Anglo-American Cooperation in the Middle East


By JAMES M. LANDIS, Dean, Law School of Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Delivered before the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Philadelphia, Pa., April 13, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 428-432.

THE title of my talk tonight reminds me partly of an experience that characterized an earlier period of my service with a governing assembly. Its chairman was a man of great experience and insight but profoundly certain that his ideas rarely differed from those of the Divine Will. A brilliant colleague of mine and myself among others were not always too sure of that exact coordination and to the best of our judgment would on occasion voice our views only to be overridden. But once after many years there came an issue upon which the majority of our colleagues held the same viewpoint that we did. This time although we had the votes in our hands, for obvious reasons we did not want to force a real division. My colleague interrupted and said: "Mr. Chairman, I think we can work this out if you will only cooperate with us." "Cooperate," exploded the Chairman, "why for years you have opposed, ineffectually, thank God, the things that I have tried to do, and now you of all persons call for cooperation."

Unfortunately human nature is such that the existence or non-existence of cooperation depends too much upon the subjective view of the successful or unsuccessful cooperator.

Despite that I choose to take the topic of Anglo-American cooperation in the Middle East because I have a double sense of its significance, arising first from my belief that bi-national cooperation is significant if international cooperation is our aim, and secondly from an Aristotelian standpoint, namely, that generalization to be valid needs to start from time and space, from the concrete, rather than derive from the ethereal sky above. In other words, if Anglo-American cooperation in a finite area with finite problems, such as the Middle East posits, is a failure, the chances of international cooperation such as the promise of San Francisco holds can have only the deepest of indigo hues.

To start with I approached this problem in the Middle East with the fear that the very desire of my Government to cooperate might make impossible the laying of those foundations upon which true cooperation rests. Those foundations to me are not the sands of sentiment, but their essence must derive from the fact that a common policy, whatever it may be, at times is more advantageous to its adherents than individual, competing and antagonistic policies however they may at that time mirror individual, nationalistic judgments as to their wisdom.

The Middle East offered a good testing ground for experimentation. In few other areas were the following conditions present—a general ignorance by the United States, deriving from long before this War, as to what its objectives might be in this area, and at the same time a growing realization springing out of the War of a need for definition of those objections preliminary either to withdrawal from that area or to the formulation of an articulated and intelligible policy; second, the overhanging necessity of tri-partite or even four-partite cooperation, provided that France would again become a nation, and tri-partite cooperation meant cooperation with a nation—Russia—that for years her propaganda and ours had incessantly drilled into us the duty to mistrust as well as the existence of inevitable ideological conflict; third, the fact that Anglo-American cooperation was threatened at stage after stage with the trading instinct of the territorial governments who had held onto such meagre independence as they possessed by promoting disunion rather than otherwise between the various imperialistic powers that for years had sought to engulf them; and fourth, by the fact of the existence of a powerful Anglo-American agency—the Middle East Supply Center—that my Government and Hi Majesty's Government had pledged themselves, within reasonable limitations, to support.

Let me take this fourth element first, the Middle East Supply Center. It is worth describing the institution as an experiment in Anglo-American cooperation. With the entrance of Italy into the War and particularly with the expulsion of the British from Greece sealing for the moment the passage through the Mediterranean, the supply of those countries that comprise the Middle East became of overweening importance. They represented Islam and a peaceful Islam was essential to the defense of the Suez. Furthermore, a peaceful Islam could not be assured if it were permitted to starve, but at the same time no shipping facilities that now had to move the long route around the Cape of Good Hope through submarine-infested waters could hope to continue the supply of five million tons of products that the Middle East before the war had absorbed. These imports into the Middle East had to be cut and cut with seventy, but at the same time the essential civilian demands of the area had to be met if the military security of the area was not to be threatened by forces other than those of the enemy.

It was out of this need that the Middle East Supply Center was born, and with that aim in mind it sought to centralize within itself the control of all imports to the area. The leverage for that centralization was, in part, British political domination within the area, British control over the major portion of the area, and, on grounds of military strategy, British assumption of the primary responsibility of supplying the area with its essential needs.

