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Spies in ArabiaThe Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain's Covert Empire in the Middle East$

Priya Satia

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195331417

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195331417.001.0001

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Seeing Like a Democracy

Seeing Like a Democracy

(p.287) 9 Seeing Like a Democracy
Spies in Arabia

Priya Satia (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explains that the British state also wanted to hide the covert empire from its own public. Besides opting for cheap schemes that would escape the check of taxpayers (air control and an informal intelligence network), it also used censorship and the literary skills of its agent-bureaucrats to control information about the region. The public became increasingly suspicious of the state's betrayal of wartime promises of redemption in the Middle East, suspicions expressed in an emerging critique of state secrecy. At the center of this contest between the state and the public were the famous intelligence agents associated with the Middle East: to the public they were proof that the state possessed an effective covert arm and propaganda machine, and to the state they were proof that criticism of British activity in Iraq was the result of conspiracy by renegade agents.

Keywords:   democracy, state secrecy, propaganda, postwar politics, anti-imperialism, the press, scholarly societies, public opinion, anti-semitism, security state

When our beneficial railways are cut, our engines and trucks seized, and our telegraph wires torn down, it is time for us to drop the pose of liberators.

—“The Risings in Mesopotamia,” Times (London), August 7, 1920

In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.

—Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” 1967

Postwar hopes for redemption in the Middle East were constructed in the mass media, but it was there also that they crumbled in the face of growing evidence of the state's foul play. Mesopotamia was generally agreed to have evoked more passionate discussion, both laudatory and abusive, more quickly than any other issue in the immediate postwar era. It was “the burning political issue of the time,” according to the Indian Secretary Lord Peel. And its register changed dramatically: “From the days when this land of ‘untapped wealth and virgin oil’ was thought to be only waiting … ‘to pay the whole cost of the war’, to the days of the furious ‘bag and baggage’ campaign [calling for] the severance of all connection with the accursed land, might seem a far cry indeed,” wrote Richard Coke, “but the two periods were … separated by less than forty months.”1 In a sense, the early hopes had always been tinged with a prophetic dread; Lawrence's mass popularity was double-edged, at once (p.288) stoking hopes for redemption in the desert and raising hackles at the vision of their apocalyptic fulfillment. But the turn of the tide was heralded by the Iraqi rebellion and the government's apparent abandonment of the path of imperial expiation in favor of secret pursuit of a tired old imperialism—whose secrecy was never complete. As the state vanished from public view, the British public, like the Iraqis, remained hot on its scent, ever imagining the worst.

We have long known that air control was partly designed to silence the domestic fury over extravagance in Mesopotamia at a moment calling for sober consideration of Britain's postwar recovery. But the strategy didn't work: criticism continued, for it was not, after all, only about economy. Indeed, as others have shown, public opinion remained recalcitrant enough to force continual reformulation of the mandate arrangement as Whitehall strove to appease both it and Iraqi opinion. But this obligingness was accompanied, as we have seen, by the evolution of covert empire, which allowed the British state to preserve things substantially as it liked. And this, it turns out, was the major bone of contention with the public—not cost but official secrecy surrounding the Middle East. If anything, the cheapness of air control heightened concern about such secrecy; indeed, the purpose of cost-cutting, its framers acknowledged, was not only economy but imperial autonomy—freedom from fiscal accountability to the public. It made the “taxpayer question” disappear. Emerging at the same moment as the new postwar mass democracy, the techniques of covert empire were designed to evade both the Iraqi and the British public.2

State secrecy was a pressing issue in the decade following the massive postwar expansion of the British electorate and the first interludes, at least, of Labour Party rule, in 1924 and 1929. In this increasingly self-consciously mass democracy, mindful of the follies of the recent past, faith in the paternalism and reserve that had long defined national identity and the British government style was on the wane.3 And the government's Middle Eastern policy seemed to epitomize the “oriental methods” that a mass democracy could no longer tolerate. I am less interested here in the much fought over question of whether ordinary Britons knew or cared about their empire than in the interesting ways in which, at this critical juncture, various opinion-makers became exercised about public ignorance about affairs in the Middle East and went to great lengths to awaken the British public to the fact that their ignorance had been deliberately contrived by a government determined to enlighten them according to its own lights. Covert empire was partly the product of the struggle for control of foreign policy waged between the state and the cognoscenti among the British public; the critique of secrecy begat more secrecy.

Unsurprisingly, the agents figured centrally in this struggle: on the one hand, the state's efforts to “manage” the mass democratic public sphere, (p.289) through secrecy, censorship, surveillance, and propaganda, was inspired by its exaggerated perception of recreant agents' powers to manipulate it; on the other, many sections of the public, building on wartime loss of faith in official news, saw in those agents' much-noted activities and cunning wielding of the pen symbolic proof of the existence of covert empire.4

The Press vs. the State

During the war itself, British activity in the Middle East was shrouded in a veil of secrecy, partly to avoid arousing the ire of anti-imperialists. The Times continually complained about the lack of information. “Why is the Persian Gulf campaign ignored?” the paper demanded; after all, it was “the most successful campaign of all” and “as much a British war as the campaign in Flanders.” Even allowing for the mysteriousness of Arabia—the inaccurate reports deriving “from the bazaars of Baghdad, a home of fairy tales from immemorial times”—it was baffling that the troops' “gallant efforts … should be so sedulously veiled.” Edmund Candler, who began to fill some of the gap with articles suffused with Biblical references, pointed to the intricate censorship regime produced by the need to keep Indians from knowing about the German call to jihad and to avoid offending the Arab allies (thus the term “friendly Arab” was banned because it implied the existence of unfriendly ones). Elsewhere, Allied news was generally considered reliable, affirmed Candler, but in Mesopotamia it was “nowhere believed,” and “rumour flourished.” His complaints were picked up in the wider press. Dunsterforce only enhanced the aura of clandestinity, which was matched farther west in the Arab Revolt. For covert operations relying on untested military tactics, concealment was de rigueur.5

It was the monumental failure at Kut that kept Mesopotamia from becoming a picturesque but little-known subplot of the war's grand narrative in British eyes. As the War Office seized control of the campaign, the Mesopotamia Commission exposed the Indian government's management blunders in its notorious report of June 1917. An “exposé,” it set the tone of public opinion about Mesopotamia as a closeted adventure bungled by a cabal of incompetent and greedy politicians. The scandal had, in the words of one astonished contemporary, “kindled the feelings of the British public in a way that nothing else has done since the disclosures from the Crimea.” Public joy over the force's fresh successes that very year did not, Arnold Wilson assures, “dull the demand for retribution” in the popular press. The Morning Post printed Kipling's poetic fury against the craven leadership in “Mesopotamia” (characteristically, its reproduction in Mesopotamian papers was censored). This flak was swept up (p.290) on the official side in annoyance at the untimely publication of the damning report just when the force had reformed itself and was accompanied by a desperate effort to educate the public about its romantic achievements since the fall of Baghdad in March. Sincere though many Britons were in their hope for imperial redemption in the Middle East, officialdom also deliberately propagated that hope in order to strengthen morale and win public opinion over to the idea of empire in the Middle East. In a war famous for putting euphemism to such excessive and invidious use that it gave “propaganda” its unequivocally negative modern connotation, many works on Arabia, often explicitly written to official order and vetted by the War Office, insistently impressed their readers with the campaigns' worthiness and glamour. The Mesopotamia campaign's public relations appeal persuaded the pious and shrewd Prime Minister Lloyd George to make Jerusalem a “Christmas gift” to the British people—just when the Passchendaele offensive ended in costly failure. The Palestine campaign was, Eitan Bar-Yosef writes, “consciously staged by the British government as an exercise in propaganda, shaped, filtered and capitalized on in order to enhance the nation's morale.” All those references to the Crusades were designed to resonate with the deepest beliefs of a long-suffering public.6

The euphoric reaction to the fall of Jerusalem, described in chapter 5, was in fact carefully orchestrated. And the agents were critical to the belated publicity effort. The War Office sent Harry Pirie-Gordon to write popular articles on it, and Lowell Thomas landed up at Lawrence's tent in search of that rare thing, a Great War hero, to rouse the latent militarism of the United States. He was sent by Gertrude Bell's old friend Cecil Spring-Rice, ambassador to the United States, and John Buchan, director of the Department of Information. The agents had always lived by the pen, and in the war, we know, propaganda had become a focus of their “intelligence” work, most conspicuously in Mark Sykes's vision for the Arab Bureau. Bell now composed articles for British press release for the War Office. She anonymously authored The Arab of Mesopotamia, a collection of historical and ethnographic essays that circulated among the troops and London literary circles to favorable reviews. Her office also issued handbooks impressing the troops with Mesopotamia's ancient role as the “main avenue for riches and the wealth of the East” and assuring that their so-called sideshow was what stood between India and the war. Likewise, the tireless Hogarth winced only at the first part of his son's description of his vocation as “imperialist propagandist.” At home, Sykes, who was highly instrumental in garnering support for the Jerusalem campaign in Whitehall, urged Clayton to dispatch “popular” and “picturesque” reading for the average churchgoing Briton and “rivet the British onto the Holy Land.” In the Observer, he described Jerusalem as a “new Light of the World” that would shine on all men and (p.291) nations and bid them to “take up their lives again with hope reawakened and faith renewed.” It would replace The Hague's “hypocritical conversations” among corrupt lawyers, diplomatists, and soldiers. He saw in it a means of renewing Christendom, of stimulating the flow of pilgrims to Jerusalem, of fulfilling the very dreams that had sent him to Arabia in search of personal redemption before the war. He spent hours editing propaganda put out by Buchan's department before finally setting up his own department for Middle East propaganda in the Foreign Office. He went on lecture tours spreading anti-Turkish propaganda and giving currency to the term “Middle East.” His dramatic maps of Germany's “Drang Nach Osten” could be found all over Fleet Street. And then, immediately after the war, when various nations' destinies were being determined at Versailles, veterans of the Middle East earnestly hawked their tales to the hungry papers, feeding the media frenzy around its heroes. Working his contacts on Fleet Street, Lawrence submitted a series of anonymous eyewitness accounts of the revolt—based on his intelligence reports—to the Times, which together read like a serialized adventure story. Everything they believed in as agents—literature, epic adventure, cunning—came together in this publicity effort.7

This spark of excitement began to peter out under the trickle of news about unrest and unresolved tensions in the region following the armistice. Many worried that the campaigns had produced a vastly expanded empire with expensive defense needs at precisely the wrong moment from their point of view as taxpayers faced with the burden of Britain's economic recovery. Indeed, why should they be paying through the nose for the upkeep of a country “advertised since our conquest … as an Eldorado”? In the wake of the 1920 rebellion, the press began to roundly condemn the government's “insane policy in the Middle East.” Some of this attack was politically motivated—Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail and Lord Beaverbrook's Daily Express fired the first salvos partly out of an effort to get rid of Lloyd George—but it soon spread to all quarters, from the Morning Post to the Labour benches to the Empire Review to the Times to the Liberal Daily Chronicle and Labour Daily Herald. As many commented, “that blessed word Mesopotamia,” so long a synonym for instant comfort (per an old English story much cited at the time), had become instead an epithet for all bad news. In an angry series titled “The Development of Mesopotamia” in the Times, George Buchanan, the soured wartime conservator general of the Mesopotamian rivers, inveighed against the wild exaggerations of the country's economic possibilities and the boondoggling extravagance of the military authorities. Baghdad was a “comparatively modern and uninteresting city” unlike anything in the “Arabian Nights,” disclosed a wised-up General Haldane, breaking the spell cast by a generation of unseeing fantasists. In magazines, (p.292) veterans wagered the Arab could develop his own country better left to himself; the more self-interestedly cynical Spectator grew resigned that the British could expect no material reward, “not even gratitude,” from Mesopotamia. Far from engaging in developmental investment, the government had indulged in careless “speculation.” So recently treated to “rapturous prophecies” about restoring Mesopotamia, the idealistic Guardian found it infuriating to be told a year later that “we must now suddenly button up our pockets and let the Arab and his ancient glories go hang.” For a brief moment, even the rabidly imperialistic Churchill found the idea of hanging on to these “thankless deserts” at any cost “sinister” and “gratuitous,” not least because “there is no point of which [the press] make more effective use to injure the Government.” In the election of November 1922, Andrew Bonar Law rode to victory on a promise to end superfluous adventures in the midst of this press campaign. “British policy in this part of the world is continually the subject of minute scrutiny in the Press,” observed a wartime agent by way of introduction to his tellingly titled The Truth about Mesopotamia, Palestine and Syria (1923). “The matter is one about which information is desired by all.” The issue had spilled beyond the recondite world of experts; the people wanted to know, for their hopes of redemption had been pinned on it.8

They desired that information so desperately because it was desperately difficult to come by. On his return to London, Haldane was not alone in remarking the public “ignorance about the rising.” But the palpable press silence—on details if not on demands for them—was not willful but officially contrived: the more the British public strove to hold the government to account by ambushing it in the press, the less information was made available. For when things began to badly wrong on the ground, the administration reverted to its earlier caginess while awkwardly attempting to preserve the appearance of regenerating Paradise. Air control and the attendant institutions of covert empire were put in place. The British administration's censorship of news in and from Iraq—the government published the only local newspapers—produced a commotion in the British press, where it was denounced as a transparent attempt to shore up the illusion of tranquility (Beaverbrook's revenge was the Daily Express's revelation of Lawrence's presence in the RAF). Air operations grew so covert that the RAF was stopped from decorating John Glubb for fear of parliamentary questions about the undisclosed actions for which he was being recognized. The elusiveness of statistics, frequent recourse to euphemism, and blatant misrepresentation of what was going on all masked the regime from public scrutiny—in its lack of provision for public surveillance of the aerial inspectors, air control departed significantly from the classic panopticon. Notwithstanding the growth of organized tourism, entry to the region was (p.293) strictly controlled by the RAF. Many British travelers were put off with vague excuses about unsafe conditions; Europeans and migrant Iraqis, Indians, and Persians were regarded with deep suspicion and unofficial excuses found to deter their visits. Besides nomadic peoples and pilgrims, suspicious persons included those displaced by the war and the Russian Revolution—Assyrians, Armenians, Indian laborers and soldiers, Turks, Russian-German refugees, Persian mujtahids, Kurds, Russians, and so on—whose general vagrancy threatened to spread too much information about the nature of British influence in the region. These and other policies of the unfolding covert empire remained deliberately and closely sheltered from public view. Of the creation of Transjordan at the Cairo Conference, for instance, the Middle East Department deemed, “The less we say publicly … the better.” Churchill declared his general aversion to “making further public pronouncements upon matters which must inevitably arouse controversy.”9

