McGhee Files: Lot 53D468: Syria and Lebanon 19481

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Officer in Charge of Lebanon–Syria–Iraq Affairs (Clark)


Subject: Anti-Western Attitudes in the Arab World and Means of Combatting them.

Participants: Dr. Charles Malik, Minister of Lebanon
NEA—Mr. McGhee
NE—Mr. Clark


Mr. McGhee said that we were very interested in Dr. Malik’s presentation on July 27 (See Memorandum of Conversation dated July 272 entitled “(1) Attack on Lebanese Plane by Israeli Fighter; (2) Lebanese Assistance in Korea; (3) General situation in the Near East”) and were very happy to have this opportunity to hear his further comments on the growth of anti-Western feeling in the Arab world. He added that Dr. Malik’s description of conditions favorable to Communist penetration of the Near East were more forceful than we had had from other sources.

Dr. Malik said he felt there was no doubt whatever that the universal feeling in the Arab world is that when the worst comes to the worst in any conflict of Arab and Jewish interests, the US will inevitably side with the Jews. A corollary to this feeling is that “the US does not give a damn about the Arabs”. He said that he believed this feeling was shared in some measure even by King Ibn Saud himself and that all sections of the population both in and out of Government believed it to be true. He said he admitted the Arab Governments feel that they are supported by the US in a pro forma sort of way but that this was a type of hypocrisy indulged in by the US. This was the feeling which we had to disprove by our actions at once if the [Page 1101] present trend were to be reversed or even stopped. It is based on the American position in the Palestine controversy and the record of American support for Israel against the Arabs in every crisis.

Dr. Malik said that even he, whose sincerity of friendship for the West could not be disputed, still felt that in any crucial conflict it was a mathematical, foregone conclusion that this Government would be forced by American Zionist pressure to side with the Jews.

Mr. McGhee said he understood how Dr. Malik’s experiences might have led him to that impression, but that he wished to assure him again that it was simply erroneous. Dr. Malik repeated that it was a thesis which we had to refute by our actions. Mr. McGhee said he did not see why the Arab-Israeli conflict should carry over to the struggle the free world was waging against world aggression. Dr. Malik replied that when bitten by the known one always prefers the unknown, and that the unknown usually has a halo. Mr. McGhee asked whether the Arabs had any information on conditions behind the Iron Curtain. Dr. Malik said the Arabs regarded Western versions of such conditions as mere propaganda.

Dr. Malik said he felt there are seven basic questions on which our representatives in the US should be asked to ascertain Arab attitudes, as follows:

In the event of a war between the East and the West what would be the attitude of the Arab Governments?
In a similar emergency what would be the attitude of the Arab peoples?
What would be the possibility of anti-Western sabotage and fifth column activity?
In case of Communist invasion and expulsion of the West, how many people in the Arab world would “miss” the West? The answers to this question, he said, would be most illuminating.
In the event of Sovietization of the Arab world—again by no means impossible, what would be the possibility of an underground movement developing to resist the Russian occupation.
In case the West reconquers the area, how will the people receive it?
What then ought to be the shape of things to come?

Mr. McGhee asked Dr. Malik for his own evaluation as to the answers to these questions. Dr. Malik said he could only talk specifically about his own country but he would comment in general about the attitudes on each of these questions in other Arab countries.

As for Lebanon, Dr. Malik summarized the answers as follows:

The Lebanese Government in the event of an East-West conflict would be inclined toward the West, at least to the extent of benevolent neutrality. He added that the Lebanese open support for the West on the Korean question was the result of much pressure by such individuals [Page 1102] as himself. In other words, the Lebanese Government was susceptible of being induced to cooperate with the West in the event of such a conflict.
The attitude of the Lebanese people in the event of such a conflict would generally be pro-Western. The Christian population would definitely be on the side of the West and the Moslems would not be on the side of Russia although they would be “open to suggestion” from the Arab hinterland. In other words, should the Arab hinterland go Communist, Lebanese Moslems would likewise tend to follow the lead of their Arab brethren in such countries as Iraq and Syria. Mr. McGhee inquired whether, in so far as pro-Soviet sentiment existed, such sentiment was motivated by expediency. Dr. Malik replied that the motivation was resentment against our Palestine policy although there was a long accumulation of resentment against the European colonial powers in the area. He emphasized that at the outset of such a Soviet occupation, even the Moslem population in Lebanon would not be pro-Russian.
Neither sabotage nor fifth column activity would be likely in Lebanon and in so far as any occurred it would be ineffective. Sabotage might be attempted by a few individuals or small groups including those infiltrating from other countries such as Palestine. Dr. Malik added that there is an underground Communist party in Lebanon.
Approximately 70% of the people would generally miss the West should it be ejected from Lebanon. This figure would include all the Westernized, commercial and landlord classes. The remaining 30% of the people would be apathetic:—never having seen anything better for thousands of years they would not miss what they never had.
It was very unlikely that any real anti-USSR movement would develop during Russian occupation. The Lebanese have never known the means to operate an underground against effective police methods and the people would simply “not have the guts” to undertake such activity.
If US reconquest of Lebanon should occur within a reasonable period of time, say within five or six years, the West would be genuinely welcomed on its return. However, if reconquest were delayed for one or two generations, national and pro-Western feeling would be completely suppressed, even in Lebanon.
Lebanon was thus a special case in the Arab world, distinct from the Arab hinterland.

