An Unsettling Settlement: The 1922 Middle East Peace Agreement Seen Today

An Unsettling Settlement: The 1922 Middle East Peace Agreement Seen Today

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Middle East and North Africa

Political History and Theory

HAROLD M. EVANS: Good evening, and very much welcome to this evening's session. I have to tell you something just as a warning. Reading Professor Fromkin takes you into the past but speeds up the present. So every time I read him, which I do with great joy, he's written eight books, time vanishes, and you'll find that's so with this new edition of "A Peace to End All Peace" which is coming out in June, originally published 20 years ago. And we're going to go into some detail about it.

But I want to announce that this meeting is partly cosponsored, it is indeed cosponsored, by the National History Center, an initiative of the American Historical Association. And I must thank Roger Lewis, we must all thank Roger Lewis who is the National History Center director, helped to create the series. And if you have not read "Imperialism at Bay" which Roger Lewis' book, this and "Imperialism at Bay" is all you need to know. They're actually a form of bookends.

And I wanted to say that I'm a little bit intrigued or even peeved that these two books which are actually a recital of things that Britain got wrong, they've invited a British to moderate. There must be some maligned purpose at stake here. But let us not bother about that, let's to straightaway to Roger Lewis.

I want to say, of course, this meeting is on the record. But of course, you will have already turned off your BlackBerrys, your iPhones, your iPod, whatever it is you carry about you so that we're not interrupted. It's on the record.

Professor Fromkin, it was 20 years ago since "A Peace to End All Peace" came out. At the end of the Ottoman Empire, seven new countries were created. You've written a new afterwork which is coming out in June, a marvelously, beautifully written book. What's changed in the 20 years? Have you had any second thoughts? Do you want to take anything back?

DAVID FROMKIN: (Laughs.) No, I don't want to take anything back, but the world has changed in that time in extraordinary ways. By great coincidence, the publication date of the book more or less coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union. There you had a major, a major change in the world scene that, of course, strongly affected the Middle East. We could never -- (inaudible) -- the Gulf War, for example.

EVANS: You say in a very interesting afterward that in fact this was not such an absolutely totally wonderful event because the Soviet Union, in a sense, exerted a kind of discipline on what the superpower did, the United States.

FROMKIN: Yes. I mean, that is what I say and what I believe, that it was in that curious way unfortunate that we should have been given so much freedom when we weren't ready for it.

EVANS: Let's go back then to what should the -- first of all, let's elaborate the themes which are in the original book. Here we are again, "A Peace to End All Peace." If you could just set up for anybody unfortunate enough not to have read it so that we'll know where we are.

FROMKIN: Yes. Well, "A Peace to End All Peace," if you were to go back 100 years, go back a century, and look at a political map of the Middle East, you would see the Ottoman Empire, a Turkish-speaking empire, and you'd see Persia, today we call it Iran. And now shifting to today, what an enormous difference when you see Syria and Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and Israel and Jordan and Iraq. I mean, this is a very different map. And what "A Peace to End All Peace is about is how we got from there to here. The book came about because I was taking a walk with a friend who said, you know, there are problems in so many different parts of the Middle East, why is it? Is it just coincidence that bad things happen to happen there in the Middle East? Or is there some unifying thread that explains it all. And he said, for example, is it one particular year that things happened?

And thinking quickly, I said, it seems to me that the major big decisions centered around the year 1922, roughly. And having said that, I started to think about it and decided that that would make a good title for a book. Why not call the book "1922," give it 12 chapters, January, February, March, April, May, thin book, fast moving. And I sat down at my typewriter and tried to do that. It didn't work. The explanations of how you got to January 1, 1923, the explanations would absolutely overwhelm the text.

And so I kept on going, kept on going until I came to the point where the story could start, and that was in the summer of 1914 when the First World War broke out.

EVANS: Let me stop you there. Another book I'm recommending, if you haven't read it, is, who started the great war, the First World War? The last time I was on this platform, it was actually five years ago when Professor Fromkin's book came out, which is a devastating analysis of how World War I started. So he's not kind of starting without having done the foundations. You describe how World War I started. Now in this book, you've dealt with the consequences of it. And you might touch, I think, on some of the nation-building or, I know it's a dirty word these days, but the nation-building that took place or attempted to take place.

