TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE CRISIS IN THE NEAR EAST.
WHEN we were writing last week about the perpetual crises brought about by the Government under Mr. Lloyd George's leadership, we little thought that one of the worst blunders which stand to the discredit of the Government was then being committed. The intentions of the Government in the Near East are, so far as we understand them, right ; but, as usual, what was right has been made to look all wrong, and has excited just as much trouble as though the Government had been bent on some really evil policy. It is enough to make one despair. Yet we shall not despair, if for no better reason than that the nation has always survived blunders in the past. The danger in the Near East is a very real one. If it is mismanaged further it may end in bloody complications amounting in mass and significance to another Great War. This is not the time, therefore, deplorable though we think the conduct of Mr. Lloyd George has been, to magnify personal defects or to help to make the position of the Government so difficult that they will be powerless to deal with the crisis. For the time being we must try to strengthen and encourage the Government so that they may do what is needed. For this purpose it is essential, nevertheless, to describe plainly the nature of the blunder, or it will probably be repeated.
Everybody has been saying that the one way of dealing with the Turks is for the Allies to present a united front. That is so obviously true that people are almost weary of hearing it. It is the result of ages of experience in dealing with the Turks, and it has naturally become a common- place, a truism, even a cliché. But it is precisely because statesmen in moments of attempted brilliance and originality forget the truisms that they so often go wrong. The right way in which to treat the Turks has become proverbial for the reason that other sayings have become proverbial—they have stood all the possible tests. The Turk is a fatalist. He accepts fairly easily what he sees to be inevitable. Kemal is a good enough soldier to know that, though he could obtain a smashing victory over the Greeks, his military powers are strictly limited. He has not many resources. He has hardly any money. It was perfectly obvious, therefore, that the first essential thing for the British Government to do was to make sure of agreeing with France, and also, if possible, with Italy. It is almost certain that Kemal would have thought twice before deciding to defy an unreservedly united declaration by the Allies.
An agreement among the Allies, sufficiently far-reaching for the immediate purpose, could have been attained very quickly. Although Mr. Lloyd George has had a passion for conducting our foreign policy, we still have Embassies in Paris and in Rome. The Foreign Office is also operating obscurely in London. After conversations had been started in Paris, and had continued by night as well as by day if necessary, for the need was very urgent, it might well have been found desirable that the Secretary for Foreign Affairs should take part in them. Lord Curzon might easily have gone to Paris last week. He would have had to be given large powers of discretion, no doubt, but now that he has gone to Paris several days later it has still been necessary to give him those large powers.
If delay had been the only thing to charge against the Government it would have been bad enough ; but the Cabinet actually decided to rush out a flaming manifesto, which caused dismay in both France and Italy. It will be amazing if Kemal has not discovered in these cir- cumstances fresh hope of playing off the Great Powers one against another. We have made him a present of the very opportunity he asked for. Of the semi-official statement, or manifesto, which was published in the papers of Monday, it is difficult to write with patience. We read it with humiliation, as it bears the marks of panic and is flamboyant and declamatory in style. It is true to the spirit in which our foreign policy has been conducted during the past few years, and we cannot offer a worse condemnation of it than that. When we read it for the first time we imagined that it must be a hectic piece of argument written. by Mr. Lloyd George, or by some other Cabinet Minister or group of Ministers, for the purpose of convincing recalcitrant opponents. Evidently the public felt about it much as we did, as a rumour rapidly spread that the manifesto had been published by mistake. There was no mistake, however, for the papers of Wednesday announced that it had the unanimous authorization of the Cabinet. We are not told what the Foreign Office thought about it. The manifesto might have been designed to stir up the very dangers it was intended to provide against. In- flammable ideas were assembled freely for the consideration of Moslems in India, Mesopotamia, Egypt and elsewhere, and magnified in importance. And who, we would ask, has done more than the present Government to give currency to those ideas in the past and to create a mental and religious ferment in the minds of British Moslems? In Egypt the Government dangled an attractive present before the eyes of the people and snatched it away again. In India they helped to provide Moslems with all the munitions of political warfare. Only a few years ago the question of the Caliphate had hardly been heard of in India, except among the highly educated. To-day the " Khilafat ' movement is a reality. It was the Sultan Abdul Hamid who reasserted the almost forgotten doctrine of the Caliphate in the peculiar interests of the Ottoman Turks, yet to-day we are told that we cannot lay a haul upon the interests of the Ottoman Turks—even though impossible demands may be made by them—without running the risk of violent combined action by British Moslems all over the world. Nobody desires more than we do to see invariable justice done to all Moslems in the British Empire. But all our statesmen and Ambassadors, some of whom have had a wonderful record in dealing with Eastern peoples, have found that the safe course was not to be awed by rumour but to do exactly what seemed right on the merits of each case. By such means we always earned not only safety but respect in the long run. That truth is sure to be rediscovered, but in the meantime we are suffering from a factitious danger which was largely helped into beina° for the political con- venience of Mr. Montagu and his colleagues. In the manifesto we find the Government alarmed to the point of panic by their own creation. When they were only thinking of useful political arguments, they evidently had no idea that they were putting a rod in pickle. Now that they imagine the rod to be held in readiness over the backs of all of us they cry out for help and tell everybody how much it would hurt if the blow were to fall.
