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  • Writer's picturePeter Serefine

Conflict in the Middle East, could it be our fault?

With decades of war and conflict in the middle east, we have to question possible causes.

The United States' involvement in middle eastern affairs began as soon as we became the United States. Once we became independent and no longer had the protection of the all-powerful British navy the barbary pirates considered our ships fair game. At a time when the tales of the Arabian Nights were extremely popular in our new republic, the north coast of Africa became a very dangerous place for us. It is estimated that the barbary pirates kidnapped and sold into slavery over a million people. Our country's history with the middle east conflict begins there with the two wars fought at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Fast forward a hundred years. The beginning of the twentieth century has most of the world involved in the conflicts in the middle east. 1914 and World War One set the Ottoman Empire and the Central Powers against the Allies. The Central Powers were defeated and the war was over in 1918, but the decision to carve up the Ottoman Empire had already been made in 1916. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 between France and the British was the post-war plan for the territory of the Ottoman Empire. Notice that the United States was not a signatory. You may be tempted to think that President Woodrow Wilson refrained because of moral superiority. It is far more likely that the United States did not sign simply because our country just wasn't in the war yet.

The Ottoman Empire had reigned for over 600 years and The Sykes-Picot Agreement was a humiliating territory grab to a very proud people. The arrogance of the west signing the agreement two years before the end of the war didn't help the humiliation either. France, England, Greece, and Russia were assigned areas of control and areas of influence in the former Ottoman areas. It does not appear that anyone gave any consideration to the culture, religion, or politics of the area when drawing the new colony boundaries.

Predictably, the forced colonization had very mixed results. There was a very marked increase in westernization and modernization in the middle east. There was also a large increase in conflict. Before oil is blamed for this war spoils land grab, It is important to note that oil will not be discovered in the region until 22 years after Sykes-Picot, in 1938. Still, even before the discovery of the world's largest oil reserves, the region felt the effects of dozens of revolts, revolutions, and battles.

1938 comes with not only the discovery of the massive oil fields but also brings World War II. The battle between the Axis and the Allies puts the middle east regional conflicts on the back burner for a while. Different groups in the area joined a side in the world conflict. The choice to join the allies over the axis or vise versa was likely influenced by which side their regional enemy joined as well as what the world leaders on either side may have promised each group.

Once the allied forces won WWII the British still had an international mandate over the area of Palestine. That mandate expired in 1948. Upon the close of that international mandate, the country of Isreal was created by the Jewish Agency. President Truman recognized the new nation on the same day that they declared independence. Cue the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Once again the west has claimed land in the middle east. Once again a land grab by the west is the genesis of more conflict that just adds to the continued conflicts that had already been spurred by Sykes-Picot.

Since World War I, over 100 years of revolt and revolution has continued to be the status quo in the middle east. Leaders rise up and the rest of the world picks a side. Some countries support the rebel and some support the existing establishment. Sometimes a country even plays both sides. For example, the US openly supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, but also covertly supported Iran. Often, countries switch their allegiances. The US supported Sadam Hussein at one point, then later invaded and toppled him.

After a hundred years of manipulation, both openly and secretly, there is no wonder why the region is so tumultuous. The nations and leaders of the Arab world have absolutely no reason to trust the west. The western world has created this mess and unfortunately we can't fix it. The solution to peace in the middle east must come from the middle east.

If the entire world were to pull out of the middle east completely, then maybe the region might be able to figure it out for themselves. Obviously, that will never happen. Even if the western world withdraws then the eastern world would step right in. China and Russia would move in before the sun set on the military bases abandoned by the west. Politicians often tell us that the situation in the middle east is very complicated. Of course it is complicated, but it is so because of over a hundred the world's interference.

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