TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE UNFAILING CRISIS.
THERE is not a more pitiable figure in life than that of 1 a man who has magnificent intentions but who somehow always manages to make a mess of things. We have all come across that man—though sometimes it is a woman. The cause of disaster is generally a want of common sense or of tact. The man, though obviously de- serving of pity more than anything else, earns, as a matter of fact, in this hard world more ridicule than pity. We have frequently had this type of person in mind when we have surveyed the extramolinary succession of disappointments, disillusionments and disasters which are the outcome of Mr. Lloyd George's policy at home and abroad. Mr. Lloyd George means so well, but— ! He hardly ever prophesies without being proved wrong. Events are extraordinarily cruel to him. And yet there is a very distinct difference between the type we have described and Mr. Lloyd George, for Mr. Lloyd George does not earn ridicule. He earns abuse ; and he excites terror in those serious-minded Englishmen who are deeply concerned for the honour and welfare of their country, and who tremble when they watch him plunging in action or running wild in talk. Mr. Lloyd George is really too clever and too formidable to be ridiculed. Although he escapes that penalty, he turns every fresh political business into loss or discredit, and we think the time has come for the nation to make up its mind that the interests of the country will never be safe in his hands. He has had a long and fair trial. Nearly all disinterested persons admit now that he has failed, and the only reasons that he continues to receive so much toleration and half- praise is that his War record (of which we shall have more to say presently) is remembered and that there is supposed to be no alternative leader. We do not believe for a moment that there is no one else. There is always an alternative, and particularly so when it would not be easy to make a change for the worse. The occasion makes the man. There are plenty of men waiting to be made, but so long as they are not given the opportunity we shall continue to be told that Mr. Lloyd George is necessary.
Let us take a look round at the results of the Prime Minister's management. One hardly knows where to begin. One cannot discover a single subject upon which it is possible to say that the Government have really succeeded or have done anything resembling what they said they intended to do. Although we want to write plainly, we shall try to avoid mere fault-finding for its own sake. No self-respecting Englishman could possibly revel in the present facts for the pleasure of partisanship. They are far too serious for that. And domestic recriminations only make matters worse when we have to face a whole series of dangerous problems abroad. In order to prove our good faith in this respect, if we can, we will begin by saying that the spirit in which Mr. Lloyd George is trying to recompose Europe seems to us to be admirable. His ffeneral principle is one of fairness and toleration, of giving everybody the chance to live, of depriving people of grievances that would fester, of checking and reproving those who would try to humiliate or crush their neighbours. But, having admitted that, we have inevitably to go on to Mr. Lloyd George's methods. He is only too true to the type we have described—everything under his management goes wrong, though the intentions are excellent. The modern successor to the " Ministry of all the Talents " is a " Ministry of all the Messes."
• By far the most visible mess in these recent days is in the Near East. It was Mr. Lloyd George who encouraged the Greeks to undertake and continue a fantastic enterprise in Asia Minor. The whole history of modern Greece might have warned him that the Greeks had not the stability for a military occupation which would require not a violent and short-lived burst of exhilaration but those "hold-fast " qualities which are as serviceable as they are rare. It is quite true that France and Italy did us a very bad turn when they made secret treaties with the Turks and supplied the Angora army with munitions. It may be said that no British Prime Minister could pull success out of such a tangle of conflicting purposes. But could not the possible results of the very strong sympathy which France has for a long time shown towards the Turks have been foreseen and provided against ? Could not the course of Italian hatred and mistrust of the Greeks also have been insured against ? The fact is that Mr. Lloyd George went ahead with his Philhellenic plans in Asia Minor without having any sort of guarantee that he had won compliance from the French and the Italians. He behaved as he has done in the case of all his unsatisfactory Conferences—acted without achieving any preliminary understanding. He tried to carry out with the help of Bing Constantine a policy which might just have been possible—though even then it would have been extremely risky—if it had been managed by M. Venizelos. Only last month in the House of Commons he was praising the military capabilities of the Greeks and telling us with what remarkable efficiency they were occupying parts of Asia Minor and with what ease they could march to Constan- tinople if they had a mind to do it or if they were allowed to do it. Now the whole structure of his policy has col- lapsed like a house of cards. The painstaking and difficult negotiations of last March are shattered ; there seems to be no possibility of holding at the appointed time the Conference at Venice which was to give effect to the conclusions of last March.
History has proved that the one argument with which Christian Europe can meet the Turks is absolute unanimity. The Turks respect that, for, after all, they want some indul- gence and a great deal of money. But disunion has taken the place of unity and the Powers, in this sorry position, are faced with the certainty that the Turks will present very exacting demands and say, " A fig for your Treaty of Sevres or your revised Treaty of Sevres. Turkey is herself again ! There is no split any longer between Angora and Constantinople. Give us what we ask, or we will stir up Moslems and Bolsheviks against you every- where and you will find that the policy of resisting us will be much the most expensive and troublesome that you could possibly pursue." There is only one consolation in this particular mess, and it is that France is evidently rather alarmed at the too great success of her collaboration with the Turks.
She thought that Great Britain was too friendly with the Greeks and she wanted to discourage us by creating a very little monster in our path. But the very little monster has swelled up to huge proportions. France is afraid now that the monster may try to take charge of his creator.
In this anxiety we may, perhaps, detect the germ of future safety. Properly managed the feeling may be the nucleus of unity after all. But is Mr. Lloyd George the man to coax a fire out of this smoking flax ? We are sure he is not. If he were starting fresh he might be able to do it, but he now suffers from the disadvantage of being mistrusted from one end of France to the other.
