Tuesday, February 03, 2015

adam curtis bitter lake

hitchensblog |    Years ago I first read of the extraordinary meeting between Franklin Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud (also known as AbdulAziz) of Saudi Arabia. This took place soon after the Yalta summit which handed much of Europe to Stalin (and not long before Roosevelt’s death,  in Warm Springs, Georgia with his mistress, Lucy Rutherfurd, at his side).

There’s a full account of this momentous meeting here:


Note that it mentions in passing Winston Churchill’s belated, ill-mannered and failed attempt to emulate the meeting soon afterwards (Churchill knowingly ignored the King’s loathing of smoking and drinking, and alienated him in other ways. The more cunning Roosevelt took great care to please the King, and so got what he wanted ) . Churchill’s meeting went wrong in every conceivable respect.

There are also several pictures, and some colour film, of the Bitter Lake Summit. Roosevelt looks close to death. Ibn Saud looks as a King should look, immensely self-possessed and full of unquestioned power.

The fascinating, picturesque and momentous event, which ought to be world-famous, is almost entirely unknown. The embarking of the King at Jeddah with his entourage (including an astrologer),  the carpeting of the decks of the destroyer USS Murphy, and the erection of a tent among her torpedo tubes and gun turrets, the corralling of sheep at her stern, the transfer of the monarch by bosun’s chair to Roosevelt’s ship, the heavy cruiser USS Quincy, are all wonderful enough anyway.

But the subject matter of the meeting is even better. First, there are the beginnings of US military protection for Saudi Arabia in return for American dominance of the Saudi oilfields (which had begun to flow only in 1938 and which the US oil companies had penetrated in competition with the then powerful British Empire and its oil interests). Then there is the King’s absolute refusal to countenance American support for Jewish settlement in what would soon be Israel.

Roosevelt completely accepted this, and wrote to Ibn Saud soon afterwards:


I have received the communication which Your Majesty sent me under date of March 10, 1945, in which you refer to the question of Palestine and to the continuing interest of the Arabs in current developments affecting that country.

I am gratified that Your Majesty took this occasion to bring your views on this question to my attention and I have given the most careful attention to the statements which you make in your letter. I am also mindful of the memorable conversation which we had not so long ago and in the course of which I had an opportunity to obtain so vivid an impression of Your Majesty’s sentiments on this question.

Your Majesty will recall that on previous occasions I communicated to you the attitude of the American Government toward Palestine and made clear our desire that no decision be taken with respect to the basic situation in that country without full consultation with both Arabs and Jews. Your Majesty will also doubtless recall that during our recent conversation I assured you that I would take no action, in my capacity as Chief of the Executive Branch of this Government, which might prove hostile to the Arab people.

It gives me pleasure to renew to Your Majesty the assurances which you have previously received regarding the attitude of my Government and my own, as Chief Executive, with regard to the question of Palestine and to inform you that the policy of this Government in this respect is unchanged.

I desire also at this time to send you my best wishes for Your Majesty’s continued good health and for the welfare of your people.

Your Good Friend,


Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman,  would later override this by recognising Israel in 1948, and committing the USA to its support.  His decision is believed to have been based on electoral considerations. The tension between the two positions has endured in US policy ever since.

So in many ways the foundations were laid for the modern Middle East, the overpowering of a failing British empire by an ambitious America, a contradiction at the heart of American policy between its Saudi alliance and its friendship for the Zionist project, all floating upon a sea of oil.

So I knew I had come to the right place when I noted that the meeting provided the title and the main opening scene of Adam Curtis’s astonishing new documentary ‘Bitter Lake’ (the Roosevelt-Ibn Saud meeting took place on the Great Bitter Lake, part of the Suez Canal) .

Anyone interested in this occasion must have an unconventional (and therefore interesting) approach to postwar history. He must be able to tell the difference between what was important and what was famous.


CNu said...

In preparation for when this get's snatched off youtube again, here's a link to the torrent https://kickass.so/adam-curtis-bitter-lake-720p-h264-mvgroup-t10134753.html

CNu said...

Living memory history brah, hidden in plain sight, but like so much else we're more conventionally familiar with, KISS (keep it simple) 240 billion barrels of sweet, light, crude sitting under Persian hegemony. Viewed in the historical context, everything else is merely conversation. http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2015/01/you-and-i-are-past-cest-la-vie-much.html

mhicks said...


Complex history indeed. Honestly not sure what the rules of engagement are.

The power struggles are so fluid and dynamic...when you get three or four iterations beyond my enemy's enemy...who can be trusted at all? And since the West's hand has been in the cookie jar so long, I'm not even sure complete withdrawal and absolute isolation would "fix" the problems either.