be constituted under respective supervision of English and French in zones where two countries have defined their limits and civilising mission’. From his minute it appeared that Crowe was afraid that the French might even refuse to allow Faisal to land,²⁴ but the French did not to go as far as that. On arrival and during his stay, Faisal would be treated as a ‘distinguished foreigner, son of the King of the Hedjaz’, but on disembarking he would be informed straight away that he had ‘no recognised official title and that his qualifications for any purpose remains to be discussed between Allies: that in no case before a formal agreement between Allies can he be admitted as representative of Arabs to any meeting of plenipotentiaries’.²⁵
Faisal arrived in Marseilles on 26 November. He was first taken by the French authorities on a tour of the battlefields in the north of France, before he was allowed to visit Paris. The Emir reached London on 10 December. The day before, Cambon had left a note with Balfour stating that French foreign minister Pichon hoped that the British authorities would avoid discussing questions relating to Syria during Faisal’s sojourn, and that if the Emir brought up this subject, they would point out to him that this was of special interest to the French government and that he therefore should discuss it only with them.²⁶ This intervention was in vain. Balfour received Faisal and Lawrence on 11 December, and the situation in Syria was freely discussed. Faisal announced that ‘if the French showed aggressive designs in Syria he would attack them at once and without hesitation. He well knew that the Arabs could not successfully resist the military power of so great a country as France. But he and his followers would rather perish in the struggle than tamely submit without a blow.’²⁷ During the last days of December 1918, Lawrence and Faisal were engaged in drafting a memorandum under Faisal’s signature presenting the Arab nationalist case for the peace conference.²⁸ Faisal proclaimed that it was ‘the aim of the Arab nationalist movements […] to unite the Arabs eventually into one nation’, but also admitted that at the present time the economic and social differences between the ‘various provinces of Arab Asia − Syria, Irak, Jezireh, Hedjaz, Nejd, Jemen’ were such that it was ‘impossible to constrain them into one frame of government’. The memorandum was carefully tailored to suit the maximalist programme adopted by the Eastern Committee. As far as Syria was concerned, Faisal claimed that the country was ‘sufficiently advanced politically to manage her own internal affairs. We feel also that foreign technical advice and help will be a most valuable factor in our national growth’, but warned the powers that the Syrians could not ‘sacrifice […] any part of the freedom we have just won for ourselves by force of arms’. With respect to Mesopotamia, he believed that its government would have ‘to be buttressed by the men and material resources of a great foreign Power’. He asked, ‘however, that the government be Arab, in principle and spirit’. The Hijaz was ‘a tribal area’ and its government would ‘remain, as in the past, suited to patriarchal conditions. We appreciate these better than Europe, and propose therefore to retain our complete independence there.’ Yemen and Nejd were ‘not likely to submit their cases to the Peace Conference. They look after themselves, and adjust their own relations with the Hejaz and elsewhere.’ In the case of Palestine, Faisal realized that the Arabs could not ‘risk assuming the responsibility of holding level the scales in the clash of races and religions that have, in this one province, so often involved the world in difficulties’. The Arabs therefore wished for ‘the effective superposition of a great trustee, as long as a representative local administration commended itself by actively promoting the material prosperity of the country’. In the final paragraphs, Faisal appealed to ‘the Powers at the Conference’ not to consider the Arabs ‘only from the low ground of existing European material interests and supposed spheres’, and ‘lay aside the thought of individual profits, and of their old jealousies’.
At the Foreign Office, people were much taken with the memorandum. Arnold Toynbee considered it an ‘extremely moderate and statesmanlike document’. Mallet believed it to be ‘eminently reasonable’, and did not fail to notice that Faisal’s ‘claims conflict nowhere with our interests’, while Balfour judged it ‘a very impressive document’.²⁹ However, there still remained the problem that Faisal’s participation in the peace conference had not been settled. On 16 January 1919, only two days before the conference was to open, Drummond wrote to Balfour that he feared that ‘an awkward position is likely to arise as regards the representation of Arabia. The Hedjaz is not included in the published list of States which are to have representation at the Conference.’ Lawrence had come to see him, and had ‘pointed out that the King of the Hedjaz has been recognised as independent and a belligerent by Great Britain, France and Italy and is therefore on a similar footing to Poland and the Tcheco- Slovaks’. Sir Eric thought that these arguments were ‘unanswerable and that we ought to press for two delegates from the King of the Hedjaz. If the French raise the question of Syria our answer should be that Syria does not enter into the question at all. It is for the Hedjaz that two delegates are claimed.’³⁰ The French gave in at the last moment, and the Hijaz was assigned two seats at the conference table (on a par with countries like China, Poland, Rumania, Czechoslovakia and Portugal). Faisal was on the whole very pleased with the outcome. He drafted a telegram for his brother Zeid at Damascus, which was submitted by Lawrence to the Foreign Office section of the British peace delegation. According to Faisal ‘everything is going very well. We have two delegates for the Peace Conference, and hope not to delay much longer.’ He further enjoined his brother to ‘do all you can to make effective and popular the Arab government in Syria, and follow English advice in all things’, and concluded by saying that ‘they are helping us magnificently’. Eric Forbes Adam could not let this pass. The telegram that was finally sent on 22 January merely stated: ‘Everything is going very well. We have two delegates for the Peace Conference and hope not to delay much longer. Follow advice of British military authorities in all things.’³¹
Impasse: The Council of Ten, January to March 1919
The Paris peace conference opened on 18 January 1919. Strictly speaking, it was a preliminary conference of the Allied and Associated Powers that had fought against the central powers with a view to reach agreement between themselves on the terms of peace to be imposed on Germany, Austria, Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. These countries were not represented at the conference. They had to await the outcome of the deliberations at Paris, and were only to be called to the French capital when the participating states had finalized the respective peace treaties. At the end of October 1918, House had reported to Wilson that Lloyd George thought that ‘the preliminary conference […] could be finished in 3 or 4 weeks’, while ‘the Peace Conference itself need not last longer than 1 week’.³² This was not to be. When, at the end of June 1919, Lloyd George and Wilson left Paris, only the peace treaty with Germany had been signed. It took another 14 months before the last of the treaties with Germany’s allies was signed.
Clemenceau was president of the conference. During the first phase, which lasted until the middle of March 1919, the Supreme Council or Council of Ten was the most important organ. It was during a meeting of the Council of Ten on 30 January that Lloyd George, who had taken responsibility for the Syrian question, broached the subject for the first time. He explained that Great Britain had 1,084,000 soldiers in the non-Turkish territories of the Ottoman Empire. ‘It was true that only between 250,000 and 300,000 were British troops, but they had to maintain the lot, and it was an enormous expense’. If the British government had to keep these troops there until the allies:
Had made peace with Turkey, and until the League of Nations had been constituted and had started business, and until it was able to dispose of this question, the expense would be something enormous, and they really could not face it, especially as they had not the slightest intention of being mandatories of a considerable number of territories they now occupied, such as Syria and parts of Armenia […] Unless the Conference was prepared to relieve them of that responsibility, he would really have to press very hard for a definite appointment of the mandatories, which he thought would be the most satisfactory way of dealing with it. Then they could clear out, and leave the mandatory to undertake the job.
President Wilson suggested that this was ‘chiefly a military question’, and that therefore ‘the military advisers of the Supreme War Council should have this question […] referred to them for recommendation’. There were no objections to Wilson’s suggestion, although Lloyd George added that ‘supposing the British agreed to withdraw from Syria altogether, he would like to know the attitude of the military authorities. This was a point put to him by Mr Balfour.’³³
In the weeks before, the British military authorities had done their best to drive the message home that relations between the French and the Arab nationalists under Faisal were very tense, and if the French insisted on the execution of the Sykes–Picot agreement this might easily lead to an outburst of violence that would, in the words of the Army Council, ‘necessitate the retention of an effective army of occupation in Syria for many years to come’.³⁴ On 15 January, the War Office telegraphed to Allenby that the French intended to dispatch two regiments ‘as reinforcements to their Contingent under your Command. Are you prepared to accept this reinforcement?’³⁵ Sir Edmund replied three days later that no reinforcements were required, and warned that ‘the arrival of in- creased numbers of French troops in Syria or Cilicia will have very bad political effect as Syrians and Arabs will look on it as sort of annexation’.³⁶ The War Office readily agreed and informed the French that they should ‘defer sending […] the reinforcements for the present’. General Spears, the head of the British military mission with the French government also accepted Allenby’s position, but greatly feared that ‘if this question is not very carefully handled it will lead to serious difficulties between the French and ourselves. It is necessary to convince the French we have no political motive in objecting to their reinforcing their detachment in Syria, and this will be difficult to do.’³⁷
To convince the French that the British military authorities had no political motives was naturally an uphill battle. On 31 January, Pichon communicated a note to Balfour, which started with the French government deeply regretting that they were:
Obliged once more to draw the most serious attention of the British government to the unfriendly attitude adopted with regard to French interests by certain officers of the British armies in Syria and Mesopotamia and by a number of officials of the British Civil Service in Egypt, which attitude reveals a spirit entirely opposed to that rightly to be expected from representatives imbued with an idea of the duties imposed by the Alliance.
The note included many pages in which the wrongdoings of British officials were related. No pains had ‘been spared by certain officers and officials to humiliate or wound France in the person of her agents’. Among the French complaints were Allenby’s refusal to accept French reinforcements and, of course, that Faisal – ‘a nomad Chief transformed into the representative of all Arabic-speaking peoples’ – had been sent to Europe with- out first consulting the French. The French government could only conclude that ‘the object of all these intrigues, as also their too-evident result, has been each time to confront France with a fait accompli’.
In Paris, the Foreign Office section of the peace delegation believed that London should deal with this note. Forbes Adam was not so much worried by the contents of the note, as many of the complaints had ‘already been made in separate notes addressed by M. Cambon to the F.O. and answered at the time’, as by its tone. It attacked ‘our whole attitude especially as regards the Emir Feisal and the Arab administration in the occupied areas in much stronger terms than yet employed in official correspondence’. Hardinge, too, was not alarmed by the memorandum’s contents, ‘it should be easy to find a suitable and possibly a crushing reply’, but took offence at its tone.³⁸ As he explained to Graham, ‘we must not sit down under it […] It is a big game of bluff the French are playing and we consider here that it is very necessary to reply as quickly and as firmly as possible and without any compromise at all. If we only threaten them with the big stick they will climb down.’³⁹ At London, George Kidston considered it ‘an extraordinarily bitter document and if it reflects the spirit in which discussions are being carried on in Paris the prospect of the Peace Conference and the League of Nations do not seem very rosy’. Sir Ronald thought it ‘most regrettable that we should be drawn into a controversial and even acrimonious correspondence of this kind with our Ally’, and for what? The British were quarreling with the French ‘on behalf of a future Arab State which, with all deference to Sykes and Lawrence, may never materialise and would, in any case, collapse like a house of cards, the moment our active support and gold subsidies were withdrawn’. Should this question not be ‘dealt with in Paris in friendly conversations and not in unpleasant notes?’ Curzon, however, shared Hardinge’s sentiments. He did ‘not at all take the view that we ought to sit down under this sort of ill-tempered fussilade’.⁴⁰
The War Office informed Allenby of Pichon’s note right away. It wired on 1 February that the note accused ‘some British officers of being animated by spirit not in accord with 1916 agreement’, and that officers of the occupation army had encouraged anti-French sentiments. It requested the commander-in-chief ‘as regards insinuations against your officers’ to ‘telegraph categoric refutation and short summary of methods you have adopted to assist French legitimate aspirations in face of considerable local difficulties’.⁴¹ Allenby replied three days later. The French complaints were:
Entirely unfounded not any officers of mine have in word or in deed acted in opposition to agreement of 1916 […] I have done all in my power to support legitimate aspirations of French […] There is a strong anti-French party in Syria. I have worked untiringly to promote a better understanding and with some success. This is well known to the French Military administrator and to my political adviser Monsieur Picot with both of whom I am in close touch and constant touch. On all questions of politics and of administration I deal with them openly and frankly and they are fully aware that I and all British officers under me are quite free from political bias.⁴²
In a memorandum of 31 January 1919, the Military section of the British Delegation moreover informed the Foreign Office section that the War Office upheld ‘General Allenby’s objection to the despatch of reinforcements on the grounds that General Allenby is solely responsible for the working of the military administration until such time as the form of administration is changed as a result of territorial allocation decided on by Peace Conference’. The CIGS considered that ‘there is danger of serious disturbance if French troops are sent’.⁴³ Mallet minuted that Sir Mark Sykes, who had returned from the Middle East,⁴⁴ had also told him that ‘the appearance of French troops in Beyrut will be the signal for bloodshed’, and that this was ‘confirmed by Colonel Lawrence’. He fully shared the military view that if French troops were admitted to the country ‘we shall be held by the Arabs to have facilitated the French landing and, if disturbance occurred, we could not stand aside, as we are responsible for maintaining order’. If Clemenceau persisted, he would ‘be placing us in an unfair position and I cannot help thinking that he would see this, if it were put to him’.⁴⁵ The French government did not see the British point at all. On 2 February the War Office cabled to Allenby that this time Georges-Picot had ‘pressed for reinforcements’, and that the French government proposed to send them. Sir Edmund should wire his ‘principal reasons distinguishing between military and political reasons against the despatch of French reinforcements’. The latter was quick to oblige:
(A) Military. I have already sufficient troops. (B) Political. If more French troops arrive whilst the Peace Conference is sitting it will convey to the inhabitants who are openly suspicious of French intentions the impression that the French intend to retain that part of Syria included in O.E.T. West and Cilicia permanently. Anti-French feeling among Arabs which has already been excited by French propaganda would thus be stimulated and a peaceful settlement of territorial question in Syria will be prejudiced.⁴⁶
In a conversation with Sir Henry Wilson on 1 February, Lloyd George confirmed that he wanted ‘to clear out of Constantinople, Batoum, Baku, Transcaspia and out of Syria’, and that he wished to ‘to force the pace, and to force President Wilson to take his share in garrisoning, or to name the Mandatory’. He also asked the CIGS to help him to accomplish this. Sir Henry protested that ‘all this is Foreign Office work’, but immediately realized that ‘with A.J.B. here and Curzon in London we have no Foreign Office. So I will see how I can help.’