Arabia had again become a place that did not produce information, but this time, the explosively growing press knowingly laid blame for its coyness at the feet of its new administrators. The far from radical Times put itself at the head of this prototypical freedom-of-information campaign, couching its critique of the government's “huge designs in Mesopotamia” as part of an assertion of democratic control of foreign policy. Wartime concern about secret diplomacy had put even this “newspaper of record” on its guard, less stridently perhaps than the radical-liberal Union for Democratic Control—more, as we shall see, in the populist (but ever dignified) vein of a guardian of English common sense and constitutionalism. From the outset, it argued that Britain was too overextended to remain in Iraq, whatever its obligations to territories it had liberated, but, more importantly, that “the time is past when any Government could commit the nation to the acquisition of a considerable new Empire … without first making an exhaustive public statement of their intentions.” This was a critique of the state more than of a particular party. Concern over expenditure was not separate from but the starting point of a halting critique of government secrecy about the Middle East. In the Commons, a frustrated Liberal among the many elected in 1922 on the pledge to reduce expenditure in Mesopotamia, asked, “If £137,000 had been spent on a residency in Mesopotamia without any home department knowing anything about the project till the work was well advanced, how was the House to feel assured that this £800,000 would not be spent in the same manner?” If the “average citizen” who had been kept ignorant of “what we have been doing there” had at least been apprised of “what it has cost him,” he might have complained even more loudly, reckoned the Spectator. The public required immediate “enlightenment” on Mesopotamia because it was not merely a matter of “foreign politics,” concurred the Guardian, but (p.294) “bread-and-butter politics.” The press framed the conflict as a contest between the public—for which it spoke—and the government: when, goaded by the Times, Herbert Asquith beat Churchill with the economy stick in the Commons, the government responded by tartly advising skeptics like him to “assume most of the statements in The Times are wrong,” to riotous laughter. Among those involved in the debate was the dissident ex-agent and Conservative member of Parliament (MP) Aubrey Herbert, who wrote to the Times amplifying his disapproval of profligate expenditure on the defense of a “land without frontiers”: “Honesty and openness remain the best and the cheapest policy,” he advised, reckoning heavy taxation as the price of “secrecy and the repudiation of our pledges.”10

If ruinous financial extravagance did not provide sufficient evidence of the poor judgment exercised in the exalted corridors of government, the continuing commitment to military action at a time when the rest of the country hungered for peace provided indisputable proof. Of particular concern was the news that after the killing of British officers in Kurdish Iraq, “straightaway, without the knowledge of the public at home, tiny punitive columns were mobilized.” If the British government worried about secret Russian or Turkish incursions in their Middle Eastern empire, the British public was equally concerned about its own government's covert operations in the region. The frontierlike Middle East offered vastly enlarged scope for the secret warfare until then safely (and relatively cheaply) confined to the small corner of the North West Frontier. In Mesopotamia, they had a “new infinitely bigger frontier problem on our hands”—which also meant bigger secret operations. The Times believed operations in Kurdistan since the armistice had been “far more considerable than the public have been allowed to know.” The daily editorial onslaught grew increasingly shrill, and the paper warned Churchill to heed the fact that, “as on the Indian frontier, so in Mesopotamia and Persia, the concealment of unfavourable news will no longer be tolerated. There has been far too much secrecy about the military operations in Mesopotamia.” “The nation” had to have information in order to judge for itself the wisdom and practicality of the Mesopotamian venture. (The Guardian echoed these sentiments, if somewhat more deferentially.) Belated news of the extent of the uprising in August 1920, drawn from the dispatch of the Tehran correspondent, fueled this fire. Before the war, such incidents would have kept the country ringing with news, the editors pointed out wistfully, insisting that public perception of their seriousness had not been lessened by the “altered conceptions of casualty lists” of the last four years. It was not the public, but the state, that had become numb to violence; its covert prosecution of violent small wars confessed its distance from a public that had exorcised the demon of militarism during the war.11

(p.295) In these concerns about costs and continuous small wars, official mendacity was as much at issue as secrecy. The Times knew they would have to “probe much more deeply before we learn the whole truth about the Government's mysterious, costly, and questionable policy in the Middle East,” since official statements on the matter had long been “vitiated by evasions, concealments, and half-truths.” The paper's hunger for information grew increasingly ferocious as 1920 unfolded, and it damned the series of “evasions, of subterfuges, of concealments, and of positive mis-statements” that continued to issue from the government. Other papers echoed the “mistrust [of] all official figures from Mesopotamia.” The Times questioned sharply official conspiracy theories of Turkish and Bolshevist promptings behind the rising, favoring the more local and obvious mainspring of the British presence. They and the Guardian agreed that the big mystery about the rising was not so much its origins but the government's reluctance to submit to the public the actual extent of the problem and what it intended to do about it. The Spectator was more sympathetic to the possibility of real conspiracy but remained baffled at the government's refusal to exploit its most obvious antidote: publicity. Even the relief afforded by the 1922 announcement of military and financial reductions in the wake of the air control scheme did not muzzle antagonism of the government on these points. The government's actions looked as conspiratorial and sinister as anything emanating from the Middle East: the Times accused the War Office and the India Office of “combining” to conceal the gravity of the situation in Mesopotamia. The official renaming of the mandate from Mesopotamia to “Irak” (or “Iraq”), apparently a product of Churchill's “durbar in Cairo,” was deemed a mere ploy to divert taxpayers' from “a name of evil omen,” an accusation so frequent in the “more popular newspapers” that officials were compelled to noisily protest its greater semantic accuracy.12

As the snide reference to Churchill's “durbar” intimates, just as the state feared agents' overly zealous conversion to Arab ways, so the press feared that the state—perhaps through those agents—had lost its bearings and gone wildly native. Churchill's appointment to the Colonial Office in 1921 provoked qualms that he would “rule on an Oriental scale” in the Middle East. His special imaginative gifts made him all the more susceptible to “the seductions of the Orient,” warned the Times. After the Cairo Conference, the press challenged the government to “come out from behind the veil” and submit the issues to Parliament. Even once the Times had expressed its support for air control as an efficient means of colonial control, it continued to nag the government for falling short of full public disclosure, for instance, during the hushed visit of the colonial and air secretaries to Iraq in 1925. Rhetorically absorbing official secrecy into the esoteric nature of the country, the paper could only muse on (p.296) the undisclosed matters “mixed up with the tangled ethnography, history, and religions of this very remote corner of one of the oldest countries of the world.” What was more, the government seemed also to have adopted “oriental methods” in military practice—so that, for instance, the general commanding in Mesopotamia was also the commander in northwest Persia.13

Living with this oriental government, the press now developed a sympathy for its subjects in the Orient. Iraqi suspicions of British motives were fully warranted, the Times and the Guardian reminded readers, for this was the generation of Iraqis that had endured Great Power intrigue before the war and seen its postwar hopes crushed by “Western imperial aims.” And now Britons, they pronounced, had become victims of the same arrogant and unaccountable system of government. The Times likened unchecked ministerial power at home, produced by wartime expansion, to Arnold Wilson's “uncontrolled power” in Baghdad (which, they noted charily, had triggered insurgency there). Iraqis and Britons were linked in a common yoke of oppressive taxation. Lack of oversight had allowed “ambitious” officials in Iraq to inflict on the local population “taxation … beyond their capacity” while simultaneously “imposing upon the taxpayers of this country charges for Mesopotamia alone which seem likely this year to reach a total equal to half the pre-war Budget of 1913.” The claim to empathy at the heart of the air control regime may have been something of an empty phrase, but empathy was critical in the articulation of anti-imperial sentiment with respect to the Middle East, not so much in the sense of consciousness of a shared humanity but in the more particular feeling of shared misery under an autocratic state. And it was a piquant empathy, revealing how low British democracy had been brought—low enough to create common experience with an oriental people, part of that swath of humanity famous for having known nothing but despotism. It was less the state's imperialism than its imperiousness that stung. Indeed, many critics of Britain's Middle East policy protested their enduring faith in the justice and decency of the empire, pointing their swords punctiliously at the government's recent waywardness, its sudden reliance on “subterfuges and euphemisms.”14

In this regard, the significance of the wartime rise of a particular regime of expertise and influence over Middle Eastern affairs (echoed on an imperial scale with the rise of proconsuls such as Curzon and Alfred Milner in the war government) was not lost on the lay public. We have long known that Socialists took to warning the democracy about “experts” too interested in their own expertise to do right by the nation.15 But this critique had a particular currency with respect to Middle Eastern policy, whose concentration in the hands of “experts from outside” the Times repeatedly berated. With “every department a law to itself,” the experts at the helm of the “autocratic machinery” could (p.297) “embark … at their own will, often at their own whim, upon every kind of costly adventure, both at home and abroad,” railed Asquith in a campaign on the Isle of Wight, singling out Mesopotamia as a particular instance of this type of covert government. “Nobody knows” what they were doing there, he insisted, “and no responsible minister can tell us.” How was responsibility for Middle Eastern policy allocated? the Times asked pointedly. Was it under Curzon, Haldane, Churchill, Montagu? Everyone denied responsibility, but who, after all, did Cox report to? Watchful members of the public amplified these queries, while Lawrence, speaking as a “renegade from the enemy cause,” to borrow Richard Hofstadter's term, condemned the Arab Revolt as a “conspiracy to trick the Arabs into fighting for self-government” and twitched back the curtain in the Sunday Times to reveal that the Mesopotamian insurrection was the result of the British civil authorities being “controlled from no Department of State, but from the empty space which divides the Foreign Office from the India Office.” (He would soon patch things up with the government, graciously joining the Colonial Office (whose invitation was partly strategic) to help sort out the mess.) A gripping human-interest angle on this cause of the unrest was provided by the captivity story of a British administrator's wife, Zetton Buchanan, which reached the British public through the Times' publication of her letters to her sister, and then, by arrangement with the publisher of her inevitable book, a serialized rendition of her “adventures.” Her sense that “all the glamour” of Iraq, its “Arabian Nightish romance,” had departed was accompanied by a loss of faith in her government, which she saw “with very different eyes.” She wondered about the reasons for her bungled rescue in a by now familiar refrain: “Nobody could say, and there seemed no one responsible. Every difficulty was put in the way of my finding things out.” It was in the midst of this discussion about the lack of official accountability about Iraq that the People's Union for Economy formed to push for cleanup of the wartime explosion of the state, which had made covert empire possible by camouflaging dark corners of government in thickets of untamed bureaucracy. Churchill's creation of the Middle East Department in 1921 seemed alarmingly to suggest that, far from retrenching, the reign of experts was to be a permanent feature of peacetime government. The Guardian protested the wide berth and sweeping powers given to him in the months that he served simultaneously as colonial and air secretary. When Ibn Saud ousted Sherif Hussein from the Hejaz in 1924, Arnold Wilson wrote to the Times urging transfer of the department to the Foreign Office, since the “purely personal considerations” that had ensconced it in the Colonial Office had passed. The Guardian similarly seized that moment to point out again the damaging influence on Britain's Arabian policy of “enthusiastic experts … scattered” among (p.298) government departments. Concern about Middle East policy was bound up with concern about who was framing it, about the distortions the war had wrought on the state just when the public had steeled itself to assert a democratic check on it.16

The press did not consider their demands for ministerial accountability radical, merely calls for proper implementation of the constitution. In June 1920, news of the government's decision to assume a mandate for Mesopotamia elicited indignant complaints in the Times that it had done so “without obtaining the sanction of Parliament, or even of going through the pretence of seeking Parliamentary approval.” The existing democratic check of Parliament was especially vital, the paper urged, given the weight of the burden on the taxpayer and the obvious obliviousness to that condition of officials blissfully searching for sites to build airfields. The state was out of touch with common sense—the sense of ordinary Britons. Ministerial aloofness was particular disquieting now that ministers could wield their power in the remote venue of the League of Nations. The press maintained a tenacious watch over transgressions of parliamentary procedure in the name of the league, frequently calling British officials to order for making important announcements in Geneva before they had addressed their home public. (Baldwin's government certainly used the excuse of matters being “sub judice” at the league to evade uncomfortable questions about when, exactly, the British would be leaving Iraq.) For instance, echoing a fiery letter from the radical Liberal MP Joseph Kenworthy, the Times denounced as a “mockery” of popular and representative government the cabinet's failure to obtain parliamentary approval of the terms of the mandate before submitting them to the league; even the pro–League of Nations Guardian denounced this “despotism by the Executive.” The point was less that the nation did not want to hold on to a land that had always been “the grave of empires,” Kenworthy explained, more that this was the greatest departure from parliamentary oversight “since the days of the Stuart Kings.” It was a matter of constitutional rights, the Times seconded; Churchill would soon be gathering with his “array of experts” at Cairo to create a Middle Eastern empire without so much as a by-your-leave. The old “Crown vs. Parliament” conflict had revived in the guise of the “executive vs. the nation,” the paper declared. A gaggle of readers responded in enthusiastic accord. Similarly, in 1926 a Labour MP pointed to the diplomatic settlement of Iraq's frontiers as an example of the country's drift “towards government by individual Ministers, who appeared to take on themselves the settlement of great issues assured that they need only report their decisions to the House of Commons in order to get them ratified.” Such high-handedness betokened a dangerous reversion to “bad old ways” that would again risk “catastrophe,” intoned the Guardian.17

(p.299) Middle Eastern policy was thus central in heretofore unrecognized ways to the movement for democratic control of foreign policy. It was in this political climate, indeed in the midst of Labour questions about the secret diplomacy at Lausanne, where in 1922–1923 the Allies were attempting to arrive at a fresh agreement with Turkey, that E. D. Morel, having ousted Churchill from his Dundee seat, proclaimed foreign and domestic affairs “inextricably intertwined” and Labour's opposition to their being carried on “under a veil of secrecy.” His party, he announced, would “press relentlessly for full democratic control over foreign affairs.” (It is another matter that when Labour took office in 1924, Ramsay Macdonald famously brushed aside Morel's claim to the foreign ministry, abandoning the vision of democratic diplomacy to realpolitik.) The secret wartime correspondence with Sherif Hussein was another thorn in the side of radical Liberal and Labour MPs committed to democratic control of foreign policy. (Lloyd George's pose of indignation prompted Asquith's facetious reminder of his usurper's own failure to publish it.) And it was in particular the Middle Eastern mandates, whose idealistic framework practically cried out for betrayal by the powers that be, that made the League of Nations central to radical Liberal and Labour concerns about secret diplomacy.18

Diplomacy was the “last redoubt” of the aristocracy, and this made diminishing sense, critics argued, in an era of total war in which the masses suffered the consequences of diplomacy. But alongside this apprehension about the state's social and physical distance from the people emerged complaints of the more sinister abuse of power in the service of private interests, oligarchy adding insult to the injury of autocracy. The government's actions made sense, the Times explained in somewhat paranoid accents (if not unjustifiably), when one recalled that “in the background, and very audible though only dimly visible, are the gentlemen representing various conflicting oil interests, all hammering on the doors of Ministerial offices.” The bureaucratic disorganization fostered by wartime autocracy had multiplied the shadowy spaces in which private interests could corrupt the government, nowhere more so than in the informally organized world of the Middle Eastern covert empire. The War Office claimed to be sick of the whole Mesopotamian adventure, reported the Times, but, “Who, then, is responsible for its continuance? We can only surmise that somewhere in the background there are traces of the influence of oil.” They and the Guardian repeatedly claimed to articulate a generally prevailing fear of government consorting with private interests, from oil to carpet factories, at public expense (and in contravention of mandatory rules), evidence for which they found in the frequent reappearance on the scene of former public officials and experts in new private guises—the press had learned to recognize the ways of covert empire. Audiences were clearly receptive to this line of argument: in (p.300) a campaign speech, Asquith's rhetorical questions about the meaning of British Middle Eastern policy elicited spontaneous heckles of “oil.” At Lausanne, too, Labour spied a “hidden hand … behind the scenes”—oil interests “pulling wires” in every hotel lobby—although its accusations merely elicited the government's patronizing diagnosis that the opposition was unreasonably obsessed by the notion of “the hidden hand.” But then, the Guardian pointed out, the government claim of “sincerity, subjected to the ordeal of oil, comes out badly.” (Touché.) Rumors that the oil proposition was weaker than initially presumed only made the government more despicably venal in the Times' eyes for not only pursuing a private interest, but an unprofitable one at that. By 1923, the Panglossian Guardian had grown more dismissive of arguments that it was “all about oil,” doubting “a motive so paltry and so sordid” could have determined critical policies, but finding the government's continued equivocation on the matter an embarrassing liability as they affirmed its good faith. Echoes of the Union for Democratic Control's critique of the arms industry's corruption of government could also be heard in parliamentary questions about Britain knavishly subsidizing both the Sherifians and their enemy, Ibn Saud. Suspicion of a stealthy autocracy, crafty oligarchy, and other nefarious sorts of corruption of democracy via the Middle East remained a staple of radical-liberal critique in the Commons.19

