Wilson’s King-Crane Commission and the promise of self-determination in the Middle East

Dr. Martin Bunton

The 1919 King-Crane Commission was sent to the Middle East by US President Woodrow Wilson in order to canvas the opinions of the peoples of the defeated Ottoman Empire. Whereas Britain and France had already entered into negotiations over how to divide up the Arab lands between them, President Wilson stressed new ideals of self-determination. In the end, British and French plans would prevail, and the King-Crane Commission’s final report was soon forgotten. But a look back upon the commission’s work offers a useful opportunity to reflect more broadly on the role of foreign interventions, modern discourses of race and imperialism, the meaning of public opinion and the uses of propaganda – all of which would remain prominent features of the last century.