The Arab/Syrian problem and the King-Crane Commission
When during the Paris Peace Conference President Wilson spoke with British Prime Minister Balfour, and asked him how he ‘proposed to tear up the Sykes–Picot agreement’, the latter refused to be drawn. He professed that ‘he did not know’.⁴⁷ Dr Howard Bliss, the American director of the Syrian Protestant College at Beirut, and Mr Kisbany of the Manchester Syrian Committee were more forth- coming. This could be done by playing the card of self- determination. They were received by Sir Louis Mallet and explained that an international commission should be sent to Syria ‘to consult the wishes of the inhabitants on the spot’. If not, and the conference imposed a settlement, then ‘there would certainly be serious trouble in the Lebanon and in Syria’. Both men ‘were most anxious that any attempt by the French to impose a solution by the Conference without reference to the Syrians themselves in Syria […] should be strongly objected to by the British and American delegations’.⁴⁸
On 4 February the meeting took place of the military representatives of the Supreme War Council, as suggested by President Wilson. Lloyd George again gave an exposition of Britain’s plight. The French military representative, General Belin, subsequently stated that France was ‘ready to maintain order in Syria’. This set off yet another round of French–British skirmishing over their respective claims. The British military representative, General Sackville-West, immediately wanted to know ‘whether Palestine was included in the zone which the French government wished to take over’. Belin confirmed that it was. Sackville-West thereupon observed that Britain ‘desired to continue policing Palestine’, and that Palestine extended ‘as far as Mount Hermon’. Belin pointed out that this ‘was exactly the zone the French were then occupying and it was not part of Palestine’, but also indicated that ‘if the British government insisted on taking charge of Palestine, the French would accede’. With respect to Syria, Belin claimed that if the French ‘were to undertake the policing of Syria, they must have the railways at their disposal as well as the towns of Aleppo, Damascus and Homs’. Then Sackville- West sprang a surprise on him. He ventured the opinion that:
During the last 4½ years the Arabs had proved themselves to be a nation. It seemed to him that we could leave them to manage their own affairs. Therefore, from an economical point of view, he thought and he suggested, that a great saving both of man-power and of the expense incidental to the maintenance of troops, could be spared if it is recommended that since this country North of Palestine is to all intents and purposes inhabited by Arabs, it be included in Arabia, and Arabia left to settle her own method of administration.
Belin objected that ‘at the present time there were European troops maintaining order in those regions and they should continue that European occupation in order to avoid disorder’. According to Sackville-West, however, ‘the Arabs were themselves maintaining order in the territory’. The French could take over the Lebanon ‘as they had interest in that region either commercial or at least sentimental’, but Belin could not accept this, because the French ‘had the same interests in Syria as in the Lebanon’. Sackville-West insisted that the status quo, ‘where the policing was in the hands of the Arabs’, should be maintained. He was afraid that ‘if any European troops were put there now there would be severe trouble with the Arabs’.⁴⁹ The military representatives left it at that.
Faysal was scheduled to present his case before the conference on 6 February 1919. Just before his presentation, Clemenceau handed Lloyd George a note containing a French proposal for a new Anglo–French agreement on Syria. The note was conciliatory in tone. Although it confirmed that the Sykes–Picot agreement remained ‘the basis of our whole policy in the Levant’, it also admitted that it was ‘necessary to adapt the clauses of this agreement to the new conditions resulting from the unanimous desire of the Allies to organise a League of Nations and from their decision to repudiate any annexation’. The French government accepted that this implied ‘the suppression of all distinction between the “Blue zone” and zone A laid down in 1916; the zone of direct sovereignty disappears and is fused in zone A whose regime is to be revised and subsequently defined’. France was, moreover, ‘quite disposed to accept at Damascus a regime approximate to that laid down for zone A in 1916 which would ensure for the Emir Feisal the situation in which the Allies desire to place him in the common interest of the Arab peoples and of modern civilisation’. France ‘would be willing to give up Mosul’, and notwithstanding that Palestine was part of Syria, she accepted that it ‘may be detached’, because ‘of her illustrious past that raises difficulties of which we prefer not to assume the burden alone’. The note emphasized that ‘France attaches capital importance only to Syria and its annexes’, the Lebanon and Cilicia. With respect to the basin of the upper Tigris France also stated that ‘whatever may be the solution of the territorial questions, France insists expressly upon receiving treatment strictly equal to that of the British government and British subjects in all that concerns the exploitation of this great natural wealth’.⁵⁰
The French note had been prepared on Clemenceau’s instructions and was based on the deal made with Lloyd George on 1 December 1918,⁵¹ but Toynbee and Mallet did not know that a deal had been struck. They were convinced that self-determination still held the field. They dismissed the note because it ignored ‘the principles governing the Conference and of the joint Declaration […] in which the two Powers have declared that they aim purely at the establishment of national governments derived from the free choice of the native populations’. It was telling that ‘no evidence regarding the desires of the population is put forward in the French memorandum’, and they ‘suggested that the first step should be to ascertain on the spot what these desires are’. They refused to explore the possibilities of a compromise solution based on the Sykes–Picot agreement, and proudly proclaimed that ‘His Majesty’s Government are ready to take their stand upon the self- determination of the Arabs and to leave to them in every case the free choice of the Power whose assistance they desire’.⁵²
In his statement before the conference, Faisal ‘asked for the independence of all the Arabic-speaking peoples in Asia, from the line Alexandretta–Diarbekr southward’. This was the ideal of ‘all Arab patriots’ and Faisal could not imagine that ‘the Allies would run counter to their wishes. If they did so the consequences would be grave.’ He also stated that ‘the Arabs were most grateful to England and France for the help given them to free their country. The Arabs now asked them to fulfil their promises of November, 1918,’ and expected that ‘the greatest difficulty would be over Syria’. He was willing to admit the independence of the Lebanon and to put Palestine, ‘in consequence of its universal character’, on one side, and assured his audience that ‘the Arabs realised how much their country lacked development’. They ‘wanted to seek help from everyone who wished them well; but they could not sacrifice for this help any of the independence for which they had fought’. He therefore ‘asked that the various Provinces, on the principle of self-determination, should be al- lowed to indicate to the League of Nations the nature of the assistance they required’, and if it could not be established at Paris what the precise wishes of the population were, then ‘an international enquiry, made in the area concerned, might be a quick, easy, sure, and just way of determining their wishes’.⁵³
Lloyd George returned to London on 8 February. Lord Milner became responsible for the Syria file during the Prime Minister’s absence. On 11 February 1919, Hankey wrote to his wife that ‘we have had rather difficult relations with the French about Syria […] However Milner has been seeing Clemenceau and Sonnino this morning and I think the difficulty is laid for the moment’.⁵⁴ Philip Kerr reported to Lloyd George that Milner had made it clear to Clemenceau that ‘we did not want Syria, and that we had not the slightest objection to France being there, but that we were anxious about the peace, if the French rushed to occupy it at once’. What the British wanted ‘was an arrangement which both the French and the Arabs could accept, and it was impossible for us to move our troops until that had been arranged’. Clemenceau had been ‘greatly mollified’,⁵⁵ and had agreed, so Kerr added the next day, ‘to have a talk with Feisal or Lawrence on his behalf provided a British representative, for instance Lord Milner, was present’.⁵⁶ Milner and Balfour therefore would have a talk with Lawrence ‘with the object of inducing him to moderate Feisal’s demands’. Kerr was on the whole quite sanguine. As he explained to Davies in a further letter, it seemed that the French now realized that ‘we are not trying to get them out of Syria, and that the Arab difficulty is a genuine one not fomented by us’. Milner was going to do his best to bring the French and Faisal to an agreement, and Kerr had no doubt that ‘if the French will be content with the Lebanon […] that a settlement with Feisal can be made’.⁵⁷ In case the French nevertheless ‘try and rush the question’, the British could al- ways ‘fall back on the American proposal to send a Commission of Enquiry. The President told Mr Balfour at lunch today that he supported this course.’⁵⁸ President Wilson left Paris for a short visit to the USA on 14 February. That day, Gertrude Bell sent a memorandum to Balfour giving Lawrence’s and her views on ‘the Arab settlement’. They warned that if the French obtained ‘the mandate for Syria and prepare to exercise it in such manner as to turn the country into a French province […] it is inevitable that they will meet with armed opposition which if successful will bring their mandatory authority to an abrupt close, and if unsuccessful will develop into a long period of guerrilla warfare.’ They regretted that the French were ‘either dangerously unconscious of the hostility to themselves which exists in Syria or no less dangerously determined to ignore it’. There remained ‘two possible alternatives. (a) That the French should abandon their ambition to receive the mandate for Syria and consent to see an- other Power installed there. (b) That they should receive their mandatory authority on terms which will not do violence to Syrian Nationalist hopes.’ Naturally, option (a) was the better of the two solutions, but (b) might be more realistic. If the latter were pursued, ‘it would be necessary that the French should come to an arrangement with the Syrian Nationalists who are partly represented in Paris by the Emir Feisal’. Unless the Americans stepped in, however, the French would never be prepared ‘to make substantial concessions to local opinion’.⁵⁹
Whereas Bell and Lawrence once again prescribed the medicine of self-determination and American pressure to solve the Syrian problem, Hirtzel, in a memorandum of the same date, held fast to his position that a rapprochement with France ought to have the highest priority. The British must realize that ‘after the war, as before it, we shall have to live next door to the French all over the world. They may not be pleasant neighbours in detail, but there it is.’ Hirtzel strongly disapproved the tendency ‘observable in the extreme pro-Arab policy advocated in certain quarters […] to exaggerate the purely parochial importance of the Arab question at the expense of the ecumenical importance of the maintenance of cordial relations with France’. Instead of putting pressure on the French through the Americans, who in addition might prove to be unreliable, Britain should play the role of ‘the honest broker between French and Arabs’, and Sir Arthur believed that the French, as they were ‘in a weak position […] would be glad to make terms’.⁶⁰
Milner was quite taken with Hirtzel’s ‘excellent memo’, and gave instructions that the latter should be told that he was ‘personally in entire agreement with his main proposition that we should not try to push France out of Syria but seek to act as the honest broker between her and the Arabs’.⁶¹ Mallet, clearly, was less impressed. He minuted that everyone was ‘agreed as to the necessity of an understanding with France, in regard to French rights and claims and I do not think that there is any danger of the F.O. overlooking this’. Sir Louis still aimed for the maximalist programme of giving Britain ‘a free hand in the Arab countries’, which ‘would be prefer- able in many respects to a divided mandate’, and also ‘more in harmony with Arab wishes’. Mallet was confident that the situation was ‘well in hand and we have many cards to play’. As a matter of fact ‘an effort is now being made to bring Faisal and M. Clemenceau together with a view to a friendly settlement’.⁶²
The projected meeting between Clemenceau and Faisal did not take place, however. The French prime minister was wounded in an assassination attempt on 19 February. In the week thereafter, Faisal met with Goût, as well as with former prime minister Aristide Briand. Goût had been commissioned by Pichon ‘to offer his regrets’, and declared that the French foreign minister hoped that ‘that an agreement, satisfactory to us both, may be reached’. Briand assured Faisal that the French foreign ministry had ‘made a hopeless muddle of its Eastern policy’, but steps had ‘been taken to correct it’. When Faisal observed that he wanted ‘to see some tangible evidence of your good will’, Briand replied that he ‘must allow us to earn our fares’, and that the French intended ‘to meet [him] half way’.⁶³
Kerr reported to Lloyd George on 28 February that ‘all the larger questions are in suspense pending the re- turn of yourself and Clemenceau’,⁶⁴ but only three days later, one day before Lloyd George was to return to Paris, the French tried to force the issue of sending reinforcements to Syria. The French foreign office informed the British peace delegation that the French government had decided to send three battalions of infantry and four squadrons of cavalry. General Allenby had failed to produce any valid strategic argument against their arrival. The French government therefore trusted that the British government would instruct him to cease his opposition.⁶⁵ Balfour was rather shocked. He minuted that ‘this afternoon Lord Milner and I were given a paper at the Conference implying that the French proposed sending 3 divisions to Syria at once!! This is, or may be- come, a very serious matter.’⁶⁶
On his return, Lloyd George resumed responsibility for the Syria file. Milner handed Balfour ‘the papers regarding Clemenceau’s abrupt announcement of the despatch of French troops to Syria’, and observed that ‘of course, we are really at cross-purposes. The French pretend that this is only a replacement and if it were only a replacement, it would be in accordance with our views,’ but ‘in reality what the French are after is an increase of the number of their troops in Syria with a view to strengthening their hold on the country’. According to Milner the matter was ‘not sufficiently big to make a great fuss about it’, and that some sort of qualified consent should be given. His belief that things were getting serious notwithstanding, Balfour did not follow Milner’s advice, and fully backed Allenby’s position. On 5 March, he proposed to Curzon that the Foreign Office should reply to the French note that the British government felt ‘unable to alter their view on the further despatch of troops to Syria […] In this they are acting in deference to General Allenby’s wishes which, owing to the nature of his responsibility, they feel unable to disregard.’⁶⁷
Lloyd George had a conversation with Clemenceau on Syria on 7 March. The Prime Minister afterwards recorded that he had said that ‘France I suppose, will undertake Syria’, and that Britain claimed Mosul ‘which you agreed to give us’. He then urged the importance of a settlement with Faisal. Clemenceau explained that he had already tried but had failed, and that he was afraid that ‘we shall have to fight him’. Lloyd George professed that this ‘would be a disaster’, and that Faisal was ‘a very formidable fighter’. Of course, the French ‘would beat him in the end, but it would be a very expensive operation, so I strongly urge that you should arrange things with him. M. Clemenceau said he would do his best.’ The Prime Minister finally put to Clemenceau a suggestion made by Kerr in his letter of 28 February that it might help if General Allenby should come to Paris. The French prime minister readily assented. He ‘said he had a great opinion of him and he would be very pleased if I would wire for him’.⁶⁸
Lloyd George, clearly, was not pleased with the manner in which the Syrian question had been handled during his absence. In a long letter, Milner tried to justify what he had done, and more especially what he had not done. During his interview with Clemenceau he had told the latter:
Quite frankly that while we were dissatisfied with the Sykes–Picot scheme which he had himself recognized the necessity of radically altering, we had no desire to play the French out of Syria or to try to get Syria for ourselves. Our interest was confined to an extended Mesopotamia, to Palestine, and to a good connection between them. The Syrian difficulty was not our doing, but was due to the fact that the French had unfortunately fallen foul of the Arabs. This put us in a very awkward position as we were friends with the French but also friends with the Arabs who had fought gallantly on our side against the Turks and contributed materially to our victory. It was therefore entirely in our interest that the French and the Arabs should get on better terms with one another.
There was at the same time an equal necessity for the French, for if Faisal were to stick his toes into the ground and refuse to have anything to do with them, I did not see how, in view of their and our explicit declarations about complete enfranchisement for the people of Syria and their right to choose their own rulers, the Peace Conference could possibly impose France upon Syria as a mandatory power. The only way out seemed to be that the French should stop continually bullying and irritating Faisal and try to make up to him.
Clemenceau had said that ‘if I, or some other responsible British representative were present, he would be willing to talk to Feizal’. As Milner had been just about to leave for London, he had promised that he ‘would try and arrange such a meeting on my return’, but ‘on the day I returned, Clemenceau was shot, and I have not liked to trouble him again in the matter since’.