FROMKIN: Yeah. Just trying to think of whether to, in effect, start at the end.

EVANS: We've got armies going through here, occupying these seats, so just a moment.

FROMKIN: Okay.

EVANS: Right.

FROMKIN: There was a lot both to criticize and to praise in what Britain did and what France did at that time. Two things. First, the results of the various decisions that were made, wars that were won and lost, all the many things that went into creating the new Middle East, nowadays, looking, which is what we all need to do, can we classify really in terms of three groups of states that emerged in our Middle East?

On the one hand, you had the eternal empires. You had Egypt and Persia, who have always been there and always will be there -- Egypt, the second-oldest civilization. So nobody, even today, questions the legitimacy of their existence as states. They've always been and they continued. That was a third.

Another third -- again, nobody questioned their legitimacy -- were the countries created by a local strong man. Kemal Ataturk in Turkey and Ibn Saud in Saudi Arabia, these people created nations. But they were local people doing it, and that worked. Those countries still exist. Nobody suggests that we have to break them up. It's the countries that -- I'm sorry.

EVANS: No.

FROMKIN: Sorry, I have to say it, but it was --

EVANS: Here we go, created by the British Empire -- (inaudible) -- (laughter) -- with scheming Lord George and other British villains. Okay, go on. (Laughter.) I'm going to give you absolution for about 25 minutes, okay. (Laughs.)

FROMKIN: Yeah. Well, so you've got Israel, you have Jordan. Gosh, probably Iraq, too. And these are British creations or attempted creations. And here we have one of the parallels we've talked about before. The reason that Britain could think in terms of -- (inaudible) -- these creations was because there was that one shining moment along about the end of 1918 when Britain had 1 million troops in the Middle East, and there wasn't any other country, any other anything to stand in Britain's way.

EVANS: Just mention the United States' role at that point with Woodrow Wilson coming as the savior, drawing his own self-determination maps. How did the British manage to do this when America was on the verge of becoming the greatest power?

FROMKIN: Well, to me, the parallel -- let me just say this. We were talking before about my view that it was, in a sense, bad for America to have a monopoly on power after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I think the same thing, in a way, happened to Great Britain. What Lord George, looking out at those million men of his, and -- (inaudible) -- I think that he could do anything. (Inaudible) -- in trouble.

EVANS: So the United States wasn't frightened of an army of 1 million men of Britain, but they weren't quite as involved in the Middle East as Britain was.

FROMKIN: Not at all. For one thing, the Ottoman Empire had not declared war on us, and we had not declared war on them. So the kind of peace treaty that was drawn up was a peace treaty between Britain and France on the one side and of the Ottoman Empire on the other. But we really had no legitimate seat at that table, nor did we have much interest. Remember, when just a short time before when the American Secretary of State Robert Lansing was called before the Committee on Foreign Relations in the Senate and asked, what is America's interest in the Middle East? And Secretary Lansing, correctly for that time, said, we have only two items of interest to the United States. They are the two protestant missionary colleges. And he was right, that was it. And the president was an enthusiastic missionary and was closely associated, his family had been, with the protestant missionary efforts in Syria and elsewhere.

EVANS: And just -- I'm not trying to defend the British Empire, here particularly, but what was the justification? It's easy to look back and say, these people were all idiots. What were the justifications for the policies of imposing new nations which were basically mixed-up places of religious differences and so on and so on? So what were the British and in fact almost what were the American justifications today for imposing the (practice of Americana ?) in the Middle East? What justifications did the policymakers have then? And how far are they legitimate today?

FROMKIN: I'm not a great enthusiast for going around and creating countries and governments in other places. So that's just a matter of disposition. But Britain had legitimate influences in that part of the Middle East. What the British empirialists in their prime were looking for was a road that would lead their empire from cave to India, all the way around. These were important places en route.

We tend to forget, but there was a separate government of India in those days, British-run, of course; there was a British government of India. And they neighbored on what is now Iraq and Mesopotamia and had visions of great agricultural wealth. That was the part of the world, after all, in which civilization began largely from control of waterworks by the ancient Samarians. So it seemed, at that point, a legitimate goal to have --

EVANS: National interest.

