Denying "a Golden Opportunity for Some German Lawrence of Arabia:" U.S. Civil Affairs in French North Africa, 1940-1943 Open Access
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French colonialism in North Africa dramatically impacted the conduct of American diplomatic and military policies between 1940 and 1943. Viewing French occupation of North Africa as lacking legitimacy, the U.S. perceived the Muslim population as an easy target for German propaganda efforts. After France fell in May 1940, the Roosevelt Administration feared that Germany would take advantage of wartime economic conditions to foment dissent among the Muslim population in North Africa. American diplomatic policy was thus to reinforce French authority through the export of consumer goods for the Muslim population in North Africa. Simultaneously, assuming that the U.S. would control the post-war redrawing of the international map, Roosevelt drew upon his anti-colonial ideology to coerce the French to resist German rule. Upon invasion of North Africa in November 1942, continued support for French colonialism allowed the U.S. to gain French assistance and thereby avoid a costly military occupation. Military commanders maintained a dual approach to civil affairs, simultaneously supporting the French colonial administration while providing aid and civil relief to the Muslim population. Ultimately, the North African campaign represented a convergence of the Second World War with the multiple anti-colonial struggles existing within the Maghreb, and the American approach was to actively support France in its suppression of anti-colonial movements in order to ensure French participation as an Allied partner.