The Minister in Lebanon (Pinkerton) to the Secretary of State

No. 141

Ref: Memorandum of Conversation, August 1, 1950, Anti-Western Attitudes in the Arab World and Means of Combatting Them.1

Subject: Comments on the reference Memorandum of Conversation.

There is no doubt that there is deep-seated resentment in the Arab world, including Lebanon, against the United States for its policy toward Palestine and its support of the State of Israel. It is probable that this resentment is neither so acute nor so universal in Lebanon as it is in other Arab countries but it definitely exists and adversely influences relations with the United States. There is a fairly large section of the Lebanese population, particularly the Shiites in South Lebanon, which has shown its willingness to trade illicitly with the Israelis which may indicate that resentment of the establishment of Israel is only superficial with them but, on the other hand, they might be expected to trade with their worst enemy and this may have no significance in interpreting their feelings toward Israel. It is fairly reliably reported that the threat to join Israel has been used by some [Page 1107] South Lebanon leaders as blackmail to obtain favors from the Lebanese Government, This section, however is the least developed economically, socially and culturally of all parts of Lebanon and the population has no sense of political responsibility but follows its feudal leaders blindly while the leaders themselves are not much better. A small section of the Christian population is secretly pleased at the establishment of Israel as an additional safeguard to the Christian community from the Moslems surrounding them.

Although the above-mentioned minorities may serve to temper the resentment of Lebanon against the United States, they are not strong enough to turn the country away from the policies adopted by other Arab States. Their very existence makes Lebanon doubly cautious in seeming to take the lead against Arab policies, and the country has to be handled very carefully for that reason. The exertion of undue pressure upon the Government to be more reasonable toward the United States might well backfire.

I agree with Dr. Malik that the Arabs, including Lebanon, are convinced that if the United States had to choose between Israel and the Arabs, it would choose Israel, regardless of the justice of the case. There is also a belief among the Lebanese, fairly widely spread, that the United States is more friendly to Lebanon than to the Moslem States because of its religion and quasi-western civilization. This belief can, I believe, be used in economic and cultural, but not political, approaches. Furthermore, I doubt very much whether anti-American propaganda used by the communists is a strong influence in Lebanon because the Lebanese know the United States too well to be taken in by it. I believe that communist strength in the country stems from economic causes which the Government either refuses to recognize or is unable to correct. Public resentment of U.S. policy in Palestine may make it difficult for the Government to appeal to us for economic assistance, but I do not believe the elimination of Palestine from the picture would eliminate the danger of communism unless there was an accompanying correction of the bad economic and political situation. In this respect I disagree with Dr. Malik as I believe the economic approach would most certainly be effective in combatting communism in Lebanon if we could be sure any assistance we gave would trickle down to the grass roots and not serve to make the rich richer. I believe one of the most potent factors in the growth of communism in Lebanon and perhaps throughout the Arab world is the envy of the poor for the rich which is increasing due to the display made by the rich. Previously the rich man rode a horse but the poor man had his donkey; the rich man had a large house but it was not much different in design from the small one of the poor; and there was frequent contact between the rich land owner or merchant and his employees. Now, [Page 1108] the rich man has expensive automobiles and the poor man still has his donkey; the rich man lives in western style with much display of wealth and the poor man still lives in his small eastern-style house; and the rich man lives mostly in the cities with frequent trips abroad and the poor man rarely sees him and the contact is far from close. These and similar differences create envy and such envy creates a fertile field for communism, particularly when even minimum requirements for subsistence cannot be met. The urge for personal enrichment and, in some cases, political graft is so strong that unless at least part of the economic assistance goes to the rich it would be difficult to interest the country in such economic assistance. The correction of the fault is a long-term proposition and the situation as it exists must be accepted in extending aid.

We have religion on our side and the Moslems and Uniate group may be expected to resist communism, but the Chargé d’Affaires of the Nonciature tells me even they have difficulty in impressing the local clergy with the dangers of communism. Most of the recruits locally come from the Greek and Armenian Orthodox sects and from a young group which refuses to take any religion seriously.