FROMKIN: Yes. And Palestine, evident reasons why they were interested in that. So it was -- and besides, something I think we always have to remember when reading and talking about history, people thought differently then. It wasn't really until 1917 that people began to think of the word imperialism as pejorative. Until then, it had been quite a respectable political movement. And there was just a few people who picked up on it -- (inaudible) -- who you had asked me about earlier today was one of the few who said the world is changing. And what changed in 1917 was the two great new forces had entered into the world, America with Wilson's idealism and his unrealizable but marvelous goals and Lenin. And these were two guys who were really competing to see who could be the leader of progressive opinion.

EVANS: Now, just looking back, the states of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the main repositories and legacies of the Ottoman Empire that we think of today, looking back on it, should we try and unscramble them, or should we accept their legitimacy with all the religious and other problems?

FROMKIN: I say you have to start from now, from where you are.

EVANS: What's the Latin term?

FROMKIN: Uti possidetis.

EVANS: Uti possidetis, don't look back like Lot's wife.

FROMKIN: And you have good examples of countries and regions of the world who have done it successfully. It was initially applied in Latin America which had been cut up to suit the administrative convenience of the Spanish occupiers. There was no reason to keep the boundaries they had except that that meant it was the only way to keep the peace is for everybody to say, we start from now.

And then, in turn, when Africa -- (inaudible) -- Saharan Africa gained its independence from Great Britain after 1960, there, too. And that was written into the organization of African states, that this Latin legal principle applies, and nobody questions frontiers and borders, you just stick with what you've got. And that works.

When -- (inaudible) -- got to ask, is the Middle East so different in temperament and sentiment, is it so different that they can't do what Africans can do and Latin Americans can do?

EVANS: Before we turn to particular instances, would you comment on the myth created by various people about Lawrence of Arabia? The British have the idea that the whole of the Middle East was --

(Off mike commentary.)

Oh, could you speak up? Sorry, yeah. Can you hear at the back? Am I clear? I'm too clear and Professor Fromkin may not be quite clear, right.

FROMKIN: Am I clear?

EVANS: Okay, raise the volume. Can you raise the volume in the control tower?

(Off mike commentary.)

I do? Okay. Okay.

Lawrence of Arabia --

FROMKIN: (Inaudible) -- diaphragm?

EVANS: Okay, thank you, Richard.

Right. Well, the question -- I was asking you a question about Lawrence of Arabia. In all those British actions that you describe in great detail actually, what was the role of the mythical or myth-making Lawrence of Arabia and his friendship with Winston Churchill for that matter?

FROMKIN: Churchill was so innocent about that one thing. He said, for some reason, he had just never heard of these war-time exploits, not realizing that the reason he hadn't heard of them was because they hadn't taken place. (Laughter.)

EVANS: By the way, it was an American who created the myth.

FROMKIN: Yes.

EVANS: Yes, thank you. (Laughter.)

FROMKIN: Yeah. He was a showman in his 20s. He is said to have raised some money in Chicago from various people who were interested in America being in the world war on the allied side. So they sent this man to go. Remind me of the name.

EVANS: Lowell Thomas.

FROMKIN: Yeah, Lowell Thomas went to London, talked to the Ministry of Information and asked where was he going to get a really good story that would inspire Americans. And he was told, you can't do it on the western front which is horrible and -- (inaudible) -- go to the Middle East, that's the place where you'll find (color ?). So he came around. And Lawrence had just pulled off his real feat. He actually did (two things ?). He was there, and Lowell Thomas came and saw this young Oxford-graduated archaeologist in glamorous white robes, and he had golden daggers -- (inaudible) -- just super.

And so Lowell Thomas decided to make a thing of this young man and took down his notes. And after Lawrence had gone so far finally, at one point, Lowell Thomas said, you know, are you sure we're not going to get in trouble? I mean, is any of this true? And Lawrence said, no, but history is just a matter of lies anyway. (Laughter.)

EVANS: Just a bit louder, I think. Just answer me, what was -- many people believed that Lawrence of Arabia with -- (inaudible) -- and so on was very anxious to help the creation of the state of Israel, the Balfour Declaration, 1917, Versailles, all the meetings that took place. Wasn't Lawrence really a kind of secret Zionist? (Laughter.)