Milner further explained that he was ‘totally opposed to the idea of trying to diddle the French out of Syria. I know that it will be very difficult to get any agreement between them and Feizal, but I do not think it impossible if we […] bring pressure upon both parties to compromise.’ However, he defied ‘any human being to get out of this Syrian tangle by any scheme which is not open to many objections, and I want to get out of it somehow without a row’. There was one other thing: ‘if we are to play the honest broker between France and Feizal, and especially to get France out of her present difficulty by persuading Feizal to come to terms with her, we must take care that in return the French fulfil their promise to us about Mosul and Palestine, and give it a liberal interpretation’. With the latter he meant that the French should accept that Britain’s good offices came at a price. The frontiers laid down in the Sykes– Picot agreement should undergo yet another revision in Britain’s favour. The boundary between the French zone of influence (A) and the British zone of influence (B) should be shifted ‘considerably towards the north’ – bringing for instance the oasis of Palmyra into the British sphere – in order to allow Britain to construct a railway from Mosul to Palestine around the Syrian desert.⁶⁹
Milner’s last action with respect to Syria was to hand over to Hardinge a further note by Pichon on the misdoings of British officers in the Middle East. It had been written ‘at the request of Clemenceau, who attaches or pretends to attach, importance to these complaints about our treatment of the French in Syria and Mesopotamia’. Altogether the note contained 25 com- plaints, many of them not new.⁷⁰ At the Foreign Office, Kidston first of all wondered why Pichon had handed the note to Milner. He also stated that Curzon had not yet replied to Pichon’s previous note, and fancied that ‘we should have very good ground for demanding the instant recall of these French agents and officials, who are supposed to be working under General Allenby’s orders and as is shown in this document, have lost no opportunity of reporting unfavourably on his administration behind his back’.⁷¹
The Foreign Office finally replied to Pichon’s two notes on 19 March 1919. In the course of his weekly conversation with Ambassador Cambon that same day, Curzon had already warned that the reply was ‘couched in somewhat sharp language’, but that this had ‘only been provoked, and was justified by the very unusual tone of M. Pichon’s remarks’.⁷² The Foreign Office stood firmly by the British military authorities in the Middle East who, ‘far from working against French interests, have done their best to cooperate with their French Allies’ under very difficult circumstances that had been produced ‘on the one hand by the antagonistic attitude of the Arabs towards the French, and on the other hand by the failure of the French government to supply an administrative personnel possessing the experience and authority necessary to cope with so complex and delicate a situation’. In line with Kidston’s suggestion, it was also pointed out that ‘a number of these officials find an outlet for their activities in telegraphing home voluminous complaints as to incidents, many of which appear to be quite undeserving of serious consideration, and which in the large majority of cases, ought to admit of local solution’. ‘A strong and good note’, Hardinge minuted with satisfaction.⁷³
House wrote in his diary on 10 March that Clemenceau, Lloyd George and he had ‘discussed the Syrian question at considerable length, but no agreement was arrived at’. The French wanted ‘all of Syria’, but Lloyd George had ‘produced a map which Milner had prepared. This gave Lebanon to France, allowing Great Britain and the Arabs an outlet to the Mediterranean. Clemenceau did not like this.’ Two days later, the French prime minister confessed in a private conversation with House that ‘he was distressed at the turn matters were taking with the British. He said Lloyd George did not keep his promises, that in England he had promised him Syria just as the French now desired.’⁷⁴
Impasse: The Need to do away with the Sykes-Picot Agreement
President Wilson arrived back in Paris on 14 March 1919. The official reason for his trip had been that he needed to be in Washington for the closing sessions of Congress, but in reality he had gone back ‘to deal with the growing opposition to the League of Nations’. In this he utterly failed. Just before Wilson was to return to Paris, it became clear that more than a third of the senators supported a motion submitted by Henry Cabot Lodge, the leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, that further discussions on the League should be postponed until the peace treaty with Germany had been signed.⁷⁵ In Paris, the portents were clear. Harold Nicolson later attributed ‘the sudden slump in idealism’, which ‘over- whelmed the Conference towards the middle of March’, to the ‘horror-struck suspicion that Wilsonism was leaking badly, that the vessel upon we had all embarked so confidently was foundering by the head’.⁷⁶ This also meant that Wilson was in no position to give a definite answer to the question of whether the USA was prepared to become the mandatory power for certain parts of the Ottoman Empire. A few days after his return, Wilson suggested that Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Orlando and he should meet as a Council of Four in order to speed up the decision making process on ‘the big and infinite number of problems’ related to the peace treaties.⁷⁷ Wilson’s activities in the context of the Council of Four only further undermined his stature. According to John Maynard Keynes, ‘there can seldom have been a statesman of the first rank more incompetent than the President in the agilities of the council chamber’. Once Wilson ‘stepped down to the intimate quality of the Four, the game was evidently up’.⁷⁸ This was a conclusion with which House would have agreed. He felt that Wilson was ‘influenced by his constant association with Clemenceau and George’. He reported in his diary on 30 May that there was ‘a bon mot going the round in Paris and London, “Wilson talks like Jesus Christ and acts like Lloyd George”’, to which he added at the end of June that when the President stepped from his lofty pedestal to wrangle ‘with representatives of other states on equal terms, he became as common clay’.⁷⁹
The first meeting of the Council of Four took place on 20 March. The first and most important subject on the agenda was ‘Syria and Turkey’. Before this meeting, Balfour in a letter to Curzon gave voice to his anxieties with respect to ‘the Middle Eastern problem’. In Paris, they had ‘arrived at no satisfactory solution of it, nor do I quite see by what machinery such a solution is to be obtained’. He explained that the negotiations were ‘in the hands of the P.M.’, and that, while he entirely agreed ‘with what I understand to be his main objects, I am by no means sure that he has thought out the question as a whole; or that, in more or less informal conversations with this or that Member of the Conference, he may not give away to one Power what ought to be reserved for another’. In this connection Balfour mentioned quite casually that ‘Clemenceau, in London, asked him what he wanted, and he answered “Mosul”. Clemenceau replied, “Then you shall have it”’. The foreign secretary believed that ‘if “Mosul” can be interpreted to mean the upper regions of Mesopotamia this, in my opinion might give us (because of the importance of oil) all we really want; but it by no means gives us what Feisal thinks we ought to have, and leaves Damascus and Aleppo, etc. in the French sphere, which Feisal swears he will on no account tolerate’. The French continued to base their claims on the Sykes– Picot agreement, ‘but the Sykes–Picot Agreement has been qualified by the Anglo–French declaration of last November; and Feisal asserts that, if that declaration means what it says, no French official will ever have rights in Damascus’. The result was that there had been ‘an “impasse” about Syria’. After the meeting of the Council of Four, Balfour added in a postscript that ‘since writing the above the P.M. has declared “ex cathedra” that under no circumstances will Britain accept Syria. A Commission is to be sent there, and also to Mesopotamia and Armenia − to find out who among the Allies would be most welcome as Mandatory in each of these regions!’⁸⁰
Pichon had opened the discussion. After a long exposition of the history of the Syrian question, which according to him had its origins in the Sykes–Picot agreement, he wound up by stating that ‘France had strongly protested against any idea of dividing Syria. Syria had geographical and historic unity,’ but that the French government ‘frankly avowed that they did not want the responsibility of administering Palestine, though they would prefer to see it under an international administration’. What the French government wanted was ‘(1) That the whole Syrian region should be treated as a unit: and (2) That France should become the mandatory of the League of Nations of this region’. Pichon also mentioned that ‘recently Lord Milner had left a map with M. Clemenceau [which] greatly circumscribed the French area’. According to him:
It was evident that the French government could not look at this scheme […] even though they had the greatest desire to reach an agreement […] French opinion would not admit that France could be even partly excluded after the sacrifices she had made in the War, even if she had not been able to play a great part in the Syrian campaign. In consequence, the minimum that France could accept was what had been put forward in the French government’s Note to Mr Lloyd George.
Lloyd George replied that Pichon ‘had opened as though the question of the mandate for Syria was one between Great Britain and France. There was, in fact, no such question as far as Great Britain was concerned.’ He therefore ‘wished to say at once that just as we had disinterested ourselves in 1912, so we now disinterested ourselves in 1919. If the Conference asked us to take Syria, we should reply in the negative.’ At the same time, Lloyd George reminded Pichon that under the Sykes–Picot agreement France was ‘prepared to recognize and uphold an independent Arab State or Confederation of States’ in area ‘A’. He asked whether France was ‘prepared to accept that?’ Pichon replied in the affirmative, ‘if France was promised a mandate for Syria, she would undertake to do nothing except in agreement with the Arab State or Confederation of States. This is the role which France demanded in Syria. If Great Britain would only promise her good offices, he believed that France could reach an understanding with Feisal.’
At that point, President Wilson intervened. He finally took up the position that the Foreign Office − Cecil in the first place − and the Eastern Committee had worked and hoped for since the autumn of 1918. He explained that the USA were:
Indifferent to the claims both of Great Britain and France over peoples unless these peoples wanted them. One of the fundamental principles to which the United States of America adhered was the con- sent of the governed. This was ingrained in the United States of America thought. Hence, the only idea from the United States of America point of view was as to whether France would be agreeable to the Syrians. The same applied as to whether Great Britain would be agreeable to the inhabitants of Mesopotamia. It might not be his business, but if the question was made his business, owing to the fact that it was brought before the Conference, the only way to deal with it was to discover the desires of the population of these regions.
He had been told that, ‘if France insisted on occupying Damascus and Aleppo, there would be instant war’. The President asked Allenby, who attended the meeting, ‘what would happen if France occupied the region of Syria, “even as narrowly defined”’. The latter replied that ‘there would be the strongest possible opposition by the whole of the Moslems, and especially by the Arabs […] If the French were given a mandate in Syria, there would be serious trouble and probably war.’ After an adjournment, Wilson:
Suggested that the fittest men that could be obtained should be selected to form an Inter-Allied Commission to go to Syria, extending their enquiries, if they led them, beyond the confines of Syria. Their object should be to elucidate the state of opinion and the soil to be worked on by any mandatory […] If we were to send a Commission […] it would, at any rate, convince the world that the Conference had tried to do all it could to find the most scientific basis possible for a settlement. The Commission should be composed of an equal number of French, British, Italian and American representatives. He would send it with carte blanche to tell the facts as they found them. Clemenceau said that ‘he adhered in principle to an inquiry’, but asked ‘for twenty-four hours of reflection before setting up the Commission’. Lloyd George declared that ‘he had no objection to an inquiry into Palestine and Mesopotamia […] Neither would he object to an inquiry into Armenia.’ It was decided that the president would undertake ‘to draft a Terms of Reference to the Commission’.⁸¹
At the Foreign Office in London, Archibald Clark Kerr thought it ‘strange that we should not have been in- formed officially of the despatch to the Levant of the Commission’. Personally he was ‘disposed to welcome it, even at the risk of further delay, seeing in it considerable chance of the collapse of the bulk of the French pretensions’. Curzon could not disagree more. He considered it ‘a fantastic proposal’, and ‘a confession of hopeless failure at Paris’.⁸² In his reply to Balfour’s letter, Curzon, however, was less outspoken. Balfour’s description of the Middle Eastern problem had caused him ‘a good deal of anxiety, which, so far from being diminished has been considerably increased by the information that has since come to hand as to the conclusions arrived at in Paris during the last few days’. He put it to Balfour that ‘if the Commission reports in favour of a French Syria, it will have to ignore all the evidence which will be supplied to it. If it reports against a French Syria, are the French prepared to surrender their ambitions?’ Curzon was quite unhappy with the way things were going in Paris, but admitted that his observations were ‘only the reflections of an outsider who is at some distance from the scene; and it may be that, if I had been upon the spot, my policy would not have been any more sound or effective’.⁸³
In the meantime, Faisal threatened to leave for Syria. At the beginning of February he had already writ- ten to his father that he ‘wished to return (to) Syria when Commission for ascertaining public wish there [was] approved at Paris’,⁸⁴ and although Briand had assured him that the French wanted to meet him halfway, they still treated him with ‘studied contempt’. According to Henry Wickham-Steed, editor of The Times, ‘in order to avoid this breach, which would probably have led to hostilities between the Arabs and the French in Syria, I made an effort to bring the chief exponents of the British and the French views together’. During a meeting that lasted for ‘nearly six hours’, the Syrian question was ‘discussed in all its aspects’. In the end, the participants ‘reached so large a measure of agreement that Colonel Lawrence undertook to advise Feisal not to leave Paris, while the French undertook to get into direct touch with Feisal. In this way it was hoped to avoid the necessity of sending out a special Commission from the Conference to Syria, and to settle the question in Paris.’⁸⁵
Lloyd George had second thoughts about the commission. During a meeting of the Council of Four on 27 March, he reported that one of his administrators from Mesopotamia who had recently arrived in Paris (the Prime Minister referred to Arnold Wilson) held views that quite differed from Allenby’s regarding Arab sentiments towards the French, and claimed that the arrival of the proposed commission could only lead to unrest in the region, while the mentality of the people of the East would prevent the commission from being able to establish what they really wished. President Wilson was not impressed. He preferred ‘despite everything an inquiry, done with impartiality’. When Lloyd George added that Faisal, too, seemed to have changed his attitude, the President remained unmoved. He insisted that they held fast to their decision. Clemenceau sided with Wilson. He wished them to go through with the inquiry, ‘avoiding all loss of time’.⁸⁶ President Wilson drafted the terms of reference for the commission,⁸⁷ and appointed two American com- missioners – Dr Henry King, the president of Oberlin College, and Charles Crane, a Chicago businessman with strong links to Wilson. During a meeting of the Council of Four on 11 April, Wilson wished to know whether Clemenceau and Lloyd George had appointed theirs. The latter replied he had not, and that he believed that there should be ‘a conversation on this subject between M. Clemenceau and me’. The President reminded his colleagues that a formal decision had been taken and that he did not see ‘how an agreement between France and England could relieve us from sending this commission to Asia. What we need to know is not whether France and England are agreed, but what is the sentiment of the populations.’ Clemenceau did not deny this, but it was useful to know beforehand ‘how France and England can reach agreement on the question of the mandates, in order to be able to present proposals that the populations could accept’. After a brief discussion it was decided that the British and French governments would have further talks on the Syrian question. Lloyd George once again stressed Britain’s disinterestedness, and declared that he would give Faisal to understand that he should not count on ‘discord between France and England’.⁸⁸ All this seemed to indicate that the British prime minister had decided to settle the question in Paris, but after the meeting Hankey was instructed to say to Balfour that Lloyd George concurred in the foreign secretary’s proposal that Sir Henry McMahon and Commander Hogarth should be the British commissioners, and that Balfour ‘should make the necessary arrangements […] for them to come to Paris immediately, with a view to an early start on their mission’.⁸⁹
The next day, Saturday 12 April, a meeting took place between Lloyd George and Clemenceau, accompanied by Pichon, Berthelot and Goût. According to Mallet the negotiations ‘completely failed owing to the extravagance of M. Pichon demands’.⁹⁰ The meeting between Clemenceau and Faisal, on Sunday, also ended in failure. As the French prime minister explained to House the following day, ‘he and Feisal came to an agreement, but after Feisal had talked with Col. Lawrence […] he withdrew from what he had said to Clemenceau’.⁹¹ Lloyd George had had enough. On Monday morning, just before he was to leave for London to address the House of Commons, he assured Lawrence that ‘the commission would go at once’.⁹² However, the commission did not go. Although Balfour telegraphed to Curzon on 18 April that Lloyd George ‘desired the arrangements to be expedited, so that it is desirable that MacMahon and Hogarth should come at once’,⁹³ Arnold Toynbee minuted one day later that Albert Lybyer, the secretary of the American commissioners had told him that King had been ‘informed by Col. House last night that the Commission would not go, and that he was free to make personal plans’.⁹⁴
Clemenceau and Faisal had agreed on an exchange of letters, ‘on the clear understanding that Feisal’s reply to [Clemenceau’s] letter would be of a satisfactory character’.⁹⁵ On 17 April the French prime minister sent a draft letter, in which the French government declared that they recognized ‘ the right of Syria to independence in the form of a federation of autonomous governments in agreement with the traditions and wishes of the populations’, and claimed that Faisal had recognized ‘that France is the Power qualified to render Syria the assistance of various advisors necessary to introduce order and realise the progress demanded by the Syrian populations’.⁹⁶ Faisal’s draft reply, according to Lawrence ‘a frank statement of what the Syrians wanted from the Powers and were willing to offer France’, had been rejected by the French and ‘therefore never transmitted’.⁹⁷ On 20 April, Faisal submitted another letter, which proved to be acceptable, even though its wording was highly ambiguous. The Emir assured Clemenceau that he had been:
Deeply impressed by the disinterested friendliness of your statements to me while I was in Paris, and must thank you for having been the first to suggest the dispatch of the inter-allied Commission, which is to leave shortly for the East to ascertain the wishes of the local peoples as to the future organisation of their country. I am sure that the people of Syria will know how to show you their gratitude.⁹⁸
Faisal left Paris the following day. House recorded in his diary that the Emir had come to bid him goodbye. During their conversation, Faisal had ‘insisted that the Syrian Commission should go as soon as possible. If it did not, he would not be responsible for the peace in that part of the world.’ House thereupon wrote a letter to Wilson ‘asking him if I should stop Dr King […] who was about to return to America. The President asked me to stop him which I did. I asked King to get in touch with Charles R. Crane and arrange with the French and British Commissioners for their trip.’⁹⁹
At the Council of Four the next day, Clemenceau handed Lloyd George a copy of Faisal’s letter, and claimed that the Emir had been satisfied. He ‘asked what was to be done about the Commission’. Lloyd George replied that ‘he thought the Commission should soon start. It was settled so far as he was concerned.’¹⁰⁰ Four days later Clemenceau returned to the subject. He reminded Lloyd George that the latter had spoken to him about the dangers of sending the commission and that it had been the British prime minister who had pro- posed that the French and the British should first reach an agreement. Lloyd George answered that all he had to say was that the British government ‘absolutely refused to accept a mandate for Syria. To us, the friendship of France is worth ten Syrias.’ Wilson for his part repeated that ‘the mandates question cannot be simply settled by an arrangement between you two’.¹⁰¹ The three decided that ‘(1) The French government should immediately nominate their representatives. (2) The Commission should start as soon as possible.’¹⁰² When Toynbee and Lybyer visited Goût the next day, however, the latter told them that:
He had received no instructions from either M. Clemenceau or M. Pichon, though he had seen M. Pichon this afternoon; that they had no commissioners in view, and that their appointment would take some time; and that in his opinion the season was so far advanced that it would only be possible now to visit Armenia – leaving all the Arab countries to the autumn and winter!¹⁰³
On 4 May Wickham-Steed had an interview with Clemenceau, during which the latter ‘complained bitterly that Lloyd George had continually failed to keep his word to him’. He told the editor of The Times that:
At first Lloyd George expressed himself entirely in favor of a French mandate for Syria and said that the only obstacle was Wilson. ‘Agree with Wilson,’ he added, ‘and I will help you in every way, provided that you do not want to conquer Syria, that you give up your claims to Cilicia and that you leave Mosul in the British sphere’.
