James Renton: WikiLeaks ... Imperial Precedent

Roundup: Historians' Take

[James Renton is Senior Lecturer in History at Edge Hill University and the author of The Zionist Masquerade: The Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance, 1914-1918.]

In December 1917 British imperial troops occupied Jerusalem, ending four centuries of Ottoman rule. Earlier that year, the British Empire also took control of Baghdad, and was advancing across the middle east. In Asia and the West, the British government spread the message that they were bringing a new age of national freedom to the Arabs. Unfortunately for Whitehall, however, the newly installed Bolsheviks in Russia had their own message to tell the world. A couple of weeks before General Allenby, the chief of British forces in Palestine, made his official entrance on foot through the Jaffa Gate of the old city of Jerusalem, the Bolsheviks published the secret agreements that they had just discovered in the Russian archives.

This was the first major leak of international diplomatic documents, the scale of which has never been surpassed. If Julian Assange and his associates had access to the inner sanctum of the White House and the Pentagon, they might get close to documentation that was of similar significance. Pride of place amongst the material published by the Russians was a plan by the British and French governments in 1916 to carve up the middle east between themselves after the war. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, as it was known, divided west Asia into British and French spheres of influence. Thrust into the public domain, this document showed without any doubt that the British had been up to their old imperialist tricks. Their championing of Arab nationalism appeared to have been nothing but Machiavellian posturing.

The contemporary equivalent would be a leaked document proving that Britain and the US conspired to invent the threat of Iraqi WMD. The tittle-tattle of US diplomats revealed by Assange & co. is small fry in comparison. Nonetheless, the WikiLeaks files are damaging to the Obama administration because they confirm that the old world of political intrigue behind closed doors is alive and well. This will inevitably hamper Obama’s effort to portray his administration as heralding a new chapter in international politics. But the real harm to the power of the United States in the world comes not from the leaking of problematic documents; it lies instead in the disconnect between its rhetoric and the reality of its political actions in the world.

The long-term impact of the publication of the Sykes-Picot Agreement on the British Empire is instructive...

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Arnold Shcherban - 12/28/2010

<The contemporary equivalent would be a leaked document proving that Britain and the US conspired to invent the threat of Iraqi WMD.>
Nowadays, imperialists don't conspire explicitly, they just express their common "national interests."
Therefore, we don't need official documents to prove the US-UK conspiracy, the common lies they promoted (and continue to promote - now against Iran) are quite enough.