Before Pearl Harbor our interests and those of the British did not necessarily coincide, except upon the implicit assumption that even before that date we too were at war with the Axis. That assumption, however, was never strong enough to enable our Government so to exert its control over exports as to prevent, in the interests of conserving shipping and not disturbing the British imposed pattern of limiting imports to essential needs, the use of American bottoms to carry unnecessary but profitable luxuries to the Middle East.

With Pearl Harbor the situation changed. The conservation of shipping as well as supply became a mutual interest, and the defense of the Suez was integral to American as well as British military strategy. It was therefore natural for the British Government to invite us and for us to accept the invitation to participate in the operations of the Middle East Supply Center.

With our interests for the time identical, cooperation became an easy and pleasant task—as easy and pleasant as cooperation between allied armies in the face of the enemy, and not even marred as that cooperation can be marred by personal jealousies as to respective rank or as to the personal publicity rightly attributable to the exploits of various national contingents. El Alamein, however, portended the beginning of a change. With the intense pressure relaxed, men began to have to think over the manners and methods of supply and their consequences upon the future. I cannot here go through the detail of the differences that arose both between the British and the Americans and amongst the British and amongst the Americans as to what the dominating considerations should be. Should we accept the idea of a primary historic responsibility of the British in this area, and in return insist upon a similar latitude of action being granted to us in South America? Were we wise enough to claim a position not as junior but as co-equal partner in an area for which we had historically developed neither interest nor experts? If we insisted on and secured a different position would we be enabled to carry on that responsibility in the light of our traditional isolationism at home, that already seemed manifesting itself in the declining diplomatic interest in this area and the niggardliness of the Bureau of Budget to sponsor appropriations sufficient to supply the minimal manpower necessary to carry out such a policy?

From the start the Middle East Supply Center had operated as an integrated or scrambled agency rather than as a parallel agency in the sense in which Allied Military Government began its operations in Sicily and Italy. It had one administrative head and not two heads, nor were its British or American administrative officials paralleled at every level with officials of the opposite nationality. That type of operation possesses an obvious danger in that policy, dominated by one nation, may emanate to and from the chief administrative official and control all ranks beneath it. On the asset side, however, the operation has the advantage of being able to make decisions and not being halted in mid-stream by divided councils that in turn have to move separately to London and Washington and hopefully await some resolution between those capitals of the differences engendered in the field.

The resolution of conflicting policies in an integrated operation poses interesting problems in the field of the integrated operation. Two methods, both operating concurrently, are necessary to bring about true cooperation or the evolution of a policy representing an adjustment between competing national policies rather than a subordination of one to the other. The first is what I would call the pin-ball method. A problem like a ball arises from below and as it travels towards its solution hits first this national representative and then the other national representative in turn until by the time the ball finally finds its hole, it has brushed against sufficient different points of view so as to give the assurance that its ultimate direction is the resultant of a combination of balanced forces rather than that of any single one. But for this method to work, it is essential to have some parity of manpower within the organization. In the Middle East Supply Center I have never had the good fortune to be supplied with sufficient and sufficiently competent manpower to have any assurance that the pin-ball method was working.

The second method is the governing directorate method. Here an equally divided directorate sits over the administrative official assumedly reaching decisions on the major questions of policy. The difficulties that attend such a method arise from the fact that issues of policy rarely arise as such, but policy like a coral reef builds upon a myriad of small accumulations of action. The directorate thus either tends to miss issues of policy at the time when they are being formulated or else moves bodily into administration and thereby destroys the functioning of the administrative mechanism as such.

I have touched upon these difficulties of the integrated operation because so few of our international planners or administrators have analyzed its possibilities as well as its weaknesses. Nor are my observations made with the intention of intimating the failure of the Middle East Supply Center. In fact, its story is quite the contrary but not as a mechanism for solving tense issues of Anglo-American conflict, rather as an effective instrument for carrying out those aspects of policy upon which America and Great Britain were essentially in accord.

Let me press for a moment the problem of divergence rather than accord. So long as stringencies of shipping and supply were the primary consideration, no real issue arose as to the undue diversion of dollars from the sterling areas of the Middle East. But in 1944 it became apparent that easing was or was likely to take place in both these fields. It thus became apparent that America's interest was to increase her exports to that area. On the other hand, as we pressed for increased exports, independently of whatever long range effect these exports might have on British exports, their immediate effect would be to increase the drain of dollars upon that portion of the sterling area, and Great Britain's interest lay in increasing her dollar reserves against a perhaps inevitable day when she should pay again for her imports from the United States and also make good other than with a thin trickle of British production on the large sterling debts that had been accumulated against her by the Middle East and other countries.