All this Clemenceau had done, but Lloyd George had done nothing. The latest insult was that the Prime Minister had ‘allowed Allenby to send away to Cilicia the regiment of cavalry which the British had asked me to send to Beirut. I really cannot stand this sort of slap in the face.’¹⁰⁴ The French embassy delivered an official protest the next day. Allenby’s decision tended to ‘remove all French troops from the regions of Syria’. The French government therefore demanded the suspension of Allenby’s orders.¹⁰⁵ The officials at the Foreign Office failed to appreciate that Allenby’s order was more or less the last straw as far as the French were concerned. The situation in Syria was ‘still a military one and as long as General Allenby is in command he will continue to give such orders as he finds necessary to deal with the situation. The question has no political aspect whatsoever.’¹⁰⁶ This was also what Curzon told Cambon. Allenby’s orders were ‘probably required by military considerations’ and to him the question appeared ‘to be in the main not political, but military. Through the mouth of our Prime Minister in Paris we had dissociated ourselves in a political sense from Syria. The fact that our troops were in occupation was the result, not of any political design, but of the circumstances of the war.’¹⁰⁷ Clemenceau nevertheless declined to pursue the matter any further. He explained to Wickham-Steed on 11 May that ‘he was much bothered with other matters and did not wish to raise another thorny question with Lloyd George at this juncture’.¹⁰⁸
The next day, Kerr informed Forbes Adam that the Prime Minister was ‘anxious that the Syrian Commission should start as soon as possible’,¹⁰⁹ but on 14 May George Montgomery of the American delegation telephoned Vansittart ‘to ask if the Commission really was going’. Vansittart replied that he ‘supposed so and we were looking about for a ship’. The American then informed him that he had just been told by Goût ‘it wasn’t going’, and that the latter ‘seemed so cocksure that he (Mr Montgomery) thought we must have settled something with the French behind their (American) back. I said “nothing of the kind”, but it is evident the French are going to resist till the last.’¹¹⁰ At the Council of Four that same day, Lloyd George and Clemenceau decided on yet another attempt ‘to make a clean job’ of the Syrian question. The Prime Minister suggested that ‘at the moment, the best plan would be to draw up a map of occupation, showing what territories would be occupied by the various Powers concerned’. They appointed André Tardieu and Sir Henry Wilson to examine the question and work out a solution.¹¹¹
Hogarth had come over to Paris in order to make the necessary preparations. He informed Balfour on 20 May that when he had talked with Goût and de Caix:
Both gentlemen made it quite clear that they have the strongest objection to any international Commission going to Syria at this stage, but would welcome such a Commission as soon as the Mandate for Syria was irrevocably given to France and she was in sole military occupation.
The commission is, therefore, in a complete impasse from which it can only emerge by such pressure being exercised by the highest authorities.¹¹²
The foreign secretary agreed. He wrote to Lloyd George that the Commission was ‘being blocked by the French who refuse to move. The F.O. delegation cannot deal with the situation. It must be tackled by the “4”.’¹¹³ Balfour simply washed his hands of the whole affair. House for his part noted in his diary on 20 May that he had:
Told the President it was something of a scandal that this Commission had not already gone to Syria as promised the Arabs. The honor of Great Britain, France and the United States were at stake, and I hoped he would insist that the Commission leave at once. The President assured me that he had done everything he could in the direction indicated. I then suggested that he set Monday [26 May; R.H.L.] as the time when our Commission would start regardless of the French and English. He adopted the suggestion and said he would tell Clemenceau and Lloyd George tomorrow.¹¹⁴
President Wilson announced at the Council of Four the next day that ‘the Delegates whom he had nominated were men of such standing that he could not keep them waiting any longer in Paris, consequently he had instructed them to leave for Syria on Monday’. Lloyd George stated that this also ‘applied to the British Delegates and he thought he would give them the same orders’. Clemenceau replied that ‘in this case he must drop out’, and then gave free rein to his pent-up frustrations with the Syrian question:
The promises made to him had not been kept […] [In December] he had come to London and had asked Mr Lloyd George to say exactly what he wanted. Mr Lloyd George had said Mosul and Palestine. He had returned to Paris, and in spite of the objections of M. Pichon and the Quai d’Orsay, he had conceded it. Then Mr Lloyd George had said France and Great Britain would get along all right. Early in the year the proposal had been made for the evacuation of Syria by British troops and the substitution of French troops. Lord Milner had asked him to put this aside for the moment and had undertaken to discuss it with him. He had never done so. Then Lord Milner had promised to help M. Clemenceau with Emir Feisal. He had never carried out his promise. After this, Lord Milner had produced a map by which Syria was divided in order to provide a railway for the British to Mesopotamia […] He had even agreed to this.
Here Lloyd George interrupted and wanted to know ‘what M. Clemenceau’s grievance was? What constituted a breach of faith?’ Clemenceau, however, ignored him and continued that:
The last phase had concerned the withdrawal of British troops. It had been agreed to arrange for zones of occupation. It had been agreed that M. Tardieu and General Sir Henry Wilson should study the question. After three days of consultation, General Wilson said that there could be no arrangement unless the limits of Syria were fixed. M. Tardieu had quite properly said that this was not a matter he could deal with.
Lloyd George replied that ‘as regards the charge of a break of faith, this was without any foundation. On the occasion of the London visit, Mr Lloyd George had promised Syria to France provided that he gave up Mosul.’ Respecting the ‘proposal that he had made for a redistribution of the forces in Turkey in order to relieve the British Army’, he explained that when he was away at London ‘for some reason he had never quite under- stood, the scheme had fallen through’. Furthermore, as far as not keeping one’s word was concerned, France had never appointed her delegates to the inter-allied commission. He ‘did not say that M. Clemenceau had not kept faith, but he certainly had not carried out the bargain’. Regarding the boundaries that Wilson had submitted to Tardieu, these were ‘merely a proposal that was under discussion, and there was no breach of faith here’.
Clemenceau stated that he was ready to send his delegates the moment ‘the relief of the occupation forces had begun’, but he believed that it was ‘useless to send a commission to Syria to make inquiries under the dictatorship of General Allenby’. Lloyd George was very offended. He had done his utmost to help the French in Syria, and it had only brought him the accusation that the British had broken their word. He considered that ‘M. Clemenceau would have to make excuses for having brought this accusation against us’.¹¹⁵ The French prime minister refused and a ‘frightful row’ ensued. According to Hankey, ‘both lost their tempers violently and made the most absurd accusations […] It was all over the question of the frontier line between Syria and Palestine. We are at rather a deadlock there.’¹¹⁶
The next day, Clemenceau and Lloyd George continued their dispute. This time there were no accusations of bad faith. The French prime minister explained that:
He had been very surprised on the previous day to see the map now before him […] what had surprised him was to find the line across the desert had been moved northwards for a considerable distance. In fact, the new line he saw on this map was the line on the map Lord Milner had shown him, and which Mr Lloyd George had professed at the time not to know anything about. After all that he had previously given up, this new concession was asked for.
Lloyd George replied that ‘once Mosul had been conceded to the British, the upper line shown on the map was the only possible line’, and threatened that ‘unless the map he had presented was agreed to, he would have to await the report of the Commission before with- drawing the British troops’. Clemenceau was not impressed. He was ‘not willing […] to accept the line now proposed’, and with regard to Lloyd George’s threat, he ‘thought that Mr Lloyd George was wrong, but he would take very great care not to push matters so far as to make trouble between the Entente. As for himself, he would say plainly that he would no longer associate in connection with the British in this part of the world, be- cause the harm done to his country was too great.’ When President Wilson interjected that he ‘had never been able to see by what right France and Great Britain gave [Syria] away to anyone’, Lloyd George confirmed that ‘he was quite willing to abide by the decision of the inhabitants as interpreted by the Commission’. The British prime minister, however, like his French counterpart, did not want to push matters too far and announced that ‘he could not send Commissioners if the French would not send any, but the American Commissioners could go alone’. Sir Henry Wilson thereupon ‘asked if General Allenby would remain in command in Syria, and whether he was authorised to refuse to allow French troops to be sent in’. Lloyd George answered in the affirmative: as long as Allenby ‘was in command and was responsible for order [he] must have a free hand in the matter until a settlement had been reached’. The impasse regarding Syria remained complete.¹¹⁷
Balfour sent Lloyd George a memorandum on the Syrian question the same day. He emphasised that the British position was:
Not a very logical one. We are garrisoning Syria with British troops […] while, at the same time, we have explained explicitly, not only to the French but to all the world, that we have no Syrian ambitions. We are thus, to all appearance, doing something which is highly inconvenient to ourselves and, at the same time, highly offensive to the French.
The foreign secretary wondered ‘why are we doing it?’ As far as he could make out, this was mainly because the British believed that, ‘if our forces are withdrawn and if the Arabs and the French come into direct contact with each other, there will probably be bloodshed, and possibly serious Military operations’. However, the fact was, so Balfour pointed out, that the French clearly thought otherwise, and he could not see ‘what possible reason we have for preventing them, as it were by force, from putting their convictions to the test’. There existed no doubt ‘a real danger of an Arab–French collision. If so, the French might find themselves involved in costly Military operations […] But they will never make this discovery as long as we remain there.’ Balfour dismissed another possible explanation of Britain’s illogical behavior, ‘that to denude Syria of British troops would be to betray our Arab Ally’. He did not think ‘this view can be maintained. The French have in the most explicit terms promised to deal with Syria on the principle of self- determination, and subject to the general control of the League of Nations.’ He therefore did ‘not see why we should suggest any doubts as to their intentions, or modify our policy to suit Arab prejudices’. The way out of the Syrian morass Balfour saw was to ‘withdraw British troops behind the frontier which we think is the proper frontier of Syria’, and to ‘inform the French that we mean to hold this frontier until the Conference comes to a decision on this vexed question’. Faisal should also be told what the British intended to do, re- minding him of ‘the French promises contained in the Declaration of November 8th […] on the subject of self- determination’, as a way of ‘formally notifying him that his interests have not been ignored’.¹¹⁸
On 15 May 1919, Clayton had wired the Foreign Office that Faisal had asked that ‘he may be given indi- cation whether Britain would accept mandate for Syria if asked by Peace Conference on recommendation of Commission. If possible some answer should be given him.’ Mallet minuted on 26 May that ‘as the Prime Minister has said that he will not take the mandate for Syria, as discussions are now proceeding with a view to the despatch of French troops in substitution of our own, and as the prospects of an international Commission going are vanishing’, it was ‘a question whether we ought not frankly to let Feisal know that owing to reasons of which he is probably aware, it is not possible for Great Britain to accept the offer that he makes – and that we recommend him to come to terms with the French – Clayton ought, anyway, to know our policy’. Hardinge agreed, ‘in any case it would be well that Feisal should understand that Great Britain will not accept a mandate for Syria’, but Balfour warned that it was ‘only the Prime Minister’ who could do this. Kerr was subsequently consulted to obtain Lloyd George’s views. He reported that ‘a telegram should be sent to General Clayton saying that he can only reply to Feisal that, as the Prime Minister has already stated on several occasions in Paris, the British government is determined not to take a Mandate for Syria’. A telegram in this sense was sent on 29 May.¹¹⁹
The American President finally decided to send his commissioners alone. They left for the Middle East on 28 May.¹²⁰ Lord Eustace Percy informed Hardinge that Lloyd George still hoped that ‘the British and French Sections of the Commission may follow shortly’,¹²¹ but this was not to be, even though the Prime Minister made a last attempt at the Council of Four on 31 May 1919.