The public, however, has not regarded the manifesto merely as undignified. It has also regarded it as an unnecessary summons to a new war. It is impossible to move about among the different classes in Great Britain without discovering that people are so heartily sick of war that they would be unwilling to march if ordered to do so. As this is known to everybody who is not deaf or blind, it was surely the duty of the Government to convince the nation not by feverish words, but by sober proofs, that it may be necessary in the last resort to take up arms again. We do not deny that in the rapid changes and chances of Near Eastern affairs it may become requisite to use force. If it be proved that even the unity of the Allies does not suffice and that the Turks are intent upon sealing up the Straits again, and even reconquering a considerable part of the Balkans, the necessity of using force may arise. But the public at least wants to be convinced that the proper and obvious steps to avoid such a terrible necessity have first been taken. People are not by any means convinced of that, but quite the con- trary. As things are, the average man naturally retorts to Mr. Lloyd George, "You have made a mess and now you appeal to our patriotism to get you out of it." And then, with the loss of grammar which is customary under such conditions, he adds, "Not me ! "
All the same, nothing is more certain than that if a large army were really required again to save the peace of the world Englishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen, for all their bodily weariness, and for all their sickness of heart, would troop to the colours. The instant response of the Dominions to the Government's manifesto was a truly wonderful proof of the spirit which remains—remains because it is undying, What the nation requires before it is asked to make any new sacrifice is, in fine, that the why and the wherefore should be made perfectly clear. The catalogue of the Prime Minister's offences against this principle makes deplorable reading. In January, 1918, he said in the House of Commons :— " Nor are we fighting to deprive Turkey of her capital, nor of the rich and renowned lands of Asia Minor and Thrace, which are predominantly Turkish in race. . . . We do not challenge the maintenance of the Turkish Empire in the homelands of the Turkish race, with its capital at Con- stantinople."
That, of course, was not a pledge, as it has often been falsely represented to be, because we were still at war, not only with Turkey, but with all her allies. It was an offer. Mr. Lloyd George hoped to coax Turkey out of the war, but the Turks refused the offer. In February, 1920, however, Mr. Lloyd George recalled his offer and spoke of his words as " specific " and "unqualified and very deliberate." That is to say, he went out of his way to soothe the Turks. On the other hand, he went, or seemed to go, equally out of his way to infuriate them. In 1917 he had offered Smyrna to Italy. Later, when Italy seemed to be about to take possession of it, he encouraged the Greeks to antici- pate them. He distributed countries like Napoleon, or like an Oriental potentate disbursing principalities. If M. Venizelos had remained to direct the adventure in Asia Minor it might just conceivably have succeeded, though we doubt it. But when King Constantine recovered his throne Mr. Lloyd George never abated a jot of his enthusiasm for the Greek gamble in Asia Minor. It was rather as though someone had tried to introduce a startling and daring reconstruction of a school under a specially able Headmaster, and then when that Headmaster had gone away had accepted the proposal of the schoolboys that the reconstruction should be carried on by a Fifth Form boy, who happened to be temporarily very popular.
Finally, the Treaty of Sevres was quite out of keeping with the encouragement which Mr. Lloyd George thought it right to give to the Greeks. What can we make out of this mass of contradictions ? We confess that we can make nothing. We can only draw the conclusion that Mr. Lloyd George acted in accordance with an impulse, or what seemed to be the convenience of the moment, without ever drawing upon the lessons of the past, or looking far ahead, or having any sense of continuity.
If the Government carry on a speculative policy without first contriving a clear basis of agreement among the Allies, they will end by doing the very thing they deprecate— putting down their foot and being compelled to take it up again. After all, all Governments are powerless if they have not the support of a willing nation. This being so, we look with real hope, though, of course, also with much anxiety, to the outcome of Lord Curzon's negotiations in Paris. Lord Curzon is sincerely concerned for the safety of the Christian populations not only in Asia Minor, but in the Balkans. He is in the traditional line of British statesmanship, and though Liberals and Socialists have unexpectedly developed a remarkable tolerance for the Turks, Lord Curzon may be trusted to do his very best to follow tradition and as far as possible to prevent the Turks from returning -to lands from which they have been expelled.
We hope and believe that ships of war, with the help of a comparatively small reinforcement of soldiers, will be able to prevent the Angora Turks from crossing into Europe. If Great Britain and France produce a policy of absolute agreement the Turks probably will not even attempt to cross. We confess that the collapse of the Greeks caused by their own folly and instability and by the collaboration of Mr. Lloyd George has changed the situation so much that more concessions will have to be made to the Turks than seemed at one time necessary. We hope, nevertheless, that Lord Curzon will be able to convince the French that to readmit the Turks to any large part of Thrace—we agree that they must have an appreciable part of Eastern Thrace for defensive purposes—would be not to avoid war but to make it certain in the long run. The old trouble of the Balkans would reappear in as bad a form as ever. The situation can yet be saved if only Mr. Lloyd George will remember that though it may be an inspiring act to burn your boats when you have crossed the river it is a futile one to burn them before crossing. In conclusion we should like to add, though we do not suppose that Lord Curzon is in any need of the reminder, that a grant or a loan of money, even though it may not be a very large one, is an argument in negotiations which has great weight with the Turks. The last thing we should do is to advocate the spending of a penny that need not be spent, but to set the trade of Asia Minor going again would be a profitable transaction for everybody, especially if it produced a centre of quiet and prosperity from which the influences of peace might radiate.