FROMKIN: Well, he was certainly very sympathetic. In an argument -- I'm trying to remember details. But anyway, they don't matter. He, in a quarrel between some bishop or archbishop who had said something antisemitic --

EVANS: Oh, any archbishop will do. (Laughter.)

FROMKIN: -- and Lawrence said, you're not fit to shine Chaim Weizmann's shoes. He was certainly a man with no antisemitism. And he was instrumental in getting Faisal the Arab leader he had promoted to give a qualified acceptance.

EVANS: Did we miss an opportunity there at that time of creating a state of Israel which would be recognized by the Arabs? Or was it always a futile hope?

FROMKIN: Well, you see, here was the thing. There was a condition, and it was a legitimate one. Faisal wanted the throne, wanted to be the king of Syria. And in that atmosphere, there was no reason why he shouldn't have been. And the British did promise it to him, he thought. In any event, had been allowed to believe that he could have it. And his condition was, if Britain gives me what they have said, in other words, the kingdom of Syria, then I will be, in a sense, I will accept the state of Israel.

EVANS: As a separate state or as a mixed state?

FROMKIN: Not as a mixed state.

EVANS: As a separate state.

FROMKIN: Yeah. But of course, the British tried to give him Syria. They did in fact (almost all of it ?). But then the French army came and drove him out.

EVANS: So the French are to blame.

FROMKIN: There's the French to blame. (Laughter.)

EVANS: Glad to hear it.

FROMKIN: Yes, yes, yes. But of course, then they made it up to him. They made it up to him because they made him king of Iraq, which was just as good.

EVANS: Now, take me to Iraq. Let's go back because Iraq is rather present with us today. The creation of the state of Iraq -- and everybody who has read Gertrude Bell sees her as a the heroine like they saw Lawrence of Arabia as the hero. So in the light of later events, was Iraq one of the biggest mistakes the British made?

FROMKIN: No, I'm not sure that it necessarily was a mistake. Do you think it was a mistake?

EVANS: I'm not the professor. (Laughter.)

FROMKIN: Well, think of the other things they could have done. One thing they could have done was taken these three provinces and not put them together.

EVANS: (Inaudible.)

FROMKIN: So each of the -- I mean, the Kurds would have theirs, everybody. And you could see advantages to that. But let's say that Britain actually did that. Would not progressive opinion everywhere denounce Britain for pursuing a policy of divide and conquer? Because if you split them up into three little provinces, no one of them -- (inaudible).

EVANS: That was quite a recent idea by the previous leader of the Council on Foreign Relations was to split them up. Right? Am I not right?

FROMKIN: Yes.

EVANS: It doesn't mean it was a bad idea -- (inaudible). (Laughter.)

FROMKIN: Yes.

EVANS: So I'll give you a pass on that. What about Afghanistan?

FROMKIN: No because I have a larger objection. I don't think they should have split up the Ottoman Empire at all.

EVANS: My heavens! We should all be speaking Turkish.

FROMKIN: That's a nice language. You know -- (inaudible). Yes. But if we're -- are we sort of done with Lawrence of Arabia? Because if we are, I should tell a story about him.

EVANS: Yes, we are finished with him.

FROMKIN: I should tell a story about him.

EVANS: (I think Turkey ?) is more interesting in a way, more important. So in a way, the Turks are now trying to enter Europe and are being given a kind of closed door, and yet they were so important and so powerful. Do you think it would be -- I'm going back to some of the problems of today -- would it be helpful now for Turkey to be admitted to the European Union?

FROMKIN: Yes. (Laughter.)

EVANS: One or two people may disagree. Now, just before we turn -- I'm going to ask for questions from the audience in a moment. I'd hate to let him go because he's so fascinating. Trace if you can for me the relationship between the events you've written about here and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism leading to 9/11. As the way I've read the afterward of your book, there's almost a very faint justification, not for what al Qaeda did but for the irritation of the fundamentalists with what happened to the Muslim world.

FROMKIN: And probably a justifiable -- none of the things they have done are justifiable, but certainly an irritation that in the West we don't know that that's what happened. We don't know. When he -- (inaudible) -- after 9/11 gave his TV --

EVANS: About the crusades.