The occasion was a telegram from Allenby, containing two messages from Faisal. In the first, Faisal proclaimed that he considered himself ‘irresponsible for what may occur if the French force is increased even by one soldier’. In the second, Faisal protested that ‘we cannot accept to be divided like cattle. We cannot accept any decision except that of the liberty of nations and parties by sending the commission.’ According to Allenby the situation was:
Extremely grave. Unless you can at once enable me to reassure Feisal and tell him that the Commission is coming out and will decide the future of the country it is certain he will raise the Arabs against the French and ourselves. This will jeopardise position of my troops in Syria and will seriously endanger the whole situation in Syria and Palestine. A word from Feisal will bring against us all the warlike Bedouins from the East of the Jordan, on whose friendly attitude depends the safety of Palestine and the security of my long lines of communication.¹²²
Balfour also chimed in. He produced another memorandum in which he declared that the British delegation urged ‘with the greatest insistence the importance of sending the Commission to the East as soon as possible’.¹²³ At the Council of Four, Lloyd George read out Allenby’s telegram. It indicated that ‘the situation in Syria would be extremely grave unless the Commission of the Peace Conference should come to Syria […] Hence, he felt that the moment had come to decide whether the Commission should proceed at once […] The situation was so serious that he could not postpone action.’ Clemenceau would not budge, ‘as long as Syria remained entirely in British military occupation, and Mr Lloyd George’s latest proposals held the field, it was useless to send French Commissioners’. The only concession he was prepared to make was that ‘he would undertake not to send any more French troops against the wishes of the British government’. The British prime minister reiterated that ‘he would not send Commissioners if the French did not’. He subsequently ‘read a copy of the telegram he proposed to send to General Allenby. At M. Clemenceau’s request he agreed to alter one passage in order to make it clear that the French were not willing to send Commissioners until the relief of British troops by French troops had been arranged.’¹²⁴ Sir Edmund was therefore informed that ‘as an arrangement to do this cannot be agreed, French Commissioners will not go out. Under these circumstances we think it for obvious reasons inexpedient to send ours,’ and authorized ‘to state when Americans arrive that the British government will give the fullest weight to the advice which the Council […] will receive from the American Commissioners’.¹²⁵
Gathering a Breakthrough: June to September 1919
Until the end of May, the British authorities, whether in Paris or London, neither questioned Allenby’s assessment that the arrival of French troops in Syria would lead to bloodshed on a large scale, nor his claim that he acted as an impartial arbiter who had to navigate between the irreconcilable Syrian ambitions of the French on the one hand, and Faisal and the Arab nationalists on the other hand, but in the course of June, this gradually began to change. Lieut.-Colonel Gribbon of the General Staff was the first to challenge Allenby’s credibility. He observed in a memorandum of 12 June that ‘too much weight should not be attached to the contemplated danger from the Arabs’ and, according to his calculations, Faisal’s ‘whole force’ during his campaign ‘did not exceed 10,000 men’.¹²⁶ Britain was confronted with the alternatives ‘of bringing her policy as far as possible into line with that of a relatively solid France or of an unstable Arabia. And it may be as well to recognise here, once and for all, that a really united Arabia is an illusion and a dream. Arabs never have combined and never will combine.’ It was clear which alternative Gribbon favored, ‘we must not allow our relations with [France] to be displaced by our relations with the unstable Arabs’. The challenge that remained was ‘to make the best arrangement for the British Empire between the French and the Arabs’. Such an arrangement would ‘enable us to maintain our relations with France without detriment to the strategical position which we have acquired in this war’. Britain ‘must retain the possibility of direct air, railway and oil routes between Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean’.¹²⁷ Gribbon had also talked the matter over with Vansittart, who entirely agreed. The latter minuted that ‘the only “realpolitik” for us is to take a line in the Near East that will keep in with the French (much as I dislike it) […] and not to be too nervous of Arab susceptibilities. We cannot sacrifice the reality of France for an Arab unity that will never materialise.’¹²⁸
On 12 June, Allenby sent a telegram to the Foreign Office from which it appeared that he had thought fit in the statement of British policy Faisal had requested, to combine Balfour’s telegram of 29 May, in which it had been stated that the British government were deter- mined not to take a mandate for Syria, and Balfour’s telegram of 31 May, in which it had been said that the British government would give the fullest weight to the report of the American commissioners. Sir Edmund had declared to Faisal that ‘His Majesty’s Government have expressed unwillingness to accept a mandate for Syria but will give fullest weight to advice of Commission in the Council of Allied and Associated Powers’. This declaration was not well received at the Foreign Office. Kidston complained that it again hedged ‘over the vital question of whether we would accept a mandate or not’. Graham was also critical. He believed that ‘our local attitude in this question cannot be said to be altogether above reproach and we run the risk of still further annoying the French while at the same time misleading the Arabs’. He also wondered whether the Foreign Office should not insist ‘on Feisal being clearly told’, but Curzon refused to contemplate this. It was ‘for Paris to put Feisal right, if he is going wrong. As no single piece of advice that we have been given with regard to Syria has been accepted at Paris. They had better paddle their canoe in their own way.’¹²⁹
Allenby’s ambiguous wording had precisely the effect on Faisal the Foreign Office officials feared. On 15 June Sir Edmund reported that the Emir had replied that he had:
Noted Great Britain’s expression of unwillingness to take mandate for Syria. Its intention to give the fullest weight to advice Peace Commission however is cheerfully understood by us all. The Syrians will be unanimous in expressing to Commission their wish to have Britain and no other […] profoundly trusting British honour will never permit those who pray for its assistance to be thrown away into strange arms.
Hubert Young ruefully minuted that Allenby’s reply had given Faisal ‘an entirely wrong impression, and we shall not only be suspected by the French of playing double (and with some justice), but shall also be accused by Faisal (with equal justice) of letting him down, if and when we finally decline the mandate’.¹³⁰ However, this time Paris reacted decisively. On 26 June, a stern telegram drafted by Mallet and amended by Balfour was sent to Allenby. The latter was informed that:
Feisal has based his message on a misunderstanding of your reply […] Feisals’s view apparently is that while H.M.G. are reluctant to be mandatory for Syria, they would accept position if American Commission advised that this was in accordance with the wishes of the people concerned.
This however is a mistake. H.M.G. have not departed from view expressed orally by Prime Minister, I think in your presence […] that in no circumstances would Britain become mandatory for Syria.
It is evident he is unwilling to accept even the most direct statement as conclusive, but it is all important that he should be made to understand that whatever happens Great Britain must refuse to take any leading part in guidance or control of Syrian affairs, and that he is quite without justification in thinking that this refusal constitutes an abandonment either of himself or of the Arab cause.
At the Foreign Office, people were relieved. According to Kidston the telegram was ‘at least something definite and should prevent any further elusive statements to Feisal’. Sir Ronald was ‘very glad that the situation is being made perfectly clear to Faisal at last’, while Curzon minuted that ‘Paris has paddled to our canoe’.¹³¹
The peace treaty with Germany was to be signed on 28 June 1919. Wilson and Lloyd George intended to re- turn home immediately after the ceremony. On 26 June, Balfour addressed yet another memorandum to the Prime Minister, in which he expressed his earnest hope that ‘the departure of the two most important members of the Supreme Council will not take place until the outlines of the Turkish settlement are more or less agreed to’.¹³² However, his hope was dashed. On 2 July, in reaction to a telegram from Allenby in which the latter had explained that he considered it important that ‘no decision regarding the future of Syria and Palestine should be published until Commission had made its re- port’, Kidston minuted that Sir Eyre Crowe had told him that ‘the consideration of the Turkish Treaty terms in Paris had again been indefinitely postponed. The idea being that time should be given to President Wilson to sound the US people as to whether they would accept a mandate for any part of the Ottoman Empire.’¹³³
Moreover, if Lawrence was to be believed, the prospects that the USA would take a mandate looked very bleak. Kerr wrote to Lloyd George on 16 July that Lawrence had received a letter from Cabot Lodge ‘stating that under no circumstances would America accept any mandate in Turkey or its late territories and that he had a majority in the Senate with him on the point’.¹³⁴ Two days later, Henry White of the American delegation informed the Council of Heads of Delegations – the successor to the Council of Four – that Wilson had telegraphed that the delay before the USA would be able to decide whether or not to take a mandate for certain parts of the Ottoman Empire would ‘be very considerable’. As far as Clemenceau was concerned, this was just as well. He was ‘for certain reasons not ready to talk about Asia Minor’. He did not wish ‘to wait indefinitely’, but ‘for the time being he could make no statement. When other work had been done, the Council would do its best to settle the affairs of Turkey.’¹³⁵
From a conversation with Balfour that same day, it appeared that Clemenceau had forgotten nothing and that he still smarted from the way the British had treated the French with regard to the Syrian question. He stated that Allenby’s attitude:
Inspired him with mistrust. That attitude was anti- French: the General would not permit the French to relieve troops in Asia Minor: he had studiously excluded the French from Syria: he had sent them to Cilicia where France had no interests: he said that the French were unpopular; if that were true, it must be ascribed entirely to the action of British agents […] he had piles of dossiers in regard to the anti- French attitude of British agents and he was prepared to prove everything that he said. If General Allenby were not personally privy to this, at all events his entourage was.
Gathering a Breakthrough: June to September 1919
Balfour ‘expressed regret that M. Clemenceau should have thought it necessary to bring up the vexed question of Syria’, and ‘said that he was sure that these charges against General Allenby could not be sustained, and that no responsible British officer could conceivably desire to interfere with the popularity of the French’, especially considering that ‘Great Britain was not disposed in any circumstances to accept a mandate for Syria’.¹³⁶
A few days later Balfour was no longer so sure. Kerr explained to Lloyd George that:
A certain Major Barker, who was Chief Political Officer at Tripoli, has just passed through Paris on his way to England. He disturbed Mr Balfour a good deal by saying that the British political officers in Syria had no notion that the British government had declared that in no circumstances would it accept a mandate for Syria until early in July. In consequence he had always replied to the many deputations asking him what the British intentions were, that he did not know and that they must express their own preference to the Commission.
The result of this interview is to make Mr Balfour feel that the French have got a certain measure of a case against us.¹³⁷
Balfour clearly failed to realize that part of the confusion had been created by his two telegrams to Allenby of 29 and 31 May, and that only with his telegram of 26 June could there no longer be a shadow of a doubt as to Great Britain’s position on a possible Syrian mandate. Barker’s statement that it was not until early in July that the British political officers knew about it should not have come as a surprise to the foreign secretary. What mattered, however, was that Balfour, as a result of his conversation with Barker, now also began to lend credence to stories that the British military authorities in Syria had not been acting fairly in their dealings with the French. As he observed to the Foreign Office, this ignorance of British policy towards Syria might well have ‘caused suspicion in the French mind as to the genuine intentions of H.M.G., and may possibly even have given rise to action in individual cases of a nature to lend some colour to these repeated French complaints’.¹³⁸ It was all very distressing. Balfour remarked to Colonel Meinertzhagen that ‘we had not been honest with either French or Arab, but it was now more preferable to quarrel with the Arab rather than with the French, if there was to be a quarrel at all’. When Meinertzhagen opined that ‘we must now decide between agreeing to French aspirations and abandoning Arab dreams in Syria, or we must openly oppose the French Syrian Policy and back the Arab’, the foreign secretary, however, demurred. He still ‘thought a working agreement could be reached between French and Arab’.¹³⁹ Kerr was less optimistic. He fully realized the importance of squaring ‘our difficulties with France about Syria’, but French feeling was ‘still very bitter and now that the war is over and everybody is preoccupied with reconstruction it is becoming in some ways more difficult to deal with the situation’.¹⁴⁰
On 11 August 1919, Balfour completed a long memorandum on the Syrian question. He confessed that the effect this question was having on Anglo– French relations caused him ‘considerable anxiety – an anxiety not diminished by the fact that very little is openly said about it, though much is hinted’. As far as the foreign secretary was concerned there was much to be said for the French ‘attitude of resentful suspicion’. Not only had Clemenceau made concession after concession, which had only induced the British to come back and ask for more, but at the very moment that Lloyd George announced that England under no circumstances would accept a mandate for Syria, ‘and ever since, officers of the British army were occupied in carrying on an active propaganda in favour of England’. Balfour could very well understand that in French eyes these maneuvers had but one object, ‘namely, to make the British mandate, which had been so solemnly, and doubtless, so sincerely, repudiated in Paris, a practical necessity in the East’. The British should face the fact that they had ‘made a dramatic renunciation, but it has fallen flat. We have made a beau geste, and none have applauded.’ Balfour partly blamed, if he was ‘rightly informed, the British officers in Syria [who] have not always played up to the British Ministers in Paris’. He acknowledged that this was ‘vehemently and most sincerely denied by General Clayton. But friends of mine from Syria confirm the view.’ Personally he knew ‘one case in which a British officer, though well acquainted with the Prime Minister’s pledge, thought himself precluded by his instructions from giving an Arab deputation […] the clear and decisive answer which, by destroying all hopes, would effectually removed all misunderstandings’. The ‘unhappy truth’ was that ‘France, England, and America have got themselves into a position over the Syrian problem so inextricably confused that no really neat and satisfactory issue is now possible for any of them’. The sending of the commission to Syria was a glaring example. Did the powers really mean:
To consult principally the wishes of the inhabitants? We mean nothing of the kind. According to the universally accepted view there are only three possible mandatories – England, America, and France. Are we going ‘chiefly to consider the wishes of the inhabitants’ in deciding which of these is to be selected? We are going to do nothing of the kind. England has refused. America will refuse. So that, whatever the inhabitants may wish, it is France they will certainly have.
