Britain's muddled policy did us lasting harm in the Middle East
By SIR DESMOND MORTON
THE SWORD AND THE OLIVE, by Sir George Rendel (John Murray, 28s.).
T°THIS book is not, and is 1clearly not intended to be, a commentary on the major diplomatic events taking place in the 40 years and more during I which Sir George Rendel has rendered loyal and faithful service to his country in the Foreign Office and as a diplomat abroad; but is a very full account of his personal experiences and adventures in international affairs. with a sufficient background, where needed, of events in which he played no part, to make comprehensible to the general reader how matters stood when he became involved.
With this clear-cut end in view, he wisely introduces the barest minimum of private affairs, plunging straight into his narrative on the platform of Liverpool Street Station when departing for Berlin to take up his first post in 1913. We learn, however. from his dedication that the foundations of his education were laid at Downside.
When Sir George joined what is now known as the Foreign Service, the staffs of the Foreign Office in London and of the Diplomatic Service abroad were recruited
separately. It was to the latter that he was posted and served in the Missions in Berlin, Athens, Lisbon and Madrid until the end of the First World War, when the two services were amalgamated and he applied successfully for transfer to the Foreign Office. There he remained until appointed Minister in Bulgaria in 1938, returning to England in 1941, when King Boris decided to throw in his lot with Hitler and diplomatic relations with this country were broken off.
His journey back to England was marked first by the successful -but, according to older standards, most undiplomatic-smuggling out of Bulgaria of a certain potential leader of Bulgarian " resistance," and the far less entertaining introduction into the Embassy luggage of two time-bombs, one of which exploded in Constantinople with fatal results.
BACK in the Foreign Office from
1941 to 1947. Sir George was occupied with many varied matters including the reform of the Foreign Service, the foundation of ti.N.N.R.A. and an attempt to negotiate with the Russians an Austrian Treaty. His experience of Soviet " diplomacy " at this period make interesting reading. For a short while he was also Minister to the refugee Yugoslav Government in London a disheartening task.
In 1947 he became Ambassador to Belgium, remaining in that post until 1950, when. according to the prevailing rule, he had to retire at the age of 60.
In point of fact. however, he was soon re-employed as U.K. Delegate to a commission for the settlement of German debts and thereafter, in 1953, as Chairman of a Commission to draft a new Consti tution for Singapore. In 1955 he was the U.K. Member of the Commission for organising the Saar Referendum; also representing H.M. the Queen at the inauguration of the Presidents of Peru and Bolivia in 1956.
Many of the problems with which Sir George had to wrestle during his career are now solved in one way or another, or have reappeared in a new form. That is, however. not the case with the Middle East, whose complexities were very much his concern for eight years. from 1930 onwards. as Head of the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office.
THERE is no doubt that he was
unfortunate in taking over this Department when he did and relinquishing it just before a serious but overlong-delayed move was made to tackle what was realised to be an untenable situation.
The misunderstanding of the Balfour Declaration after the First Warld War, and failure to follow up its intended application, resulting in two mutually inconsistent policies being carried on towards the Arabs, was the prinsary cause of what we are facing there to-day. Sir George Rendel. however, bears no responsibility for what had been done long before he took up his post. Having travelled through the Arabian States, he was well aware of the inconsistencies of British policy.
He is equally not responsible for failure to implement the 1939 White Paper for the settlement of Palestine, which laudable attempt to produce a single policy was abandoned after the Second World War. as a consequence of which, as Sir George says himself, its sponsors may never be forgiven by the Arabs. Anyone wanting to understand what is one of the fundamental reasons for the present unpopularity of Britain among the Arabs, cannot do better than read the chapters on this subject in the present book.