Saturday 28 May 2016

Meddle And Muddle In The Middle East

The centenary anniversary of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between the UK and France during World War One is not being celebrated but if anything recalled as one of the causes of the present troubles of the Middle East.

Much of our view of the Middle East in that period is gained from Lawrence of Arabia, above, of legend and of film.  It is a complicated and intricate story beginning a century before then that was overshadowed by the events in Europe.

This article in Project Syndicate by Richard N. Haass points out that essentially because of the problems arising from the collapse of The Ottoman Empire its purpose was to avoid conflict between France and the UK as to who had which sphere of influence or control.

The Agreement worked until the Suez Crisis of 1956 when a bungled joint intervention to deal with the ambitions of President Nasser of Egypt led to a collapse of their authority in the Middle East in line with their retreats from Empire.

Then in the context of the 1950's it was the interests of the USA and Soviet Russia that led to a kind of settlement without a settlement.  One upshot of this was the toleration of local despots who had their own ways of dealing with internal opposition or resistance.

Recently, this has broken down and the disintegration within many of the states has led to the present situation.  The urge to meddle in them is not backed by the ability to enforce order or establish a coherent governing regime.

So we may be left with states that are not states and the borders that have existed for a century, the lines on maps, are becoming meaningless.  Historically, it is just another shift in pattern, there have been many of them down the millennia.

But the Middle East is where a lot of the oil comes from and as such is central to both economies and international financial systems.  It is unlikely that Turkey can be a new Ottoman Empire and no other power or combination exists that can.

So it is likely that extremism is probable, conflict between population groups persistent and movement of population substantial.

Welcome to the new millennia, or is it going to be a return to something like the first millennia of the common era?


  1. The USA is no longer dependent on Middle Eastern oil so will that mean that gradually she will cut her losses and withdraw from the area. She is looking more toward the West now and her interest in Europe appears to be waning as well.

  2. The urge to meddle seems to be a feature of modern life and it isn't going well on any scale from local to global.