For over two years through our mutual concern with the common wartime considerations of shipping and supply we had been making a unilateral handling of exchange control almost unnecessary. But with the excuse of shortages of shipping and supply no longer necessary could we join with GreatBritain in restricting imports because of her over-all need for dollars? I cannot over-emphasize the gravity of this problem. Take a country, for example, such as Palestine with a favorable dollar balance of payments. Shall we join with Great Britain and say to Palestine we will cut your imports from us below your dollar earnings because that excess of dollars is needed for the benefit of the Empire? That little issue in brief posits the whole future relationship of the United States to the issue of empire, and with no policy yet articulate on that major issue, to expect cooperation in the field is impossible. Shall we say to Great Britain that we recognize the value of empire but at least we must be consulted as to the extent to which you can depress living conditions in Palestine for the benefit of the empire as a whole and therefore we must be consulted as to the ration of dollars you will extend Palestine? Or shall we be content to say that is your business and not ours?

Issues such as this are not resolvable in the field. And the unfortunate thing is that as they get pushed home they get lost in a plethora of other issues that flood the desks of Washington, while their irresolution creates dissension and distrust in the field.

This irresolution is to my mind the greatest of all sources for misunderstanding and making impossible that type of cooperation which is the aim of all of us. And neither good words nor the friendliest of feelings can make up for its absence. A typical example occurs in such a country as Egypt. We on the American side are perfectly aware of the continual dabbling of Great Britain in the internal affairs of Egypt. At the point of the bayonet, or rather the tank, she has forced her own Prime Minister upon the Egyptians and with the same threats she held him there despite a non-too-competent performance in office. She has dominated and infiltrated into the military governments set up by the Egyptians her advisers so that the stiff censorship that characterized the situation for years was British controlled and, in essence, British operated. An American can understand and even support a policy of that nature if it is demanded by the exigencies of war and the threat of such pro-Nazi proclivities as were present under the old Shah in Persia and as tended at one time to turn Iraq into an Axis base. He might even understand them if he were certain that some other war objective demanded them. And were those facts true, it would probably have in turn been true of Britain's diplomats that they would have consulted ours before embarking upon such a course of action that seemed to flaunt the very principles of the Great Charter that at the same time their political warfare executives and our propagandists were shouting from the housetops. But British and American policy which in that same area made such enormous sense from an economic standpoint and portrayed that kind of unity that should characterize allies united in a death struggle, on the political side provoked disunity. We could hardly subscribe to British policy as we saw its manifestations and had none of our own to which we could try to get the adherence of our friends.

Sometimes, of course, it is impossible because of ignorance to develop any policy. This seemed to me the situation that of necessity had to characterize our approach to Ethiopia. Despite the fact that the maintenance or restoration x>f the independence of Ethiopia seemed to me essential if the symbols for which we have fought have aid vitality, the manner of doing so, the extent of economic and that legitimately should be forthcoming, could hardly be formulated in the light of our dismal ignorance of Ethiopia's material and spiritual resources. Under such circumstances to underwrite British policy for the sake of Anglo-American accord seemingly is to invite disaster, especially when one is faced by the fact that in this far corner of the world more resentment against the liberator seems to have piled up than remains against the vanquished conqueror. Something could, of course, be done from the standpoint of acquiring knowledge upon which to base judgment, for example as to those heated issues revolving about the continued military occupation of key areas in Ethiopia as well as one of the large border provinces. As to whether that continued occupation of a far-removed inland equatorial area was essential to the conquest of Berlin or Tokio, seems clearly an issue upon which the Allies who are subordinating the lives of their people to those objectives might be in accord and, if they were wise, should be in accord, but as far as I know we on the American side took no position supporting or decrying the Ethiopian in his claim that this was military conquest in the name of a white man's peace.