Balfour saw only one way out of the Syrian muddle, and that was to retain ‘the fundamental conception underlying the Sykes–Picot Agreement […] a French sphere centring round Syria, a British sphere centring round the Euphrates and the Tigris’, while the ‘blue’ and ‘red’ areas ‘should be absorbed in the general body of areas A and B, as ultimately defined’. Regarding the latter, Britain should no longer entertain thoughts of extending its zone of influence northwards. Claims on the town of Palmyra should be given up. It belonged ‘naturally to the sphere of Damascus, if it belongs anywhere, and the French will take more trouble to prevent our having it that it will ever be worth, either to them, or to us.’¹⁴¹
Unaware of Balfour’s memorandum – he only showed it to the Prime Minister at the beginning of Sep- tember¹⁴² – Lloyd George decided to take action. Hankey wrote to Curzon on 15 August to enquire ‘what are the prospects of a Mandate being accepted by the United States government for some part of the former Turkish Empire?’ He explained that he asked this because the Prime Minister thought that ‘before the Cabinet separate they ought to have a discussion as to the next step in regard to Turkey’.¹⁴³ Davies informed Kerr the same day that Lloyd George had heard that Clemenceau was ‘very anxious to discuss the question of Syria with Mr Balfour, and he wishes me to tell you that he will be glad if you will discourage this as much as possible’. Lloyd George feared that ‘the old “Tiger” thinks that Mr Balfour will be more ready to come to terms with the French on this question than the Prime Minister himself would feel inclined to do’.¹⁴⁴ Kerr assured Lloyd George three days later that ‘nothing at all has happened in regard to the reopening of negotiations about the Turkish settlement’, but that Balfour was ‘writing a memorandum on the whole question, which he will probably send you in a few days’.¹⁴⁵
Ronald Lindsay, counsellor at the British embassy at Washington, telegraphed to Curzon on 16 August that the ‘question of Turkish Mandate is very obscure and I have no authoritative opinion to quote but from general impressions consider acceptance is most unlikely […] In fact public opinion has not yet been formed on the subject but I confidently expect it will be hostile.’¹⁴⁶ Balfour had more or less gained the same impression. On 18 August, he wired Curzon that he had gathered ‘from various somewhat obscure hints let fall by Mr Polk [Frank L. Polk, head of the American delegation; R.H.L.] in private conversations […] that probability of American Congress and Senate agreeing to United States accepting mandate for any part of former Turkish Empire is diminishing’.¹⁴⁷
The War Cabinet discussed ‘the question of the future of Turkey’ for the first time the next day, ‘in the light of information to the effect that the prospects of the United States of America accepting a mandate in Turkey are diminishing’. Against this background, ‘various alternatives were discussed’, which really meant, so Curzon explained to his wife afterwards, that ‘no one knows what ought to be done, and meanwhile, of course, nothing is done, and we go on getting deeper and deeper into the mire’.¹⁴⁸ The War Cabinet also instructed Hankey ‘to obtain immediately information as to the size of the garrisons of British and Indian forces in all parts of the former Turkish Empire, and also as to the cost of maintaining those forces’. The following day, the War Cabinet had yet another ‘prolonged discussion on the future of Turkey, and the policy to be followed in regard to Syria’. No decisions were taken. Curzon was re- quested ‘to discuss these questions with Mr Balfour’, while ‘the War Office should examine and report upon the question of how far the oasis of Tadmor (Palmyra) is essential to the construction of a railway and pipeline between Mosul and the Mediterranean’.¹⁴⁹
Curzon wrote a long letter to Balfour. He reported that the War Cabinet had explored the ‘Eastern Question’ in ‘all its branches, with results (I am afraid) not much more satisfactory or conclusive than those which have been reached on earlier occasions’. However, one thing stood out: ‘the burden of maintaining an English and Indian Army of 320,000 men in the various parts of the Turkish Empire and in Egypt, or of 225,000 men excluding Egypt, with its overwhelming cost, is one that cannot any longer be sustained’. This implied that the ‘settlement of the Eastern Question cannot be postponed even till the date at which Wilson may have persuaded, or failed to persuade, the Senate to make up its mind about a Turkish Mandate’. Preparations for the evacuation of British troops from Syria should start as soon as possible, and it was therefore desirable that Allenby should come over, ‘in order to ascertain his exact views and proposals about military evacuation’. The War Cabinet also ‘agreed that we should go as far as we legitimately could, without breaking our pledges, to help the French in respect of Syria’. It was therefore ‘essential to get hold of Feisal, to have a perfectly plain talk with him, to insist on his coming to terms with the French’. It might be that there was ‘no alternative but to leave the French and him to fight it out to the end’, but Curzon personally could not believe that ‘the arrangement Feisal was so near to making three months ago, has now become impossible’. At the same time it should be ascertained ‘from the French what is the exact and irreducible nature of their claim’, and so to establish ‘the possible basis of a harmonious settlement for the future’. A question that still needed to be cleared up in this connection was the boundary between Syria and Mesopotamia, and ‘at this point the Prime Minister attached an importance, which I should be inclined to think excessive, to the necessity of having a railway and a pipeline exclusively in British hands from Mesopotamia to a Mediterranean port’.¹⁵⁰
It seemed that the Prime Minister was the last remaining obstacle in the way of reaching a settlement with the French. When Kerr arrived from Paris on 23 August, ‘evidently impressed with the necessity of making concessions to the French in the Eastern Mediterranean’, Lord Riddell noted in his diary that Lloyd George was still ‘angry with the French for their attitude concerning Syria. He said that the Syrians would not have the French, and asked how the Allies could compel them to accept mandatories who were distasteful.’¹⁵¹
Endgame: September to October 1919
Lloyd George arrived at Hennequeville on the Normandy coast on 8 September in preparation for a visit to Paris from 12 to 15 September. In the next three days he held several conferences on the Syrian question with Allenby, who had become a field-marshal and been created Viscount Allenby of Megiddo.
On 8 September, Colonel Meinertzhagen, who had succeeded General Clayton as chief political officer of the EEF, telegraphed to Curzon that, if the rumour was correct that ‘Prime Minister is proceeding to Paris to confer on Syrian question […] it is urged that Emir Feisal be allowed to go there also without delay’. Kidston had not forgotten what had happened in November 1918. He held ‘most strongly that no encouragement should be given to Feisal to come to Paris except with the fullest concurrence of the French. This seems obvious but per- haps it would be as well to telegraph it to Paris and re- peat to Col. Meinertzhagen.’ He subsequently added that, by Curzon’s instructions, he had spoken to Davies. According to the latter the Prime Minister thought Meinertzhagen’s suggestion ‘an excellent one’. Kidston had told Davies that ‘Lord Curzon felt very strongly that the assent of the French government must be obtained before any arrangements are made for facilitating Feisal’s journey’. Lloyd George’s private secretary had ‘promised to communicate with Paris at once in this sense and to arrange that if the French raised no objections instructions should be sent direct from Paris to Col. Meinertzhagen’.¹⁵² Kerr duly wrote to Lloyd George the same day that Curzon thought ‘it would be a mistake to summon [Faysal] without the concurrence of Clemenceau. He suggests that you should consult Clemenceau and if he agrees that a telegram should be sent direct to Feisal.’¹⁵³
The first of the series of conferences with Allenby, which Bonar Law also attended, was held on 9 September. The participants had before them a statement Faisal had made to the military authorities at Damascus, as well as a letter he had written to the Prime Minister. Bonar Law ‘remarked that the Emir Feisal seemed to hold that the various pledges made by the British government were inconsistent with one another’. Allenby readily agreed and ‘said that it was extremely difficult to harmonise the different pledges which had been made to different people under different circum- stances’, but Lloyd George thought otherwise. He believed that ‘a means could be found of reconciling the various pledges’ and that there ‘was no doubt from an examination of the Sykes–Picot Agreement that it had been based on these pledges [to Husayn]. The very wording proved this.’ It appeared to him that the British ‘could keep faith both with the French and with the Arabs if we were to clear out of Syria, handing our military posts there to the French, and, at the same time, clear out of Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo handing them over to Feisal. If the French then got into trouble with Feisal it would not be our fault.’ That the French had already rejected this solution at the end of January apparently did not count; what did count was that Lloyd George wished to tell Clemenceau that the British were ‘tired of these accusations of breach of faith and consequently decided to withdraw altogether […] At the same time he would send for Feisal and notify him.’¹⁵⁴ The Prime Minister’s pride, too, had been wounded, and instead of trying to come to an under- standing with the French, he still wanted to teach them a lesson by confronting them with a fait accompli. At their next meeting, Hankey ‘raised certain questions relating to the invitation to be sent to Feisal. Should the invitation be from the Conference or from the British government?’ He pointed out that Allenby had told him that ‘it was essential that the French should be communicated with’. The field-marshal’s advice was not heeded (and Curzon’s not even mentioned). After some discussion it was decided that Clemenceau should only be notified that an invitation had been sent to Faisal ‘on the ground that the French and British governments had both promised that Feisal should be present at the Syrian settlement’.
Lloyd George, however, accepted Allenby’s point of view that it was ‘not essential to include the oasis of Tadmor within the British zone […] The line can, there- fore, be drawn somewhere east of Palmyra, and on this side there should be no special difficulty in meeting the French wishes’.¹⁵⁵ At least on this point there now was room for a compromise, which was just as well because Clemenceau, so Kerr reported after a conversation with the French prime minister on 11 September, ‘implied by his manner rather than by his speech that he would never yield in the proposed line’.
During this interview, Clemenceau had emphasized that he attached ‘supreme importance […] to maintaining the unity between Great Britain and France. He thought it even more important than the union with America.’ He had also repeated the familiar French position that a settlement of the Syrian question must proceed from the Sykes–Picot agreement. He fully accepted that there ‘must be modifications in that Agreement […] but they must be made as a result of give and take’. Lloyd George’s policy of presenting Clemenceau with faits accomplis would give great offence, but Kerr considered that the French prime minister was in a weak position. It was his ‘impression […] that Clemenceau is not at all anxious to tackle the Syrian problem at this moment. No doubt that is partly because he realises the difficulties which would follow for France.’¹⁵⁶ This was an estimate that Lloyd George certainly shared. He had already explained to Allenby and Bonar Law that Clemenceau ‘would not wish to send troops to Syria’ until after the elections for the French National Assembly, which were scheduled for the middle of November.¹⁵⁷
On 11 September, Lloyd George wrote to Clemenceau that ‘the question of mandates for Turkey would take longer to settle than we had anticipated’, and that the burden of garrisoning parts of the Ottoman Empire had become intolerable. This involved ‘the question what will happen in the parts of the Turkish Empire we withdraw from. When the Syrian question is discussed, the British government wish to lay certain proposals before the Supreme Council in regard to it.’ He hoped that Clemenceau would be able to see him before the planned meeting of the Council of Heads of Delegations on 15 September, and informed the latter that ‘as the British and French governments are both pledged to the Emir Feisal that he shall be present when the settlement of Syrian is reached’, he had taken ‘the responsibility of inviting him to Paris’. Clemenceau reacted the same day. The question of the British troops in Syria only concerned ‘the French and British governments, because of their agreements in 1916, and ought to be settled directly between them without any intermediary’. This was moreover ‘a purely military question’, which did not ‘prejudge the final settlement of the Syrian question’. He therefore believed that ‘the journey of the Emir Feisal at this moment, and before a previous understanding between ourselves, would not appear to have any definite object in view’.¹⁵⁸
On the basis of the conferences with Allenby, Hankey and Kerr drew up an aide-mémoire that was to be presented at the meeting of the Heads of Delegations on 15 September. Its main points were the following:
1. Steps will be taken immediately to prepare for the evacuation by the British Army of Syria and Cilicia including the Taurus tunnel.
2. Notice is given both to the French government and to the Emir Feisal of our intentions to commence the evacuation on November 1, 1919.
3. In deciding to whom to hand over responsibility for garrisoning the various districts in the evacuated area, regard will be had to the engagements and declarations of the British and French governments, not only as between themselves, but as between them and the Arabs:
4. In pursuance of this policy the garrisons in Syria west of the Sykes–Picot line and the garrisons in Cilicia will be replaced by a French force, and the garrisons of Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo will be replaced by an Arab force.¹⁵⁹ […]
5. The territories occupied by British troops will then be Palestine, defined in accordance with its ancient boundaries of Dan to Beersheba, and Mesopotamia, including Mosul, the occupation thus being in harmony with the arrangements concluded in December 1918, between M. Clemenceau and Mr Lloyd George […]
6. Until the boundaries of Palestine and Mesopotamia are determined the British Commander-in-Chief shall have the right to occupy outposts in accordance with the boundary claimed by the British government.¹⁶⁰
At the meeting of the Heads of Delegations, Lloyd George handed out the aide-mémoire, which he had already given to Clemenceau during their private meeting on 13 September, and summarised its contents. The French prime minister, in reaction, first stated that he was preparing a reply to the aide-mémoire and that he ‘reserved the right to discuss [it] more fully’. He then went on to say that he ‘could accept no condition in the Aide-Mémoire, other than the occupation by the French troops’. France was prepared to replace British troops in Cilicia and in Syria west of the Sykes–Picot line, ‘on the distinct understanding that […] the French government was not committed to acceptance of any other part of the arrangements proposed in Mr Lloyd George’s Aide- Mémoire’.¹⁶¹
On 18 September, Meinertzhagen wired to the Foreign Office that he had learned from Reuters that an agreement had been reached between the British and French governments on the evacuation of Syria, and submitted that, ‘in view of present state of political feeling in Syria’, that ‘it should not be left to Reuter News Agency to communicate it’, and that he ‘should be glad if [he] could be informed in advance of any future decision so vitally affecting political work here’. At the Foreign Office, Kidston had only ‘succeeded in securing privately from the W.O. a copy of the Paris resolution regarding Syria’ that same day,¹⁶² and Meinertzhagen was therefore informed that they were ‘also awaiting official confirmation of the message to which you refer’.¹⁶³ The next day, a telegram was sent to Meinertzhagen at the request of Hankey, who also drafted part of it. Meinertzhagen was told that Clemenceau had ‘accepted proposal of Prime Minister for evacuation of Syria and Cilicia by British troops and replacement by French troops in Cilicia and in Syria west of the Sykes–Picot line but refused to commit himself to acceptance of more comprehensive programme suggested by Mr Lloyd George’. It was also explained that Faisal had arrived at London, and that he would see the Prime Minister that same afternoon.¹⁶⁴ If still further proof was needed that the Foreign Office did not count for much in the settlement of the Syrian question, then it was Curzon having to ask the Prime Minister that he be allowed ‘to be present at the discussions between yourself, Feisal and Allenby’.¹⁶⁵ The request was granted.