Without wanting to equate them—some conspiracy theories have more merit than others (there was, after all, a covert empire in the making)—I do want to point out the important political-cultural fact of the shared taste for conspiracy thinking between postwar critics of empire and British officialdom, especially when it came to affairs in the Middle East. To be sure, British anti-imperialism had always possessed a conspiracy-theorist dimension. Drawing on theories of Jewish conspiracy, J. A. Hobson had interpreted mass consciousness as essentially irrational and vulnerable to the machinations of a jingoistic class. The Union of Democratic Control and the Independent Labour Party also pointed to the operation of a “herd instinct” in mass democracy, evident in its easy duping during the war. In this moment, Hobson's 1902 Imperialism received greater attention than ever before, but the masses' deception was blamed less on themselves and the jingoistic class than on a state that had betrayed its paternalistic duty to them—by allowing itself to be captured by that jingoistic class. The press—even the sensationalist dailies that Hobson had upbraided—now assigned itself the investigative task of unmasking the state's true identity and purposes. The jaded Times scoffed at “innocent imperialists” rabbiting away about the civilizing mission, the defense of India, and so on, without an inkling that the government was fraternizing with oilmen “behind the scenes” on the assumption that the British taxpayer “inoculated (p.301) with imperial enthusiasm” would be duped into paying for a permanent garrison to protect their interests. As in Whitehall, this popular conspiracy thinking traded on the trope of Arabian mysteriousness: only in a land so conveniently full of veils could hidden hands operate so freely. And it, too, found its enthusiastic adherents among the agents, among the smaller subset lost to officialdom. If, on the one side, Norman Bray and Mark Sykes appeared unhinged in their intense belief in conspiracy against the empire, on the other side was St. John Philby, exiled to Jeddah after his falling-out with the government in 1924, where a journalist colleague found him “slightly deranged” and obsessed with the idea that “British imperialism is at the bottom of everything.” Covert empire, itself grounded in political paranoia, necessarily (and often rightly) produced such limitless suspicion, as some keen-eyed observers, at home and abroad, deduced that the tranquil façade of mandatory government concealed a hidden reality but knew not how far to let their imaginations run.20

And the biggest provocation to their imagination was air control, whose establishment—in the teeth of considerable press skepticism21—certainly took some of the wind out of criticism of the costs of the Mesopotamian venture, momentarily resuscitating visions of a prosperous Iraq emerging from British tutelage (see chap. 5), but only amplified remonstrations about secrecy, this time about state-authored violence. Early on, concern about official secrecy surrounding Middle Eastern affairs was deepened by fears that it existed to hide embarrassingly un-British atrocities at the hands of the British occupiers. Why, asked the Guardian, did they need to send “all this machinery, all these forces, all these punitive expeditions … if we were establishing a political system on the basis of popular consent”? Suggestions of excessive force first surfaced during the rising, which some erstwhile promoters of the Middle East campaigns saw as the first proof of Britain's betrayal of its promises to the Arabs and the domestic public, emerging as part of the writing public taking up the cudgels against the postwar regime and incidentally (or perhaps not so incidentally) feeding their own heroic images in the media. Depressed in sudden political isolation at All Souls' and absorbed, significantly, in Doughty's “Adam Cast Forth,” Lawrence threw down the gauntlet in the Sunday Times (at the paper's request):

The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap … tricked into it by a steady withholding of information… . Our administration [has been] more bloody and inefficient than the public knows… . How long will we permit millions of pounds, thousands of Imperial troops and tens of thousands of Arabs to be sacrificed on behalf of a form of Colonial administration which can benefit nobody but its administrators?

(p.302) Glimmers of the true extent of the rising emerged in his graphic and sarcastic denunciations of the violent counterinsurgency: “It is odd we do not use poison gas,” he wrote in the Observer. “By gas attacks the whole population of offending districts could be wiped out neatly; and as a method of government it would be no more immoral than the present system [of burning villages].” He received letters of support from Wilfred Blunt, George Lloyd, Doughty, and the endlessly outraged Philby, whose jeremiads against British perfidy in Arabia found an eager audience through the mass media and prestigious lecture venues, including Nineteenth Century, the Nation, the Daily Herald, the Westminster Gazette, the Central Asian Society, the Anglo-Turkish Society, the Near and Middle East Association, the No More War Association, and the Summer School of the Fabian Society. People flocked to him as a famous authority on a place whose guilty possession had begun to produce a general sense of unease. Other disgruntled agents and officials, such as George Buchanan and Aubrey Herbert, also denounced the unreformed military administration of the mandates. Philip Graves, as the Times' correspondent in Jerusalem, wrote authoritatively on the fundamental incompatibility of Arabs' love for freedom with any highly bureaucratic form of government. The Guardian quoted Lawrence and Herbert at length to express its worst fears about the uses of airpower in tax collection.22

With the memory of these early events in mind as the air control regime was consolidated after the rising, many remained skeptical of official abjurations of cruel uses of airpower, such as for tax collection. Fears that frontier-style operations could occur in this vast, frontierlike region without public knowledge were doubled by the fear that those operations risked becoming extraordinarily violent without public oversight. The secrecy had to be covering something: what transpired behind the closed doors of the mysterious place known as Iraq must, they thought, be simply too grisly to bear the light of day. Neither was the government's sanitized language lost on them—the Guardian knew that “what the Colonial Office describes temperately as ‘air action’ ” was “commonly known as bombing” (and used not as a “last resort”), surmising that had two British airmen not been killed in the incident at hand, the public would have heard nothing of it. The British press knew it shared not only Iraqis' fiscal enslavement but also their ignorance about the violence done to their country, but here again empathy was undercut by the presumption that the source of the air force's corruption, like the government's, was the Middle East itself. If the RAF used the bomber as “a regular instrument of our administration” for, say, collection of taxes, warned the Round Table, “our rule will have become Oriental and its end will be near.” The Guardian similarly brooded that propping up an Arab government had put Britain in the position of using “methods discreditable to any civilised Power.”23

(p.303) They urged the House of Commons to extract full information from the government. And, indeed, in Parliament, too, the secrecy debate shifted from a focus on economy to humanity. It, too, was “a question of the Press vs the Administration,” declared the radical Colonel Wedgwood. Labour Party questions about Iraqi casualties invariably met with the bald assertion that, although no numbers were available, air operations had certainly resulted in fewer deaths than would have been produced by ground operations, usually prompting a vituperative rhetorical flourish from Labour on the lines of: “Don't you think the time has come to stop this hunnish, barbarous method of warfare against unarmed men?” But then the tables were, of course, turned when Labour took office in 1924. The radical Kenworthy continued to raise the issue of government reticence on air operations in Iraq, demanding clarification of obscure descriptions of “slight air action” at Sulimaniyeh. The undersecretary of state for air, William Leach, admitted he could not say whether the phrase indicated that any bombing or casualties had occurred. The debate ended with the usual burst of outrage, in this instance from the rebellious Labour backbencher George Lansbury, who asked, “Does the hon. gentleman think that by those operations we are teaching the natives … the blessings of the Sermon on the Mount? That is what the Germans did to us.” The debate was drowned out in raucous laughter. A few days later, Leach was again cross-examined on recent casualties and operations. Neatly skirting the issue, he strove to explain the different meaning of air action “in areas where violence is habitual”: his ostensibly reassuring example was an operation in which the RAF had killed all the men and boys in a raiding party that had allegedly killed nearly three hundred Iraqis. Such simpering obfuscations triggered Lansbury's demand for “a White Paper giving particulars of where and why these bombardments have taken place … together with the fact that no one but the airmen concerned is ever present to know whether inhabitants have been killed?” Within weeks, the Air Ministry issued a White Paper on the “Method of Employment of the Air Arm in Iraq,” in which, as we have seen in chapter 7, the defense of air control's humanity was formally laid out, centering on the argument that the “terror of the Air,” coupled with empathetic agents on the ground, saved lives through its “moral effect.” The argument about air control's humanity had been subsumed in an insistent demand for full disclosure—let the public judge, and control, it. The rationales for the slaughter had always been necessary for the conscience of the few in the know; now they became part of a politically more pressing—although entirely bipartisan—defense of air control as its lurid details trickled into the light of day.24

The silence about aerial operations in Iraq enforced a more general silence on the uses of the RAF, inspiring wise speculations that they were simply too (p.304) grim for public consumption. In the 1926 debate on the budget for air defenses, a frustrated young Clement Atlee confessed that his ignorance about the purpose of a separate air service remained undiminished if its primary function, as far as they were given to know, was merely to support the navy and the army. Was there some other secret purpose to which it would be put? Was it, he asked, pointing to Iraq, to be held “in terrorem over civilian populations?” Would it be used to destroy the “moral” of an enemy country? Critics continued to accuse the government of evasiveness about the “real meaning” of the air force, made easy by the alleged elusiveness of “results” in “remote parts of the world.”25

In a 1939 work titled Imperial Policing, Major General Sir Charles W. Gwynn was still marveling that “many sections of public opinion have drawn the conclusion that military control involves ruthlessness and reprisals to an extent which brings all action inspired by military authority under suspicion.” The more the state protested its mildness, the more the public suspected it protested too much. From the early speculations about Iraq, exposing the hidden brutalities of their empire became the obsession of liberal critics who came to shrewdly equate empire with militarism. A misty-eyed (and now fully blind) Aubrey Herbert recalled his prewar anticipation of British rule in the Middle East, explaining that that was a time when they ruled well and fairly, without kicking, cajoling, or exploiting. Such jerry-built nostalgia was supplemented by a more iconoclastic reconsideration of British imperialism. It was not only the Amritsar Massacre but the unending outcry over Mesopotamia that inspired Edward Thompson to interrupt his decade-long effort to render his Middle Eastern experiences with a revisionist account of the Indian “mutiny,” The Other Side of the Medal (1925). The New Statesman praised him for uncovering “the policy of terrorisation” behind that event. Two years later, his novel about the Mesopotamian campaign, These Men, They Friends, again strove to explain why the British had become so hated by other races. In 1931, on his way to India, he met another Mesopotamia veteran, Geoffrey Garratt, with whom he wrote Rise and Fulfilment of British Rule in India (1934).26

The State Strikes Back

Thompson was not only critical of secrecy about government brutality; he was also incensed by government “propaganda”; the equation of imperialism with militarism rested on the assumption “that virtue was only paraded in order to conceal vice,” to borrow the words of A. P. Thornton. It was the sense of a contest over truth about imperial affairs that determined Thompson to write his (p.305) books. He was echoed by a legion of somewhat less prolific skeptics. In 1928, critics seized on a press report about the detention of press telegrams in Baghdad. In answer to parliamentary questions, Colonial Secretary Leo Amery denied the allegation of censorship and cited a report from the high commissioner describing a long-standing arrangement by which press telegrams appearing to give “exaggerated or misleading” news were delayed so that his office could provide the journalist with the “true facts”—the difficulties posed by the Arabian information network providing a convenient, if sincere, excuse for censorship. But to Kenworthy and Wedgwood, this explanation merely added insult to injury; the system amounted to “government control of information sent by private Press correspondents in Mesopotamia,” in a word, “government ‘dope.’ ” Critics of covert empire were equally alive to the smoke and mirrors of the local authorities: “The civil authorities in Mesopotamia are unusually gifted in the practice of the arts of publicity,” the Times sneered, “but they tell us effusively the things we are not eager to know.” These detractors doubted the existence of a true democracy. “Propaganda,” they knew, was “the executive arm of the invisible government.”27

Indeed, besides Colonial Office and Air Ministry requests to local officials for statements on bombing policy, the attack on air control had provoked other kinds of public relations activity that built on the marketing lessons learned during the war. The Air Ministry mounted a series of air demonstrations and pageants to awe the British public and make it more “air-minded.” In 1920 and 1921, the demonstrations drew inspiration from the war, but from 1922 to 1930 they mimicked imperial policing in desert zones, invariably eliciting references to Iraq. On the eve of the 1923 Hendon display, the Times anticipated a “thrilling rescue … based on an actual occurrence in Iraq last year.” The paper hailed the 1927 display as a new departure for the crowd pleaser. Under Air Marshal Sir John Salmond's guidance, the stunning set pieces provided a “definite lesson,” depicting the rescue of a white population from the fury of a “barbarian mob” in a manner, again, recalling an incident in Iraq. Nor was there anything “artificial” about the 1930 exhibition, congratulated the paper; it recalled precisely the conditions in southern Iraq. These spectacular and fashionable events, which were copied in Fascist Italy, drew the highest social ranks among the hundreds of thousands who paid admission; innumerable others crowded together at nearby vantage points for a free glimpse. The presence of children was somewhat controversial, but they, too, attended in tens of thousands. Aside from the displays, RAF personnel such as Trenchard used recruitment tours around the country to expound on the humanity of air policing. Iraq's importance as a training ground for the RAF and a link in imperial air communications became part of this hard sell after Amery's 1925 visit to Iraq (p.306) convinced him of the need to postpone the British departure well beyond the four years then under consideration and thus to devise a fresh, nationalistic propaganda angle recasting Britain's role there.28

The 1924 and 1929 Labour governments' commitment to this publicity blitz was especially intense, for the party had to defend its continuance of Conservative policy to a confused constituency. In public lectures and press statements, Air Secretary Lord Thomson and Undersecretary Leach combined protestations of their pacifism and helplessness in the face of the previous government's binding legacies with affirmations of air control's many advantages. Thomson published Air Facts and Problems (1927), and Montagu, his successor in 1929, praised the RAF's humane work in Iraq in Parliament (pushing the Independent Labour Party and many Labour intellectuals toward a sharply critical stance on the party's colonial policy).29 Even Lionel Charlton, who had resigned from RAF service in Iraq in disgust at its violence, eventually paid his dues with his 1940 book, Deeds That Held the Empire, by Air, which, bafflingly, cites air policing in Iraq as an example of aviation as “an art of peace.”30

In the free cultural space outside the world of government propaganda—although perhaps also inspired by it—poets, pulp fiction, and films also glorified aviation, especially the war's flying aces. The mania for airpower, especially airpower in conjunction with imperial adventure, ensured that the Edwardian “pleasure culture of war,” in Michael Paris's phrase, remained in full force despite the revulsion against warfare that the Great War is presumed to have produced. It was thus that, in his 1936 edition of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, Yeats included his own “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” (1919) but notoriously ignored the war poets as too self-absorbed and too lacking in the operatic elements that were the backbone of soldiers' ballads. Airmen were not such ordinary soldiers; they were elites signifying a new military order, and if imperial conquest no longer seemed viable—or possible, given levels of global saturation—the task of maintaining peace in the Middle East from the air provided ample terrain for glorious adventure.31

