A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, January 24, 2013

January 24, 1943: The Casablanca Conference Ends with an Awkward Handshake

A number of times this month I've posted about the 1943 Casablanca Conference which took place 70 years ago. Today marks the day it ended. The conference had accomplished a number of things: allowed for extensive US-British military planning, including the decision to invade Sicily when the war in North Africa was over; issued a declaration that the Allies were fighting for the "unconditional surrender" of the Axis (which became controversial); and brought about a working (barely) relationship between the two rival French generals, each with huge Gallic egos, Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle.

As the Conference ended — cloaked in secrecy due to the presence of President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill — the press was flown down from Allied HQ in Algiers for the first time, and were startled to discover the two allied leaders were in Morocco. There were photo opportunities with the President, the Prime Minister, and the two French leaders:
Giraud, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, Churchill at Casablanca
More famous by far than that photo, however, is the clearly uncomfortable one of the (forced, and after considerable US pressure on Giraud and British pressure on de Gaulle) handshake between Giraud and de Gaulle:

This version of Casablanca did not end with "the beginning of a beautiful friendship"; the two French generals could not stand each other. But Giraud was favored by the Americans, though de Gaulle had sometimes reluctant support from Churchill. Giraud outranked de Gaulle and had disagreed with his theories of tank warfare; while de Gaulle deferred to his higher rank, he worked to undermine him until he emerged as the victor by early 1944. The handshake is visibly uncomfortable. I suspect it will remind many Middle East hands of another handshake, the one at the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993:
Or perhaps this awkward handshake in Italy in 2009:
After the end of the news conference/photo op, Churchill, who loved Marrakesh and frequently went there to paint, took Roosevelt off to the Moroccan desert city for an overnight jaunt to show his American colleague its beauty. But that's a tale in its own right, and will be one of my posts tomorrow.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Congratulations, Mike, for bringing these three pictures together, to my knowledge for the first time. At least a handshake allows the two participants to keep a safe distance. Imagine the Baghdad Summit of March 1990, when Saddam Hussein was embracing his brother heads of state only a few months before the invasion of Kuwait set off two decades of bad relations between Baghdad and other Arab capitals. Somewhere in the Iraqi archives seized by the U.S. forces there must be a picture gallery of the occasion. Modern media allow us to see the hypocrisy in real time or near real time, rather than waiting for a historian to reveal it.