The British Prime Minister meets Faisal
The Prime Minister opened the meeting with Faisal with an exposition of the British position. The occupation costs of the territories liberated from the Ottoman Empire constituted an intolerable burden on the British Exchequer, and when it had become apparent that it would take quite some time before it would be clear whether the USA were prepared to take on any mandate or not, the British government had decided to withdraw their troops from Cilicia and Syria, starting on 1 November. In order to honour their obligations to the French and the Arabs, they would hand over the territories west of the Sykes–Picot line to the French, and the towns of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo to the Arabs. Lloyd George laid particular stress on the provisional nature of these arrangements, as ‘the ultimate settlement of these territories the British government were not now attempting to determine’, and this was up to the peace conference. Faisal predicted that ‘on the evacuation of the western zone by the British troops and their replacement by French troops […] there would be a general rising against the French occupation of the coast. In his view, Great Britain would be responsible for any bloodshed that might ensue’. Lloyd George replied that ‘he would be greatly distressed but he was in the position of a man who had inherited two sets of engagements, those to King Hussein and those to the French […] He was trying loyally to interpret his engagements to both.’ When the question was raised whether Faisal ‘would have the right to ask for assistance where he wished’, the Prime Minister ‘said it appeared that in the areas opposite the zone, temporarily and provisionally occupied by the French, the Emir Feisal would have to ask for French advisers’. Faisal bitterly commented that ‘he himself and the Arab nation were being very badly treated in having a Power thrown on them when it had been promised that they should select for themselves, and he was certain that every Arab would shed his last drop of blood before he admitted the French’.¹⁶⁶
At their next meeting, on 23 September, Lloyd George explained that the aide-mémoire was ‘in no sense an agreement’, and that Clemenceau also ‘could not accept [it] as a final settlement’. He ‘wished the Emir to understand thoroughly that it was not the result of negotiations with the French government behind the back of the Arab representatives’. The Prime Minister declared that the battle for the freedom of the Arabs had been won in the north of France, and that France had greatly suffered. Faisal sympathized with France and ‘her sacrifice for her existence’, but the Arabs ‘had also been fighting for their existence’. He was ‘astonished that a great nation fighting for its existence should now try to encroach upon a small nation. It was not right that Frenchmen should live and that the Arabs should die.’ The Emir told his audience that the aide-mémoire ‘seemed to him to be based on the 1916 agreement between the British and the French, which to the Arab nation was a sentence of death. That sentence he hoped would never be pronounced by his friends.’¹⁶⁷ On 25 September a railway strike broke out in Great Britain. It fully consumed the Prime Minister’s attention for ten days. During that time he was ‘exclusively occupied with strike matters’, and paid ‘no attention to anything else’.¹⁶⁸ It was only on 8 October that Lloyd George could again busy himself with the Syrian question. Hankey informed Winston Churchill, the minister for War, that he understood ‘that no executive action has yet been taken in regard to the withdrawal of the British troops into Palestine up to the present moment’, but that Lloyd George thought that ‘the time has come when the necessary orders should be given and he instructed me this morning to write to you in this sense’.¹⁶⁹ Two days later, Ronald Campbell informed Curzon that Kerr had brought over a reply to a letter from Faisal of 21 September, ‘which the Prime Minister approved (It is drafted for your signature)’. The Foreign Office proposed some slight alterations, which Lloyd George accepted, in order that ‘the French cannot possibly take exception’, and according to Kidston there was ‘now nothing positively dangerous’ in the letter, which was ‘ready for Your Lordship’s signature’.¹⁷⁰
In his letter, Faisal had lodged a strong protest against the aide-mémoire, and asked that ‘this proposed engagement between the British and French governments shall be entirely cancelled’. He had also warned that the Arabs would ‘be obliged to defend their unity and existence with their utmost available power and zeal’.¹⁷¹ Lloyd George, through Curzon, now replied that:
His Majesty’s Government have not the slightest doubt that the best course for the Arab people is to accept the temporary arrangement proposed, and to enter into friendly working arrangements for its execution […] As previously suggested, they strongly urge that your Highness should discuss these arrangements at once with the French government. His Majesty’s Government will be only too glad to do all in their power to promote a cordial and satisfactory understanding between their two Allies in regard to the occupation during the interim period. They would, however, be failing in their duty to their Arab Ally if they did not declare in the most earnest as well as in the most friendly manner that they can conceive of no policy more fatal to Arab aspirations and prosperity, both at the forthcoming Peace Conference and afterwards, than the method of military resistance hinted at in your Highness’s letter. ¹⁷² The French, however, were no longer interested in British good offices. On 10 October, Clemenceau replied to the aide-mémoire. His letter was conciliatory in tone with respect to the border between Syria and Palestine, and on the issues of the railway and the pipe- line, but regarding Syria it was uncompromising. He stated that:
The situation of France in Syria and her relations with the Arabs in her zone cannot be but identical with the situation of England in Mesopotamia and her relations with the Arabs in her zone. This perfect parallel is the result of the agreement under which the two countries have put their signature.
The French prime minister considered Britain’s continued protection of Faisal an unacceptable interference in the French zone and the French mandate over Syria.¹⁷³ During a discussion between British and French military experts on the technicalities of the British evacuation, it also turned out that Clemenceau ‘did not agree to the relief of the British by Arab troops in the four towns and wished British troops to remain until they were relieved by French troops’. Kidston claimed that he had ‘anticipated that the French would take this line’, but failed ‘to see what we can do in the matter, which seems to lie between the Prime Minister and M. Clemenceau’. Curzon could well understand Clemenceau’s position, but it took:
No account of the British or the Arab standpoint for
(1) it postpones indefinitely the British withdrawal.
(2) it postulates that we should keep the bed warm for the French to jump into; or to change the metaphor we are to be the stalking horse behind which they are to creep into military occupation of the Syrian towns.
(3) it would provoke the furious hostility of the Arabs and Feisal. However, he, too, had nothing further to offer than that “the P.M. should see at once”.¹⁷⁴
As a sop, Lloyd George had suggested in a further letter to Faisal that a mixed commission with French, Arab, British and American representatives might be entrusted with the adjustment of ‘the problems involved in the impending withdrawal of British troops from Syria on the 1st November’.¹⁷⁵ Faisal eagerly grasped at this last straw. During a third meeting with Lloyd George on 13 October, he expressed ‘his gratitude […] for the suggestion […] that the British government would be very glad to arrange an immediate meeting between the Emir, a French, an American, and a British representative’. He hoped that discussions would not be confined ‘to military questions only. He would particularly like an American representative to be present to hear the discussions, which might bear upon administrative as well as military questions.’ Lloyd George already regret- ted his suggestion, and pointed out that although the British government did not have ‘any objection to America being represented’, there was the difficulty of getting a properly accredited American representative. Faisal, however, insisted. Had not the Prime Minister ‘particularly mentioned an American representative in his letter to him?’¹⁷⁶ It was decided to send a telegram to Clemenceau in which the latter was asked to send General Henri Gouraud – who had just been appointed high commissioner for Syria and commander-in-chief of the French Army of the Levant – to London to discuss with Allenby and Faisal ‘the military arrangements for the occupation of Syria from 1st November’. The Prime Minister also informed his colleague that, as the Emir had been ‘very anxious that an American representative should be present’, he was instructing the British ambassador, ‘if the French government has no objection, to communicate with Mr Polk on this subject’.¹⁷⁷
In a separate telegram, containing a private and personal message, Lloyd George emphasised that ‘the negotiations with Feisal have been very difficult’ and that it would be much easier to induce the latter ‘to accept French occupation of Western Syria if Gouraud were to come over and meet him and Allenby at once’. He urged Clemenceau ‘in the interest of peace in Syria’ to fall in with his proposal.¹⁷⁸ The latter would have none of it. He replied the next day in quite violent terms. He continued to regret that Faisal had been called to Europe by the British government without previous consultations with the French government. This certainly did not help to find solutions. It was now time to put the question on its proper footing. France must deal with Faisal directly. British protection only encouraged the latter’s ambitions and resistance. Clemenceau understood full well ‘the difficulty in which the English negotiators find them- selves after being driven by political necessities to enter into engagements with the Hedjaz, Nejd and with France that, if not opposed to one to another, are at any rate difficult to adjust’, but the way out of this embarrassment could not consist in ‘sacrificing the French rights and interests’. The only solution was that the British government told Faisal that he must come to an understanding with France and that he ‘could leave without fear the responsibility for the situation to France’. Under these conditions he was prepared to meet Faisal in Paris, if the latter wished to come to an agreement.¹⁷⁹
According to Hankey this was ‘an exceedingly rude refusal, suggesting bad faith on our part’.¹⁸⁰ Lloyd George replied on 15 October. Clemenceau’s letter filled him with:
Surprise and deep regret. Its tone represents a complete change from the friendly attitude you took up on this subject a month ago in Paris, and is one which I could not have believed possible for one Ally to address another after five years of intimate brotherhood in arms. I profoundly regret your decision because it defeats a sincere and loyal attempt by your Ally to bring about by agreement between all concerned a temporary settlement of the Syrian difficulty which should be in complete accordance with British and French engagements […] As it is your decision has rendered fruitless our endeavour to bring this about. For the consequences the British government must disclaim all responsibility.¹⁸¹
There was nothing for it than to leave Faisal to fend for himself. On 16 October, Curzon telegraphed to Derby that Faisal had accepted Clemenceau’s invitation.¹⁸² He explained in a dispatch that Allenby and he had spoken with the Emir that day, and ‘urged Feisal to go to Paris without delay, unaccompanied by any Englishman, and with no evidence of British inspiration or backing, to see Clemenceau personally […] to realise that this was in all probability the last opportunity of coming to a friendly agreement with the French’.¹⁸³ Faisal left for Paris on 20 October.
At the beginning of January 1920, the French and Faisal at last came to an understanding. Faisal accepted a French mandate ‘for the whole of Syria’, while France in return consented ‘to the formation of an Arab state that included Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo, and was to be administered by the Emir with the assistance of French advisers’.¹⁸⁴ At the Conference of San Remo four months later, the mandates for the Lebanon and Syria were assigned to France. This cleared the way for a final showdown. On 14 July 1920, Faisal was presented with an ultimatum demanding, among other things, the recognition of the French mandate over Syria. Faisal’s last-minute unconditional acceptance of the ultimatum was ignored. Sherifian forces tried to stop the French advance, but were routed. Damascus was occupied on 26 July.¹⁸⁵ A few days later, Faisal was sent into exile.
1. Hardinge to Balfour, 10 October 1918, Lloyd George Papers, F/3/3/35.
2. Drummond to Davies, 12 October 1918, ibid
3. Drummond to Davies, 16 October 1918, Lloyd George Papers, F/3/3/37.
4. Drummond to Davies, 19 October 1918, ibid.
5. Michael L. Dockrill and Z. Steiner, ‘The Foreign Office at the Paris peace conference in 1919’, The International History Review, 2/1 (1980), p. 58.
6. Dockrill and Steiner, ‘The Foreign Office’, p. 59.
7. Stephen Roskill, Hankey: Man of Secrets, Vol. II (London, 1970: Collins), p. 47. In his memoirs Hardinge, however, sounds distinctly bitter: ‘unfortunately, Mr Lloyd George, whose knowledge of many of the problems involved was non-existent, insisted on employing a staff of his own unofficial creation who had no knowledge of French and none of diplomacy, and the Foreign Office organisation was consequently stillborn’. Hardinge of Penshurst, Old Diplomacy: The Reminiscences of Lord Hardinge of Penshurst (London, 1947: John Murray), p. 229.
8. Graham to Mallet, 19 April 1919, minute Vansittart, 29 April 1919, Mallet to Graham, 28 April 1919, FO 608/98/8365.
9. Tel. Civil Commissioner to S.S.I., no. 9926, 17 November 1918, FO 371/3385/192144.
10. Hirtzel, ‘Policy in Arabia’ (Note by India Office), 20 November 1918, Cab 27/37.
11. Minutes Eastern Committee, 27 November 1918, Cab 27/24.
12. Minutes Eastern Committee, 5 December 1918, ibid.
13. Minutes Eastern Committee, 16 December 1918, ibid.
14. Minutes Eastern Committee, 18 December 1918, ibid.
15. Minutes Eastern Committee, 9 December 1918, ibid.
16. Hankey, diary entry, 4 December 1918, Hankey Papers, Vol. 1/5. Two years later, Hankey added in his diary that ‘there was absolutely no record or memorandum made at the time, and I believe my diary of Dec. 4th 1918 contains the only record […] and that was secondhand from Ll.G. for I was not present […] Thus and thus is history made!’ Hankey, diary entry, 11 December 1920, in Roskill, Hankey, Vol. II, pp. 28–9.
17. Balfour to Lloyd George, private, 29 November 1918, Lloyd George Papers, F/3/3/45.
18. Hankey, MESOPOTAMIA, SYRIA, AND PALESTINE. SUGGESTED PROCEDURE, 19 December 1918, Lloyd George Papers, F/23/3/30.
19. Hankey, Secret, 21 December 1918, Lloyd George Papers, F/23/3/31.
20. Tel. G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt to C.I.G.S., no. E.A. 1843, 4 November 1918, Cab 27/36.
21. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 1616, 4 November 1918, minutes Crowe, 6 November 1918, and Cecil, not dated, and tel. Balfour to Wingate, no. 1340, 8 November 1918, FO 371/3384/183445.
22. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 1655, 9 November 1918, minute Kidston, 10 November 1918, and tel. Balfour to Wingate, no. 1351, 11 November 1918, FO 371/3385/186251.
23. Tel. Wingate to Balfour, no. 1686, 13 November 1918, minutes Kidston and Crowe, 14 November 1918, FO 371/3385/187977.
24. Tel. Derby to Balfour, no. 1576, 22 November 1918, minute Crowe, 23 November 1918, FO 371/3385/193622.
25. Tel. Grahame to Balfour, no. 1598, 25 November 1918, FO 371/3385/194171.
26. See French Embassy to Foreign Office, 9 December 1918, FO 371/3418/204157.
27. Balfour, note, 11 December 1918, FO 371/3386/205516.
28. See Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T.E. Lawrence (London,1989: Heinemann), p. 595.
29. Faysal, Memorandum, confidential, 1 January 1919, minutes Toynbee and Mallet, 17 and 16 January 1919, and minute Balfour, not dated, FO 608/80/158.
30. Drummond to Balfour, 16 January 1918, Balfour Papers, FO 800/215.
31. Tel. Faysal to Zeid, 22 January 1919, FO 608/97/447.
32. House to Wilson, 30 October 1918, FRUS, Vol. I: 407.
33. Secretary’s Notes of a Meeting, 30 January 1919, Government Printing Office, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1919, The Paris Peace Conference (FRUS), Vol. III (Washington, 1943: Government Printing Office), pp. 806–8.
34. Army Council to Foreign Office, no. 152/4953, 23 January 1919, FO 608/107/1239.
35 Tel. C.I.G.S. to G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt, no. 73975, 15 Jan 1919, FO 608/107/2443.
36 Tel. G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt to C.I.G.S., no. E.A. 2119, 18 January 1919, FO 608/107/1190.
37 Kirke to Corvisart, no. 0144/5123, 21 January 1919, and British Military Mission with the French Government to D.M.O., no. 4401, 26 January 1919, FO 608/107/2443.
38 Pichon, NOTE UPON THE BRITISH AIMS IN ASIA MINOR, 31 January 1919 (underlining in original), minutes Forbes Adam, 10 February 1919 and Hardinge, not dated, FO 608/107/1589.
39 Hardinge to Graham, private, 21 February 1919, FO 371/4178/21940.
40 Minutes Kidston, 10 February 1919, Graham, 11 February 1918, and Curzon, 13 February 1919, on Derby to Curzon, no. 144, 7 February 1919, ibid.
41 Tel. C.I.G.S. to G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt, no. 74815, 1 February 1919, FO 608/107/1693.
42 Tel. G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt to C.I.G.S., no. E.A. 2180, 4 February 1919, FO 371/4178/21940.
43 Military Section of the British Delegation at the Peace Conference, memorandum, 31 January 1919, FO 608/107/1101.
44 Sykes had arrived at Paris at the end of January. Hardinge had asked him ‘to “stand by” for the time being’, but on 11 February Sir Mark took to bed, one of the victims of the influenza pandemic that raged through Europe and killed millions of people. He did not recover, and died five days later. After he had heard of Sykes’s death, Bertie noted in his diary: ‘Poor Mark Sykes! He was a charming creature, a wonderful mimic and caricaturist, and most amusing. He was accepted by the War Cabinet as the expert on Eastern questions, but he was roulé over Syria, the Lebanon and Palestine by the French diplomat Picot.’ Lloyd George also believed that Picot had ‘got the better’ of Sykes and that the latter fully realised this. In consequence, Sykes had become: ‘a worried, anxious man. That was the cause of his death. He had no reserve of energy. He was responsible for the agreement which is causing us all the trouble with the French […] Sykes saw the difficulties in which he had placed us, and was very worried in consequence.’ Minute Hardinge, not dated, FO 608/97/1503; Roger Adelson, Mark Sykes: Portrait of an Amateur (London, 1975: Jonathan Cape), pp. 294–5; Francis L. Bertie, The Diary of Lord Bertie of Thame: 1914–1918, Vol. II (London, 1924: Hodder and Stoughton), p. 317; and George A. Riddell, Lord Riddell’s Intimate Diary of the Peace Conference and After, 1918–1923 (London, 1934: Reynal and Hitchcock), p. 35.
