In The American Conservative, Geoffrey Aronson, chairman and co-founder of The Mortons Group, blasts the idea that Sykes-Picot, the post-World War I agreement that carved up the Middle East into nation-states, is dead. Many pushed that idea as truth during the rise of the cross-border ISIS insurgency, but in light of Bashar al-Assad’s victory, it would appear the declaration of death for the old order in the Middle East was premature. Aronson writes (abridged):
Not too long ago, the know-it-all set was unanimous in its view that Sykes-Picot was dead.
The demise of the Middle East’s state system was beyond question. Libya did not survive Barack Obama’s decision to unseat Muammar Gaddafi. The Islamic State was knocking on Baghdad’s doors, and Syria’s Assad controlled far less than one half of his country. That the old territorial order of nation-states in the heart of the Middle East—the map created by the British-French agreement to carve up the corpse of the Ottoman empire after its defeat in World War I—had become an artifact of history was taken for granted.
The assumption that the national identities forged from Sykes-Picot’s template over the last century could be swept away like so much dust was, shall we say, premature. Washington, against its instincts, was forced to save Iraq from the Islamic State assault—in league with Iran no less—and to vote with Baghdad against the quixotic Kurdish quest for independence. ISIS’s caliphate, another new old idea exhausted by history, has been strangled in its cradle, and its self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, like some of his more unfortunate predecessors, is a fugitive in his own land.
Washington, unlike Moscow, has yet to be convinced of the enduring value of Sykes-Picot and the primacy of state sovereignty.
Americans are totally oblivious of Syria’s history.
The challenge posed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been contained if not annihilated. Before our very eyes, and whatever our preferences, the idea of the state is prevailing against the naysayers and those making war against it. This idea, and the single-minded drive to reaffirm sovereignty and authority against challengers, is the preeminent legacy of Sykes-Picot. Washington, take note.
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