Claiming the Spoils
With kind permission from J.W. Smith, a major part of Chapter 14 of The World's Wasted Wealth II (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994) has been reproduced here. (See the beginning of this chapter if you have not read it.) Also, please note that I do not make any proceeds from the sale of this book in any way.
Turkey was humbled by these military defeats and, just as dependent countries today must do, it turned to those with capital (France, England, Russia, Germany, and Austria) for loans to build modern infrastructure. "European interests were willing to supply the networks and systems which the Ottoman Empire lacked but of course wanted to own them, preferably on the basis of exclusive concessions." 4 The result, as told by Jaques Benoist-Mechin, is worth quoting at length:
Even the management of state finances was now handled by foreigners,
Besides the wealth wasted internally on their outdated feudal form of government, foreign military might forced the signing of unequal trade contracts that consumed more wealth. "[E]verything in Turkey which [was] clean, sturdy and beautiful [was] from somewhere else."7 It only remained for the violent upheaval of World War I to dissolve the once mighty empire.
The provinces of Algeria and Tunisia were the first to break away (1830 and 1881). Though nominally still a Turkish province and coveted by France, Egypt was effectively taken over by Britain in 1881. In 1911, Italy invaded Libya and, pressured by attacks from the Balkan states (Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia) attacking from the West, Turkey made peace with the eastern invaders and lost control in Africa as it rushed to defend its western provinces.
Italy now took an interest in Libya while the ostracized German nation saw its chance to gain power vis-à-vis France, England, and Russia by becoming an ally of Turkey. They built the Berlin-to-Baghdad Railway and trained the Turkish army. In 1912, the war in the Balkans cost the Ottoman Empire almost all territory west of the Bosporus. It regained much of it in 1913 when the Balkan nations could not agree on the division of the spoils and went to war amongst themselves.8
But it was English, French, and Russian covert efforts to destabilize Germany's trading partner - the Austro-Hungarian empire - that led to World War I. Turkey felt that "if the Allies won the war, they would cause or allow the Ottoman Empire to be partitioned, while if Germany won the war, no such partition would be allowed to occur."9 To quote Karl Polanyi again, it was the collapse of the balance of power that led to World War I. Before that alliance with the besieged Ottoman Empire Germany was
Just as British diplomats had long feared, "the scramble to pick up the pieces [of the Ottoman Empire] might lead to a major war between the European powers" and World War I erupted.11 Christopher Layne's analysis is worth repeating,
Turkey joined on the side of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy), and with the defeat of that alliance, as had been secretly agreed on years before, the Middle East was divided among the victorious powers with Britain "adding nearly a million square miles to the British Empire." See footnote 1
After World War I the borders and the leaders of virtually all Arab states were decided upon by Britain and France. See footnote 2 Jordan's assigned monarch was not even a local; he was from Saudi Arabia.
On April 27, 1920, at the Conference of San Remo following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire,
Massive amounts of the wealth of the old Ottoman Empire were now claimed by the victors. But one must remember that the Islamic empire had tried for centuries to conquer Christian Europe and the power brokers deciding the fate of those defeated people were naturally determined that these countries should never be able to organize and threaten Western interests again. With centuries of mercantilist experience, Britain and France created small, unstable states whose rulers needed their support to stay in power. The development and trade of these states were controlled and they were meant never again to be a threat to the West. These external powers then made contracts with their puppets to buy Arab resources cheaply, making the feudal elite enormously wealthy while leaving most citizens in poverty.15
Once small weak countries are established, it is very difficult to persuade their rulers to give up power and form those many dependent states into one economically viable nation. Conversely, it is easy for outside power brokers to support an exploitative faction to maintain or regain power. None of this can ever be openly admitted to or the neo-mercantilist world would fall apart. The fiction of sovereign governments, equal rights, fair trade, etc., must continue. To be candid is to invite immediate widespread rebellion and loss of control.
During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson learned about the secret agreements to carve up the Middle East and was determined to thwart them; thus his proposal for the League of Nations under which colonialism would eventually be dismantled. He personally assumed the role of U.S. negotiator for that purpose. Being head of state gave President Wilson the right to chair the peace conference and set the agenda. This caused great anxiety among the colonial powers of Europe. But Lloyd George, the British negotiator and designer of the Middle East partition that President Wilson found so offensive, was able to thwart Wilson's every move to grant those territories independence. With a shift in elections at home, President Wilson could not even obtain the consent of the United States to join and lead the League of Nations and his great hopes for world peace were stillborn.16 The suggestions for full rights for all the world's people described in this part are little more than an outline of President Wilson's dream of world peace.
When World War II consumed the wealth of the colonial governments of Europe, the disenfranchised world started to break free from those shackles. Some of the installed puppets became increasingly independent and others were overthrown. The last direct control in the Middle East was abandoned in the early 1970s when Britain "grant[ed] independence to Oman and the small sheikdoms that would become Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates."17 But there was still indirect control; these small states did not have economic independence. That can only come with a viable nation that has the power to protect equality of trades with other nations.
The old Soviet empire had a long border with the Middle East. The desperation of the West to maintain control stems from the potential for those two regions to join. If that had happened, the Middle East would have had the weapons to protect their resources. The resources of the Soviet Union and the Middle East together would have been comparable to those of the West, and, by virtue of most of the world's reserves of oil being within the borders of those two empires, and thus the potential for high oil prices, a good part of the West's wealth could have been claimed by the East. Hence the West's large military expenditures to maintain control in that volatile region.
- Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace, pp. 26, 401. Modern Turkey was the only piece of the old Ottoman Empire to nominally keep its freedom. In 1919, "two Greek divisions had landed at Smyrna on the Aegean coast of Turkey, and some Italian forces at Adalia, farther south, in an initial step toward the execution of the Allied plan for dismembering the Ottoman Empire." Mustapha Kemal renewed the battle and, in a bloody two-year war, drove the occupiers out of Turkey (Edmond Taylor, The Fall of the Dynasties [New York: Dorset Press, 1989], pp. 387-91). Except for the volatile loyalty of religion, that impoverished country, nominally allied with the West today, is all that remains of that once mighty Eastern empire. Back to text
- Italy had backed out and the new Soviet Union rejected all such violations of sovereignty - including control of the Dardenelles and Bosporus Straits, which would have given them the warm water ports we were later told they would go to war for. Back to text
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