45 Minute Mallet, not dated, FO 608/107/2443.
46 Tels C.I.G.S. to G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt, no. 74849, 2 February 1919, and G.O.C.-in-C., Egypt to C.I.G.S., no. E.A. 2176, 4 February 1919, FO 371/4178/20988. F TIL 185
47 C.E. Callwell, Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson Bart. G.C.B. D.S.O.: His Life and Diaries, II (London, 1927: Cassell), pp. 167–8.
48. Forbes Adam, Note, 1 February 1919, FO 608/96/1297.
49 Minutes of the 53rd Meeting of the Military Representatives, 4 February 1919, Cab 21/129.
50 British translation of the French draft of a proposed new Anglo–French agreement on Syria, not dated, FO 608/107/1562.
51 See statement, Pichon, 20 March 1919, Government Printing Office, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1919, The Paris Peace Conference (FRUS), Vol. V (Washington, 1946), p. 3.
52 Comments by the Foreign Office Section on the French memorandum, 6 February 1919, FO 608/107/1562.
53 Secretary’s Notes of a Conversation, 6 February 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/121.
54 Roskill, Hankey, Vol. II, p. 61.
55 Kerr to Lloyd George, 11 February 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/89/2/7.
56 Kerr to Lloyd George, 12 February 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/89/2/9.
57 Kerr to Davies, 13 February 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/89/2/11.
58 Kerr to Lloyd George, 13 February 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/89/2/10. Bell and Lawrence, NOTE ON THE
59 SETTLEMENT OF THE ARAB PROVINCES, 14 February 1919, Balfour Papers, FO 800/215.
60 Hirtzel, The French Claims in Syria, 14 February 1919, FO 608/107/2256.
61 Minute Milner, not dated, Milner Papers, PRO 30/30/10.
62 Minute Mallet, not dated, on Hirtzel, The French Claims in Syria, FO 608/107/2256.
63 Lawrence, note of a conversation between Emir Faysal and M. Goût, 24 February 1919, and of a conversation between the former and M. Briand, 25 February 1919, not dated, FO 608/93/3322.
64 Kerr to Lloyd George, 28 February 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/89/2/24.
65 See French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NOTE, 3 March 1919, FO 608/107/3486.
66 Minute Balfour, not dated, on tel. Curzon to Balfour, no. 794, 21 February 1919, FO 608/107/2983.
67 Milner to Balfour, not dated (underlining in original), and tel. Balfour to Curzon, no. 424, 5 March 1919, FO 608/107/3486.
68 Lloyd George, Notes of interview, 7 March 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/147/1/1.
69 Milner to Lloyd George, Confidential, 8 March 1919, Milner Papers, PRO 30/10/10.
70 Milner to Hardinge, 8 March 1919 (underlining in original), FO 608/107/3927.
71 Minute Kidston, 15 March 1919, FO 371/4179/40673.
72 Curzon to Derby, no. 527, 19 March 1919, FO 371/4179/45562.
73 Curzon to Cambon, 19 March 1919, minute Hardinge, not dated, FO 608/107/4961.
74 House, diary entries, 10 and 12 March 1919, House Papers MSS 466.
75 Margaret MacMillan, Peacemakers: Six Months that Changed the World (London, 2001: John Murray), pp. 161–3.
76 Harold Nicolson, Peacemaking 1919 (London, 1937: Constable), p. 70.
77 House, diary entry, 3 March 1919, House Papers, MSS 466.
78 John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (New York, 1920: Harcourt, Brace and Howe), pp. 43, 50.
79 House, diary entries, 30 May and 29 June 1919, House Papers, MSS 466.
80 Balfour to Curzon, 20 March 1919, Balfour Papers, FO 800/215.
81 Notes of a Conference, 20 March 1919, FRUS, Vol. V, pp. 1–14.
82 Tel. Derby to Curzon, no. 540, 20 March 1919, minutes Clark Kerr and Curzon, 24 March 1919, FO 371/4179/44731.
83 Curzon to Balfour, private and confidential, 25 March 1919, Balfour Papers, FO 800/215.
84 Tel. Cheetham to Curzon, no. 231, 12 February 1919, FO 371/4178/25289.
85 Henry Wickham-Steed, Through Thirty Years, 1892–1922: A Personal Narrative, Vol. II (Garden City, 1924: Doubleday), p. 300.
86 Paul Mantoux, Les Déliberations du Conseil des Quatre, Vol. I (Paris, 1955: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), p. 49.
87 See Future administration of certain portions of the Turkish Empire under the mandatory system, not dated, FO 608/86/5314.
88 Mantoux, Déliberations, Vol. I, pp. 228–9.
89 Hankey to Balfour, 11 April 1919, FO 608/86/5422.
90 Minute Mallet, not dated, on Curzon to Balfour, no. 2123, 10 April 1919, FO 608/86/7030.
91 House, diary entry, 14 April 1919, House Papers, MSS 466.
92 Minute Mallet, not dated, on Curzon to Balfour, no. 2123, 10 April 1919, FO 608/86/7030.
93 Tel. Balfour to Curzon, no. 718, 18 April 1919, FO 608/86/7537.
94 Minute Toynbee, 19 April 1919, on Curzon to Balfour, no. 2298, 15 April 1919, FO 608/86/7675.
95 Curzon to Balfour, no. 3475, 26 May 1919, FO 608/93/11365.
96 Clemenceau to Faysal, 17 April 1919, encl. in Kerr to Mallet, 28 April 1919, FO 608/93/8653.
97 Lawrence to Kerr, 22 April 1919, Lothian Papers, GD 40/17/37.
98 Feysal to Clemenceau, 20 April 1919, encl. in Lawrence to Kerr, 22 April 1919, ibid.
99 House, diary entry, 21 April 1919, House Papers, MSS 466.
100 Notes of a Meeting, 22 April 1919, FRUS, Vol. V, p. 112.
101 Mantoux, Déliberations, Vol. I, pp. 378–9.
102 Notes of a Meeting, 25 April 1919, FRUS, Vol. V, p. 247.
103 Toynbee to Mallet, 26 April 1919, FO 608/86/8626.
104 Wickham-Steed, Thirty Years, Vol. II, p. 224.
105 Cambon to Curzon, 5 May 1919, FO 371/4180/68905.
106 OCCUPATION OF SYRIA BY BRITISH AND FRENCH TROOPS, not dated, ibid.
107 Curzon to Derby, no. 749, 8 May 1919, FO 371/4180/71025.
108 Wickham-Steed, Thirty Years, Vol. II, p. 325.
109 Kerr to Forbes Adam, 12 May 1919, FO 608/86/7537.
110 Minute Vansittart, 15 May 1919, on tel. Clayton to Curzon, no. 308, 6 May 1919, FO 608/86/9916.
111 Notes of a Meeting, 14 May, 1919, FRUS, Vol. V, p. 616.
112 Hogarth to Balfour, 20 May 1919, FO 608/86/10980. Balfour to Lloyd George, not dated, Lothian
113 Papers, GD 40/17/38.
114 House, diary entry, 20 May 1919, House Papers, MSS 466.
115 Notes of a Meeting, 21 May 1919, FRUS, Vol. V, pp. 760–6, and Mantoux, Déliberations, Vol. II, p. 143.
116 Hankey, diary entry, 21 May 1919, Hankey Papers, vol. 1/5. According to Sir Henry Wilson, the prime ministers had a ‘first-class dog-fight’. Clemenceau’s biographer Suarez relates that when Lloyd George had demanded an apology, Clemenceau had cried that he would have to wait for it just as long as it would take to pacify Ireland! Thereupon, Lloyd George had seized Clemenceau by the collar. After the bystanders had separated the prime ministers, Clemenceau had offered Lloyd George satisfaction by means of a duel, by sword or by pistol, at the latter’s choosing. Callwell, Henry Wilson, Vol. II, p. 194, Georges Suarez, La vie orgueilleuse de Clemenceau (Paris, 1930: Éditions de France), p. 576.
117 Notes of a Meeting, 22 May 1919, FRUS, Vol. V, pp. 807–12.
118 Balfour, ‘Memo sent to P.M.’, 22 May 1919 (underlining in original), Balfour Papers, Add. Mss. 49752.
119 Tel. Clayton to Curzon, no. E.A. 2440, 15 May 1919, minutes Mallet, 26 May 1919, Hardinge and Balfour, not dated, and Percy, 28 May 1919, and tel. Balfour to Clayton, no. 16, 29 May 1919, FO 608/86/11585.
120 The American commissioners first travelled to Constantinople, and subsequently visited Palestine, the Lebanon and Syria. They arrived at Jaffa on 10 June 1919, and returned to Constantinople on 21 July. They submitted their report to President Wilson at the end of August, but he did nothing with it. It was not even transmitted to the British and French governments.
121 Percy to Hardinge, 28 May 1919, FO 608/86/11309.
122 Tel. Allenby to Balfour, no. E.A. 2484, 30 May 1919, DBFP, Vol. IV, pp. 256–7.
123 Balfour, MEMORANDUM, 31 May 1919, Cab 21/153.
124 Notes of a Meeting, 31 May 1919, FRUS, Vol. VI, p. 132.
125 Tel. Balfour to Allenby, no. 48, 31 May 1919, DBFP, Vol. IV, p. 259.
130 1919, DBFP, Vol. IV, p. 277, minute Young, 25 June 1919, FO 371/4181/92879.
131 Tel. Balfour to Allenby, no. 59, 26 June 1919, FO 608/86/13968, minutes Kidston, Graham and Curzon, 27 June 1919, FO 371/4181/94284.
132 Balfour, memorandum, 26 June 1919, encl. in Balfour to Curzon, no. 1158, 2 July 1919, FO 371/4181/97958.
133 Tel. Allenby to Curzon, no. E.A. 2555, 24 June 1919, minute Kidston, 2 July 1919, FO 371/4181/96247.
134 Kerr to Lloyd George, 16 July 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/89/3/4.
135 Notes of a Meeting, 18 July 1919, FRUS, Vol. VII, p. 193.
136 Balfour, Note, 18 July 1919, Balfour Papers, Add. Mss. 49734.
137 Kerr to Lloyd George, 23 July 1919. Lloyd George Papers, F/89/3/8.
138 Balfour to Curzon, no. 1208, 28 July 1919, FO 371/4182/109238.
139 Richard Meinertzhagen, Middle East Diary, 1917–1956 (London, 1959: The Cresset Press), p. 26.
140 Kerr to Lloyd George, 6 August 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/89/3/23.
141 Balfour, memorandum, 11 August 1919, DBFP, Vol. IV, pp. 340–9.
142 See Balfour to Curzon, 8 September 1919, Balfour Papers, Add. Mss. 49734. Hankey to Curzon, CONFIDENTIAL, 15
143 August 1919, FO 371/4234/117065.
144 Davies to Kerr, 15 August 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/89/4/9.
145 Kerr to Lloyd George, 18 August 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/89/4/12.
146 Tel. Lindsay to Curzon, no. 1275, 16 August 1919, FO 371/4234/117185.
147 Tel. Balfour to Curzon, no. 1277, 18 August 1919, FO 371/4234/117652.
148 Earl of Ronaldshay, The Life of Lord Curzon, Vol. III (London, 1928: Boni and Liveright), p. 203.
149 Minutes War Cabinet, 19 and 20 August 1919, Cab 23/12.
150 Curzon to Balfour, 20 August 1919, Balfour Papers, Add. Mss. 49734.
151 Riddell, Intimate Diary, p. 112.
152 Tel. Meinertzhagen to Curzon, no. 422, 8 September 1919, minutes Kidston, 9 September 1919, FO 371/4182/126509.
153 Kerr to Lloyd George, 9 September 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/89/4/19.
154 Notes of a Meeting, 9 September 1919, Cab 21/153.
155 Notes of a Meeting, 10 September 1919, ibid.
156 Kerr to Lloyd George, 11 September 1919, Lothian Papers, GD 40/17/1342/2
157 Notes of a Meeting, 10 September 1919, Cab 21/153. Lloyd George to Clemenceau and
158 Clemenceau to Lloyd George, 11 September 1919, DBFP, Vol. IV, pp. 379–80.
159 It would seem that this reference to the Sykes–Picot line was put in the aide-mémoire in order to humour the French, but it was highly problematic seeing that Fasayl’s forces at the time occupied positions to the west of the line, while there were French contingents in Damascus and Aleppo.
160 Aide-mémoire in regard to the Occupation of Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia pending the Decision in regard to Mandates, 13 September 1919, DBFP, Vol. I, pp. 700–1.
161 Notes of a Meeting, 15 September 1919, DBFP, Vol. I, pp. 691–3.
162 Minute Kidston, 18 September 1919, on tel. Grahame to Curzon, no. 1020, 14 September 1919, FO 371/4182/129835.
163 Tel. Meinertzhagen to Curzon, no. 441, 18 September 1919, and tel. Curzon to Meinertzhagen, 18 September 1919, FO 371/4182/130943.
164 Tel. Curzon to Meinertzhagen, no. 296, 19 September 1919, FO 371/4182/130943.
165 Curzon to Lloyd George, 18 September 1919, Lloyd George Papers, F/12/1/44.
166 Notes of a Meeting, 19 September 1919, DBFP, Vol. IV, pp. 395–404.
167 Notes of a Meeting, 23 September 1919, ibid., pp. 413–18.
168 Kidston to Curzon, 3 October 1919, FO 371/4183/132930. Hankey to Churchill, 8 October 1919, Cab
170 Campbell to Curzon, and Kidston to Curzon, 10 October 1919, FO 371/4183/132930.
171 Faysal to Lloyd George, 21 September 1919, DBFP, Vol. IV, pp. 406–9.
172 Curzon to Faysal, 9 October 1919, DBFP, Vol. IV, p. 449.
173 Clemenceau, Note, 10 October 1919, ibid., pp. 452–3.
174 Director of Military Operations to Foreign Office, 11 October 1919, minutes Kidston and Curzon, 11 October 1919, FO 371/4183/140241.
175 Lloyd George to Faysal, 10 October 1919, DBFP, Vol. IV, p. 452. Notes of a Meeting, 13 October 1919, ibid.,
176 pp. 459–60.
177 Tel. Curzon to Derby, no. 1160, 13 October 1919, ibid., p. 463.
178 Tel. Curzon to Derby, 13 October 1919, ibid.
179 Clemenceau to Derby, 14 October 1919, ibid., pp. 468–9.
180 Roskill, Hankey, vol. II, p. 119.
181 Tel. Curzon to Derby, no. 1167, 15 October 1919, DBFP, Vol. IV, p. 473.
182 See tel. Curzon to Derby, no. 1170, 16 October 1919, FO 608/106/19691.
183 Curzon to Derby, 16 October 1919, DBFP, Vol. IV, p. 475. Tel. Derby to Curzon, no. 33, 8 January 1920,
184 ibid., p. 611.
185 See Derby to Curzon, no. 2394, 27 July 1919, DBFP, First Series, Vol. XIII (London, 1963: H.M. Stationary Office), pp. 317–20.