FDR-Ibn Saud

Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the 1945 meeting between President Franklin Roosevelt and Saudi King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud, which took place on board the U.S.S. Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake, Egypt. The summit is regarded as the beginning of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. In this photo, the king is speaking to the interpreter, Colonel William A. Eddy, USMC (at the time, U.S. minister plenipotentiary to Saudi Arabia). Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, the president’s aide and chief of staff, stands to the left. The anniversary will be marked today by surviving crew members of the ship, in an event in Florida, held under the auspices of the newly-formed “Friends of Saudi Arabia.” Grandsons of Roosevelt and the Saudi king will attend.

Eddy, a legendary Arabist, gave the canonical account of the meeting, in a pamphlet published in 1954. There he wrote:

The guardian of the holy places of Islam, and the nearest we have to a successor to the caliphs, the defender of the Muslim faith and of the holy cities of three hundred million people, cemented a friendship with the head of a great Western and Christian nation. The meeting marks the high point of Muslim alliance with the West.

I won’t even begin to unravel that. One of the low points came a couple of months later, with Project Switch, an OSS plan to steal the contents of Ibn Saud’s toilet (to get a read on his health). Eddy was an enthusiastic part of the scheme, but the records suggest it was scuttled. (Anthony Cave Brown told the story in his history of ARAMCO.)

We are awash in biographies of FDR and Ibn Saud, and Leahy too is the subject of a biography. (He opposed the use of the atomic bomb against Japan, which usually gets him a footnote.) But Eddy’s story has yet to be told in a comprehensive manner. Born in Lebanon to missionary parents, fluent in Arabic, he personified the Arabists of the old school. After a career in education, intelligence, and diplomacy, he joined ARAMCO (of course), and finally retired to Beirut. Here’s a short bio centered on his military exploits (with a very dashing photo of him). His papers are in Princeton, and I urge someone young and smart to pick up the thread.

More photos: Ibn Saud boards the Quincy, and chats with Roosevelt.

Update: Here’s a report of today’s commemoration. Participants also included the veterans of the U.S.S. Murphy, which brought Ibn Saud to Egypt.