In Defense of Sykes-Picot

On May 16, 1916, the diplomats Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot—representing Great Britain and France, respectively—made an agreement to divide up the Middle East in the event that their countries defeated the Ottoman empire in World War I. The treaty, which created the modern borders of the Middle East, has often been blamed for the region’s problems. Michael Rubin begs to differ:

To look at the map of the Middle East might be to conclude that Sykes-Picot, the agreement which led to the drawing of so many contemporary borders, also created artificial countries. But just because a border is artificial does not mean that the resulting country is.

Iraq, for example, became independent in 1932, twelve years after the League of Nations demarcated its borders, but Arabic literature has spoken of “Iraq” for a millennium. Likewise, Syria—under its current artificial borders—became a League of Nations Mandate in 1920, but a notion of Syria as a region existed at the time of Muhammad. . . . Mount Lebanon has always had a unique identity, not least because of the Maronite Christian presence. Syria itself . . . never recognized the Lebanese identity; but the divisions of Sykes-Picot enabled the Lebanese among others to win freedom. . . .

Is it possible to rectify past mistakes? Certainly. . . . But is discussion about reversing the legacy of Sykes-Picot counterproductive? Absolutely. . . .

There is no way to divide borders and create homogeneous states. Even to try to is to conduct ethnic and sectarian cleansing. To create new borders and new states with minority populations, meanwhile, is simply to reshuffle the deck, not to change the game.

Read more at AEI

More about: History & Ideas, Middle East, Ottoman Empire, Sykes-Picot Agreement, World War I

Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy