Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Did European Double-Dealing Lead to Mideast Chaos?; 'Lawrence in Arabia' Explains How West's Involvement Contributed to a Century of Trouble; NONFICTION - BOOKS

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Did European Double-Dealing Lead to Mideast Chaos?; 'Lawrence in Arabia' Explains How West's Involvement Contributed to a Century of Trouble; NONFICTION - BOOKS

Article excerpt

Thomas Edward "T.E." Lawrence, the legendary figure from David Lean's movie "Lawrence of Arabia," is best known for urging the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula to rebel against the dying Ottoman Empire in the last months of World War I. He encouraged their leader, Faisal ibn Hussein, to believe Great Britain would support creating a great Arab nation in what is now roughly Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

But as Arab and British units captured Damascus, London reverted to a secret agreement between the two colonial powers, Britain and France. That was the Sykes-Picot pact to divide and govern the territory liberated from the Ottoman Turks. The Versailles Treaty of 1919, strongly influenced by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, cemented the deal and left the Arab leaders without sovereignty in the Levant for several decades.

Sykes-Picot is familiar stuff for historians, but not so much for the general public. In his new book, author Scott Anderson explains that "in early January 1916, two midlevel diplomats, Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot cobbled together a future map of the Middle East that bore absolutely no relation to the one envisioned by Emir Hussein. Instead, French imperial avarice fueled British imperial competition, so that the truly independent Arab nation was now to be largely limited to the desert wastelands of Arabia, with the French taking direct control of greater Syria, and the British taking outright all of Iraq."

The remaining parts of the Ottoman corpse were divided among the British and the French because "neither Sykes nor Picot believed the Arabs were truly capable of governing themselves."

Tempting though it is to blame the chaos of the modern Middle East on the conniving of colonial powers and the failures of the "peace" that ended World War I, no one can say with certainty that the war-ravaged region would be more peaceful had the British and the French not weighed in.

What Anderson does say in "Lawrence in Arabia," a lengthy, detailed account of the war's impact in the Middle East, is that deceit and double-dealing by European powers set the stage for the last 100 years, which as one can see today, is chaotic, violent and extremely discouraging. …

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