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Conclusions: Colonial Anxieties and Imperial Rivalries

French politicians and mandate officials argued bitterly that British officials in Transjordan and Palestine encouraged the Syrian rebels. The High Commissioner’s office accused the British Consul in Damascus of exaggerating all aspects of the revolt, most particularly the level of opposition to the mandate. French military officers were angered at their inability to pursue insurgents over the border into Transjordan, and they argued that Britain had created a haven for criminal enemies of their mandate. While French officials found it comforting to blame their colonial misfortunes on British intrigue and fanatical foreign- inspired sectarian extremists, British officials were guilty of frequent public gloating over their supposedly more enlightened and less turbulent rule in Palestine, Transjordan, and Iraq. Both regimes enthusiastically censored the press in the cities they controlled, and both allowed newspapers to cover and to criticize calamities and outrages in the adjoining mandate territory. Damascene journalists, like their counterparts in Jerusalem and Cairo, knew they could criticize the rival mandate power in print, but criticism of the ruling mandate power would land them in jail.

Relations between British and French colonial functionaries were better in Europe. In Geneva, the need to pacify the League of Nations brought mandate officials together in a way their competition in the region could not. British officials helpfully pointed out to their French counterparts that the Mandates Commission eagerly consumed voluminous reports, and each mandatory government was better served to provide too much information to the League than to ignore or refuse requests for reports and information. Great Britain had conquered and occupied the region in 1918 and British policy-makers were confident and unconcerned about League of Nations authority over their actions. They conceded to League requests knowing that such requests came without threat or compulsion and were most easily dealt with by mild compliance and casual misdirection.

French Mandate officials, by contrast, owed their regional position to post-war British goodwill and international concord, and there was a degree of insecurity at the core of French colonial claims in the Middle East. French Mandate officials regarded the League and Britain with frequent jealousy and suspicion, which the revolt and criticism from London and Geneva intensified. The British mandatory delegations learned immediately that lengthy and frequent reports on mandatory “progress” were the best way to keep Geneva satisfied and out of the business of the mandatory power. French officials learned this lesson more slowly, and spent half a decade underplaying the crises and disorder in Syria and Lebanon, and providing reports grudgingly, if at all. By the late 1920s both mandatory regimes and the Mandates Commission itself had become vast bureaucracies producing libraries full of official reports, surveys, and official commission findings.

British colonial functionaries considered themselves better, more able, and less ideological administrators than their French counterparts. But opposition to the mandate and Zionism in Palestine in the years after the Syrian Revolt provoked counterinsurgency tactics in Palestine little different from Syria, and shook British convictions of enlightenment. International crisis and the political and financial cost of Middle Eastern colonialism for both Paris and London led eventually to decolonization and disengagement from the region for both powers.

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