Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Alling) to the Secretary of State 18

Need for Over-all American Political Representative in the Near East Assisted by a High-Ranking Army Officer

Mr. Secretary: With reference to the situation in the Near East and American interests in that area, to which you referred this morning, the following are some of the more important reasons why it seems to this Division that an outstanding American official should be sent to that area. It is our idea that this official should make his headquarters in Cairo and should correspond in position roughly to that of Mr. Casey, the British Minister of State in the Near East.

Our interests in the Near East are threefold—political, military and economic:

I. Political Interests.

As a result of British military defeats, the prestige of Great Britain in the Near and Middle East has fallen to a low ebb. Our own prestige in that area, however, remains high, since the local inhabitants realize that we have no territorial ambitions or imperial designs. Evidence of our own political prestige is shown in several recent developments in which the British have called on us for aid in obtaining better cooperation from the Iranians, Syrians, Egyptians and Turks. Many political questions are arising daily which affect our interests and there is a great and growing need of coordinating our policy. [Page 77]This can best be done, it would seem, through the appointment of a broad-gauge man with a thorough understanding of the international situation and having the personal confidence of the President.

II. Military Interests.

Although the relative importance of the fighting fronts in Russia, the British Isles, the Pacific and the Near East may be debated, the great, if not vital, importance of the Near Eastern front is not questioned. The junction of Axis and Japanese forces there would isolate Russia and open to the Axis the resources in petroleum and other raw materials which it requires for an indefinite continuation of hostilities. If the Germans are not able to reach Iran through Russia, their alternative is to try to do so through the Near East and they may well conclude that the southern route is the easier of the two. We have sent to the British in the Near East planes, guns and tanks in large numbers. Moreover, we have two military missions operating in that area. The first is under General Maxwell at Cairo and includes Egypt, the Sudan and the former Italian territory on the Red Sea and in Ethiopia, as well as Syria and Palestine. This mission has the responsibility of establishing large supply bases and assembly plants. The Iranian mission, until recently under the command of General Wheeler, has as its sphere of activity Iraq and Iran and the Persian Gulf area. One of the tasks of that mission is to assist in creating facilities for the transportation of Lend-Lease supplies across Iran to Soviet Russia. In addition, there are the numerous military questions which arise as a result of our using air bases in Africa and the Middle East for ferrying military aircraft to the Middle East and to the Far East. Among questions which arise in this connection are such matters as acquiring possible air bases in Saudi Arabia which would not be open to attack either from the Mediterranean or from the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.

III. Economic Interests.

Our economic interests throughout the area are twofold—first, acquiring urgently needed supplies such as chrome from Turkey and seeing to the maintenance and development of petroleum resources as at Bahrein in the Persian Gulf; secondly may be mentioned our responsibilities in seeing that the imperative needs of the local populations in the Middle Eastern countries are met from our own and British sources. In this latter connection, it has recently been decided to establish American representation on the Middle East Supply Center at Cairo.19 This Center passes on requests for goods for civilian requirements throughout the Middle Eastern sector. In addition, we are in the process of setting up local committees in the various countries on which the local authorities, the British, and ourselves [Page 78]will be represented. These committees will pass upon requests for imports, in the first instance, and forward them to the Middle East Supply Center at Cairo for further consideration and recommendations. For the time being, some member of the American Legation at Cairo will be our representative on the Supply Center but, in the near future, it is planned to send out a man or small group of men from this country to handle our activities in that Center.


From the foregoing it will be seen that our political, military, and economic interests in the Middle East are of first-rate importance. It seems clear that we must continue to assume greater responsibilities in that area. For this reason, it seems highly important to have a high-ranking man of broad experience to coordinate these various activities. Primarily, he would operate in the political field but I believe he should be assisted on the economic side by our representative on the Middle East Supply Center and on the military side by a senior Army officer who, to be effective, should be given general control over all of our military activities, present and future, in that area.

Paul H. Alling
  1. Attached to this document is a memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Welles) dated June 29, 1942, addressed to Assistant Secretary Acheson, reading as follows: “Both the Secretary of State and I for some time past have been urging insistently that this step be taken. In the last meeting of the Liaison Committee at which I brought this matter up some two weeks ago, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff told me that the matter had been given full consideration and that the War Department was not going to do anything of the kind inasmuch as this theater of activity was allocated to the British.

    “It would seem to me unfortunately that events of the past ten days have shown the wisdom of the suggestion which the Secretary and I and Kirk have been making.”

  2. For correspondence on this subject, see pp. 1 ff.