A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Moroccans at the Casablanca Conference: the Sultan Dines with FDR and Churchill: Did FDR Support Moroccan Independence?

In my post yesterday on the 70th anniversary of the Casablanca Conference, I said that it was "in, but not of" Morocco, and that Moroccans were excluded from the  bubble in which it took place. That was not of course, 100% true: Morocco was a French Protectorate, not a colony, and its ruler was technically Sultan (later King) Mohammed V (Muhammad V). (I've posted previously about General George S. Patton's impressions of the Sultan.) Ceremonially speaking, at least, he was the host of the Conference (though not involved in the negotiations), and on January 22, President Franklin Roosevelt hosted a banquet in honor of the nominal host. (But read on: there's some evidence FDR was sending an anti-colonial message to the French by hosting the Sultan) Photos of this event seem few and far between, and this is the only one I could find, but it shows most of the key players and offers a good introduction to talking about the banquet.
On the couch: Sultan Mohammed V, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Back row from left: Gen. George S. Patton (US Military Commander in Morocco), Robert Murphy (US diplomatic representative in French North Africa), Harry Hopkins (Roosevelt aide and personal friend), Moroccan Crown Prince Moulay Hassan (future King Hassan II, then 13), General Charles Noguès (French Governor-General of Morocco), the Moroccan Chief of Protocol, the Moroccan Grand Vizier, Lt. Col. Elliott Roosevelt (the President's son), Roosevelt's Naval Aide Captain John L. McCrea.

General Patton's diary offers one memory of the evening:
At dinner  . . .  President, Sultan, Protocol, self, Crown Prince. Elliott Roosevelt, Nogues, Hopkins, Murphy. Grand Vizier, Churchill. No wine, only orange juice and water. Churchill was very rude, the President was great, talking volubly in bad French and really doing his stuff. After dinner we had [motion] pictures and more talk . . .

I rode with Sultan and Grand Vizier to house of latter. On way Sultan said, "Truly your President is a very great man and a great friend of myself and of my people. He shines by comparison with the other one."[presumably Churchill] . . .
Nogues was delighted that the P.M. was such a boor. [The Patton Papers. Vol. II. p. 158]
General Noguès, by the way, was a Vichy holdover who had vacillated so much in negotiation with the Americans that General Eisenhower reportedly referred to him as "General No-Yes."

Harry Hopkins' notes add some color:
The Sultan arrived at 7:40, which caused me to put on my black tie for the first time on this trip. He had expressed a desire to see the President alone prior to Churchill's arrival at eight, and he came loaded with presents — a gold dagger for the President, and some gold bracelets for Mrs Roosevelt, and a gold tiara which looked to me like the kind the gals wear in the circus, riding on white horses. I can just see Mrs. Roosevelt when she takes a look at this. The Sultan wore white silk robes. Apparently the etiquette prohibits the drinking of liquor publicly, so we had nothing alcoholic either before, during, or after dinner. I fortified myself an hour earlier, however.

Also, no part of a pig may be eaten, and the Sultan didn't smoke. He had a young son there with a red fez on, which he kept on while eating. He was a kid about thirteen who seemed quite bright. [Moulay Hassan: the future King Hassan II, reigned 1961-1999.]
. . . Churchill was glum at dinner and seemed to be real bored. . .The President gave the Sultan his picture in a handsome silver frame.  and a good time seemed to be had by all, except the Prime Minister. [Robert Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, 689-690]
Churchill had apparently just met with de Gaulle; that, combined with the absence of alcohol and tobacco (which Churchill normally considered essentials at dinner), might explain his mood, as our next quote also suggests.Though Churchill's massive six volume memoir of the war is far more extensive than other memoirs, I find no mention in it of the dinner at all.

The Patton and Hopkins anecdotes give us lots of color and Orientalist exoticism. Robert Murphy, writing many years later in his 1964 memoir,  Diplomat Among Warriors,  offers a very different, anti-colonialist spin:
The evening of the day De Gaulle arrived in Casablanca, just before he and Roosevelt were to meet with each other for the first time, the President gave a dinner in honor of the Sultan of Morocco. This affair was entirely Roosevelt's own idea. He had not forgotten the reluctance of General Nogues to deliver his letter to the Sultan at the time of the landings, and one of the first things the President asked me to do was to arrange an intimate little dinner at his villa. The Sultan was accompanied by his eldest son, and the other guests were Nogues — who was invited as the Sultan's Foreign Minister under the French Protectorate — Churchill, Macmillan, Marshall, Patton, Hopkins, Elliott Roosevelt, and me. [Other memoirs don't mention George C. Marshall's or Macmillan's presence, nor is he in the photo. Harold Macmillan might have been left out but it's unlikely Marshall would not have been in the photo when his subordinate Patton was, nor can I find any evidence in his biographies that he attended.] In deference to the Sultan's Moslem code of behavior, no alcoholic beverages of any kind were served before, during, or after the dinner. Perhaps it was this rare abstinence which caused the British Prime Minister to be unnaturally glum throughout the evening, or perhaps he remained silent because he regarded the whole occasion as deliberately provocative.
The President began the serious conversation by expressing sympathy with colonial aspirations for independence, and soon he was proposing to the Sultan that arrangements should be made after the war for American-Moroccan economic co-operation. Nogues, who had devoted his career to fortifying the French position in Morocco, could not conceal his outraged feelings. Hopkins observed that Nogues seemed to be uneasy "because he knows we may throw him out any minute." I suggested to Hopkins, "Perhaps the President’s approaches to the Sultan also aggravate Nogues’s fears about American designs on the French Empire. From the point of view of any imperialist — including De Gaulle and Churchill— the President’s conversation with the Sultan could seem subversive." With an impatient shrug, Hopkins changed the subject.
Of course, De Gaulle's informants told him about the President's overtures to the Sultan. and this increased the General's distrust of Roosevelt. Although it was De Gaulle, and not the Americans, who eventually threw Nogues out of his position in Morocco, De Gaulle saw eye to eye with Nogues on what De Gaulle has described as Roosevelt's "insinuations" to the Sultan. De Gaulle recorded in his memoirs that the Sultan remained loyal to France in spite of Roosevelt's interference . . . (Diplomat Among Warriors, 172-173)
The Sultan would be deposed later, not by de Gaulle. and then returned to power and be elevated to King on Moroccan independence. Though ignored by diarists at the time, Roosevelt's probing the Sultan for future post-colonial relations is characteristic of his known attitudes.

[An editorial addendum since I'm an editor and all: I've kept all spellings as in the original. None of the Americans put the accent on Noguès (though the "General No-Yes" joke only makes sense if you pronounce it Noguès), and Murphy insists on "De Gaulle" rather than the more correct "de Gaulle."]

1 comment:

David Mack said...

FDR was a far sighted guy and a much shrewder anti-colonialist than Wilson.