890D.00/948: Telegram

The Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Beirut (Wadsworth) to the Secretary of State

115. My 107, March 17, 8 p.m., and 109, March 19, 10 [11] p.m. There is, I believe, some ground for apprehensions lest the events and [Page 964] action reported in my No. 109 have more than passing repercussions in this and neighboring Arab countries with possibly deleterious effect on their attitude towards the Allied war effort.

We have based policy on the Atlantic Charter22 and talked of the four freedoms;23 while Arab leaders here continued to nurse four fears—of French imperialism, British insincerity, American isolationism, and Zionist expansionism.

Widespread conviction that we support the latter has already undermined our influence in these countries; and disillusionment as to our political influence with our allies might well be a result of our accepting without some qualification the fait accompli in this country.

To comments in the latter sense I have answered that there can be no question of our watering our principles and that the policy enunciated in my letters of credence and presentation remarks are as true today as ever. It may be that the Department will wish me to add that I make such affirmation with its specific approval.

The first two of their four fears, Lebanese intellectuals and leaders nevertheless contend, have now been justified. They argue that General Catroux has in fact by coup d’état tactics reestablished the mandate and is demanding treaty of alliance with France as a sine qua non to its termination; also that General Spears’ speech shows that the British Government has again been jockeyed into yielding to De Gaullist importunities despite its recognition of Lebanese independence notably in his own letter of credence and in King George’s message of December 27, 1941, to President Naccache.

The latter sent me this afternoon a copy of a projected letter of protest and refusal to resign “except to an authority validly constituted having its source in the National Will”, the drafting of which he had completed on the afternoon of March 19 in agreement with the Prime Minister.

That evening, his confidential messenger explained, he had listened to Spears’ radio address; his morale had collapsed. What was the use of further fighting? He had not answered Catroux’s letter; neither had he resigned or lodged formal protest; but he still considered himself the legitimate Chief of State.

I received this afternoon also a circular note informing me of the constitution of the new Lebanese Government signed by Jawad Boulos, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Tabet will hold the Portfolios of Interior, Justice and Supply, the others being divided between Boulos and Chehab.

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I am somewhat perplexed as to what my attitude and action should be and would appreciate receiving the Department’s instructions. Pending their receipt I shall deal with current matters on a de facto basis.

My letter of credence was to President Naccache. Catroux’s action was perhaps unnecessarily arbitrary and based on an authority which our Government may find it difficult to recognize Fighting France to possess. But the British Government apparently has no qualms on this score; and, insofar as concerns prosecution of the war, I understand our policy to include a recognition of British primary responsibility in this theatre of operations.

The authority Catroux invoked in the preamble to his pertinent decree was notably his proclamation of November 26, 1941, “recognizing the independence of Lebanon and defining in its spirit and its forms the collaboration to be instituted between France and Lebanon pending the conclusion of a Franco-Lebanese Treaty of Alliance and Friendship which will definitely establish the independence of the country” and “the decision taken by the Fighting French National Committee on January 24, 1943” (see my telegram 47, January 25).

I have not yet called on the new Government but feel I should do so very promptly unless the Department instructs me to the contrary. Failure to do so would render my position extremely awkward especially vis-à-vis the French authorities.

In Damascus the situation has been complicated by serious bread rioting which began March 20 and announcement of Catroux’s contemplated decrees, similar to those issued in Beirut, has been postponed.

  1. Joint Declaration by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill, August 14, 1941, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 367.
  2. Enunciated by President Roosevelt in his State of the Union Message, January 6, 1941, Congressional Record, vol. 87, pt. 1, pp. 44, 46.