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Publisher's Summary

The United Nations is one of the most famous bodies in the world, and its predecessor, the League of Nations, might be equally notorious. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson’s pet project was controversial from nearly the minute it was conceived. 

At the end of World War I, Wilson's pleas at the Paris Peace Conference relied on his Fourteen Points, which included the establishment of a League of Nations, but while his points were mostly popular amongst Americans and Europeans alike, leaders at the Peace Conference largely discarded them and favored different approaches. British leaders saw their singular aim as the maintenance of British colonial possessions. France, meanwhile, only wanted to ensure that Germany was weakened and unable to wage war again, and it too had colonial interests abroad that it hoped to maintain. Britain and France thus saw eye-to-eye with both wanting a weaker Germany and to maintain their colonies. Wilson, however, wanted both countries to rid themselves of their colonies, and he wanted Germany to maintain its self-determination and right to self-defense. Wilson totally opposed the “war guilt” clause, which blamed the war on Germany. 

Although the League of Nations was short-lived and clearly failed in its primary mission, it did essentially spawn the United Nations at the end of World War II, and many of the UN’s structures and organizations came straight from its predecessor, with the concepts of an International Court and a General Assembly coming straight from the League. More importantly, the failures of the League ensured that the UN was given stronger authority and enforcement mechanisms, most notably through the latter’s Security Council, and while the League dissolved after a generation, the UN has survived for over 70 years. 

One of the League’s most lasting legacies was the manner in which it handed over administrative control of land in the Middle East to the victorious Allied Powers, namely France and Britain. The Ottoman Empire quickly collapsed after World War I, and its extensive lands were divvied up between the French and British. While the French gained control of the Levant, which would later become modern-day nations like Syria and Lebanon, the British were given mandates for Mesopotamia and Palestine. The British Mandate for Palestine gave the British control over the lands that have since become Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, while Mesopotamia covered modern Iraq.

British interest in supporting Arab nationalist aspirations at the onset of the war were clearly premised on the wider strategic objectives of defeating the Ottomans, and notwithstanding the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, the concept of a single, unified Arab state under Hashemite rule would never come to fruition. By way of unintended consequences, however, Arab nationalism took root with the fall of the Ottomans, which would sow the seeds of many of the problems that the British would subsequently face in the Middle East, in particular in Mesopotamia. 

The British, like so many others since, failed to grasp the full complexity of Arab sectarianism and the crosscurrents of internal politics, and with a policy premised on their own broad strategic interests, they simply laid the groundwork of future political catastrophe for Iraq and the Middle East, in general. Thus, while the intention of the mandate system was to have the administrators peacefully and gradually usher in independent states, and both European powers eventually attempted to withdraw from the region, anyone with passing knowledge of the Middle East’s history in the 20th century knows that the region has seen little peace.

©2021 Charles River Editors (P)2021 Charles River Editors

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