High life

After 100 years, the mess we made of the Middle East is coming full circle

Only François Georges-Picot's daughter could make me forgive the Sykes-Picot plan

28 June 2014

9:00 AM

28 June 2014

9:00 AM

When I hear the words Sykes-Picot I more often than not feel like punching an Englishman or a Frog — any Englishman, any Frog — in the mouth, but then I think of François Georges-Picot’s granddaughter Olga, and my pugilistic thoughts turn to romantic mush. More about those two arrogant and ignorant fools later, but first Olga. I was 22 and she was 19 or 20 and we met in New York where she was studying acting and I was studying girls. It was love at first sight and we swore we’d never ever look at anyone else ever but then the summer ended and we never saw each other again. Well, I did see her but she was 20 feet tall and in Technicolor.

Twelve years after we first met, I went to see Freddie Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal in a cinema in Leicester Square, starring the wonderful Edward Fox as the paid assassin, and suddenly there was Olga falling off her horse on purpose in the Bois de Boulogne with her intended victim immediately coming to her aid. I was with a couple of karate buddies and I started hyperventilating and yelling, ‘My Olga, my Olga,’ but no one paid any attention and some wise guy behind me told me to be quiet. Olga was perfect in the part. She gets the old fool minister to pillow talk, and warns the Organisation armée secrète (OAS). I’ve always been pro-OAS and always believed De Gaulle to have betrayed the army and those who brought him to power in 1958, but it was so long ago, the only thing I can think about now is Olga. Who must be an old lady, unless I got old and she didn’t.

Her grandfather and his equally arrogant to the point of blindness partner Mark Sykes carved up the Ottoman empire back in 1916, not unlike a butcher slicing up slabs of meat fresh out of the freezer. The Sultan had wisely divided the Middle East into provinces along ethnic lines. The Anglo–French duo in 1916 proved as ignorant as George W. Bush was to be 87 years later. Had they never heard of the Sunni–Shia divide? The 1990 wars over Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo, the Gulf War of 1991 and the disastrous Iraq war of 2003, as well as the Israeli–Palestinian tragedy can all be traced directly to the fall of the Ottoman empire in 1920 and those two fools carving up the Middle East while their minds were obviously elsewhere. (Most likely trying to figure out whose family was older and richer.) Winston Churchill doesn’t come out of it very well either. He actually created Iraq, or Mesopotamia as it was then called, and by the time he was thrown out of office in 1922 his folly had become Iraq as it is today. He created the artificial monarchy that ended so badly in 1958, thinking he was dealing with sleepy Bedouins who would genuflect in front of Faisal, whose family realm in Saudi Arabia had been usurped by some camel drivers who had never used an indoor loo.

Which brings me to the usurpers whose ambassador to London wrote an article in last week’s Daily Telegraph that was obviously inspired by Baron Münchhausen’s memoirs. ‘We oppose all foreign intervention and interference,’ writes the Saudi envoy, and as diplomats are supposed to go abroad and lie non-stop, there is nothing anyone can do about that false statement, except list it along with the other two biggest lies, money means nothing to me, and let me put it in just a little bit.

The Saudis first and then the even more horrible Qataris privately empowered and financed the jihadists that morphed into ISIS after the war in Syria began. An old Arab proverb, one based on the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Taki, asks what one gets when a camel is crossed with a mule. A Saudi prince, is the answer. The Saudis finance schools all over the Middle East and the Far East that teach only the Koran and to hate the infidel — us — and the Shiites in Iran. The massive blunder of Iraq still has my head spinning 11 years later.