The Manchester Guardian has published an interview with Rechid Pasha, the Turk who, report says, is destined to be Turkish Ambassador in London. Rechid Pasha stated what he understood would be the new Turkish demands. They include the evacuation of Constantinople by the Allied troops and the return of Thrace to Turkey.
Thus, the frontier of Turkey would once more march with that of Bulgaria. To English minds the handing back to Turkey of the Christian populations in Thrace would be an odious surrender of a tradition. The absolute unity of the Allies will be necessary to prevent it. Again, the freedom of the Straits is essential. The Turks have hinted that they would be quite willing to guarantee this freedom, but as they want to be their own masters and tolerate no supervision on the spot their guarantee would have only the value of other Turkish promises. The Mandate for Palestine has just been proclaimed at Jerusalem with due ceremony, and Sir Herbert Samuel has promised justice and fair treatment to all. But these encouraging words receive no corresponding encouragement from the bare facts, which are that the enormous Arab majority resent more and more, as they have more experi- ence of it, the imposition upon themselves of a Jewish control, and that they are organizing themselves to make government difficult, if not impossible. And what can Englishmen say by way of comment ? What, indeed, except that Great Britain, having declared after the War her earnest intention of respecting the wishes of national majorities all over the world, has in this instance handed over power to a tiny minority ? It is impossible to convince the 500,000 Moslems that they are not, in fact, being put under the thumb of 60,000 Jews. The discrepancy between the real and the ideal in this case is as glaring as the discrepancy between Mr. Lloyd George's present policy for Europe and his shortly-after-the-War talk of " hanging the Kaiser " and " searching the pockets " of the Germans. At least his present European aims are a great change for the better, whereas one can say nothing in favour of what is being done in Palestine.
Mesopotamia is another superfluous mess. If we continue there we shall probably have a great deal of trouble and a great deal of expense for years to come. Having blundered over the promises we made to Feisul during the War, we have solved the problem by putting him on the throne of Mesopotamia. It is true that there is no strong rival to him in the field, and that for this reason he may be con- sidered fairly safe for the present. But we cannot say the same of our own position in Mesopotamia. In a Moslem country a diplomatic incident is almost invariably the designed prelude to trouble. A diplomatic incident in a most significant form happened the other day when Sir Percy Cox visited Feisul. Sir Percy Cox, well knowing what it meant, took the right line instantly and boldly, as he can always be trusted to do. But that does not alter the fact that the Arabs do not want us in Mesopotamia, and that neither the British nor the Indian taxpayer wants to pay for the empty honour of holding the Mesopotamian Mandate. Turkish bands from Kurdistan are trying to penetrate towards Bagdad. We 'wish that we had never stayed in Mesopotamia. We wish even now that the Government would cut the loss and resign the Mandate. The long prophesied recovery of British trade is very fal- tering in its approach ; the danger of national insolvency remains with us. We simply cannot afford, therefore, quixotic adventures like that in Mesopotamia. We ought to concentrate our attention on the essential business of refounding our commercialfortunes, which need to be built up again almost from the beginning. When we look nearer home we see a mess which is quite as bad as anything abroad and which is worse in that it touches us more closely. The native inability of the Southern Irish to live at peace among themselves has been much too strong for the British Government. Fascinated by Mr. Lloyd George's leadership, the Unionist Ministers in the Government forgot or lost their ancient convictions and accepted Mr. Lloyd George's cure for Ireland, the cure that could not possibly fail. The formula of " freedom " for Ireland, so attractive and so generous in itself, was not actually defined. Mr. Lloyd George never does define, or if he does he defines equivocally. He always leaves for himself, if not for his Party, a way of escape. The Irish scheme was launched without thinking out the relations between Southern and Northern Ireland and without even thinking out the results of a split between the moderates and the immoderates of Southern Ireland. The formula became supreme. As usual, Mr. Lloyd George tried to build without laying foundations. Then he com- mitted the cardinal mistake, which no doubt looked super- ficially like a specially subtle piece of statecraft, of dividing the moderates from the extremists in Southern Ireland. Result—Ireland has been handed over to internecine war, murder and devastation on an appalling scale. And it has all been done in the name of kindness.
All this is but a bird's-eye view of our distresses. It is necessary for people to look at the situation as a whole, however, if they are to set to work to obtain some wiser direction in the near future. Thepresent Parliament is not far from its end. The question for the nation to settle is whether it thinks it can afford to return Mr. Lloyd George to office. There could be little doubt about the answer if there were only Mr. Lloyd George's post-War record to go by. But many people still believe that Mr. Lloyd George was " the Man who won the War," and that for that reason a debt of gratitude is owed to him which in itself almost forbids political condemnation in these difficult times. The truth, however, about Mr. Lloyd George's conduct of the War is slowly but surely coming to the surface. The con- viction of many of us that Mr. Lloyd George was a great asset to the nation because he cheered it on and publicly, if not privately, professed his unfaltering belief in ultimate victory is quite compatible with the conviction that by his particular methods Mr. Lloyd George did not help us at all to win the War, but rather ran a great risk of losing it. We would refer our readers to a pamphlet on this subject by Sir Frederick Maurice, of which we publish a review elsewhere. We have not had the opportunity yet to notice Mr. John Buchan's new volume of his History of the War, but we shall publish a review shortly ; meanwhile, we may say that it is very striking how, on many of the most important matters, he agrees precisely with the judgment of Sir Frederick Maurice.
It is weak, timid and lethargic for the nation to speak of Mr. Lloyd George as indispensable. So long as such an opinion prevails we certainly shall not see the end of our troubles. We shall go on in a state of unfailing crisis at home and abroad.