Dr. Malik summarized answers to his seven questions for the rest of the Arab world as a whole in the following manner:

If attacked, Governments would probably make token resistance but in the event of an East-West conflict not involving a Soviet attack on the Near East, the Governments would remain neutral with the possible exception of Iraq and Transjordan which are tied to the British by treaties of alliance. Mr. McGhee inquired as to the probable reaction on the part of King Ibn Saud and King Farouk. Dr. Malik said he doubted whether any positive action would be taken by these monarchs if they were not attacked in the first instance.
The attitude of the Arab hinterland people would be one of neutrality plus hatred of the West which can be played upon by the Soviets.
Sabotage against the West would be quite possible and might be quite serious.
If the Western powers were driven out of the Near East only a negligible portion would miss them, not more than 10%.
The possibility of an underground resistance movement developing against the Soviets would be absolutely nil.
If the West should endeavor to reconquer the Arab hinterland area the attitude of the peoples would be “distinctly antagonistic”. Mr. McGhee asked whether they would oppose our re-entry by force in such a hypothetical case. Dr. Malik said that the Arabs would be far more antagonistic to the West then than even the Soviets would have found them, or the imperialistic powers when they first came to the Near East, or the Iron Curtain countries of Eastern Europe when the Western powers return there.
The overall picture was thus one of distinct disadvantage to the West and, conversely, to the advantage of the Soviet Union.

Mr. McGhee inquired whether Dr. Malik considered a firm stand by the US against aggression would make a difference. Dr. Malik replied that it would, particularly if we provided arms to the Arab states in order to build up their defenses. However, he described the situation in the Arab world as being similar to that in Southeast Asia today, particularly that in Indo-China and Malaya. Mr. McGhee said that the impression we had was that Siam was fully on the side of the West, that Malaya was in fact not a state and that in Indo-China there was a colonial question which did not exist in the Near East. Dr. Malik said that his impression was that Southeast Asia was nevertheless on the whole unfriendly to the West and would not oppose further Soviet advances. Mr. McGhee said it was common knowledge that people in the Iron Curtain countries hate the Russians. Why would the Arabs be any different? Dr. Malik repeated that mistrust of and resentment of the West over the Palestine controversy is extremely strong and deep-seated.

Mr. McGhee asked whether the Arabs would endeavor to defend themselves against a Russian attack. Dr. Malik replied “only if they are properly armed and you befriend them. Not if you just show an interest in the Arabs when you are in trouble”. Mr. McGhee said, but what about their feelings of national pride? Would the Arab peoples defend their own countries’ independence? Dr. Malik replied that an increasing number of Arabs are saying that the present struggle is an East-West fight and that if the East comes into the Near East, it will be for the purpose of liberating the Arabs from the West.

Mr. McGhee asked whether in the light of his estimate of the situation, Dr. Malik could say what he felt should be done to improve the [Page 1104] situation. Dr. Malik said that the present American approach to solving our problems in the Near East seemed to be wholly an economic one. In his opinion economic help, while also essential, was not even a first step but instead merited only 4th or 5th place in our lines of action. The Palestine problem is the number one source of resentment against the West and it would continue to be probably for his lifetime. Two things ought to be done: the first was to disabuse the Arab mind by acts—not words—that the United States is not going to side with Israel at every critical juncture. He personally believed the Three-Power Declaration3 was an excellent start but the Arab people distrust the United States very deeply. There should be a declaration by the President of the United States that it will not come to pass that in every election year the United States Government will yield to Zionist pressure.