FROMKIN: Yeah, and saying it was because of what the West had done 80 years ago. And had people on my TV set, couldn't seem to figure out what happened 80 years ago. That makes people very angry. And by the way, let me -- there's a flip-side of that. For reasons I couldn't understand at first but now I do, I'm a big hero in Turkey. I haven't done anything to make myself a hero. But twice under two different presidents of Turkey when I was taking a yachting cruise there, I got letters from the president of Turkey saying, I understand you're going to be in Turkey, would you be my guest and come and see me? And the thing is, I was trying very hard in the book to be as impartial as I could. I have no recollection of saying anything that was especially Turkish, but it does continue all the time.

EVANS: And I think I can justify that. It is not a partial book at all, but I can see why he was sympathetic because the perspective you give of what happened and the history actually must give satisfaction to a lot of Muslims because it shows what was there and how the imposition by the British actually took very little regard of their religious ideology.

I'm going to, at this point, I have to turn it over, unfortunately -- but I mean, not unfortunately -- questions. (Laughter.) Please identify yourself.

Any of you got any questions? Come on, there must be 100 questions. Where are we?

Sir -- oh, my friend here. Yeah. Identify.

QUESTIONER: I'm Paul Gallob (ph) from Times Books. David, I just would like to hear more of something that you mentioned in passing where you said they shouldn't have broken up the Ottoman Empire. How do you feel the last 80 years, to pick a number, would have transpired if the Western powers had kept the Ottoman Empire together? And how do you see everything playing out in terms of the Arab world and what would be happening and so on with relations with the West and so on and the other countries in the region?

FROMKIN: Well, I think that by recreating the political linchpins and structure pre-World War I, you would go a long way towards perpetuating that kind of world. I mean, to put it sort of more almost in a nutshell, it would be like getting a lease on life for the 19th century. The Ottoman Empire would go back to being a buffer. The great powers would be doing their own thing, whatever they wanted to do.

It seems to me that the passage from the 20th century to the 19th would not be as bloody and -- (inaudible) -- as it was. Does that answer it?

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

EVANS: Wait for the microphone.

QUESTIONER: You have the whole rise of Arab nationalism in the 20th century and, you know, I mean, what would have happened? I mean, would the state of Israel been created or not? I realize this is hypothetical question and so on, but when you say, oh, things would have been better if in 1920 the great powers had said, you know, we're not going to carve up the Ottoman Empire, we're going to keep it with its capital in Istanbul and so on, and we'll keep the sultan, or we'll keep some sort of constitutional monarchy or something, what do you see as what would have transpired or problems that we have today that would not have happened because of it?

EVANS: Yeah, coming to you, sir. Take the microphone to this gentleman over here. While you're dealing with this question from Mr. Gallob (ph) -- just hold on a second, I want to hear the answer to this. The question is, it's all very well to say the Ottoman Empire should have been preserved. What do you see different if it hadn't been preserved? They would have been ruling those people. Would they have been ruling them to Western, quote, "civilized standards?"

FROMKIN: Well, what you ask about is the rise of Arab nationalism as a specific thing. And that seems to me not as authentic a movement as is portrayed. At the beginning of "A Peace to End All Peace," when Kitchener is quoted on his attitude about what moves the Muslim world. He says, religion is everything there.

Now, what the British tried to do -- and again, that's in the book -- what the British tried to do, seeing that they couldn't match the Turks and their sultan on the religious turf, so they were led to create another force. Not because they wanted to but because that was the only one left. They wanted to create Arab nationalism. And they haven't very much succeeded, even in the course of these past 100 years.

EVANS: Sir.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Alan Heimert from Columbia Presbyterian. Thank you for reminding us about the First World War. I think everyone would agree that everything that's happened in the last 100 years is because of the unresolved issues from the First World War.

EVANS: Taking Versailles and the Balkans and so on.

QUESTIONER: You didn't mention oil. Some time after the First World War, the emergence of the importance of oil occurred. And by the end of the war, because it was recognized to be very important, especially to the military, and the Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, I think, recognized it, how important was the discovery of oil in that region to this history?

FROMKIN: Well, that allows me a great privilege that historians have. I mean, it's quite right. It isn't in my period, you know. (Laughter.)

EVANS: Speak up, David.