Supplementing this romantic vision of the aerial empire was a more diversified effort to airbrush the overall image of the British Middle East, to which many agents who had long since staked their careers on the endurance of imperial romance rallied, as they had during the war. Desperate that the public be told something of what the British were “really doing” in Iraq, Bell sent the Colonial Office articles and photographs for press publication and urged film be used to reach an even wider audience, especially given Faisal's obvious draw in such a medium. It was not intended that pictures be shown “as propaganda,” explained her Colonial Office spokesman, Reader Bullard, only that “some good subjects which would be of interest to the public, could be found in Iraq (p.307) and that they would at the same time serve as propaganda.” By that time, the Middle East Department had hired a publicity agent responsible for serving up to the press whatever suitable material the department gave him. The agents' slippery status within the bureaucracy gave them exceptional latitude, and their long romance with the pen and with the notion of Arabia's suitability to literary representation helped blur the moment when their writings shaded from literary into propaganda pieces. Traditional constraints on government officials were abrogated for them: regulations stipulated that officials could not contribute even anonymously to periodicals on political or administrative issues, but in the case of Bell's “political” articles in the Round Table, which relied on official information, the Colonial Office ruled, “Miss Bell is by no means an ordinary ‘public officer.’ ” She was a long recognized authority on Arab affairs with an appointment of an “entirely exceptional character”; hence, “the letter of the law” need not be applied “too strictly.” At home, a book written at her instigation strove to communicate “the difficulties which face the young administration in Iraq, the prejudices and conflicting tendencies with which she is gallantly and successfully attempting to deal.” Paintings of “Five Months in Baghdad” by Edith Cheesman, wife of R. E. Cheesman, the naturalist and wartime secretary to Cox, were exhibited at a gallery in New Bond Street explicitly to help correct impressions of Mesopotamia as “a far-off and unprofitable venture.” The Round Table published an obviously inspired piece by “a correspondent with intimate knowledge of conditions in Mesopotamia,” aimed at correcting public misperceptions about the government's selfish interests in the region, the “fatal financial hemorrhage” they were causing, the inhumanity of air policing, and the feasibility of real development. John Buchan too entered the fray, writing turgidly in the Spectator about the “Liberties” secured by air policing and the Arab love of “fighting for its own sake.” The Times ran articles by an unnamed correspondent promoting Emir Faisal as a “modern Saladin” lest the public indulge suspicions that he was a mere puppet in an “insidious scheme to spread British influence.” Such speculations had “hidden the real Feisal from the public eye.” In Blackwood's, this sketch turned treacly as another veteran invoked comparisons to “Drake or Raleigh.” This effort continued into the late 1920s with the Baghdad correspondent's salute to the difficult work of British advisers in Iraq and Cox's defense of the fruits of the campaign when exposure of the War Graves' Commission's failure to locate all the bodies of British soldiers threatened to confirm the growing suspicion that they had died in vain.32

The very accusation of secrecy itself had to be answered. Clippings of press complaints about official secrecy can be found in the files of the India Office's Political and Secret Department, where they fueled a growing desperation to talk back to the public. In due course, a special Times correspondent in Tehran, (p.308) the much-traveled Arthur Moore (from whose conclusions the editors tellingly distanced themselves) chimed in with the assurance that “if there is official secrecy [with regard to the Mesopotamian administration] it is in London that the pall hangs. Here there is none at all.” Produced in war conditions, the civil administration was naturally undemocratic, Moore wrote indulgently, but it was “at least democratically minded,” since “publicity is the best substitute for democracy.” Indeed, it produced such a wealth of information, he insisted, that “in selection from it lies the principle difficulty of presentment to a public at home hitherto provided with little or none.” With this spin, the British state in Mesopotamia was quintessentially English, a comfortably paternalistic “people's” government with nostalgic appeal for those perhaps discomfited by the increasingly assertive democracy at home. In Parliament, following former agent and Conservative MP William Ormsby-Gore's spirited defense of Mesopotamia policy, another veteran and Conservative, Earl Winterton, turned the tables on the secrecy debate, assuring his colleagues, as one who had fought with the Arabs, that England would know just how trustworthy Faisal was but for the government's “usual practice of secrecy.”33

Those in the know also made a case for government management of information on the grounds that unmediated information from Arabia produced confusion, to the detriment of Britain's good relations in the region. In 1928, when questions arose about sensational reports in the “cheaper newspapers” of imminent Wahhabi holy war, a Times correspondent conveyed High Com-missioner Dobbs's confidence that such rumors were “a fairy tale brought to Basra by some untutored Beduin. Such stories in Arabia passed rapidly from mouth to mouth, and were invariably improved in the telling.” By way of bulletproof reassurance, he added, “British intelligence officers … obtaining information from the interior of Arabia, had been unable to find foundation for the alarmist reports.” When the raids had passed, Dobbs chastised the press for having irresponsibly frightened European investors. In 1932, Philby similarly reprimanded the press. In a letter to the Times (which he excepted from his complaints), he explained that the reported “raids” were part of the usual tribal fighting, if perhaps exacerbated by the global Depression. Such news might momentarily delight the press, but their sensationalism, he warned, served Ibn Saud's cunning enemies (neighboring British protégés) by unwittingly propagandizing the view that his empire was seriously threatened, thereby also embittering Saudis against Britain, since in Arabia, he patiently elaborated, the tendency was to “regard the Press of a country as a mirror of its public and official sentiments.” To this list of unintended consequences of uncensored reporting on Arabia he added the suffering of the Hejazi economy from pilgrim fright. His own practice, he condescended to explain, was to disregard as untrue (p.309) any report about the peninsula emanating from such distant and ill-served sources as Basra, Baghdad, Amman, Jerusalem, and Cairo—all “prima facie tainted by prejudice.” Since the general public could not be expected to exercise such judiciousness, he urged the corrective of government communiqués, especially for the benefit of the empire's Muslim subjects. So the expert explained to the lay public why the peculiarities of news flow and arcana of intrigue in Arabia made official management of information necessary. Other officials back from the Middle East, where they had grown accustomed to receiving “revelations” from Arnold Wilson and other prophets “of what was going on beneath the surface,” also resolved to “doubt the complete accuracy of the occasional news of Mespot that comes out in the papers,” written by “men who have not been on the spot.” Suspend belief in published news from Arabia, was the experts' wise instruction.34

The scholarly societies provided an important liminal space through which the state's supporters could attempt to manage public opinion about Middle East policy. At Robert Brooke-Popham's 1919 lecture at the Royal United Services Institute, Chairman Major General R. M. Ruck affirmed the institute's role as “a halfway house between the authorities and the public” that could leaven the meager information available from “the usual official channels” with its own expertise. (“Authorities” included Nesta Webster, whose pablum on Bolshevism and secret societies the group swallowed whole.) The overlap between state representatives and society members, between government experts and scholars, ensured that the societies soon shared the state's outrage against the vicious “propaganda” and “orgy of ill-informed criticism” against Middle East policy after the rising. Following General Haldane's attempt to enlighten public opinion about it three years later, General Sir Edmund Barrow, wartime military secretary to the India Office, excoriated the “unfortunate pressure exerted on military policy by an ill-informed Press, backed by ignorant public opinion.” “It is, I fear, one of the penalties we have to pay for ‘democratic control,’ ” he concluded, launching into a vainglorious description of the mayhem that would follow fulfillment of untutored calls for evacuation of Mesopotamia. The chairman, Viscount Peel, then also secretary of state for India, gently tut-tutted Barrow for violating society rules against discussing politics, but, when chairing the Central Asian Society a few years later, found himself echoing these very sentiments: the ills of the press's “open diplomacy” were as bad if not worse than “the evils of secret diplomacy,” he affirmed. To form a “just judgment” on the knotty issues of the day, the public needed guidance, “inspiration from wells of mature information and of ripened judgment,” which service a society like theirs, “the fountain-head of knowledge of Central Asia,” could provide. When it came to topics like airpower in the Middle East, (p.310) its views, “carrying the weight our members do,” could exercise a salutary “effect on public opinion.” Besides these avowedly open forums, at the new, “rather exclusive” and “secret” British Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), Bertram Thomas, David Hogarth, Percy Cox, Arnold Wilson, Ormsby-Gore, and others delivered “public” lectures on various Arabian topics. The Foreign Office supported the societies' arrogation of this paternalistic role; hence its relief that the Saudi representative in London had been persuaded to “to give up his first fantastic idea of giving a public lecture [on Wahhabism] in the Albert Hall!” in favor of the more disciplined environment of the Central Asian Society, where a Foreign Office official was deputed to observe the proceedings. The Colonial Office also vetted society lectures. Under cover of an anonymous member of the public, the state also used unattributed articles in society journals to cultivate progovernment opinion. Just when, in Chicago, Walter Lippmann was arriving at his gloomy conclusions about opinion makers' stranglehold on public opinion (in Public Opinion [1922]), the British state was doing its utmost to prove him right.35

Their efforts clearly met with considerable success. A notably violent description of “the use of aircraft in small wars” at the United Service Institute concluded with a few photographs nodding to aircraft's peaceful uses in activities such as archaeology, prompting this homily by a thrilled physician in the audience:

I have never been in Mesopotamia, but I have been reading about it since I was a child… . I have longed to see the Tower of Babel, but I never thought I would do so… . Could I ever stand where Moses stood and have a Pisgah view … and here we have a lecturer to-day who has actually photographed not only where Moses stood but other places of importance in the Holy Land, and he has shown us on a screen in the centre of London Pisgah views, including the Jordan itself !

The progovernment side got considerable mileage simply from the romance surrounding the places at the heart of its speakers' lectures and from the heroic aura around the speakers themselves. Similarly, through puff pieces on topics such as “the Arab soldier,” society journals could “educate” their readership on the “born fighters” of the besieged states of Iraq and the Hejaz, who lacked only experience of modern military organization, which British assistance could remedy. A winking reference to Lawrence sealed the charm of the proposition: “There is at least one officer whose knowledge of the Arab's character and … customs as well as his military talents make him a fit person to be entrusted with the task of raising and organising a military force for … the newly crowned King of Irak.”36

(p.311) Both critics and supporters of the government thus claimed to have come far from their jejune prewar views to arrive at a sophisticated understanding of government. The government's side in this contest for control of foreign policy played on the fact that public skepticism about official pronouncements was, if anything, exceeded by suspicion of the press, especially atrocity stories.37 Before the war, the press had been blamed for fanning jingoist fever among the masses; after the war, when the press had come to be universally doubted and took a position against empire in the Middle East, imperialists blamed it for encouraging political cowardice. But the agents in officialdom also tried to win it back to their corner by informing the public about Asiatic conspiracies, reasoning that an accurate perception of the dangers surrounding the Middle East would curb criticism of both secrecy and air control. In 1920, as he presented his picture of gathering threats to the India Office, Norman Bray recommended taking “certain sections of the Press … into our confidence.” His frightful memos prompted other official urgings that the public be informed of the existence of “this danger and HMG's recognition of the fact.” He submitted a version of at least one of his reports to Reuters as “counter propaganda.” The effort to protect the occupying army from criticism, which had partly inspired his investigations, also made the India Office and Cox eager to issue a public statement based on them, in not as crude a form as an official communiqué but handed “unofficially” to a Reuters representative for wider distribution without disclosure of its “official origin.” The press statement released so conspiratorially revealed that the impression then current of Soviet efforts to revert to peaceful coexistence with its neighbors was a carefully contrived illusion; in fact, a “combination of wire-pullers and conspirators” were at work in Europe, Turkey, Syria, and Russia, and “Mesopotamia was to receive the full brunt of bolshevik Turkish nationalist and Arab nationalist intrigue.” War Office communiqués were also instrumental in framing the meager press coverage of the rising around the notion of conspiracy, hemmed in by news of “conspiracy” in contexts as varied as Canada, Russia, and India. Similar fare was on offer elsewhere, building obliquely on the popular, fictional foundations of Buchan's Greenmantle. In a public lecture, Valentine Chirol conjured a reawakened Orient in which surged “many Old World forces … tending more and more to combine together against the common menace of the Occident.” However much Mesopotamia stank “in the nostrils of the British taxpayer,” positioned at the heart of Islam and historically anarchic, it would, if left to itself, become “a Middle East-Bolshevist Power, the nucleus and focus of all the evil forces in the world,” in the apocalyptic vision published by an Iraq-returned officer. The duke of Northumberland's much-discussed pamphlets and lectures propounding theories of Bolshevik and Jewish conspiracy behind labor unrest (generously (p.312) incorporating global secret societies, Sinn Fein, the Germans, Indian nationalists, and so forth) were part of this textual mix. So, too, were Churchill's inflammatory speeches on worldwide conspiracy against the empire. Paralleling official geographic imaginaries, postwar fiction seized on Russia's “Asiatic features,” depicting the Red Army as the refuge of coolies, Afghans, and Hindus led by Germans and Turks. Expressing its skepticism about Churchill's mercurial Army Estimates for the Middle East, even the Times momentarily succumbed, directing readers to a letter by one “S” describing from “authoritative sources” the close connection between the Nationalist Turks and the Bolshevists—the usual “drama of conspiracy” about Turks of various political stripes spreading Pan-Islamic propaganda for the Bolsheviks with backing from Berlin and organized Jewry, and targeting Mesopotamia in particular. Still, the irreverent Times used this theory to criticize the government, as evidence of the impossibility of its ever keeping its commitment to limiting British responsibilities in the region.38

Commenting on all this in 1920, H. G. Wells remarked England's “peculiar style of thinking,” its reflexive falling back “upon the notion of conspiracy” as a form of explanation. Indeed, conspiracy thinking about the Middle East was geographically—and figuratively—at the heart of a wider postwar preoccupation deliberately encouraged by the state. And this helps us make better sense of those weird postwar cultural phenomena: the Morning Post series on world unrest, which appeared in July 1920 in the midst of the raging debates on Mesopotamia in the press and Parliament, and the fall publication of Victor Marsden's translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a private edition had appeared earlier that year). The Post's very notion of searching for “Causes of the World Unrest” echoed the frantic contemporary search for causes of the Mesopotamian unrest. Nesta Webster, a great sympathizer of the duke of Northumberland, contributed to this series about a secret organization behind unrest in Russia, Turkey, Portugal, Germany, and elsewhere. The fifth article was likely based on Bray's memo on “Events in Asia.” Titled “The Cause of the World Unrest,” it described a “vast and cunning organisation,” “spread throughout the Orient” and known to “anyone who is well acquainted with the East,” particularly those who had made “a long and careful study of the tortuous politics and secret tendencies of Asia.” The notion of world conspiracy against law and order and Christian civilization would have seemed absurd before the war, the article conceded, but the war had produced a “complete change of mentality,” providing “concrete proof ” of the close connection between “rebellion in Ireland, trouble in Egypt, disaffection in India, revolution in Russia.” Behind Germany was a “Formidable Sect,” a Jewish organization, which endured after German defeat and operated through “zones of influence” and “centers” of (p.313) subversion radiating throughout Asia, plying propaganda strikingly similar to the “programme of violence and hypocrisy” advocated by the Protocols. Asians were not themselves agents of a secular, anti-imperialist ideology but the passive objects of “missionaries of discontent” dispatched by a “single secret agency.” The Morning Post thus inserted the “Eastern Unrest” into a wider tale of world unrest. The Post series and the popularity of the yet more scandalous Protocols of the Elders of Zion were part of a wider postwar ideological and epistemological trend that identified a shadowy Middle East—encompassing Jews, secret societies, and an open road to Russia—as the pivot of all grand conspiracy. Usually dismissed as a crank fringe of British fascists, adherents of these theories were, in my view, merely the crankiest among a wider public fascinated by the idea of conspiracy against the empire via the roiling Middle East.39