That we can get together on vital issues is demonstrated both in Persia and Saudi Arabia. It happens that for different reasons we and the British, and ostensibly the Russians, are united in our desire to see an independent Persia. Taking that as a starting point it was easy to unite upon the support of the American Millspaugh Mission. Indeed that Mission sent at the request of Persia to rehabilitate her finances and her administration had originally more genuine and concrete support from the British than from us. Similarly it was possible to get British cooperation to eliminate certain business practices and dreams of exploitation by British firms that threatened the whole capacity of Persia to guide her economic destiny. And only last fall British and Americans united wholeheartedly in protesting the Russian effort under the guise of seeking oil to dominate to the exclusion of the Persian Government the cultural and economic development of its northern zone.

Saudi Arabia is another case in point. The American interest in Saudi Arabia is the obvious one of oil. American nationals hold concessions in that area of enormous significance. Their security as that of any interest anywhere has a direct relationship to the stability and security of government. The great activity of the British in that area was for a long time suspect. Americans failed to recognize its strategic significance to the British and the direct economic interest of the British in the success of the annual pi) grimage to Mecca—still the chief source of Saudi Arabia's revenues—whose pilgrims came in the great majority from British dependencies or other countries in the sterling area. It was to the interest of both British and Americans that the political independence of Saudi Arabia should be assured and that economically it should gradually emerge from the subsidy-supported deficit economy into which it had been driven. Given that analysis, agreement on policy was easily possible, but assuming a contra-interest by the British in its oil resources accord would be impossible.

No theories of Anglo-American cooperation can survive upon a sand of sentiment without regard to reconciliation on policy. Or if such reconciliation is impossible, and in many fields that is likely to be so, agreement or understanding upon the ways and means available to each nation or its nationals which it is entitled to employ to promote its objectives. Unfair methods of competition in international affairs are as equally disruptive of the bases of an enduring peace as are unfair methods of trade in commerce. No nation truly dedicated to realizing the fruits of this war can debase or permit other nations to debase the high principles of the Atlantic Charter to gain an immediate end.

The great difficulties that stand in the way of true cooperation seem to me, in the main, three in number. Thefirst is the absence of policy. No one who has not tried to serve his country in a foreign field can ever be truly conversant with these vacua that exist in the handling of foreign affairs and that make useless foreign representation except insofar as it directs itself to the evanescent building of goodwill, through tea and cocktail parties, dinners and ceremonies. Too many men at home and abroad seem satisfied with that as an end-all of foreign policy and amid the flattery of foreign potentates and dignitaries it is too easy to believe that that reaction represents some solid substance rather than froth. At home over-all programs are too rarely developed. There is too rarely a chart which tells one this year we intend to accomplish that, the next year the following, and so on. Too frequently small men sit at the country desk, so absorbed in digesting and answering the incoming cables that there is no time to plan or think. Or complete stagnation occurs. I recall too well from my own experience the plight of a co-worker of mine who for nine months had received not the semblance of an instruction from home, not even the assurance that his carefully worked out reports had met any other fate than that of filing. Or the story, sworn to as gospel truth, that I heard of the chief of one of our diplomatic missions whose one cable during a year of absence was a Christmas greeting from his superior. In the absence of knowing what to do, the formulation of joint policy is impossible.

A second difficulty lies in the lack of forthrightness in the utterance of such policy as may be formulated. Why international affairs still have to parade under a cloak of Machiavellian deception is beyond me, but the tactics of Richelieu, of Bismarck, of Rhodes, still prevail. True trading and the playing of poker will continue to characterize all negotiations domestic as well as foreign, but there the accepted ways of playing poker do not warrant the carrying of aces up one's sleeve. Hard-boiled business, as we know it, warrants neither the larceny of trade secrets nor the disparagement of a competitor's goods. But in international affairs the effort among friends, not to speak of allies, to break each other's secret codes is accepted practice. Spying and gum-shoeing is one of the major activities, that breathes distrust that no ceremonies or tea fights can possibly remove. Information derived outright sells below par while information gotten by devious means has its premium. To achieve any cooperation amid such an atmosphere is, indeed, a feat.

