It’s been a full century now since the League of Nations arbitrarily carved up the remnants of the Ottoman Empire into what was to become the would-be nations of Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon in accordance with the Sykes-Picot agreement.
That agreement, which much more reflected the economic and political interests of the carvers than it did of those of the carved, was intended to establish a relative balance of power within and division of colonial control over the region between France and Great Britain, the chief architects of the controversial construct.
And while its primary purpose was to accommodate the Western powers’ mutually agreed upon spheres, the covert Sykes-Picot accord — officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement and drafted by Britain’s Mark Sykes and France’s Françoise Georges Picot — did, to some extent, take into account the centuries-old sectarian divisions between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites.
What it did not take into consideration was the existence of the region’s Kurdish populations, which have been intermittently at war with the other two major ethnic groups for hundreds of years.
Anyone who has even the slightest grasp of modern-day Middle East realpolitik knows that not only has Sykes-Picot become an anachronym from a bygone era, but the so-called states that it created are ungovernable anarchies that are now incubators for Islamic jihadism.
These nations — most of which are dolorous amalgamations of diverse ethnic groups and feuding tribes that were grudgingly patched together politically despite their mutual disdain — are the very textbook definition of dysfunctional.
They have never operated as viable independent states, and they never will.
Although Jordan and Lebanon — in varying degrees — have been able to piece together a semblance of national unity, both Iraq and Syria are conceptual failures, futilely trying to compel people with little in common to agree to share an uncertain future.
And it is this cauldron of discontent that is the simmering vessel in which support for the Islamic States (I.S.) and other extremist groups is being brewed.
Foreign intervention gave birth to these volatile countries, and foreign intervention helped light the spark that has turned them into explosive regions of spiraling violence and bloodshed with no central government or accountability.
At this point, the best the outside world can hope for is to enlist the warring factions to help extinguish the Islamic State and then, through noninterventionist humanitarian aid (and definitely no military support), letting the unnatural and extraneously fabricated counties of Syria and Iraq collapse so that the region can be redefined internally into credible and functional nations based on common ethnicities, traditions and values.
These smaller nations could perhaps unite themselves into loose federations, and a tenuous peace based on mutual benefit could at last take hold.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]