When Pat Buchanan and I started the American Conservative just before the invasion we were called all sorts of names by scumbags such as William Kristol, David Frum and other low-life neocons eager to see Anglo–American boys fighting a proxy war for Israel and Big Oil. But Pat and I knew that the Sunni–Shia struggle set in motion by the invasion would become the vortex of a violent political struggle stretching from South Asia to the Gulf. What amazes me to this day is the number of people who voted for the war, la Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Biden and, of course, the war criminal himself, Tony Blair. The 9/11 outrage has been tainted by the attack that was deceitfully carried out in its name against Iraq, a country that was not involved and had no weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq was the biggest blunder of them all and we frivolously sleepwalked into it while the neocons played us like harmonicas. Now there will be Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite republics emerging from the rubble that the war against the pro-Christian Assad created, and after close to 100 years the Sykes-Picot plan will have come full circle. And one day soon, I hope, people will wake up and tell the Kuwaitis, Saudis and Qataris to stop funding hate preachers and terrorists or no more hookers or western goodies.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • BoiledCabbage

    George Friedman [of Stratfor] asserts that the old cold-war hands in the Pentagon were well aware that the Sunni-Shia split, successfully frozen since Sykes-Picot with Iraq as a buffer state, would be put back into motion by the removal of the secular Bathist regime in Iraq. The plan as a whole made absolute sense in the post 9/11 context.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “I more often than not feel like punching an Englishman or a Frog — any Englishman, any Frog — in the mouth”
    So how are those anger management classes working out, Taki?

  • Damaris Tighe

    Here’s another way of looking at the problem. When Saddam & the Baathists were overthrown Iraqis were freed from a genocidal dictatorship. They were given every opportunity & assistance in setting up democracy. Instead they chose sectarianism & ancient rivalries. Why do we always blame ourselves for the primitive behaviour of non-western nations?

    • Sanctimony

      Probably because we should not have interfered in the first place !

      Best to let these savages sort themselves out without our misguided interventions !

    • Steven

      You missed the point… You create this mess and it is not easy to cleanup.

  • Uncle Brian

    A question that is often asked, but that I have never seen convincingly answered. When Sykes & Picot sat down to draw lines on maps, why did they decide against giving the Kurds a nation-state of their own?

  • FToben

    And now the insider job of 9/11 makes even more sense because the old east-west divide had broken down on account of Soviet economics not stacking up, and so a re-focus on the Middle East will possibly prolong the existence of the failed Zionist state as an Anglo-American colonial remnant.
    The second Malaysian airliner tragedy is no coincidence because Malaysia is a key destination point for Iranians, and wasn’t former PM Mahathir Mohamad aware of the other World War Two problem, Holocaust, that to this day dove-tails into matters world politics?
    We live in interesting times –

  • The Arab Spring is a mirage! It consists of a mishmash of anti-government
    demonstrations triggered in most cases by police over-reaction and fuelled by
    economic hard times in Tunisia and Egypt, ethnic and religious tensions in
    Syria and Bahrain, tribal rivalries in Libya and Yemen, and by growing public
    perception that Planetarch Uncle Sam manipulates Middle East. Keynote Speaker Basil Venitis, venitis@gmail.com, http://venitism.blogspot.com

    Outstanding security
    challenges remain, first and foremost the ongoing civil war in Syria with its
    evident risks of spill-over to neighbors, graphically illustrated by the
    hundreds of thousands of refugees who have flowed into neighboring countries
    such as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Of concern are the internal security
    threats that Libya continues to face, and instability among some of its

    At the same time the
    social cohesion of some Arab countries undergoing transition risks being
    undermined by new forms of internal political polarization, between secular and
    Islamist forces, but also between and among affected groups such as women,
    young people, religious and racial minorities, as well as by a deteriorating
    economic situation.

    The Arab Spring has been hijacked by theocrats and
    Arabokleptocrats. On the economic front, greater
    openness to foreign investment could allow some countries to kick-start growth.
    Also, the imperative of reconstruction will push Iraq and Libya to accelerate oil production as fast as possible.
    Their contributions could help keep prices down if Iran’s standoff with the rest of the world intensifies.

    Parties that have
    Islam as a central point of reference have, through elections, made important
    gains in the legislative assemblies and in terms of control of executive bodies
    in several of the transition countries. Respecting the democratic choice of the
    people, the European Union has engaged in an intense dialogue with the new
    governments and extended its support on the basis that our relationship will
    going forward need to take account not only of their official programs and
    policies but crucially of their emerging record while in government. EU
    engagement with all of our neighbors is firmly grounded on the basis of the
    incentive-based more for more principle and on mutual accountability.