None of this is to diminish the importance of the specifically anti-Semitic roots of the Protocols' appeal but to place it within a wider culture of conspiracy thinking. However “Western” their knowledge, Jews remained an “Eastern people,” fundamentally similar to the Arabs, the very antinomy that had made their presence in Palestine a comfort, as a “vital bridge between Arabs and Europeans,” in early discourses on development, now cogitated in more alarming terms. Just as their apparent internationalism made them a threat in the eyes of scaremongering sections of the British public, so too did the rampant border-crossing of all Middle Easterners. Iraq was susceptible to subversion by international intrigue because of its “eternal magnetism … as the road to India and the open sea,” “central position among the Moslem States,” and “geographical position … which renders the philandering of Pan-Islamism with Bolshevism a matter of grave importance,” in the words of the Daily Telegraph. The two most prominent Jewish politicians in Britain—the Zionist Herbert Samuel and anti-Zionist Edwin Montagu—had both been appointed, not accidentally, to the Eastern empire, and both were vilified by the Right as “Orientals” who would usher in anarchy. That the Protocols affair was part of this swirl of official and public debate on disorder, Jews, and the Middle East is perhaps most evidenced by the fact that it was Philip Graves, then Times correspondent in Constantinople, who unmasked the forgery in 1921, for which he was attacked as a philo-Semite, partly because of his past association with Palestine.40

Popular conspiracy thinking of this period was thus deliberately generated as part of an effort to win over public opinion on the mandates. When Thomas Lyell, an officer back from Iraq, argued in his book that the Mesopotamian policy looked “wantonly extravagant” when considered in isolation but appeared entirely justified as part of the “immense problem of empire—as the key to the future of our dominions,” he was speaking to an audience familiar with the conspiracy fears of the government. The dawning recognition of the military (p.314) lessons of the Mesopotamia campaign was also partly a result of this effort to train eyes on the Middle East as the future testing ground of world peace. A Times “special correspondent”—a designation that, in reports on this region, often seems to signal official inspiration—reported the Quetta Staff College's tour of Iraq's battlefields in 1923, when it was “beginning to be realized that the Mesopotamian operations, subsidiary though they were at the time, have a special value in the study of military science,” despite their having been fought out “in a peculiar country” calling for “very special measures.” Crucially, the theater was “typical of the Middle East … in which great wars of the future may quite possibly have to be decided.” The feature described the college's reenactment of the wartime voyage upriver on war-era boats. (The author noted archly that local opinion suspected the group of spying out a new air route from Quetta “for some unknown plot!”) In Baghdad, they left the “battles of the past … and looked at the future in the air” through a social and educational program generously assembled by the RAF. The unique tactics of the Mesopotamian theater may have merited study on their own account, but it was the particular obsessions of the postwar political climate and the RAF's ever-ready propaganda machine that sealed its canonical status in the annals of military science.41

This was the political culture that inspired Leonard Woolf ’s 1925 essay “Fear and Politics,” but, to those responsible for it, it was merely an effort to enlighten public opinion in the new mass democracy (even if the public's ignorance was the product of official censorship).42 And it worked, substantially, keeping control of air policy beyond the reach of public criticism, as we have seen in chapter 7. The new awareness of danger cross-cut the image of bombs civilizing the Arabian deserts with more disturbing images of Britain bombed into a desert, the hypothetical scenario on which fear traded. According to this logic, air control in the Middle East checked the destruction of Britain and civilization itself. Perhaps most famously, Cicely Hamilton's much-reprinted Theodore Savage (1922), tellingly subtitled A Story of the Past or the Future, told of the apocalyptic fallout of the League Court's decision against a small Eastern country that was being “encouraged to make trouble” by some force as part of a general anarchic program. Recounting the nomadic survival of one civil servant after bombardment had razed British civilization, it describes a world in which rumor flourishes as “the outside world … veiled itself in silence,” society relapsed into tribal disorder, and the lost old world is remembered as the Garden of Eden. Such imagery periodically swayed even the fastidious Times, for instance, in 1923 when the paper admired Air Secretary Hoare for “at last awakening” the public “to the reality of the danger” in a “clear and straightforward account” that “fully justified” the Iraqi air regime “on the two grounds of economy and humanity.” The excitements of the 1930 Hendon display induced (p.315) further concessions of the soundness of air control. The public was grasping, in fits and starts, that there was too much at stake to contemplate a loosening of Britain's grip on the Middle East.43

Indeed, so successful was the spin-doctoring that in the distant context of a Commons debate about striking coal miners in the dark year of 1926, a Conservative likened trade unionist talk of “liberty” to the “Arab chief in Iraq who, when he was prevented from carrying out a punitive expedition, which included ravaging and burning villages, exclaimed, ‘We have always done this. Why do you interfere with us now? Where is your boosted British liberty?’ ” As Nicholas Dirks might have it, the scandals and scandal of air policing had migrated from the scheme itself to its victims. Affirmations of aerial progressivism had sunk deep roots; England's militarist and technophile culture had been disguised by what David Edgerton aptly calls “the cuteness of the English aeroplane,” a central feature of what Jon Lawrence terms the myth of the “peaceable kingdom.” Edgerton traces this myth to George Orwell, but by 1944 even he was wondering at the “automatic way in which people go on repeating certain phrases … [such as] ‘the aeroplane and the radio have abolished distance’ and ‘all parts of the world are now interdependent.’ ” “Actually,” he retorted wearily in the midst of yet another world war, “the effect of modern inventions has been to increase nationalism, to make travel enormously more difficult, to cut down the means of communication between one country and another.”44

The secret to the “automatic” association of the airplane not only with peace but with internationalism lay in the corollary to the state's rhetorical focus on the dangers circling the Middle East: the silver bullet of development. This dazzling goal, however miragelike, remained relatively unbesmirched among dreams of Middle Eastern empire, as we have seen in chapter 5, and sealed the argument for the benevolence of official secrecy. In 1924, the Times' Baghdad correspondent continued to believe that the dispatch of irrigating experts and the like would give Britain a chance to prove its good faith toward the understandably doubtful Iraqis; Baldwin's 1925 government, the paper believed, was committed to a constructive policy in Iraq, for the sake of national honor, not oil. While continuing to chide the regime for its dependence on the bomb, the Guardian was relieved when criticism dissipated enough to allow it to proceed with its real, developmental work. Faith in the development trope ensured that when it came to the matter of departure dates, the Times spoke as sympathetically of the “natural caution of the mandatory power” as it had of Iraqi fears that the British intended to remain in their country forever. It even professed bewilderment at Labour complaints that the government used the League of Nations as a venue for autocratic decision-making (while continuing (p.316) to press for a more open Permanent Mandates Commission). The development antidote helped extrude the Times' poisoned view of the state, subtly reshaping the villain behind the trampling of English constitutional rights from a willfully negligent government to an unfortunately flawed League of Nations structure. Voicing his concerns about official honesty, Richard Coke also found redemption in the commitment to development. “Material rewards” aside, he admired the “power and vision which sees the British Empire as a vast army of many nations and cultures sweeping up the varied civilisations of the past in the march forward to that ideal world of brothers.” This vision of developmental empire, he felt, offered a convincing rejoinder to the press's wholly cynical view of the Middle Eastern empire and recuperated state secrecy as stupid but well intentioned: a democratically controlled foreign policy would necessarily prove too short-sighted to implement such a vision, he explained, given British taxpayers' limited notion of their “collective interests” and the obvious objection that “there was plenty of scope for [charity] nearer home.” Democracy was too selfish to finance developmental imperialism; the crime of the secretive government was unchecked generosity.45

All the same, public opinion remained skeptical of a too obviously militarist policy in Iraq, as a Conservative survey discovered in 1927. The Conservatives' refusal to reduce commitments in Iraq was among the factors that cost them the election in 1929, and Labour's greater willingness to heed British and Iraqi public opinion (the latter conveyed through the wise counsels of High Commissioner Gilbert Clayton on the eve of his death) eventually resulted in the treaty of 1930—and the full submergence of empire into the covert realm.46 Officialdom discovered by accident, through the investigations of Hubert Young in the Foreign Office, that its public advertisement of the new atmosphere of trust in Iraq in 1930 was based entirely on a Times article, which, it turned out, was merely a press message provided by the government. Periodic intercession of this kind perhaps explains why the Times remained so exasperatingly mercurial on Iraq. When the League of Nations deliberated on the Iraqi application for admission, the paper aired its concern about the possible misuse of the RAF by an independent Iraqi government bent on settling old scores. Perhaps contemplating an RAF unleashed from prudent British control, and perhaps in the shadow of the disarmament conference that year, the paper reverted to its skeptical posture on the humanity of air policing, arguing that a government that supported restriction of bombing in regular operations should not tolerate it in irregular ones—instantly provoking a rebuke from High Commissioner Dobbs.47

The impossibility of ever settling the matter was partly due to the unresolved view of the community that functioned at once as key opinion makers (p.317) and representatives of the state's covert power. It would not do to indict the government alone on the count of misinforming the public, argued Richard Coke in The Arab's Place in the Sun (1929); the “highbrow,” “arabized” experts of the scholarly societies and “lowbrow,” “romantic” publicists and Hollywood had done equal damage. Trapped between hell and high water, the public needed to cultivate its own knowledge and wrest responsibility for Middle East policy from officials and experts.48 The state may have leached into the public sphere to manage public opinion, but the loyalties of the experts representing it there were by no means clear; their shadowy figures became the focus of the state's and the public's implacable suspicions in their irresolvable struggle over control of foreign policy.

Slouching between the State and the People

Early in 1929, suspicion that the RAF was being used as a means to covertly pursue empire surfaced in Labour MP Ernest Thurtle's questions about the use of British airplanes in the rescue of former King Inayatullah from Kabul during the Afghani civil war. Others echoed his demand for official comment on rumors of British interference in Afghanistan. The government demurred, but the next item on the Commons' agenda was the significance of the Najdi-Iraqi border raiding, followed by a debate on “Colonel Lawrence,” in which Thurtle took the offensive again, inquiring how long and for what purpose the colonel, under the false name Aircraftman Shaw, had been stationed on the Indian frontier near Afghanistan. (Lord Winterton, now undersecretary for India, replied lamely that to his knowledge people often enlisted under names other than their own.)49 The tumbling of these topics one over the other—in parliamentary discussion and reporting on it—testifies to the strength of the conviction that these events—the tensions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the RAF, Lawrence—added up to more than met the eye in this intricately connected region. In the government's calculus, the common denominator was the Bolshevik hand, but to many among the British public, it was their own government interfering where it dared not admit to—and Lawrence's presence on the Indian frontier was their proof.

For its part, many in the government saw in the intemperate Arabist “enthusiasts” proof of the need for special discretion about British activity in the Middle East. In an article that the Times editors expressed reservations about in 1920, their pro–civil administration correspondent, Arthur Moore, invoked the usual cocktail of Bolshevist, Turkish, Syrian, and other foreign conspiracies behind the Mesopotamian unrest, urging the public to temper the (p.318) “storm of home criticism” and support the government in a conflict that was as big as the South African War. In particular, such discipline and constancy would require curtailment of the activities of “our official pan-arabs,” whose wartime profligacy and enthusiasm had, he claimed, caused the present waste of lives and money. The scales soon fell from Moore's eyes when he discovered that the civil administration in which he had placed such faith had betrayed its commitment to representative government in favor of a monarchical solution. The next year he submitted a much-hyped three-part series called “Mesopotamian Mystery,” in which, far from urging public docility, he lambasted official secrecy about Middle East policy as the work of the same “Arab enthusiasts.” The “mystery” in his title linked Mesopotamia's oriental qualities with the secret history of the conspiratorial rise of these enthusiasts in the halls of government as he explained how, with a wave of the wand in Cairo, “a few men working in the dark,” far from the eyes of the public, had recklessly produced an Iraqi king on the eve of the promulgation of an Iraqi electoral law. He demanded immediate evacuation of Mesopotamia and public scrutiny of every line of the new treaty with Faisal, “for we may be sure that the Pan-Arabs are at work upon it.” If he saw the hand of the Arab enthusiast behind both the public's and the state's serial betrayal of a righteous Middle Eastern policy, officialdom saw a similar hand behind Moore's apparent volte-face (more or less missing his [and the Times'] point about genuine Arab government). The “Mesopotamian Mystery” series was much studied at the Colonial Office where Churchill had his Arabist experts, Lawrence and Bullard, annotate it in order to get “truth separated from fiction.” Bullard identified the author as Moore, “a rather violent Irishman” who, he deduced, had “imbibed a lot of hot air from Philby.”50

Official propagation of conspiracy theories was partly designed—and defended—as a response to such “hot air,” as a weapon for combating criticism that many of the ex-agents in Whitehall saw as the mark of other agents' interventions in the public sphere. They, too, had little faith that public opinion actually existed; the herd had to have been duped by someone. Before Lawrence joined the government, Whitehall considered the negative press about Iraq all his doing. In 1919, the Foreign Office blamed him for all recent articles on the Syrian question, including twelve in the Times. The India Office's search for the true causes of the unrest was predicated on its determination to thwart a press campaign it attributed entirely to Lawrence and to which it traced the prevailing misconception “that we are fighting against Nationalists who are demanding only a form of government that shall be reasonably independent and British-advised.” The Colonial Office appointment seemed momentarily to tame Lawrence (although at the cost of invigorating popular suspicions about his work), and, as Bullard's contumacious dismissal of Moore suggests, the (p.319) benighted Philby emerged as the most frequently suspected fountainhead of any markedly vehement invective against Whitehall policy. To the government, the press debate was as an intraofficial dispute dragged into the public by tergiversatory “enthusiasts” among the agents. The government's own skillful and conspiratorial use of the literary talents of the agents at their disposal, such as Bray and Bell, made it easy for them to impute such prolific powers to rogue agents. It was part of the conspiracy-thinking mode that gripped Whitehall. With its exaggerated sense of the agents' powers of influence and of the mind-bending required to grasp the Arab perspective, officialdom put public criticism of its policies down to their machinations.51

Loyalty was rewarded—the political officer James Mann's protest against the Nation's criticisms of the Mesopotamian administration earned him consideration for “special work”—but more pertinently, reprobates were disliked, disciplined, and watched. Lawrence was much hated by “most government officials, regular soldiers, old-fashioned political experts and such like,” according to Robert Graves, for he was a “disturbing element in their ordered scheme of things, a mystery and a nuisance.” Even as an RAF mechanic he seemed liable to engage in “some diabolic trick for raising mutiny or revolt.” (Graves's reviewer in the Times noted that Graves had apparently inherited “a certain cocksureness … from some of the more ardent experts on Arab affairs.”) Indeed, Lawrence was enough of a security concern that in 1929 Trenchard banned him from leaving the United Kingdom and speaking to any of the “great,” particularly Opposition politicians such as Churchill and Lady Astor. (Nevertheless, he continued to meet with Philip Sassoon, George Lloyd, and others.) The bit of public sphere comprising his friendships was deemed worthy of government surveillance. As Philby stole the mantle of alpha-defector, he and his sometime travel partner Rosita Forbes attracted intense official and media attention (news clippings by and about him were painstakingly collected in Whitehall). Basil Thomson's Home Office spooks also closely watched left-leaning British “Pro-Turks,” especially the notorious Muslim convert and novelist Marmaduke Pickthall. Academic societies, as mentioned earlier, were subjected to surveillance, especially for the utterances of wayward agents who remained welcome by virtue of their status as “experts.” Even the distinguished Sir William Willcocks found himself on trial for sedition when his suggestions for improving the Aswan Dam were taken up by Egyptian nationalists. (He was spared imprisonment and returned to his native Bengal.)52

