All the same we take our chances
Laughed at by time
Tricked by circumstances
Plus ca change
Plus c'est la meme chose
The more that things change
The more they stay the same
I want to explore something I touched on a few weeks ago:
It is virtually impossible to keep up with the mess that is US foreign policy. It was so much simpler when we only had to keep track of the lies told about the Soviet Union (ah, the good old days). But now?
Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Somalia, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Pakistan, Ukraine. China and Russia. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel – supposedly US allies all – are they aiding or fighting ISIS? Where did ISIS come from, anyway? Are ISIS and al-Qaeda in cahoots or are they enemies? Iran (an enemy of the US) is supporting Iraq (a mess created by the US) against ISIS (supposedly an enemy of the US). The Kurds fight ISIS and are fought by Turkey. Syria fights ISIS and is attacked by…the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
The enemy of my enemy is both my friend and my enemy all at the same time. Even with a scorecard, I can’t keep track of the players.
History Doesn't Rhyme, But it Repeats Itself
Yes, I meant to write it that way. In this case, the British experience in the Middle East during the Great War; from A Peace to End All Peace, by David Fromkin.
I could make a long story short, tell me if this sounds familiar: the
felt that if they just found the right Arab leader, he could draw all of the
factions together to achieve the desired end – the defeat of the Ottomans Saddam,
Gaddafi, Assad, and on; they felt that by paying for conscripts, they would
buy loyalty and staying power; that Christians from the West would be viewed as
welcome liberators from their current Muslim ruler; the soldiers, once trained
and armed, they would prove to be fierce fighters; setbacks could be solved via
more money. They believed what they were
sold at the Middle Eastern bazaar; it was forgotten or ignored that the Arabs
were masters of negotiation and double-dealing.
1915 or 2015?
You can stop here if you are not interested in some of the details – details that could be taken from today’s news pages, updated only for dates and names.
For the rest of you….
A Highly Decorated General is Unceremoniously Discarded
First allow for a (slight) detour; the demise of Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener:
Kitchener won fame in 1898 for winning the Battle of Omdurman and securing control of the Sudan, after which he was given the title "Lord Kitchener of Khartoum"; as Chief of Staff (1900–02) in the Second Boer War he played a key role in Lord Roberts' conquest of the Boer Republics, then succeeded Roberts as commander-in-chief – by which time Boer forces had taken to guerrilla fighting and British forces imprisoned Boer civilians in concentration camps. His term as Commander-in-Chief (1902–09) of the Army in India saw him quarrel with another eminent proconsul, the Viceroy Lord Curzon, who eventually resigned. Kitchener then returned to Egypt as British Agent and Consul-General (de facto administrator).
By the time of the beginning of the Great War, he might have been considered the greatest British general since Wellington. When he died two years later, this was no longer to be the case.
Although the entirety of his experience was outside of Europe, at the beginning of the war he was named Secretary of State for War, a Cabinet Minister. He was lost in this position.
In June of 1916, British Prime Minister Asquith faced a dilemma: it was politically impossible to remove Kitchener or have him resign, yet it was awkward to retain him in office. Asquith hit on an idea – send Kitchener on a long mission – a mission to Russia. The trip, to be taken by ship, would take the better part of the remainder of 1916.
On 2 June, Kitchener began his journey, taking a train from London to Scapa Flow, the headquarters of the Grand Fleet off of the northern tip of Scotland. On 5 June, he boarded the armored cruiser Hampshire.
The departure route of the Hampshire had already been plotted, but should have been changed. Naval Intelligence, which earlier had broken the German radio code, intercepted a message to the German minelaying submarine U75 in late May. It indicated that the submarine was to mine the passage that the Hampshire intended to follow.
Two further intercepts and a visual sighting served to confirm the information.
…Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, the British naval commander, and his staff somehow failed to read or understand the warnings…
No one told Kitchener. As George Costanza famously asked, “Was that wrong?” But wait, it gets better (or worse for Kitchener). The seas were stormy, yet Kitchener refused to delay his departure. He might have had a different view had Jellicoe’s officers properly read the weather charts – you see, the charts clearly showed that the storm would intensify, but they mistakenly concluded the storm would abate.
