Mideast Goes Way Of China

Stewart Alsop — December 3, 1951

The Mossadegh Project | May 24, 2023                    

Stewart Alsop in his syndicated newspaper column Matter of Fact.

December 3, 1951

Birthplace Of Civilization,
Easy To See How It Could Die

By Stewart Alsop

Columnist Stewart Alsop (1914-1974) Bagdad — Here, where civilization was born, it is quite easy to see how civilization may die. For here it is possible to watch painlessly, as through dark glasses, all the forces at work which are causing the Middle East to go the way of China.

First, of course, there is the progressive decay of the Brit­ish technique of exercising power. In essence, this technique has been to create a small ruling class of rich, venal or am­bitious men, dependent on British support, and then to exercise power through these men.

Iraq is interesting, as some well preserved fossil might be interesting, because this tried but no longer true technique continues rather shakily to function. But no one really believes this system, which has collapsed already in Iran and Egypt, will work very much longer.

This reporter was conducted by one of the most intelligent Arabs he has met, through the stinking slums of Bagdad, where people live in mud huts, in company with their livestock and an occasional poisonous reptile, in the shadow of the palace grounds. This man was wholly convinced that the surrounding degradation (which has existed from time immemorial) was exclusively the fault of the British.

In this atmosphere of unreason, Iraq, like Iran, is quite likely to cut off its own nose — its oil revenues — to spite the British face. The same men who somewhat unbrilliantly managed the fortunes of Iran’s Anglo-Iranian Oil Company have been managing the almost equally vital Iraq Petroleum company.

Having learned a belated lesson in Iran, the British oil managers now have offered a reasonably generous contract to Iraq. Iraq Premier Nuri Said, an aging monument to the British technique of power, has accepted the new agreement. It is expected to pass through Parliament, to the accompaniment of Communist-organized street riots. But sooner or later, in the universal opinion here, some ambitious politician will seize the torch from Mossadegh’s trembling hands and the days of the Iraq Petroleum company will be numbered.

As the Iranian oil crisis has its pale counterpart here, so does the Egyptian crisis. The British have, by treaty, the right to station certain troops in Iraq. Actually, they have only a corporal’s guard, mostly Royal Air Force men. Al­though less vital than the Suez base, the British installations in Iraq would be an important forward defense and staging area in case of war.

Here, as everywhere in the Middle East, there is mass misery. And here there is also the fear and hatred of Israel found in every Arab state. Partly because the United States is credited with responsibility for creating Israel, partly be­cause to seem to challenge our British ally would be disastrous, and partly through sheer inertia, American policy in Iraq, as elsewhere in the Middle East, is paralyzed. Even the, ablest Americans in this area tend to become resigned to, dis­aster. They ask, reasonably enough, “But what can you do?” Only the engineers, pouring over their maps, their eyes gleam­ing as they point to their natural water basins and watersheds which surround this parched land, retain something of their native optimism. And this is the last twist of the knife. For so much could be done so easily and even so cheaply.

Here, at least, the desert could indeed be made to bloom like the rose. Here all the Arab refugees from Palestine could be absorbed. Here the standard of living could be made to rise miraculously. With expert help, this could almost all be done with the $150,000,000 which will soon be Iraq’s annual share of its oil revenue.

And yet, with a corrupt and irresponsible ruling class, the established power system in decay, a violent xenophobia, an obsession about Israel and the odd sort of death which seems to exist everywhere in the Arab states, “What can you do?”

The question is not easily answerable. As a practical mat­ter, it seems a reasonable guess that Iran will go first, then the rest of the Middle East, and then the rest of us, includ­ing the unfortunate Russians. But at least it is past time for the British and American to consider a really serious attempt to avert this fatal succession of events. For if the Middle East goes the way of China, this will surely mean a third world war, which will destroy civilization as we have known it.

Alternate titles:

Change and Decay
Mideast Goes Way Of China

Search MohammadMossadegh.com

Related links:

Danger of Soviet Capture Grows Greater in Iran | Stewart Alsop, December 10, 1951

Iranians Roar: ‘Death To Foes Of Mossadegh’ | AP, Dec. 13, 1951

Anglo-Iranian Oil Company | Annual Meeting: December 20, 1951

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

Facebook  Twitter  YouTube  Tumblr   Instagram