FROMKIN: Okay, yes. Churchill, yes, was early in recognizing the importance of oil and changed the Royal Navy from coal to oil in 1911. But the world, as a whole, was just starting to, in the 1920s when my book comes to an end, so that by the end of the 1930s, oil is not merely an important factor but there are several countries that cannot, for example, go to war unless they can somehow get a source of oil. So yes, it was very, very important a bit later in the -- (inaudible).

EVANS: Another question over here.

QUESTIONER: Carl Myer (sp). David, a question. I'm struck by the fact that the three most volcanic eruptions against the European dominion of the Middle East were in countries that were not formally part of the British Empire -- Egypt under Nasser, Iraq with the Ba'athists and Iran with the ayatollahs. Was not part of the problem that Woodrow Wilson promised self-determination but in fact none of these countries, the three I've mentioned, really became authentic states, that they were, in effect, indirectly ruled by their former masters and that that bred the hostilities and the tensions that later exploded in our time?

FROMKIN: Well, I think I differ with you about Iraq. Starting in 1932, Iraq was fully independent. The mandate was canceled. The relationship with Great Britain was set forth in a treaty, that is to say between equal countries. As promised, Britain sponsored the Iraq application to the League of Nations for membership and was accepted. So in every formal respect, Iraq was an independent country. Nor did they accept British counsel and advice because that's, of course, a form under which independence is sometimes compromised. It wasn't, in that respect, like Egypt where the British did in fact assert a presence.

But the state of Iraq was largely run by ex-Ottoman officials and ex-Ottoman generals. The dividing line there was not between West and them. The dividing line was between the (Nouri Sayed ?) and a few other generals who had fought on the allied side. And the great mass of the military that ran Iraq were people who had fought on the Ottoman side. That was it. And they certainly made use of their independence to try to do England in at the beginning of the Second World War and a brief war then ensued.

EVANS: The lady at the back. Yeah.

QUESTIONER: Peggy Kerry, U.S. Mission to the U.N. You said you had a story about Lawrence of Arabia, and I wondered if you would tell it to us.

EVANS: Did you hear that?

FROMKIN: Yes, okay. You'll enjoy it only if you occasionally indulge in a really wicked wit.

EVANS: Which she does.

FROMKIN: You do? Good. Okay. Well, it was just at the end of the First World War. Things were over, and England, 1919, thereabouts, there was much rejoicing. Now, everybody had just heard about Lawrence of Arabia. One million people went to see Lowell Thomas' Lawrence show in London -- 1 million -- and he then took it around the world. So here was this glamorous figure, and everybody wanted him for their cocktail party. And it was very difficult indeed. But it seems that one famous hostess managed somehow or another to get to come to her salon. And she was gathered with a group of her admirers, and she was expounding on her ideas about a Middle Eastern settlement. And suddenly, she looked down, and she saw that in the group around her there was Lawrence of Arabia. Realizing how foolish she must look telling him about the Middle East, she stopped immediately and said, but, Colonel Lawrence, you must excuse me, you must think me very silly indeed, talking to you about the Middle East. After all, she said, I know very little about it. And he said, you are wrong, Madame, you know nothing about it. (Laughter.)

EVANS: You, there, identify, please. Stand, stand, stand.

QUESTIONER: Yes, hello. Sharene Brysock (ph). My question concerns the Sunnis and Shi'a in Iraq. In 1921 when they were creating a state of Iraq, a nation of Iraq, the Shi'a, I believe, were about 50 percent, the rest of them were Sunnis, Assyrian Christians, Jews, whatever. Now, the British really favored the Sunnis. And we lived to regret that. Do you see any parallels in the current situation? Paul Wolfowitz famously declared that there were no Shi'a shrines in Iraq when we went in. Was there a real fallout from this preferential treatment of the Sunnis in 1921 over the Shi'as who were the majority even then?

FROMKIN: I'm not really sure. And this is going to be like -- I'm so glad I just told the Lawrence joke because you've just written, and I understand quite marvelously, answering the questions that you were put. But I think that what the British did was to consult administrative convenience in many ways. Much of the relative infighting was between, as you know, between the government of India and the people in (the home office ?). So I'm really not sure that --

EVANS: Would you say something about Gertrude Bell in that context?