    Kleptocrats are wholehearted believers that the Arab
    Spring will bring the installation of secular democracy across that region.
    This has been and still is a nonsense that only adolescent idealists or
    deliberate liars could believe, and one that has been proven fatuous by the
    fact that Islamists have won every election held since the start of the Arab

    Kleptocrats will not admit they are wrong on this
    issue and they will pump billions of dollars and euros in foreign aid into the
    Arab-Spring countries in a feckless, Muslim-alienating effort to build secular
    democracies and install kleptocracy. Such aid not only will be wasted, but it
    surely will cause more Muslims take up arms against the West. Indeed, the
    continuation of this war on Islam is likely to start the clash of cultures.

    Theocrats and Arabokleptocrats now manipulate Arab hoi
    polloi. Greeks, Turks, and Britons have influenced the culture of Middle East
    for many centuries. Now there are many political transitions in the Middle
    East. Everybody recognizes this is a pivotal moment in the Middle East and
    North Africa. The Arab Spring is an
    event comparable to the fall of the Ottoman Empire or the decolonization of the
    Middle East following the Second World War.

    Historians will long be debating these momentous
    developments. The ability of Occident to shape the events in the Middle East is
    limited. The time has come for Arabs to start writing their own narratives. It
    might get ugly and end up being not the kind of narrative that Occidentals like.
    But it will still be their own narrative.

    The future of the Middle East will be written by its own people, not by any foreign
    power. We should stand with those in the region who call for peaceful, democratic
    transitions, for tolerance and pluralism. Western policy approach should be
    both pragmatic and in keeping with Graecoroman principles, values, and interests.

    This as a moment of great challenge and great
    opportunity, and the two are inexorably linked. Uprisings across the region
    have exposed a number of myths: The myth that governments can hold on to power
    without responding to their people’s aspirations or respecting their rights;
    the myth that the only way to produce change in the region is through violence
    and conflict; and, most pernicious of all, the myth that Arabs do not share universal
    human aspirations for freedom, dignity, and opportunity.

    The protests and upheaval we have witnessed in so many
    countries have the potential to bring about a region that is more democratic,
    more economically dynamic, and more responsive to the needs and aspirations of
    its citizens. The status quo in the Middle East is unsustainable, and genuine
    democratic changes in that region will make countries both more stable and, in
    the long run, likely to be more in sync with the interests of the West.

    But there is also the danger that democratic transitions can be hijacked by undemocratic
    forces, giving rise to new autocracies. The West needs to shape its policies in
    the region to encourage peaceful democratic transitions and to help prevent the
    rise of such new autocracies.

    Democratic transitions must be home grown. The
    challenge falls to the people and the leaders of the region to achieve the
    brighter future they desire – a future in which governments respond to the
    aspirations of their people and view it as their duty to protect human rights,
    fundamental freedoms and the dignity that all people desire and deserve. But
    the West has a keen interest in their success, and we can play a key supporting

    We have done and will do this by acknowledging, supporting and empowering the democratic
    and reformist voices from the region. And we will continue to do this by
    speaking honestly about the need to respect human rights and shun violence. We
    continue to tell all governments, friendly or not, that the use of violence to
    suppress peaceful expression is wrong and destabilizing, both to the governments
    that resort to violence and to the region as a whole.

    Much has been said about the alleged conflict between our democratic values and
    our desire for stability in the Middle East. This is a false dichotomy. Occident
    has a profound interest in regional stability, and we believe that respect for universal
    human rights and the principle that governments are accountable to their people
    are in fact key components of long-term stability.

    The Islamists did not play a role in Tunisia, Libya, and in Egypt. The course of
    events has taken the Muslim Brotherhood by surprise. The Islamists are now trying
    to organize as political parties within a pluralistic system. These freedom
    movements are not anti-Western. On the contrary, in Libya, the rebels called
    for more support from NATO. The Arab revolution has set aside the cliche of a
    cultural and religious uniqueness that supposedly makes Islam incompatible with
    democracy and supposedly destines Muslims to be ruled by at best enlightened

    The condition for any modernization is demographic modernization. It goes hand-in-hand
    with a decline in experienced and practiced religiosity. We are already
    experiencing a de-Islamization of Arab societies, a demystification of the
    world, and it will inevitably continue, just as a dechristianization occurred
    in Europe. Of course, one can placate the people with bread and money, but only
    for a while. Revolutions usually erupt during phases of cultural growth and
    economic downturn.

