“Then why in thunder don’t the British have a showdown?”
“That’s where the joker comes in. The French know there’s a sort of diplomatic credo at the London Foreign Office to the general effect that England and France have got to stand together or Europe will go to pieces. The French are realists. They bank on that. They tread on British corns, out here, all they want to, while they toss bouquets, backed by airplanes, across the English Channel.”
“Then the war didn’t end the old diplomacy?”
“What a question! But I haven’t more than scratched the Near East surface for you yet. There’s Mustapha Kemal in Anatolia, leader of the Turkish Nationalists, no more dead or incapacitated than a possum. He’s playing for his own hand—Kaiser Willy stuff—studying Trotzky and Lenin, and flirting with Feisul’s party on the side. Then there’s a Bolshevist element among the Zionists—got teeth, too. There’s an effort being made from India to intrigue among the Sikh troops employed in Palestine. There’s a very strong party yelling for an American mandate. The Armenians, poor devils, are pulling any string they can get hold of, in the hope that anything at all may happen. The orthodox Jews are against the Zionists; the Arabs are against them both, and furious with one another. There’s a pan-Islam movement on foot, and a pan-Turanian—both different, and opposed. About 75 per cent of the British are as pro-Arab as they dare be, but the rest are strong for the Zionists. And the Administrator’s neutral!—strong for law and order but taking no sides.”
“I’m one of the men who is trying to keep the peace.”
He invited me to stay to dinner. The other members of the mess were trooping in, all his juniors, all obviously fond of him and boisterously irreverent of his rank. Dinner under his chairmanship was a sort of school for repartee. It was utterly unlike the usual British mess dinner. If you shut your eyes for a minute you couldn’t believe that any one present had ever worn a uniform. I learned afterward that there was quite a little competition to get into that mess.
After dinner most of them trooped out again, to dance with Zionist ladies at an institute affair. But he and I stayed, and talked until midnight. Before I left, the key of Palestine and Syria was in my hands.
“You seem interested,” he said, coming with me to the door. “If you don’t mind rough spots now and then, I’ll try to show you a few things at first hand.”
“No objection; only a stipulation.”
The showmanship began much sooner than I hoped. The following day was Sunday, and I had an invitation to a sort of semi-public tea given by the American Colony after their afternoon religious service.