Off Kitchener went, in a raging gale; after two hours, the destroyers sent to escort the Hampshire turned back due to the heavy seas. About an hour later, the Hampshire struck a mine and went down with almost all hands – including Kitchener.
An otherwise highly decorated general being unceremoniously discarded? Think Stanley McChrystal or David Petraeus.
The British were after promoting a revolt by the Arabs against the Ottomans. They thought they had their man in Hussein bin Ali. He promised the British that he could bring the Arabs together in the revolt. He always represented himself as being the spokesman for the Arab nation. Of course, there was no such thing as an Arab nation.
Hussein was good at playing both sides. He had already obtained more than 50,000 gold pounds from the Turks to raise and equip forces to fight the British. He combined this with the first installment of a substantial payment from the British to raise and equip forces to fight the Turks.
Imagine, double-dealing and playing both sides in Middle Eastern politics (not that this game is played differently anywhere else, just that the British thought they could play it better than the Arabs). For a chance to get out from under the Ottoman yoke, the British felt that all Arabs would flock to Hussein once the revolt was announced – the flock to include hundreds of thousands of Arabs serving in the Ottoman Army.
Hussein finally announced the revolt at the same time as Kitchener’s demise. He would have preferred to continue to milk both sides, but he learned that the Turks were finally on to his double-dealing. Contrary to Hussein’s promises and British expectations, no Arabic units of the Ottoman Army joined; only a few thousand tribesmen came to the call – and these only because they were “subsidized” by the British.
T.E. Lawrence began the Arab Bulletin in the summer of 1916, providing a wide range of confidential information on the situation in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Of each issue, only 26 copies were made and marked “secret.” Already in the first issue, Lawrence indicated that there were problems holding the Arabs together even for a revolt. The Turks knew this, so they never concerned themselves much with the risk – other than a few executions as necessary.
Three weeks after the start of the revolt, the British War Office told the Cabinet in London that the Arab world wasn’t following Hussein’s lead. Sir Mark Sykes predicted that if more aid was not forthcoming, Hussein’s movement would be crushed within a year.
Outside of the immediate area – the Hejaz – there was no Arab support for Hussein. Only along the Red Sea coast of Arabia – due to British Naval support – did Hussein secure anything like a victory; they captured 30 Turks defending the port of Rabegh and then captured the port of Yanbo.
Hussein’s troops were belittled as soldiers. From Arab Bulletin issue 6: “Their preference is for the showy side of warfare, and it will be difficult to hold them together for any length of time unless the pay and rations are attractive.”
The British recommended Major al-Masri to be appointed Hussein’s Chief of Staff. Within a month was “removed from command as a result of murky intrigue.” According to one account, al-Masri was plotting to take control from Hussein and change sides – back to the Turks. So much for British Military Intelligence.
The Arabs didn’t like the Turks, but they were even less agreeable to being ruled by non-Muslims; they had no interest in supporting the designs of the British in the Middle East. By September 1916, the British office in Cairo reported that the revolt was collapsing even faster than anticipated.
Britain was not nearly as hard-headed or profligate at that time as the United States is today.
In issue 41 of the bulletin, David Hogarth wrote that “the prospect of Arabia united under either the King of Hejaz or anyone else seems very remote.” By May 1917, Hogarth was ready to write off the revolt as a failure; at best, it would “just hold its own in place.”
Further, Britain spent the equivalent of $44 million at the time; using the BLS inflation calculator, this is almost $1 billion today.
So this is where history rhymes: one year in 1915 has become indefinite today; a billion dollars in 1915 has become trillions. Apparently the lesson learned by the US government is this: Britain just didn’t try hard enough and didn’t spend enough. Therefore, don’t quit no matter how messy the situation grows, and don’t limit the amount of money you will spend.
Laughed at by time….