This vigilance was part of the rapid growth of “security consciousness and political surveillance” produced by the war. With official conspiracy theories homing in on Britain itself as a center of anti-imperial subversion, the focus on Lawrence, Philby, and so forth was the domestic counterpart of the air (p.320) surveillance and covert empire (the British hidden hand) in the Middle East—not much of a stretch given that Trenchard retired from the RAF in 1929 to head the Metropolitan Police. Just as fears of Russian subversion were absorbed into official conspiracy thinking about unrest in the Middle East, so the Middle Eastern connection was absorbed into the effort to identify the Russian hand behind left-wing and other forms of domestic subversion. A new history of the French Revolution elicited one reviewer's call for the arrest of all the Bolshevik-backed “polyglot rascals” in the country, lest it witness “the degraded spectacle of honest Englishmen murdered by the worst Chinamen and the worst niggers whom brutality can control.” That illustrious visitors to the Soviet Union, such as the Webbs, Lady Astor, and Bernard Shaw, were closely linked to Lawrence and Meinertzhagen certainly did not help compartmentalize Communist- and Middle Eastern–inspired dissent. (Indeed, Meinertzhagen was in Moscow at the same time as his uncle Sidney and, typically, tried without success to instruct him in seeing the “real Russia” hidden by Russian officials.)53

The agents' earlier peccadillos were as nothing before the colossal postwar concern with their fundamental “loyalties” (the title of Wilson's memoir), with the possibility of their succumbing to their chief occupational hazard and shifting their loyalties to their Arab advisees. The 1923 protocol that reshaped Iraq's British governors into “administrative inspectors” overseeing Iraqi governors responded partly to the reproach that British agents were becoming “more native than the native himself.” Indeed, a political agent at Bahrein returned from a mission to Ibn Saud announcing he would thenceforth serve as Ibn Saud's private agent in London. And, most famously, after being shunted between displeased administrations, the obstreperous Philby defected to Saudi Arabia (and Islam), where he remained a perennial nuisance to officials anxious over his potentially subversive influence on the sultan. A Saudi legation in London remained elusive as long as officials remained captive to the fear that it would merely provide “the mischievous Mr. Philby” an “extra ‘sounding board’ or ‘loud-speaker’ for propaganding philby-esque and anti-HMG doctrines!” (By 1928, unable to arrest his movements or his pen, which prosecution in any case threatened only to amplify, officialdom adopted the “Philby policy” of ignoring him.) Similarly, the Colonial Office obstructed all attempts to appoint a British representative to Ibn Saud's government for the entire decade. While Bertram Thomas, Dickson, and others passionately entreated consideration for the position, the Colonial Office cautioned shrewdly: “We all know what happens when British officers get themselves attached to remote Arab courts. The local atmosphere is too much for them. They become plus royalist que le roi and encourage their pet potentate to raise all kinds of unnecessary questions and put forward every sort of embarrassing claim. We have suffered enough in the (p.321) past. Do not let us make this mistake again.” In two years, this opinion had desiccated into a theorem: a representative with Ibn Saud was impossible because “very close association with an Arab potentate or an Arab regime does, in practice, make nearly all European officers very unreliable agents of their own Governments.” They became “more arab than the arabs”—the stigma of the dangerously empathetic. Implicit in this reading of corruption in Arabia was a belief in the region's cabalistic power to sway minds—the more natively Arab, the more susceptible. Thus paranoid, officialdom traced the political recalcitrance of rogue agents to an effect of the place itself; their criticism of British policies and intentions was merely proof of their having been “got at.” By the mid-1920s, agents attempting to prove their bona fides knew to distance themselves from this recognizable “type.” In his application for the Najd posting, Thomas took care to press his experience of Arabia from “more angles than any other British officer,” which “perhaps has saved me from succumbing to one or other of the ‘crank’ schools, of which Arabia is a hotbed, of course.” The early romantics, drawn to Arabia as the place for authentically free, individualistic, manly men, had been exposed as veritable nuisances. This sort of agent would not cease bucking against an imperial bureaucracy bent on constraining the liberty of Arabia—or more properly, their liberty in and on Arabia. This is not to say Lawrence and Philby were not imperialists but to point to a shift in official culture. The longer history of agents' intelligence-gathering efforts in Arabia betrays a sort of willful irrationalism, useful and harmless as the mark of genius in the halcyon days when deliverance of the Arab lands from Ottoman tyranny was a visionary scheme with broad appeal. After the war, when the British themselves had stepped into those Ottoman shoes, it was denigrated as blind and highly un-English fanaticism “of no practical use.” To officialdom, the Arab was treacherous by definition, but several British agents, formerly proud representatives of their empire, had allowed themselves to become complicit in oriental intrigue. To those on the other side of the rift, “certain British officers” with intimate knowledge of Arabs had simply lost all reason and, in an orgy of sentimentality, begun to promote the cause of Arab nationalism, among other sorts of skullduggery. They had become the enemy within, the greatest betrayal of all and the greatest source of paranoia.54

But as Thurtle's interpellation on Lawrence underscores, while the state grew paranoid about delinquent agents, many Britons seized on the very same rogue elements as proof that the state could covertly pursue imperialist ends, whatever its proclamations to the contrary or pretended efforts to end secret diplomacy. The agents' heroism had always encompassed the queer mix of honor and dishonor long since embodied in the figure of the spy and the imperial martyr. Bray tellingly glorified every dead political officer as “another (p.322) Gordon upholding the honour of England,” and Meinertzhagen similarly called Noel “one of the General Gordon type, a fanatical enthusiast, who is capable of leading the Empire to disaster in order to fulfil his own dreams.” Such megalomaniacal “dreamers of empire,” “the legion of the Damned,” “non-conforming, therefore anarchic,” were much on the mind of interwar Britons nostalgic for a more visionary age, however ill-starred its visions. Thus, agents who broke with the government earned even more celebrity, their antiestablishment pronouncements serving as a badge of their eccentricity, Englishness, heroism—at once convincing the government of their sway over popular opinion, attracting the public's wary, if also admiring, eyes, and fueling their own delusions of grandeur. Philby pointed self-servingly to the

curious fact that most of the giants of Arabian adventure … have displayed a tendency to fall foul of their own folk… . Sir Richard Burton … was never comfortable in official harness, but was none the less great for his failure to achieve high office… . Blunt … had a perpetual feud with the British Government in his fight for the rights of Arabs and Irishmen… . Lawrence himself was a declared rebel… . Bell was never popular, and was regarded rather as a nuisance than an asset in British official circles… . My own case was similar.

If the agents' initial postwar appeal stemmed from their affiliation with the heroic and redemptive project in the Middle East, their rage against its betrayal kept them in the public eye as precious honorers of liberty—the Spectator opposed Lawrence's “blunt and honest rashness” to the “tortured and timid tergiversations of the … politician”—but also as rogues, inconstant and ever inscrutable. The trope of agent fickleness became potent enough to threaten their heroism, forcing biographers to explicitly exempt their individual idols from the inglorious company of those who learned to “see things from the Beduin standpoint” only to lose “their English outlook … and … the British character.” The perceived overlap of Arab and Irish sympathies was central to the construction of the Arabia agent as agent of anarchy. Philby, “as an Irishman … was ‘agin’ the Government, or indeed any Government, on principle,” explained Stirling (though in fact Philby was not Irish at all). The Arab-Irish overlap shared by Lawrence (who was planning a sympathetic biography of Roger Casement), Erskine Childers (who had become involved in gun-running in Ireland and would later write pro-Arab political works), Blunt, Moore, Glubb, and others painted them as distillations of a catholic anti-establishment fervor. By 1922, what George Bernard Shaw called “the English Turk pro the Irish Arabian” was a recognizable type. Moreover, their playground (p.323) was a slippery one, “debatable,” as Hogarth had termed it, under the sway of Islam, a religion at once heretic and familiar, mysterious and sinister. Arabia's deserts were threatening as much as recuperative, promising redemption and apocalypse by turns.55

Contemporary literature attempted to capture this collapsed vision of hope and dread, perhaps none so vividly or famously as Yeats's “Second Coming,” whose nightmarish vision of “anarchy loosed upon the world” and the drowning of innocence reflected his preoccupation with the state of the world in 1920. That was the year in which Britain's sleep was certainly “vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle”—the cradle of civilization. Many feared the center would not hold, and things did indeed fall apart. Drawing heavily on Doughty, Yeats looked to the desert for signs of imminent apocalypse and redemption: “Surely some revelation is at hand.” But the image out of spiritus mundi was a troubling one: “A shape with lion body and the head of a man” emerging from the desert with “a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.” This image of a terrible redeemer symbolized perhaps the monstrous machine of imperial government bent on delivering this region; in 1936, he described the poem as the first in a series intended to express his growing “horror at the cruelty of governments.” In 1920, the problem lay in the personnel available: “The best lack all convictions, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.” Yeats thought he was the inspiration for his antiheroic fictional contemporary: the significantly named Medina of John Buchan's The Three Hostages (1924). Richard Hannay's antagonist, Medina conceals behind his façade of respectability as an explorer and MP “a demon who is determined to annihilate the world of ordinary moral standards.” He has learned from the East the art of dominating men “through their souls” but is in fact an Irish poet of Spanish extraction (his mix of exoticism and Englishness ultimately signaling his Jewishness), a genealogy winding together the Celtic/Arab affinity long assumed by British Arabists: Robert Graves (himself half Anglo-Irish) speculated that Lawrence's peculiar qualities, including his love of poverty and failure, had either been absorbed from the desert or were “latent in his blood, of which the Spanish strain—and Spanish is half-Arab—shows in the severity of his jaw.” (Graves himself decamped to Spain after his stint in Cairo and just after producing his Lawrence biography and his war memoir.) The protagonist of the popular film The Sheik is similarly revealed to be the son of an English earl and a Spanish noblewoman.56

Mistrust of the man on the spot in the Middle East was thus cultural as much as political, extending beyond what we know about Socialists' suspicions that imperialists of the Right were addicted to conflict. The dual image of heroic Arabist agents, coupled with the memory, embellished by the media, of their demonstration in wartime that empire, or any other covert agenda, could be (p.324) pursued by means of a special force or even a single Lawrentian agent, was the smoking gun in the case that some sections of the public built to prove the existence of an “invisible arm” of government behind the democratically accountable façade. Sensationalist contentions (“Why do we stay in Mesopotamia—Cherchez la femme … Miss Gertrude Bell … “the Diana of the Desert”) made sense to this public. It was as “the Mystery Woman of the East, the uncrowned Queen, the Diana of the Desert,” that Bell became a “legendary personality … in the imagination of the general public,” her stepmother attests. Lawrence the press regarded as an even more enigmatic figure. Other nations' obsessive tracking of his suspicious whereabouts, described in chapter 8, fed the even more intense British coverage of his checkered career. The front-page story about his pseudonymous presence in the RAF fed the conviction that he was the top agent of the secret imperial state. His motives and influence were open to endless speculation, his social world becoming as central to lay efforts to understand his covert official life as it was to the state's attempts to keep tabs on him. Even casual acquaintances found an eager market for “revealing” articles. Parliamentary questions were posed about his alleged complicity in various imperialistic plots, including a plan to overthrow the Soviet government per statements in Soviet show trials of 1927 and 1930. His RAF posting near the Afghan border in 1929 inspired not only parliamentary debate but a public outcry against this “most mysterious man in the empire,” the “ultimate pro-consul of Britain in the East.” The Daily Herald broke this story of “the arch spy of the world.” Socialists rioted and burned him in effigy at Tower Hill. The inept and miscalculated secret operation to bring him home in the face of such “deliberate misrepresentations” in “certain newspapers” only stoked suspicions about his “real” role in the RAF, as millions watched the homecoming on cinema newsreels. While the autocratic Indian government cracked down on the press there, in Britain the fiery Indian Communist Shapurji Saklatvala informed Parliament that the “mysterious way” in which Lawrence had been whisked away had given currency to a further report that “the real Col. Lawrence was still there and that someone else had been brought here.” Even exiled to technical craft, he remained dogged by suspicion. The Sunday Chronicle pointed to his work on RAF speedboats as “the real secret reason” for his presence in the ranks: the “uncrowned king of Arabia, now uncrowned king of speed.” He was the man “to whose steely brain the most abstruse problems of speed, in air or water, are referred … the ultimate government testing shop.” (Protests at the Air Ministry resulted in his reassignment to normal duties at Plymouth.) The following year saw Edward Thompson correcting an American author's statements that Lawrence was in command at Baghdad. Indeed, Lawrence and the Arab Revolt became such celebrated yet sensitive subjects that Alexander (p.325) Korda's persistent efforts to make a film about them in the 1930s failed primarily because of the government's insistence on shaping—censoring—the screenplay. Philby's shifting status posed an equal problem. When he attempted to go to Najd to mediate between Ibn Saud and Hussein as a private individual just after leaving government service in 1924, the Middle East Department could only futilely contradict press statements that he was going as a government agent, for precisely such private and unofficial relationships had been the mainstay of official interactions with Arabian potentates in the past. Their démentis were considered newsworthy only in the Guardian. Misgivings about oil interests were likewise bound up with concern about unchecked agents. Besides raising questions about Lawrence, Thurtle voiced the suspicion that the “real reason” behind the government's insistence on including Mosul in Iraq was oil, given that the province was conquered only after the armistice, at Arnold Wilson's special insistence. “There is some kind of connection between these things,” he deduced, especially since, after his retirement, Wilson became “General Manager of the A. P. O. C. [Anglo-Persian Oil Company] for the Persia and Mesopotamia area.” The old trust in public servants crumbled as the legends around the agents produced the image of a new type of public servant, more heroic but also practiced in deception. The Mesopotamia veteran and critic of empire Geoffrey Garratt wrote to the Times amplifying that paper's concerns about Wilson's unseemly employment.57

In short, the long tradition of mixing administration and intelligence-gathering in the region made it impossible to rule out their mixing wherever the agents went. Even official denials were suspected as the agents' handiwork; awareness of their sway extended to an awareness that, for instance, “many officers [from Iraq] write letters to the newspapers trying to prove that Mesopotamia is indeed a blessed word.” This conviction was central to doubts about the practicality of a project of enlightened public opinion.58 With the help of such ne'er-do-wells (plus equally unaccountable aircraft), some postwar citizens protesting their new, sophisticated immunity from the jingoistic propaganda of the past feared the state might disregard their competing vision of Britain's real interests and continue hell-bent on its scheme to reap the benefits of a Middle Eastern empire.

Despite the shadow their skeptical state and many of its trepidatious citizens cast over their work, most agents unflappably continued to see their work as the unimpeachable discharge of the obligations of a mandatory power, unsullied either by its covert nature or by the subtle merging of imperial interests with the obligations to the mandate. Jarvis, who, as I mentioned, together with Peake, ran the region between Beersheba and Akaba as a “quite unrecognized mandate,” found it “amusing” that whenever British troops were compelled to step (p.326) in to maintain order in the Middle East, the three constituencies at stake—“all the inhabitants of the State in question … all foreign governments, and … the British public”—immediately jumped to the conclusion “that the British Representative on the spot has connived at and instigated the move.”59 Whitehall's incredulity in the face of foreign and Iraqi paranoia about British activity in the region was replicated on the ground by agents' almost disarming bafflement at their persecution by the people, the state, and the enemy.