My replies to Dr. Malik’s seven questions are:

The Lebanese Government has been pro-West in the past and as those in power can expect no consideration from the communists, I believe it would continue that policy in the event of an East-West conflict. It would, I believe, give open support to the West because the politicans know they would have to leave the country if the Russians entered. They are not, however, above using threats to turn to the East as blackmail to obtain advantages.
The sentiment of the Lebanese people would be generally pro-West, but their attitude would be governed by circumstances. If it was apparent that the country would be occupied by the Russians, I should expect the red flag to be raised on every flag-staff. This was confirmed to me by the Lebanese Chief of Staff who stated it as a fact and nothing to be regretted. Except for communist party members and fellow travelers who would act from principles, this attitude would be motivated entirely by self-interest. I doubt any change in our policy toward Palestine or any other question would have the least effect in that attitude.
As Dr. Malik well knows, there is a fairly well organized, but small communist party in Lebanon with much larger periphery groups, and they would certainly engage in anti-Western sabotage and fifth column activity in the event of the occupation of the country by the West. The mass of sympathizers is entirely without courage or stamina and, if the few leaders were identified and eliminated, this activity would become negligible.
I believe all except a few Lebanese would miss the West in the event of Soviet occupation. To the Lebanese, war has always been a means of personal enrichment and full advantage has been taken of opportunities to trade with occupying powers and to engage in lucrative [Page 1109] contracts with foreign armies. There is a growing realization that the Soviet army would take what it wants and would leave no newly acquired fortunes behind it. They also know there would be a great shifting of wealth among the Lebanese and the present rich merchant would give place to his communist employee. They do not like the idea.
I agree that the development of any anti-Soviet movement is most unlikely during Russian occupation.
Reconquest of Lebanon by the West would be welcomed at any time. Political principles and sentiments of nationalism are flexible and not strong in the Lebanon, but the instinct for trade and profits is so deep-seated that it would require generations to eliminate it. The suppression of trade and nationalization of assets, which would come with Soviet occupation, would be most unwelcome and relief from them at any time would be sought. Lebanon has known many occupations and the inscriptions on the Dog River mark the passage of invading armies from the time of the Assyrians. None of them has been resisted by the local population and none of them has had much effect on the racial characteristics. The Soviet army might be different but I find little to indicate it. For this reason I believe the return of the West and of the status quo would be welcome at any time.
Lebanon is an uncertain quantity and cannot be relied upon to defend its own territory. It may be expected to endeavor to remain out of any conflict until the result is apparent and then join the winning side. In this respect it is not believed to be a special case in the Arab world.

The above is critical of the Lebanese population, but it is based upon the history of the country and the racial and national characteristics of the people. I believe the United States, either through the United Nations or with the United Kingdom and France, should (a) endeavor to settle the Refugee problem, which is a source of social, economic and political uncertainty, (b) encourage the Arab States to adopt a constructive policy designed to serve their own interests rather than the negative one of hating Israel, (c) try to build up the economies of the Arab States so the standard of living of their populations will be raised, (d) encourage better governments with the gradual elimination of graft and nepotism, (e) show what would happen to the Arab States if the friendship of the West were removed, (f) encourage the establishment of a more responsible press, (g) convince the Arab States that Western friendship is as important to them as Arab friendship is to the West and that mutual friendship is advantageous and (h) acquire any desired benefits from the Arab States well in advance of the outbreak of any possible conflict.

The Lebanese Government is democratic only in form. Actually it is oligarchic, corrupt and democratic processes exist only on paper. It has no sense of social responsibility and the interests of the population as a whole count for very little with the ruling clique. Unfortunately, there is no person or group of persons with the ability to govern who [Page 1110] could be expected to be more honest than the present rulers. The problem is therefore to teach, guide and influence the present group and hope for a gradual improvement of the Government.

Department please pouch to the Arab capitals copies of this despatch.

Lowell C. Pinkerton
  1. Supra.