Warring Nations Seek Carve Up of Middle East.
Despite Losses, Britain Plots Desert War in Arabia, Iraq, Syria.
Special to The Great War Project
(15-17 September) By this moment a century ago, after more than a year of hideous slaughter in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, and in the seas of the North Atlantic, the war is hopelessly deadlocked.
It could be expected that the nations at war might at this moment look for a way out, might express some interest in searching for a peace deal to end the war.
Not so, according to historian Scott Anderson. “Instead precisely the opposite was happening.”
“In contemplating all the lives already lost, the treasure squandered,” Anderson writes…
…“how to ever admit it was for nothing? Since such an admission is unthinkable, and the status quo untenable, the only option left is to escalate.”
“The acceptable terms for peace are not lowered, but raised,” reports Anderson, a historian of the war in the Middle East.
There is also a lust to acquire new territory or the territory of the enemy. Given the paralysis on the various battlefields, there is only one theater of war that promises to slake this thirst, “the fractured and varied lands of the Ottoman Empire.”
“Indeed by the autumn of 1915 that empire was now often referred to by cynics [in the Allied capitals] as ‘The Great Loot.’”
Russia still covets Turkish territories. The Russian Tsar still eyes the Ottoman capital, Constantinople, with undisguised desire. France has its eye on greater Syria and Lebanon, the Christian lands of the Ottoman realm.
And Britain sees desert Mesopotamia as a means to protect the land routes to India, Britain’s “jewel in the crown” of its empire.
It is not lost on the political and military leaders of the Allied nations that all three – Russia, France, and Britain — are Christian nations, “and even after six hundred years it still grated many that the Christian Holy Land lay in Muslim hands.”
“In carving up the Ottoman Empire,” reports Anderson, “there was finally the chance to replay the Crusades to a happier ending.”
This certainly explains Britain’s intense desire to seize Arabia, Iraq, Palestine, and Syria. France sees its interest in the Middle East as primarily focused on Syria as well.
At this moment a century ago in the Middle East, warfare is still not widespread. The conflict there is covert. The Arab Revolt is still just a dream. Thus begins a relationship built on the sands of treachery that permeates the relationship between the Allies and the region’s Arab tribes,
Writes Scott Anderson…
“All was about to become shrouded in treachery, and byzantine maneuver.”
In the view of historian Eugene Rogan, despite the outright defeat of the British at Gallipoli, despite the Ottomans’ unexpected victory there, “The British viewed the Ottomans as the weakest link in the Central Powers’ chain of command.”
“War planners in Whitehall,” writes Rogan, “had counted on a quick defeat of the Ottoman Empire for the breakthrough that had eluded Entente [Allied] forces of the Western Front.”
Now “suddenly the British were on the defensive.” So they turn to the Arab tribes in the Middle East. “The British feared their recent string of defeats to the Ottomans would encourage colonial Muslims to rebel against the Entente Powers.”
Thus begins the British courtship and manipulation of Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca.”