The memoirs of the Great War—from Lawrence to Sassoon—tell a collective story of disillusionment and betrayal, we know; they construct the war as an avoidable folly caused by the blindness of statesmen and the stupidity of generals.60 After the war, the Mesopotamian rebellion not only renewed this sense of disillusionment but stoked suspicions that the statesmen and generals were not so much blind and stupid as incorrigibly imperialist. The assumption of a hidden reality behind the façade of democratic government was a feature of the public's efforts to understand the state's activities in the Middle East and a reality produced by the state's effort to understand and hold the Middle East. The public's assertion of “knowingness” about the state's secret activities and agenda were part of the new self-consciousness (and skepticism) about democratic politics after the war revealed, and considerably swelled, the leviathan power of that state. The covert empire was found out but was, after all, covert enough—and the press mistrusted enough—that no one could build an accurate case against it. As the newly broadened public sphere attempted to surveil the state, it too became subject to state invigilation. Middle Eastern conspiracy did, in this sense, spill over into Britain.

Skepticism about official news and the press, which Paul Fussell has so memorably described, certainly had roots older than the war, but this epistemological tendency, grounded in a more malevolent vision of the state than ever before, found especially rigorous favor when the Great War drove the word “improbable” from “our vocabulary,” as John Buchan wrote at the start of Greenmantle. Unimaginable things happened daily, and “coincidence … stretches a hundred long arms hourly across the earth.” Among the unimaginable things most on Buchan's mind were the events and characters surrounding the Middle Eastern campaigns—part of the “revolt against reality” that disfigured interwar Europe. The possibilities revealed by those storied wars continued to haunt postwar Britons attempting to come to grips with their new democracy; whether on the Right or the Left, they could never again be sure that things were as they seemed, and in their vicissitudinous imaginations, Semites and Arabia more generally figured both positively and negatively. If the campaigns safeguarded the British culture of adventure, that culture's survival was something like what Adorno and Horkheimer would soon call a (p.327) translation of myth into a novel, a process that swept myth into time, “concealing the abyss that separates it from homeland and expiation.” Redemption and unease mingled together in the cultural legacy of the British wars in and occupation of the Middle East. If Britons went to the Middle East to soothe the modern homesickness for nomadic life, they were ultimately there as invaders and conquerors; even if they had found utopia, they could never feel at home.61 (p.328)


(1.) Lord Peel, comment on Haldane, “Arab Rising,” 80; Coke, Heart of the Middle East, 11.

(2.) Dodge, Inventing Iraq, 23–24; Salmond, report, [c. April 1924].

(3.) See Colls, “Constitution of the English,” 114–15; D. Vincent, Culture of Secrecy, 122–23, 170.

(4.) On the loss of faith in official news, see E. D. Morel, Truth and the War; Fussell, Great War, 115. On the interwar expansion of imperial propaganda, see J. Mackenzie, Propaganda and Empire, 10–11. On state control of press on Indian issues, see Chandrika Kaul, Reporting the Raj: The British Press and India, c. 1880–1922.

(5.) “Why Is the Persian Gulf Campaign Ignored?” and “The Middle East and the War,” Times, 10 and 22 Sept. 1915, 9 (both also found in LCLUL: MES 082: Box 4: Annie Phillips, scrapbook about the Mesopotamian war, in which her son William served); Candler, Long Road, 1:65–69; review of Long Road, by Candler, in Spectator, 8 Feb. 1919, 166–67; A. T. Wilson, Loyalties, 1:166.

(6.) Chesney, “Mesopotamian Breakdown,” 247; A. T. Wilson, Loyalties, 177; Mariel Grant, Propaganda and the Role of the State in Inter-War Britain, 11–12, 15; F. W. Leland, With the M. T. in Mesopotamia, vii; Harold Finlinson, With Pen and Ink in Iraq; Bar-Yosef, “Last Crusade?” 88.

(7.) Bell to Florence Bell, 5 Sept. 1918, in Letters of Gertrude Bell, 2:461–62; IOR: CPO, IEF “D,” Sketch of the Political History, chap. 1; Hogarth to Billy, 30 May 1918; (p.401) Sykes to Clayton, 16 Jan. 1918, quoted in J. Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, 466–67; Sykes, Observer, mid-Dec. 1917, quoted in Adelson, Mark Sykes, 246.

(8.) Lovat Fraser, “The War-Mongers. ‘Sack the Lot!’ ” Daily Mail, 12 July 1920; “Outlook in the Middle East,” Round Table 37 (Dec. 1919), 82; Monroe, Britain's Moment, 142; G. Buchanan, “The Development of Mesopotamia,” Times, 23–26 Sept. 1920, 9; G. Buchanan to the editor, Times, 21 June 1920, 10; Candler, “Lawrence and the Hejaz,” Blackwood's (Dec. 1925), 761; A. S. Elwell-Sutton, “Some Reminiscences of the Arabs of Mesopotamia,” in Spectator, 27 Nov. 1920, 698; Spectator, 15 July 1922, 66; “The Need to Withdraw from Mesopotamia and Palestine,” Spectator, 24 Feb. 1923, 317–18; “The Arab and Oil,” Guardian, 5 Feb. 1921, 6; Haldane, “Arab Rising,” 72; Churchill to Lloyd George, 31 Aug. 1920; J. de V. Loder, The Truth about Mesopotamia, Palestine and Syria, 5. The saying “that blessed word Mesopotamia” has been traced to stories about the power of the voice of the Methodist preacher George Whitefield, who could make his followers weep merely by uttering the word “Mesopotamia.” Other versions attribute the saying to an old woman (sometimes English, sometimes Scotch) who told her pastor she found “great support in that blessed word Mesopotamia.” Still other versions have it that she was an invalid who begged her preacher to read from the Act of Apostles so that she might derive comfort from “that blessed word Mesopotamia.” Some say she died during the Great War.

(9.) Haldane, “Arab Rising,” 64; [An Eastern Trader], “The Mosul Problem,” JRUSI 71 (1926), 144; Atiyyah, Iraq, 264; CO 727/10: 25123: correspondence about A. W. Upcher, 1925; CO 732/42/2: correspondence regarding Italian explorations, 1930; AIR 20/523: Palmer's reports, 1921; IOR: L/PS/11/264: “Travellers:—Arabia,” correspondence, 1925–30; FO 686/26: Jeddah, Report, 11–21 Feb. and 1–10 Dec. 1920; AIR 20/645: “Prisoners and Revolutionists: From 8th Mar. 1919 to 6th Mar. 1920”; AIR 23/387: “Suspicious Characters. 6‐5‐1925”; AIR 23/333: SSO Baghdad, reports, 1925; AIR 23/388: Air Intelligence correspondence about “Suspicious Characters,” 1926–27; FO 371/5074: E5419: Acting C. C. Baghdad, Quarterly Return of Arrivals and Departures from Basrah, 1919–1920, and minutes thereon; FO 371/14482: E4009: Baxter, minute, 1 Sept. 1930; Shuckburgh to Masterton Smith, 31 Jan. 1922, and Churchill, quoted in Klieman, Foundations of British Policy, 233–35.

(10.) “The Problem of Mesopotamia,” Times, 8 Nov. 1919, 13 (my italics); Colonel Hodge, 1 March 1923, reported in Times, 2 March 1923, 6; Spectator, 5 May 1923, 742; “Policy in Mesopotamia,” Guardian, 19 Oct. 1920, 6; Lloyd George in Commons, reported in Times, 24 June 1920, 9; Herbert to the editor, Times, 15 July 1920, 10.

(11.) “Problem of Mesopotamia”; “Mesopotamia,” Times, 31 Dec. 1919, 11; “More Trouble in Mesopotamia,” Times, 12 June 1920, 17; “The Risings in Mesopotamia,” Times, 7 Aug. 1920, 11; “Mesopotamia,” Guardian, 24 June 1920, 6, and report on Lords, 26 June 1920, 13. On fears about the brutalization of the state, see also J. Lawrence, “Forging a Peaceable Kingdom.”

(12.) “A Case for Frankness,” Times, 15 June 1920, 17; “Mesopotamia and Anatolia,” Times, 23 June 1920, 17; Fraser, “War-Mongers”; “Policy in the Middle East,” Guardian, 30 Sept. 1920, 6; “Risings in Mesopotamia”; “Mesopotamia and Economy,” Guardian, 12 March 1921, 8; “Conspiracies and Common Sense” and “Publicity the True Remedy,” Spectator, 4 Dec. 1920, 728–30; “The Burden of (p.402) Mesopotamia,” Times, 31 Aug. 1922, 13; “The War in Mesopotamia,” Times, 21 Aug. 1920, 11; “Mesopotamia,” Times, 18 July 1921, 11; Spectator, 21 Oct. 1922, 543; Barron, “New Responsibilities,” 256.

(13.) “Case for Frankness”; “Our Oriental Empire,” Spectator, 28 Aug. 1920, 260; “Ministers at Mosul,” Times, 6 April 1925, 15; “The Question of the Mandates,” Times, 4 March 1921, 11.

(14.) “Imperial and Foreign News,” Times, 10 June 1924, 11; “The Allies and the Arabs,” Guardian, 6 Aug. 1920, 6; “An Imperial Secretary of State,” Times, 20 Jan. 1921, 11; E. Alexander Powell, The Struggle for Power in Moslem Asia, xi, 5–6 (an American author aligning himself with similarly minded “English critics”). See also my “Developing Iraq.”

(15.) Thornton, Imperial Idea, 150, 279–81.

(16.) Asquith, reported in “Reckless Waste,” Times, 21 June 1920, 5; “Risings in Mesopotamia”; “What Is Our Mesopotamian Policy,” Times, 16 Aug. 1920, 11; “Mesopotamian Trouble,” Times, 19 Aug. 1920, 10; “Mesopotamia,” Times, 19 Aug. 1920, 11; “War in Mesopotamia”; “British Policy in Mesopotamia,” Times, 24 Aug. 1920, 11; “What Is Happening in Mesopotamia?” Times, 8 Sept. 1920, 11; “The Government and the Middle East,” Times, 21 Sept. 1920, 11; “Our Military Expenditure Overseas,” Times, 29 Oct. 1920, 13; “India and the Middle East,” 5 Nov. 1920, 13; “The Army Estimates and Mesopotamia,” Times, 15 and 17 Dec. 1920, 13; Frank Swettenham to the editor, Times, 24 June 1920, 12; Lawrence, “Suppressed Introductory Chapter,” 144–45; Lawrence to the Sunday Times, 22 Aug. 1920, in Letters of T. E. Lawrence, 315; Zetton Buchanan, In the Hands of the Arabs, 4, 229, 233; “Captured Englishwoman,” letter to her sister, Times, 23 Aug. 1920, 9; “In the Hands of the Arabs,” Times, 25 May 1921, 11; “The Middle Eastern Department,” Guardian, 16 Feb. 1921, 6; “The Air Ministry,” Guardian, 18 Feb. 1921, 6; A. T. Wilson to the editor, Times, 17 Oct. 1924, 15; “The Change in Arabia,” Guardian, 5 Nov. 1924, 8.

(17.) “Mesopotamia,” Times, 1 June 1920, 17; “The Mandates,” Spectator, 2 April 1921, 419; “The Iraq Raids,” Times, 27 Sept. 1924, 12; Commons debate, reported in Times, 17 Nov. 1925, 8; Kenworthy to the editor of the Times, 4 Feb. 1921, 6; “The Mandate for Mesopotamia,” Times, 4 Feb. 1921, 11; “Mesopotamia and Mr. Churchill,” Times, 23 Feb. 1921, 11; “Parliament and the Mandates,” Times, 22 March 1921, 11 (and subsequent letters to the editor); “Parliament and Mandates,” Guardian, 24 Feb. 1921, 6, and 15 March 1921, 6; “Iraq,” Guardian, 4 May 1923, 8; Clynes in Commons, 2 Feb. 1926, reported in Times, 3 Feb. 1926, 8; “The Arab and Oil,” Guardian, 5 Feb. 1921, 6; “Mesopotamia,” Guardian, 26 June 1920, 10, “The League and Mosul,” Guardian, 16 Dec. 1925, 10. On concerns about the league and secret diplomacy, see also James Hinton, Protests and Visions: Peace Politics in Twentieth-Century Britain, 77–80; and Thornton, Imperial Idea, 283.

(18.) Morel in Commons, reported in Times, 25 Nov. 1922, 16; Lords debate, reported in Times, 2 March 1923, 6; Commons debate, reported in Times, 21 March 1923, 7; Commons debate, reported 23 Feb. 1923, 6. See also Thornton, Imperial Idea, 273; Howe, Anticolonialism in British Politics, 47–48.

(19.) Thornton, Imperial Idea, 279–81; “Mesopotamia,” Times, 1 June 1920; “Risings in Mesopotamia”; “Case for Frankness”; “A Recent Retirement,” Times, (p.403) 5 March 1921, 11; “The Case of Sir Arnold Wilson,” Times, 26 March 1921, 9; “Reckless Waste”; “Mesopotamia,” Guardian, 24 June 1920, 6; Macdonald and Bonar Law in Commons, reported in Times, 24 Nov. 1922, 7; “Mesopotamia,” Guardian, 26 June 1920, 10; “Mesopotamia,” Times, 18 July 1921, 11; “Mesopotamia,” Guardian, 21 Feb. 1923, 6; “Iraq,” Guardian, 31 July 1924, 8; Commons debate, reported in Times, 6 July 1926, 9.

(20.) “The Position in Mesopotamia,” Times, 6 Sept. 1920, 11; Tweedy, 28 Feb. 1927 and 20 March 1920, in Gathering Moss, 123, 170–71.

(21.) See, for instance, “The War in Mesopotamia,” Times, 21 Aug. 1920, 11, and “Sir Percy Cox and His Task,” 30 Aug. 1920, 11.

(22.) “Mesopotamia,” Guardian, 24 June 1920, 6; J. Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, 621; Lawrence, quoted in Knightley and Simpson, Secret Lives of Lawrence, 138; Monroe, Philby of Arabia, 138; G. Buchanan, Tragedy of Mesopotamia, 222; Herbert, Ben Kendim, 75; “The Problem of Mesopotamia,” Guardian, 24 July 1920, 8. Knightley and Simpson juxtapose Lawrence's statement about gas with the “grim truth” that Churchill had actually considered something on these lines (157); indeed, given his druthers, Churchill would have used nonlethal gas bombs (see C. Townshend, “Civilization and ‘Frightfulness,’ ” 148), but the gas shells available caused such injuries as to prove effectively lethal. Jonathan Steele similarly misreads the quote in “A Mess of Our Making,” Guardian, 25 Jan. 2003.

(23.) “Iraq's ‘Little War,’ ” Times, 6 April 1932, 16; “Bombing in Iraq,” Guardian, 21 April 1925, 8; “Outlook in the Middle East,” 85; Spectator, 11 Nov. 1922, 682; “Aeroplanes as Tax Collectors,” Guardian, 17 Jan. 1923, 6.

(24.) Commons debate, reported in Times, 21 Feb. 1923, 6; debate, reported 21 March 1923, 7; debate, reported 23 Feb. 1923, 6; debate, reported 13 April 1924, 7; debate, reported 1 July 1924, 9; paraphrase of debate, reported 4 July 1924, 8; debate, reported 11 July 1924, 8; White Paper, excerpted in “Iraq Bombing Operations,” Times, 7 Aug. 1924, 11.

