‘Provoking argument’ over the empire

John Kiser in the June 22 issue of the Rappahannock News [“Blow back,” Comment page] has provided a convenient map of the planned carving up of parts of the soon-to-be-defunct Ottoman empire in the post World War I era, a secret agreement that bore the names of the negotiators, Sykes of England and Picot of France.

A number of comments might be relevant: 1) The map zone indicated as “A” was an area of Central/West Turkey to be indirectly administered by France; zone “B” was to be indirectly administered by Great Britain. 2) What is not shown is control of the straits leading from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea as well as Istanbul, Kurdistan and Armenia that were to be awarded to Tsarist Russia. The secret agreement became known after the Russian revolution of 1917 when Trotsky denounced it and made it public, thanking the U.S. ambassador for his “reserve,” i.e. doing nothing. The secular nationalism of Ataturk’s revolution took Turkey out of any partitioning, and expelled the Greeks, Brits and French. What was left?

Woodrow Wilson, as one of his “14 points,” created the League of Nations, where Wilson proposed that the territories of the Sykes-Picot agreement be made “mandates” where local populations would draw their own borders and decide their governments. Wilson’s incapacitating stroke of 1919 prevented the U.S. from joining the League of Nations and that organization lost the leadership of the U.S. which became isolationist due to the influence of the GOP-controlled Senate.

In the remaining term of Wilson’s administration, the U.S. government was really on autopilot. Ambassadorships remained unfilled; important treaties (like that of Versailles) remained unsigned. To reiterate and reemphasize, the U.S. played no role whatsoever, at that time, in carving up the Middle East but the same cannot be said of Great Britain and France, who quickly set to work, creating arbitrary new borders for Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine, but in doing so, deviated greatly from the zones of control envisioned in the original Sykes-Picot agreement. To attempt to saddle Uncle Sam with this agreement is unreasonable.

Kiser’s other points in his rambling essay seem designed to provoke argument and I’m sure they will.

Thomas F. Spande
Jenkin’s Hollow

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