Mr. McGhee interrupted to say that this is an election year and we have not yielded to pressure of any sort. Dr. Malik replied that that was encouraging but the people wanted a firm declaration of American intent. All that they hear now is such statements as those made by the Vice President of the United States comparing the Arab states unfavorably with Israel. Mr. McGhee said that we had reason to hope that such statements would not again occur. Dr. Malik declared, “But it is out of your hands! I have heard similar things from all your distinguished predecessors in the last few years and yet Zionist pressure has always succeeded in swaying the US Government on vital issues.” He said what is needed is for this Government to issue a “Balfour Declaration in reverse” to the effect not that the Israelis will be thrown into the sea but that they will not be permitted to seize further Arab territory—that it would be inconceivable for this country to side with the Jews against the Arabs in any future conflict of interests. Such a declaration would show the Arab world that the US has the “moral guts” to stand up against pressure. The Three-Power Declaration is not enough to demonstrate this fact. A separate declaration by the United States on the highest possible level is required.

The second necessity is for United States Government “again to take courage and with aggressive intent to help honor the three standing resolutions of the General Assembly on the refugees, frontiers and the status of Jerusalem.”4 He referred to the “curve of deterioration” in the American position on Jerusalem, from the Jessup statement through Hershel Johnson’s watered-down statements, to the “weak statements of my good friend, Mr. Ross”. Perhaps the key to the question [Page 1105] was the resolution on Jerusalem. If the US has 30,000,000 Catholics who are in favor of the internationalization of Jerusalem and still the US Government will not assist in implementing the Jerusalem resolution voted by 38 nations of the United Nations, how can the Arabs expect us to support implementation of the other resolutions?

Mr. McGhee said that while it was true we had not voted for the Jerusalem resolution we had loyally cooperated in drafting the Jerusalem statute in the Trusteeship Council and our position was still known to be one of willingness to cooperate in working out a satisfactory implementation. This was true, notwithstanding the fact we honestly believe the PCC recommendations on Jerusalem were the most practicable and reasonable of any put forward. Moreover, both Israel and Jordan had rejected internationalization.

Dr. Malik exclaimed “Jordan is the absolute stooge of you and the British! We Arabs have known all along that the intent of the West was not to partition Palestine but to establish a Jewish state. King Abdullah has cooperated fully in that aim.” Mr. McGhee pointed out that we had no influence over Jordan and said that we had a substantive middle-of-the-road position between the extremes of one side and the other. Dr. Malik retorted that the world community has spoken and its wishes should be carried out on the Jerusalem question. Mr. McGhee again reminded him that we had gone in good faith to Geneva and had participated fully in the work of the Trusteeship Council in its endeavors to implement the resolution. Dr. Malik declared that to him Jerusalem provided a crucial test and that he believed all Arabs would watch our further actions intently to see whether the US will yield to Zionist pressure.

Mr. McGhee said that, in fairness, it must be admitted that we have not knuckled under on this question, that we have and will continue to participate in UN efforts to reach a solution of the problem. Dr. Malik said that if the US helps in achieving the internationalization of Jerusalem it will show the world that the US means what it says and not otherwise. Mr. McGhee said that the Trusteeship Council will report back to the General Assembly this fall and Dr. Malik expressed his personal fear that the US will “whittle it down” and that the Arab world will not fail to see us do so.

Dr. Malik said he earnestly felt we should take a fresh look into the dangerously unstable situation in the Near East and adopt positive measures to deal with it. We must implement the resolutions of the General Assembly on Palestine even if we incur the enmity of Israel. Mr. McGhee said that we had openly declared our support for the resolutions on the refugees, for example, and that our endeavors to have the refugees return had failed. How would we force the refugees [Page 1106] to go back? Dr. Malik said that Israel must show a willingness to abide at least by the spirit of the resolution and to make fair compensation for the property seized. He said that he readily perceives why the United States would be more interested in implementing the Security Council resolution on Korea than the General Assembly resolutions on Palestine but that our position in the whole Near East hangs in the balance.

Dr. Malik said also that the situation in Syria was a festering sore and we should take immediate measures to stabilize it. Mr. McGhee observed that this was again a question involving the internal affairs of another country and we were therefore limited in what we could do. Dr. Malik said that we should nevertheless go to the Syrian Government with an offer of assistance in strengthening its military position and then provide money for development programs. This economic aid was, however, still 4th or 5th in priority. Without accomplishing the measures he had suggested in the political field, no amount of money we poured into the area would change the situation.

Mr. McGhee thanked Dr. Malik for his remarks and said that we should like to have another opportunity to exchange views with him in the near future.

  1. Lot 53D468 contains copies of memoranda and correspondence of Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs George C. McGhee for the years 1949–1951.
  2. Not printed.
  3. For documentation concerning the Tripartite Declaration of May 25, 1950, see pp. 122 ff.
  4. For documentation concerning these resolutions, see pp. 658 ff.