(25.) Atlee, Commons debate, 8 March 1926, reported in Times, 9 March 1926, 8; Captain Guest, in debate reported 13 March 1928, 8–9.

(26.) Sir Charles W. Gwynn, Imperial Policing, 1–2, 34; Herbert, Ben Kendim, 75; Mary Lago, “India's Prisoner”: A Biography of Edward John Thompson, 205–27.

(27.) Commons debate, reported in Times, 3 April 1928, 8; “What Is Our Mesopotamian Policy,” 11; Edward Bernays, Propaganda (1928), quoted in Grant, Propaganda and the Role of the State, 16–17.

(28.) “Air Pageant at Hendon,” Times, 19 June 1923, 11; “The Royal Air Force,” Times, 2 July 1927, 13; “The Hendon Air Display,” Times, 28 June 1930, 13; Dodge, Inventing Iraq, 35–36; Air Vice-Marshal Sir W. S. Branker, “Air Communications in the Middle East,” 16 Dec. 1925, JRUSI 71 (1926), esp. 338–40. On the pageants, see also Omissi, Air Power, 171–77, and “The Hendon Air Pageant, 1920–37,” in John Mackenzie, ed., Popular Imperialism and the Military, 1850–1950; M. Paris, Warrior Nation, 158.

(29.) See, for instance, Leach to the Bradford ILP, reported in “The Air Force in Iraq,” Times, 30 Sept. 1924, 10; “Thomson's Defence of Bombing,” Times, 11 Oct. 1924, 7, and similar articles in November. See also contemporaneous coverage of Labour (p.404) criticisms of party leaders' imperialist policy in Iraq. On the divides within Labour, see Thornton, Imperial Idea, 299–300; Howe, Anticolonialism in British Politics, 68; Hinton, Protests and Visions; and Barry Powers, Strategy without Slide-Rule: British Air Strategy, 1914–1939, 172. Lansbury had to step down from his position as president of the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities at Brussells in 1926.

(30.) Charlton, Deeds That Held, 2, 205–06, 274–75.

(31.) M. Paris, Warrior Nation, 167–68, 171; R. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats: A Life II. The Arch Poet, 1915–1939, 557–58. See also Hynes, Soldier's Tale, 92.

(32.) CO 730/17: 49826: Bell to Shuckburgh, 13 Aug. 1921, and Bullard, minute, 7 Oct. 1921 (and enclosed article by Bell for Graphic [Oct. 1921]); CO 730/46: 54223: Hall and Shuckburgh, minutes, 9 Nov. 1923; Fulanain [pseud.], The Marsh Arab: Haji Rikkan, 7; Philby Papers: Box 4: File 7: H. T. Montague Bell, introduction to catalogue for Walker's Galleries, 15–18 Nov. 1922; “Great Britain and the Iraq: An Experiment in Anglo-Asiatic Relations,” Round Table 53 (1923), 64–83; Buchan, “The ‘Liberties' of the Air III,” Spectator, 20 March 1926, 518; “Emir Feisal,” Times, 7 Aug. 1920, 9; “W.,” “Arabian Nights and Days,” Blackwood's (1920), 588; “British Advisers in Iraq,” Times, 18 Feb. 1928, 11; Cox, “Mesopotamia,” Times, 10 Nov. 1928, xvii.

(33.) “State-making in Eden,” Times, 16 Dec. 1919, 13; Commons debate, reported in Times, 10 July 1920, 17.

(34.) Commons debate, reported in Times, 13 March 1928, 8–9; “Wahabis and Iraq,” Times, 13 March 1928, 15; “Order in Iraq,” 14 April 1928, 10; Philby to the editor, Times, 24 June 1932, 8; Correspondent in Arabia, “Arab Border Raids,” Times, 27 April 1932, 13; Wilson Papers: 52459A: Pennington to Wilson, 2 June 1920.

(35.) Ruck, comment on H. R. Brooke-Popham, lecture on the uses of airpower in the war, 3 Dec. 1919, in JRUSI 65 (1920), 69; comments on Webster, “Bolshevism and Secret Societies,” Nov. 1921, JRUSI 67 (1922), 1–15; FO 371/13736: E3490: Monteagle, minute, 8 July 1929; Captain Eden, “The Annual Dinner of the Central Asian Society,” JCAS 13 (1926), 320; A. T. Wilson, “Mesopotamia, 1914–1921,” 155; Barrow and Peel, comments on Haldane, “Arab Rising,” 79–80; Peel, comment on Eden, “Annual Dinner,” 320, 325; Captain Acland, comment on Col. H. Burchall, “The Air Route to India,” 20 Oct. 1926, JCAS 14 (1927), 17; Dickson Papers: Box 2: File 4: Thomas to Violet Dickson, 2 Feb. 1925; FO 371/13736: E3490: Rendel, minute, 6 July 1929; CO 730/18: 19794: Wilson to Shuckburgh, 26 April 1921, and Young and Bullard, minutes, 23 and 25 April 1921; CO 730/18: 28620: D. Campbell Lee, “The Mandate for Mesopotamia and the Principle of Trusteeship in English Law,” lecture, University College, London University, 23 May 1921, and Young's corrections, 23 May 1921; Glubb Papers: Box 2: Iraq S. Desert (3): Edmonds to Glubb, 21 Nov. 1929; [Glubb?], “Iraq-Najd Frontier.”

(36.) Maguire, comment on Borton, “Use of Aircraft,” 317; F. H. Tyrrell: “The Arab Soldier,” JRUSI 68 (1923), 82–88; R. H. Beadon, “The Iraq Army,” JRUSI 71 (1926), 343–54.

(37.) See Fussell, Great War, 316; Nicoletta Gullace, “The Blood of Our Sons”: Men, Women, and the Renegotiation of British Citizenship during the Great War, 29–33.

(38.) Bray, appendix I of memo, 30 Dec. 1920; WO 32/5728: Montagu to S/S WO, 24 June 1921; IOR: L/PS/10/866 Part 2: Bray to Wakely, 22 Feb. 1921; FO 371/5232: E15068: IO to FO, 1 Dec. 1920, and minutes thereon; and IO, Statement for (p.405) press release, in IO to FO, 1 Dec. 1920; Reuters, “ ‘England the Enemy,’ ” Times, 22 Dec. 1920, 9; Valentine Chirol, “The Reawakening of the Orient,” in The Reawakening of the Orient and Other Addresses, 6; Lyell, Ins and Outs, 226, 214; “Kurdistan Conspiracy,” Times, 7 July 1919, 11, and similar reporting on Soviet conspiracies in August; “Revolutionary Conspiracy,” Times, 19 June 1920, 13; “Anti-British Conspiracy,” Times, 8 July 1920, 16; “Bolshevist Threat to the Empire,” Times, 5 Nov. 1920, 9; Neilson, “Tsars and Commissars,” 490; “Persia and Mesopotamia” and “S” to the editor, Times, 10 June 1920, 12, 17.

(39.) FO 371/5422: E2435: H. G. Wells, “Blundering Bolshevism,” Sunday Express, 14 Nov. 1920; IOR: L/PS/11/154: “The Cause of World Unrest,” n.d., newsclipping; Duke of Northumberland, “The Conspiracy against the British Empire: Some Leading Facts,” pamphlet presented to Members of Parliament in May 1921.

(40.) “The Palestine Mandate,” Guardian, 23 June 1922, 6; “Lord Balfour and Palestine,” Guardian, 13 April 1925, 6; Percival Landon, “Mesopotamia,” Daily Telegraph, 3 May 1921; Gisela Lebzelter, “The Protocols in England,” 116; “Musings without Method,” Blackwood's (Aug. 1920), 265.

(41.) Lyell, Ins and Outs, 214; “Battlefields of Iraq,” Times, 12 Dec. 1923, 11; “Battlefields of Iraq. II,” 18 Jan. 1924, 11.

(42.) See also Grant, Propaganda and the Role of the State, 11–15, and, on a later period, Susan L. Carruthers, Winning Hearts and Minds: British Governments, the Media, and Colonial Counter-Insurgency, 1944–1960.

(43.) Cicely Hamilton, Theodore Savage: A Story of the Past or the Future, 18–24, 86–89, 316; “National Defence in the Air,” Times, 15 March 1923, 13; “The Hendon Air Display,” Times, 28 June 1930, 13. See also chapter 7 on British fears of bombardment.

(44.) Commons debate, reported in Times, 3 July 1926, 9; Edgerton, England and the Aeroplane, 107; Orwell, Tribune column, 12 May 1944, reprinted in As I Please (1943–1945), available at http://orwell.ru/library/articles/As_I_Please/english/eaip_03.html.

(45.) “Iraq and the Treaty,” Times, 10 June 1924, 11; Commons debate, reported Times, 19 Feb. 1926, 9; “The Rebirth of a Nation,” Guardian, 6 July 1925, 8; “Britain and Iraq,” Times, 21 Sept. 1929, 11; “Ten Years of Mandates,” Times, 31 May 1930, 13; “New Session Opened,” Times, 3 Feb. 1926, 14; Coke, Arab's Place, 13, 305–07; Heart of the Middle East, 222.

(46.) On this political shift, see Dodge, Inventing Iraq, 35–36.

(47.) Young, note, in Humphrys to CO, 19 Dec. 1929; “Iraq and Its Minorities,” Times, 23 Sept. 1932, 13; Dobbs to the editor, Times, 29 Sept. 1932, 6. On similar concerns today about an independent Iraqi government misusing the U. S. Air Force, see Hersh, “Up in the Air.”

(48.) Coke, Arab's Place, 13, 305–07.

(49.) Commons debate, reported in Times, 29 Jan. 1929, 8.

(50.) “British Policy in Mesopotamia,” Times, 24 Aug. 1920, 11; special corre-spondent in the Middle East, “Mesopotamia,” Times, 23 Aug. 1920, 15; “Mesopotamian Misrule,” Times, 20 Sept. 1920, 14; “Mesopotamian Mystery I,” Times, 27 Dec. 1921, 3; II. 28 Dec. 1921, 3; III. 29 Dec. 1921, 7; CO 730/16: 4311: minutes, 29 Dec. 1921, 1 and 23 Jan. 1922; CO 730/35: 5819: Cox to Shuckburgh, 20 Jan. 1922.

(51.) Montagu, note, [c. 25 Aug. 1920]; Kidston, quoted in J. Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, 619; FO 371/4141: Hirtzel to Curzon, 24 June 1919.

(52.) Mann, Administrator in the Making, 257; CO 730/9: correspondence about Stitt, 1921; FO 371/9016: E9605: correspondence about Jackman, 1923; FO 371/16878: E3999: Warner, minute, 25 July 1933; R. Graves, Lawrence and the Arabs, 54; review of Lawrence and the Arabs, Times, 18 Nov. 1927, 8; J. Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, 858; clippings of Philby's journalism in FO 371/10017 and 10807, FO 967/38, and WO 181/3; FO 371/3718: 104620: Basil Thomson, Special Report no. 3, 1919; FO 371/5202: E1073: [Thomson], précis, 5 March 1920; IDCEU, “Pan-Islamism and the Caliphate.”

(53.) “Musings without Method,” Blackwood's (Sept. 1919), 434–37; Meinertzhagen, Black Sheep, 73.

(54.) CO 730/18: 63592: Young to Shuckburgh, 8 Dec. 1921; CO 730/3, 20, 21, 26: correspondence about agent to Najd, 1920–22; Jeddah reports of mid–1920s, e.g., FO 371/11431: E1597: 15 Feb. 1926; FO 371/13734: E3857: Monteagle, minute, 17 Aug. 1929; FO 967/16: Oliphant to Stonehewer-Bird, 3 May 1928; FO 967/38: RMS to Hope Gill, 27 Nov. 1930; FO 371/13740: E3737: Thomas to Shuckburgh, 30 June 1929, and to Laithwaite, 1 July 1929; Dickson Papers: Box 2: File 2: Cox to Dickson, 4 Sept. 1928; CO 732/41/11: Moore to FO, 25 June 1929; CO 727/5: [Shuckburgh?], minute, 26 Sept. 1923, on Knox to CO, 20 Sept. 1923; CO 727/11: Vernon, CID to S/S, 25 June 1925; FO 371/10005: E1984: Mallet, memo, 3 March 1924; FO 371/13741: E5405: Rendel, minute, 22 Oct. 1928; Wilson Papers: 52457B: Hogarth to Bell, 15 Feb. 1918; Lyell, Ins and Outs, 206.

(55.) Bray, Paladin of Arabia, 367; CO 730/6: 55824: Meinertzhagen, minute, 10 Nov. 1921; Abdullah Achmed and T. Compton Pakenham, Dreamers of Empire, xiii; Philby, preface, 1945, Riyadh, in Arabian Days, xvi; “The Mesopotamian Imbroglio,” Spectator, 31 July 1920, 133; Jarvis, Arab Command, 129; Stirling, Safety Last, 117; Shaw to Lawrence, 1 Dec. 1922, in Letters to T. E. Lawrence, 161–63.

(56.) Yeats, “The Second Coming,” appeared first in Nation, Nov. 1920; Yeats to Ethel Manning, 6 April 1936, quoted in Foster, Yeats, 2:542 (see also 146–51, 274); Tabachnick, “Art and Science,” 8; Bushrui, “Yeats's Arabic Interests,” 313; R. Graves, Lawrence and the Arabs, 272. On Medina, see Stafford, “John Buchan's Tales.”

(57.) Thornton, Imperial Idea, 279; headlines from Beaverbrook and Rothermere newspapers, quoted in Monroe, Britain's Moment, 142; Lady Bell, conclusion, in Letters of Gertrude Bell, 2:776; J. Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, 706, 875; “Arrested Russian Professors,” Times, 14 Nov. 1930, 14, and follow-ups on 17, 25, and 27 Nov. 1930, 14, 15, and 8 Dec. 1930, 13; Daily Herald, 5 Jan. 1929, quoted in Brown, Selected Letters, 311; Commons debate, reported in Times, 7 Feb. 1929, 8; “Great Britain and Afghan Rising,” Times, 7 Jan. 1929, 14; Sunday Chronicle, quoted in J. Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, 894–95; Edward Thompson, “America and India,” Times, 22 July 1930, 15; Jeffrey Richards and Jeffrey Hulbert, “Censorship in Action: The Case of Lawrence of Arabia”; FO 371/10017: E9603: Shuckburgh to Osborne, 4 Nov. 1924 passim, and minute to Spring-Rice, 5 Nov. 1924; Thurtle, quoted in Marlowe, Late Victorian, 243–44; C. E. Montague, “The Duty of Lying,” in Disenchantment, 154–55; G. T. Garratt to the editor, Times, 20 April 1921, 6; “A Recent Retirement”; “The Case of Sir Arnold Wilson,” Times, 26 March 1921, 9. If Lawrence was not involved in the Afghani (p.407) revolution, it was not because Britain was not interested in sending special agents there. Immediately after the war, unsupervised agents inspired by Buchan and the Arab Revolt were dispatched to Central Asia to combat Bolshevik and “Turco-German” influence. See L. P. Morris, “British Secret Missions in Turkestan, 1918–1919.” Lawrence and Thurtle eventually joined forces in the campaign to abolish the death penalty for military offenses.

(58.) Sunday Chronicle, quoted in J. Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, 894–95.

(59.) Jarvis, Arab Command, 112.

(60.) Hynes, Soldier's Tale, 103–04.

(61.) Buchan, dedication to Caroline Grosvenor, in Greenmantle; Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 78.