No, Western Colonialism Didn’t Cause the Mess in the Middle East

So argues Efraim Karsh in his recent book, The Tail Wags the Dog. Against the view of most professional Middle East experts, the current American president, and many others, Karsh contends that forces and rulers indigenous to the region did far more than Western powers to shape its fate. Joshua Muravchik writes in his review:

Karsh challenges the received wisdom that the destinies of the core Middle Eastern polities—Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq—were largely shaped by Britain and France, who divided these spoils seized from Turkey in World War I. The driving force behind this aggrandizement, [according to Karsh], was neither Lloyd George nor Clemenceau but a local adventurer—[Sharif Hussein of Mecca]. . . .

Karsh defends the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, the secret bargain between London and Paris. In Karsh’s assessment, “the depiction of the Sykes-Picot agreement as the epitome of Western perfidy couldn’t be further from the truth.” Far from aiming at the subjugation of the Arabs, this deal “constituted the first-ever great-power recognition of an Arab right to self-determination.”

Rather than the Western Europeans, it was their fellow Muslims, the Ottomans, who were the main colonizers of the Arabs, and what caused the spoliation of the Ottoman empire was not the West’s avarice but its own.

Read more at Commentary

More about: History & Ideas, Middle East, Ottoman Empire, Postcolonialism, Sykes-Picot Agreement


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship