Monday, December 21, 2015

Who remembers Lowell Thomas today? - And why we have the political mess that is the Middle East today?

Who remembers Lowell Thomas today?
Dr. Jack Wheeler does. In 2002, The Daily Reckoning posted Wheeler's article, "The Curse of Lawrence of Arabia." This story was forgotten in 2002. It remains forgotten.
The most legendary American journalist of the 20th century was Lowell Thomas. I had the opportunity to meet him in 1978, when we were both guests on The Merv Griffin Show. Off camera, I asked him, "Do you feel you contributed, however inadvertently, to the political mess that is the Middle East today?" He looked at me sharply and asked me what I meant. "Well, after all," I answered, "it was you who gave Lawrence's promise to the Hashemites so much power." His eyes narrowed, and he responded, "That was a long time ago."
In 1917, Lowell Thomas was a young, ambitious journalist in search of an interesting story in the lost backwater of World War I. In Jerusalem, he met a small (5 foot 4) British Army captain assigned as a liaison officer to Arabs living in a desert no one had ever heard of. Thomas saw his chance. His breathless dispatches had the purpose of creating a myth around the liaison officer who had begun teaching Arab tribes to blow up Turkish trains nobody cared about in the desert nobody ever heard of.
The liaison officer's name was T.E. Lawrence, but Lowell Thomas called him "Lawrence of Arabia." In 1919, Thomas went on a lecture tour in the United Kingdom and United States, showing pictures of Lawrence posing in a sheikh's robes in a London studio, and entranced audiences with stories about the 'White King of the Arabs.' By the time the Treaty of Sèvres was negotiated in 1920, with Lawrence in attendance and the media mob hanging on his every word, the British felt compelled to keep Lawrence's promise to the chieftains of an Arab tribe called the Hashemites.
The political structure of the Middle East today is the result of that promise. The Treaty of Sèvres permitted the British to seize pieces of the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the Middle East for centuries, but joined the Germans in WWI. Instead of British colonies, the pieces were called League of Nations 'mandates,' for which the Brits needed puppet rulers.
One of these 'mandated' areas was the west coast of Arabia, a desert region called the Hejaz. Lawrence had promised the chieftains of the Hashem tribe that if they would join the British against the Turks, they would get to rule the Hejaz as their own kingdom. Thus the Hashem patriarch, Hussein Ibn Ali, became the King of the Hejaz.
At Lawrence's insistence, the Brits installed Ali's son Feisal as ruler of the 'mandate' of Syria, divided the 'mandate' of Palestine in two, and installed Feisal's brother Abdullah as ruler of the part east of the Jordan River (the western part eventually became Israel 28 years later, no thanks to the British).
Lawrence (and Thomas) had bought into the phony claim that the Hashem tribal leaders were directly descended from Mohammad himself. The Hashemites claimed that this assumed mantle of Islamic holiness gave them a right to rule, without elections, all Arabs everywhere. So the Brits created the Hashemite Kingdoms of Hejaz, Jordan and Syria. Except, the chieftain of the Wahhabi tribe from central Arabia, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, kicked Ali out of Hejaz, took it over, and called his entire conquered area Saudi Arabia -- while France claimed Syria was their 'mandate' and kicked out Feisal.
As a consolation prize, Lawrence insisted the Brits install Feisal as the ruler of yet another "mandate," that of Mesopotamia. Created out of three former Ottoman vilayets (provinces) without any regard to national coherence, this area was renamed Iraq. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan still exists (the current ruler, Abdullah II, is the first Abdullah's great-grandson), but the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq was erased (with the entire "royal family," including Feisal's grandson Feisal II, slaughtered) by a military coup in 1958. Through the help of Soviet KGB agent Yevgeny Primakov, Saddam Hussein completed his control over the Iraqi military regime by 1979.
The bottom line to this saga is that Iraq is not a real country -- like, say, Persia (Iran) which has existed for 2,500 years. It is an artificial construct and can only be held together by force. Iraq and its people have no history of nor familiarity with democratic institutions. The three former vilayets of which it is composed still have no mutual cohesiveness. Mosul in the north is Kurdish, Basra in the south is Shiite Arab, Baghdad in the middle is Sunni Arab. The Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis all hate each other. It takes a Saddam to hold the place together.
Four months after Wheeler wrote this, the U.S. government invaded Iraq. Just as Wheeler predicted, Iraq has disintegrated.
I have shortened his Wikipedia biography. Read it here.
Today, just about the only trace of Thomas appears in the final chapter of Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People: "A Shortcut to Distinction." His name is listed. There is no identifying information.
My generation may vaguely recall his name. Later generations do not.
Men seek fame. They seek great wealth. They seek influence. Thomas had all three, yet he is forgotten. But his legacy lives on: ISIS/ISIL.