chapter  9
Pages 9

The British made the decision to pull out of Syria with alacrity between 6-15 September 1919 in meetings held while Lloyd George was on holiday at Deauville on the French coast. As Jukka Nevakivi argues, Lloyd George had finally decided to cut the 'Gordian knot',7 which he did with typical speed in the space of about a week. The turnaround was a result of imperial retrenchment accelerated by French hostility and Clemenceau's earlier stand against Lloyd George. As the year unfolded, French opposition mounted. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles with Germany on 28 June 1919 eased the position of the French, who now had time to look dispassionately at other areas of the peace settlement. Henry Wilson had written to Allenby in June 1919, pointing out that Clemenceau now appeared 'to be going to go back and stand on the Sykes-Picot Agreement'. Wilson observed that if Clemence au were to do

this he would 'be within his rights' and the result would 'be the devil for us'. Realistically, France was not going to be able to insist on the original Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, but Britain's awkward position was apparent to Wilson who concluded by pointing out to Allenby that Britain had 'made so many promises to everybody in a contradictory sense that I cannot for the life of me see how we can get out of our present mess without breaking our word to somebody'.8 By the summer of 1919, Lloyd George realised that he was going to achieve little beyond angering the French by further resistance to implementing the December 1918 arrangement. For Britain, whose foreign policy was global, France was, in the end, more significant than the weak and dependent Hashemites occupying a portion of the Middle East. Balfour remarked on the relative standing of the two parties in July 1919, by which time he felt that it was 'preferable to quarrel with the Arab rather than the French'.9 The knowledge that the United States was not going to assume a mandate for any of the Ottoman empire quickened the resolution of the Syrian impasse, for as Curzon pointed out to Balfour: 'settlement of the Eastern Question cannot be postponed even till the date at which Wilson may have persuaded, or failed to persuade, the Senate to make up its mind about a Turkish Mandate.' 10 Curzon was right to emphasise the role of America. The United States was reverting to a policy of isolationism and was therefore unlikely to become a mandatory power in the Middle East. President Wilson had a paralytic stroke in September 1919 and his illness reinforced American distance from the peace settlements. America's position, coupled with French stubbornness and domestic pressures, made the autumn of 1919 a propitious moment for Lloyd George to withdraw Allenby's Syrian garrison.