Lessons for the West from the Fall of the Ottoman Empire

Nov. 19 2018

The end of World War I coincided with the defeat of the Ottoman empire by France and Britain, which in turn led to the empire’s dismemberment in 1920 and formal dissolution in 1922. In an interview with Spiked, Eugene Rogan—recently the author of The Fall of the Ottomans—comments on the empire’s role in the war and the errors made by the Western powers in overseeing its demise. For instance, the British, encouraged by T.E. Lawrence, decided to support the rulers of Mecca in revolting against the sultan, hoping that this would spark a region-wide Arab revolt:

Their mistake, of course, was to assume that Muslims behave in a collectively radical way. It is an assumption Westerners often make about Islam. And it is wrong. And it is part of what also drove the Ottomans’ German allies to push the sultan to call for jihad [against the Allies], because they also believed Muslims would respond in a collective way, and it explains why Britain overreacted, [fearing its Muslim subjects in India would be provoked to revolt]. The irony of course is that it left British war planners responding more actively to the call for jihad than did global Muslims. . . .

As for the carving up the Middle East by France and Britain in the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement and the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, Rogan comments:

I think the past century has made sovereign reality out of the borders imposed by the European imperial powers. And while I wouldn’t want to make them sacrosanct, I’m very suspicious of attempts by analysts in Europe or America to redraw the boundaries. I think we should be humble. The experience of Westerners drawing boundaries has not been successful. It hasn’t been a happy experience for the people of the region. They have been enduring boundaries, but they have fostered enduring conflicts.

So the way I would put it is that any changes to Middle Eastern borders should come only as exercises in self-determination. . . . And I think the real issue [is]: can overturning the post-World War I boundaries be done in such a way that it doesn’t provide the fault lines for new conflicts to wrack the Middle East? My view is that the borders more or less as they stand now will survive, but, with the emergence of a new age of statehood in a post-Arab Spring Middle East, a lot of the regionalisms will only be satisfied by a more federal system.

Read more at Spiked

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


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