A third difficulty peculiar to Anglo-American cooperation is the implicit acceptance of certain assumed basic conflicts. Fortunately with the disappearance of the classic economy we are no longer convinced that to be rich others must be poor. We accept, I believe, on our side more readily than on the British side that an expansion of British exports will mean an increase of our own. But we tend to accept, and that very acceptance tends to make it real, the theory of mercantilism that seems implicit in the older concepts of empire, forgetting that the future destiny of empire amid a world dedicated to the Atlantic Charter calls for a revision in the policies and thinking of the top holding companies and that they are as conscious of the existing incongruity as we. Instead of promoting the rising liberal internationalism of Britain and America, we tend to accept its past conservation as a fact and try in a futile fashion to adjust policies that can have no permanent reconciliation on that basis. It is this very reason that leads many Americans, despite their trained tradition of suspicion, to look more hopefully upon cooperation with the Russian than with the Englishman, instead of realizing that a common base must be had between the three or else the two are certain ultimately to fail.

Another implicit assumption that makes for divergence is the belief that English economy is monopoly and cartel-minded to a point that will make for unfair competition between English and American nationals. Too long a disquisition along these lines is unnecessary but if American thought truly believes in the efficiency of free enterprise, it ought have little fear along these lines. The doubts stem from our own doubts as to what is a wise economic policy for America to pursue. If private enterprise has that efficiency of which we boast, in the air for example, we need hardly fear even the semblance of true competition from the chosen instrumentality plan advanced by the British White Paper.

I take this example of supposedly conflicting ideology, where if the conflict really exists, no soft soap of cooperation will eliminate it. The ultimate test of cooperation must always be that it pays both parties spiritually and materially to work together rather than work apart. But a plan of cooperation needs never to cover every aspect of where the boundaries of two nations touch. It is a mistake to assume that because I am common ground in some fields. I must be in all. To make such an assumption and to insist upon it is to pretend to things that are not true, and to breed that lack of integrity and that sloppiness of thought that too often characterize the administration of foreign affairs. The why of Anglo-American cooperation must always first find its honest answer before there should be insistence upon the fact.

One mechanism for Anglo-American cooperation in time and place too frequently overlooked is the conference method of responsible officials rather than trusting too continuously to diplomatic agencies. Let me illustrate my point. In the Middle East as in every area constant difficulties and divergencies arise. Many of them can be settled in the field, but some cannot. The unsettled difficulties must be referred backward through diplomatic channels to the attention of the respective foreign officers. The wheels of any foreign office grind slowly; distance from the storm center dulls the sense of emergency and the crying need for action. And furthermore at home the nature of our bureaucracies is such that it tends by the very volume of business that is thrown at them to push significant issues down to low levels for handling. Meanwhile the accumulation of unsettled difficulties produces an increasing tension in the field that feeds upon itself and makes difficulties where otherwise they would not have appeared. There comes a time when the persons involved on both sides should sit down and make up their minds to clear the decks. But conferences of this type rarely occur. One such conference occurred in London in the spring of 1944 devoted exclusively to Middle East affairs. That it failed to accomplish more was due to faulty organization, inadequate preparation of agenda, and failure to make adequate use of the men in the field. But it did accomplish more in a fortnight than many months of jerky, ad hoc diplomatic negotiation could have done.

Why we fail to employ this device more frequently than we do stems in the main from our traditional organization on both sides of the Atlantic for the administration of foreign affairs. The old concept of the right of legation, supposedly sanctified by the international law of Grotius' time, has made for a nationalistic, individualistic treatment of foreign affairs. To states we accredit ministers and ambassadors, to regions no one, and yet the formulation of policy, the content of cooperative endeavor is not nationalistic but region-alistic in scope. Coordination of foreign affairs within a region, when it occurs, does so at the capital often as far removed from the scene of action as it is possible to get Under those circumstances there is small wonder that policy fails to precipitate and conjoint action limits itself to minutiaeand fails to strike the bedrock of a secure foundation. The British through the instrumentality of their so-called "little Churchills" or regional Ministers Resident have done far better than we have in that field. But the institution of the Minister Resident still creates doubts and is looked at askance by the professionals of the Foreign Office. To date we have done practically nothing and tended to undo what little the exigencies of war compelled us to do. Some day it may happen that there will actually be a conclave under an appropriate chief of American or British diplomatic heads accredited to the Middle East, or to the Balkans, or to West Africa. Then it may even happen that a similar conclave of American and British officials will take place. From then on American and British cooperation has a chance of having real vitality sapped out of the ground of action instead of being too frequently a reflex or a shadow of some assumedly greater move concocted by the bureaucracies of distant foreign offices.