The Gaza offensive

by on July 9, 2014 at 2:55 am in Books, Current Affairs, History, Political Science | Permalink

In March 1917, the EEF [Egyptian Expeditionary Force, from Great Britain] launched offensive operations in southern Palestine.

That is from the new and noteworthy book by Kristian Coates Unrichsen, The First World War in the Middle East.  I wouldn’t say it is a fun book, but it is clear, well-written, and very good background reading on a number of today’s crises.

Bob Price July 9, 2014 at 3:39 am

For an even better overview of the idiocies of early 20th century mechanizations in the middle east, may I recommend Mary Doria Russell’s “Dreamers of the Day”, which gives an insightful overview of Gertrude Bell, Winston Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia, and others in the context of the Treaty of 1921.

Ray Lopez July 9, 2014 at 3:50 am

Churchill cut his teeth in Afghanistan and Africa, showing bravery in cavalry charges where he easily could have lost his life. L. of Arabia likewise was a brave adventurer. So these guys were guided by their past in formulating whatever opinions they had of the future. When the public is apathetic about foreign wars, the natural impulse is to have them. What we need is more pacifists in office, who oppose war. Would eastern Europe be better off under Hitler vs Stalin? Probably not, but it’s not so clear cut to justify a full western democracy effort to stop Hitler. To a degree, historically, the Allies in WWII also pursued such a strategy, buying time in 1943 until the USSR weakened Germany, then moving in for the kill, so my remark in the previous sentence is accurate.

dearieme July 9, 2014 at 4:33 am

I am struck that over the years I’ve seen nobody, or next to nobody, make the point that the British and French guarantee to Poland may have been very foolish. It’s as if the fact that we won in the end justifies everything done beforehand.

prior_approval July 9, 2014 at 7:11 am

‘the point that the British and French guarantee to Poland may have been very foolish’

Well, one can just as easily argue that the Allies ‘reconstituting’ Poland was also a mistake -

‘During World War I, all the Allies agreed on the reconstitution of Poland that United States President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed in Point 13 of his Fourteen Points. A total of 2 million Polish troops fought with the armies of the three occupying powers, and 450,000 died.[36] Shortly after the armistice with Germany in November 1918, Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic (II Rzeczpospolita Polska). It reaffirmed its independence after a series of military conflicts, the most notable being the Polish–Soviet War (1919–1921) when Poland inflicted a crushing defeat on the Red Army at the Battle of Warsaw, an event which is considered to have halted the advance of Communism into Europe and forced Vladimir Lenin to rethink his objective of achieving global socialism. Nowadays the event is often referred to as the “Miracle at the Vistula”.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poland#Reconstitution_of_Poland

Or not – history is like that. Historical – without the possibility of knowing how the alternatives would have turned out.

J. Srnec July 9, 2014 at 7:33 am

There are lots of critiques of British and French interwar foreign policy kicking around.

The Anti-Gnostic July 9, 2014 at 9:22 am

I’m particularly critical of the billions of dollars and thousands of lives the US has spent trying to maintain Sykes-Picot.

Roy July 9, 2014 at 10:51 am

So if the allies, UK & France, had not guaranteed Poland, where would we be now?

Germany and the Soviets partition Poland
Soviets annex Baltics and invade Finland (<– do Allies intervene here?)
Then all the border adjustments in Eastern Europe, I assume France abandons Romania again.
Are you positing Barbarossa with no Western Front?

I don't see where that ends but a Nazi dominated Europe and the setting for a bad alternate history novel.

The Anti-Gnostic July 9, 2014 at 10:58 am

Yes. The trillions of dollars, millions of lives and destruction of classical liberal civilization were all worth it so we could avoid that horrible alternate history where Germany dominates the European continent.

Cliff July 9, 2014 at 11:53 am

Nazi Germany…

Roy July 9, 2014 at 3:37 pm

I think you are confusing WWI with WWII.

At the beginning of WWI the only guarantee Poland got from France and England was continued rule by the Tsar.

By 1939 there was not much left of classical liberal civilization, especially in the Germany of Adolf Hitler.

If you are not please enlighten me so I can properly appreciate your politics.

jon livesey July 9, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Not just a Nazi dominated Europe, but a Europe that works for the German war effort. For example, a Europe where Germany controls the French, and Italian Navies and Air Forces as well as its own.

You can only understand British policy in 1914 and 1939 if you look ten, rather than five years ahead. If you look only five years ahead, then in both cases the UK can sit out a continental war and save itself a massive expenditure of men and money.

However, if you look fifteen years ahead you ask how big the Navy of a victorious Imperial Germany, which has partitioned Belgium and occupied Antwerp, would be in 1924. Similarly, if you look ten years past 1939, how would a future Battle of Britain or Blitz turn out if Germany had had ten years to integrate the French and Italian armed forces with its own, especially if Germany controlled the European coast from the North of Norway down to Gibraltar.

The Anti-Gnostic July 9, 2014 at 4:08 pm

I happen to think WWI was the sine qua non of WWII. In other words, WWI finally ended in 1945.

jon livesey July 9, 2014 at 3:45 pm

I think you misunderstand the point of the Polish Guarantee. Germany is an industrial state in a resource poor country. Apart from some coal and potash, Germany has little in the way of raw materials. In particular, in 1938, Germany imported 80% of its oil.

Therefore, from the British/French point of view, in 1939 the worst case would be to allow Germany to attack Poland and push on into Russia, with France and the UK neutral, since that could lead to Germany gaining control of Russian oil and other raw materials, and achieve strategic invulnerability.

The Polish Guarantee was not a proposal to defend Poland in 1939 – that was infeasible. It was a legal way to allow the UK to declare war on Germany, turn a one front war into a two front war, and impose the naval blockade that helped to cripple the German war effort. Germany fought the war with a chronic shortage of oil. That shortage eventually motivated Germany to invade Russia, but it also made the invasion unsuccessful, since Germany never did succeed in getting control of Russian oil, with the result that the German Army in Russia depended on horse transport.

So in the end, the Polish Guarantee and the naval blockade it justified did have a significant effect on winning the War.

PD Shaw July 9, 2014 at 11:12 am

My recommendation goes to “Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923″ by Efraim and Inari Karsh because too much attention in this area is given to exotic British adventures of overstated importance, as opposed to local actors like the Hashemites.

Go Kings, Go! July 9, 2014 at 11:55 am

You could also read about any 100-year period from 630 to WWII and it’d be the same story with the same cities- massacres in Hom, Aleppo, Tripoli, Baghdad, assassins from Iran, bloody religious pogroms interrupted by strange bedfellow alliances. The only thing missing today are Mongols and Crusaders.

jon livesey July 9, 2014 at 4:01 pm

I am unclear what you mean by “idiocies”. The Middle East was there, a fact. The Ottoman Empire was collapsing, another fact. The French and British used the mandate system to stabilise the situation and tried to set up states that could move towards independence. I can’t off-hand think of anything since then, that would not have happened anyway.

I laughed out loud the other day when I read an article blaming ISIS on Sykes-Piquet. Apparently there are people who imagine that without French/UK policy in the 1920s, there would not be Sunni-Shiite conflict today. Adorable.

J. Srnec July 9, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Sykes-Picot was a wartime agreement. It is not a product of interwar diplomacy. This comment is directed at Anti-Gnostic as well.

The Anti-Gnostic July 9, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Thank you for that fine distinction. And thanks for those artificial countries you drew up over there. The British and French empires–the gifts that keep on giving.

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