    Young men led the revolutions in England and France. Robespierre was only 31 in
    1789, and he was 36 when he was sent to the guillotine. His adversary Danton
    and his ally Saint-Just were also young men, one in his early 30s and the other
    in his mid-20s. Although Lenin was older, the Bolshevik shock troops were made
    up of young men, as were the Nazi storm troopers. It was young men who faced
    off against the Soviet tanks in Budapest in 1956. This is because young men
    have more strength and more to gain.

    While no one denies that Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia
    were ruthless autocrats engaged in human rights violations, the two were also
    responsible for liberalizing their socialist economies and opening their countries
    to western investment while resisting the Islamist push to restrict the rights
    of women and religious minorities.

    Theocrats and Arabokleptocrats violate human rights. The euphoria of the Arab
    Spring has given way to the sobering challenge of creating rights-respecting
    democracies. The willingness of new governments to respect rights will
    determine whether those uprisings give birth to genuine democracy or simply
    spawn authoritarianism in new forms.

    The creation of a rights-respecting state can be painstaking work that
    requires building effective institutions of governance, establishing
    independent courts, creating professional police, and resisting the temptation
    of majorities to disregard human rights and the rule of law. But the difficulty
    of building democracy does not justify seeking a return to the old order.

    Theocrats and Arabokleptocrats impose a new tyranny. The uncertainties of
    freedom are no reason to revert to the enforced predictability of authoritarian
    rule. The path ahead may be treacherous, but the alternative is to consign
    entire countries to a grim future of oppression. The tension between majority
    rule and respect for rights poses the greatest challenge for the new
    governments. Leaders in the Middle East
    are naturally eager to exercise their new electoral clout, but they have a duty
    to govern without sacrificing fundamental freedoms or the rights of minorities,
    women, and other groups at risk.

    Among the Arab countries that have changed their governments, Libya best
    illustrates the problem of a weak state, a result of Muammar Gaddafi’s
    decisions to keep government institutions underdeveloped to discourage
    challenges to his rule. The problem is particularly acute with respect to the
    rule of law. Militias dominate many parts of the country and in some places
    commit serious abuses with impunity. Meanwhile, thousands of people remain in
    detention, some held by the government and others by militias, with little
    immediate prospect of being charged or of confronting in court whatever
    evidence exists against them.

    In Syria, where 80,000 people have been killed in ongoing fighting, government
    forces have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, while some
    opposition forces have also carried out serious abuses, including torture and
    summary executions.

    Theocrats and Arabokleptocrats harass women. The rights of women are a source of contention in many
    countries as Islamists gain electoral power. Some opponents contend that such
    rights are a Western imposition, at odds with Islam or Arab culture.
    International human rights law does not prevent women from leading a
    conservative or religious lifestyle if they wish. But too often governments
    impose restrictions on women who seek equality or autonomy. Calling such rights
    a Western imposition does nothing to disguise the domestic oppression,
    compelling women to assume a subservient role.

    As theocrats and Arabokleptocrats take root, no issue will better define their records than
    the treatment of women. Speech that is seen to transgress certain bounds often
    tempts those in power to restrict the rights of others. Especially vulnerable
    are statements that criticize the government, insult certain groups, or offend
    religious sentiment. In these cases, the danger to free speech is greatest in
    the absence of strong and independent institutions that can protect rights.

    Theocrats and Arabokleptocrats should exercise
    restraint, respecting the right to dissent, criticize, and voice unpopular
    views. It is important to police those
    who use violence to suppress or punish speech. Those who react violently to
    nonviolent speech because they object to its content are the offenders;
    officials have a duty to stop their violence, not censor the offending speech.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Actually it was not Olga that fell off the horse.