FROMKIN: Oh, yes. I mean, Gertrude Bell -- yes. Gertrude Bell was in fact the founder, you know, of Iraq in its present constitutional shape.

EVANS: Yes, this young man here.

QUESTIONER: I'm Aristide Zolberg at the New School. Why was there no Kurdistan created in that settlement?

FROMKIN: That's an interesting question because it was in large part a mistake, so far as I can tell. What happened was that, as usual, in British government, opinions differed. And the question of Kurdistan came up at the Cairo conference of 1921, which is where Winston Churchill had simply assembled all of the experts on the Middle East from all over the globe.

Parenthetic note -- there was not one Middle Easterner amongst all those gathered who were such experts.

But as Churchill remembered it and one of his chief aides, Young, they had decided to create a Kurdistan despite all the problems with the infighting amongst different Kurdish groups. But they decided they were going to do that. The man on the spot, Cox, who was taking over as high commissioner, understood differently, or maybe he just claimed to. But he went ahead, and in creating the mandate documents for Iraq didn't give them a state. Churchill actually said, I thought we had decided to give it to them. But it was apparently too late to do anything about it.

EVANS: Here we are. Let's let the young man at the front here. Could you please identify yourself?

QUESTIONER: May I sit?

EVANS: You can stay seated.

QUESTIONER: Phil Talbot. You haven't brought Woodrow Wilson into the picture very much this afternoon. How could you say the 14 points influenced the shaping of events in the Middle East.

FROMKIN: I'm not sure that they really did very much influence things in the Middle East because the point that was devoted to the future of the Ottoman Empire was quite vague and didn't actually refer to independence but rather autonomous development. The United States, it was hoped by Lord George and others that the United States and Wilson would play a role. The proposed that the United States take the mandate for Constantinople and Armenia and the Straits, which would have put America in the world's hot spot while claiming to be doing something good. And the Senate just wouldn't go for that.

So the other countries were awaiting America's word before proceeding. That, according to many allied leaders, meant that they had to wait for about a year. And the loss of time between when they actually met and when they made a decision about the Middle East, was in itself possibly the determining factor in making it such a flawed --

EVANS: Because of Woodrow Wilson's sickness.

FROMKIN: Yeah.

EVANS: Professor Roger Lewis, where is he? He must have a question. (Laughter.) Since you're one of the -- no, you're one of the creators of the series, so do not hesitate out of this modesty.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.) Could I just add to what Professor Fromkin --

EVANS: Could you stand, please?

QUESTIONER: Roger Lewis, National History Center. The creation of the mandate system was a real break from the past. So it was at that -- (inaudible) --

EVANS: Could you hold the microphone closer? I'm sorry to be a bore. You can't be heard at the back. Like this -- speak straight into it. We want to hear you but they can't at the back.

QUESTIONER: All right. I just wanted to reemphasize the point that he has made, that is the creation of the mandate system in 1919.

EVANS: Is the mike -- it's not working. I'm sorry. It's not -- okay.

QUESTIONER: Third time! (Laughs.) Woodrow Wilson's policies did have a radicalizing effect in the Middle East, leading to the very reluctant embracing of the mandate system by the French as well as the British. And this was a fundamental change at the end of the First World War period.

EVANS: Thank you. Nobody's asked about Afghanistan. Have we lost interest in Afghanistan?

FROMKIN: If you're doing Afghanistan, then I get one more story, please?

EVANS: You want to say something about that?

FROMKIN: Yes.

EVANS: Please do.

FROMKIN: Okay. I had a friend, alas now dead, Walter Fairservice (ph), who was an archaeologist, an anthropologist and a very colorful figure. He was said to be one of the models for Indiana Jones. And Walter tried to get me to go on expeditions with him to Afghanistan, which I prudently declined. But he was telling me about one of his latest trips. Now, this goes back quite a number of years. He and a retired Marine colonel were up there in the mountains of Afghanistan, and they got lost. So they stopped and got down to kneel down and look at something on a map to see where they were. And they became aware of a presence. And they looked around, and there on a neighboring ridge was a whole line of Afghan warriors with their weapons and looking extremely sinister.

And the Marine got up and walked very slowly so everybody could see his hands. And he walked to his camel and very slowly took out a rifle so everyone could see. And then went -- (sound effect). And one of the Afghan warriors went over to look at the coin, dead center. So the Afghans just rode away. (Laughter.) And as they were walking away, the colonel said to my friend, Walter, you know, he said, with traveling these mountains as I have for so long, one of the things I always do now is I take a saddlebag filled with coins that have holes in the center. (Laughter.)

EVANS: Now, I hope you'll tell Richard Holbrooke story. One last question. This lady here, please.

QUESTIONER: As a specialist on the Balkans, one of the things that plagues us all now in terms is not Wilson's 14 points but the Mallette (ph) system which was adaptable to a system where private property didn't take a hold. But now we have this all over the region that you study. Were there debates about how to transform the Mallette (ph) system into something that was compatible with the concepts of sovereignty and private property? Or are there ways that you think about this that we could now solve some of these problems, whether it's Bosnia or Iraq?

FROMKIN: No, I don't know of any plan to convert it. It's always been referred to as an example of how they could flexibly deal with a multinational country. But no, I don't. It sounds like a very interesting thing.

EVANS: Is there any hope -- just following up on that question -- of getting the treatment of women better in the Muslim countries? I mean, it's so appalling. Yes?

FROMKIN: No. What I'm thinking of is -- as a matter of fact, if I told you another story then it would take a while.

EVANS: We're all right for time.

FROMKIN: Okay. A story that was told by what was then the oldest man in the U.S. Senate, Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona. And he used to tell about his days as a sergeant in the Arizona frontier. And Arizona wanted to become a state. That meant they had to clean things up. That meant that they couldn't let the Indians go on having many wives. So Hayden was called in since he was the relevant officer, and he was told to go out to the reservation and tell the Indian chief there that he could only have one wife. And the federal guy came along with Senator Hayden to see the Indian chief. And they explained it to him that he had to decide which woman he really loved, and that one he could marry. All the other ones he had to tell them that he didn't love them enough so he wasn't going to take them.

And the federal man -- and Hayden said to the federal man, you want me to tell them that? (Laughter.) Yes, said the federal man. Hayden said, you do it.

So are you going to get the Muslim world to do the right thing as far women are concerned? I don't the hope of that.

EVANS: Last question from me. You've looked -- 1989, you wrote this absolutely wonderful, (enchanting ?) book. And now you've looked back in the afterward to the 20 years since -- (inaudible) -- after 1989 with the convulsions of al Qaeda, the end of the Soviet Empire. Now, that's a historian's point of view. Now, the futurologist in you is aching to predict the next 20 years. (Laughter.)

FROMKIN: (Laughs.) Yes.

EVANS: Do you see the present pattern of those nation states surviving, including Israel, by the way? Very important.

FROMKIN: It's interesting that there have been no questions on Israel.

EVANS: I know, but I was expecting a lot, but you can never tell. Maybe this is it.

FROMKIN: But let me, if I may, refer to what is, in a sense, for me, the conclusion of "A Peace to End All Peace." And what it is is that at the very end while Winston Churchill and others who have been involved in settling the First World War, including the Middle Eastern part, were satisfied with their work and felt that it was sort of done, you know, the decisions had been made. And they did not notice, but we, the reader, can at the end of the book, that especially at the lower level of the British government, the officials no longer really believed in the policy that they themselves were imposing.

EVANS: The Balfour Declaration you've described as --

FROMKIN: Absolutely. And the Balfour Declaration was already in, shall I say, bad repute in the British government by, say, 1923, thereabouts. So you had -- and the seeds of that are what came of course in the later time. But the notion of being put in a position where you have to enforce a policy that you don't believe in turns out to be a kind of theme.

EVANS: That's one of the mistakes then when the mandate ended and we tried to stop the immigration of Jewish people.

FROMKIN: Well, and the mandate didn't just end, it was repealed. Yeah.

EVANS: Listen, I think we could go on very much longer, but I must bring it to a conclusion. I want to particularly Roger Lewis and the National History Center for helping to arrange this and, most of all, thank Professor Fromkin for having written an absolutely stunning book, now updated with an afterward in June. Here it is. Don't miss it.

Professor Fromkin, thank you so much. (Applause.)

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