The thrice-promised land it has been called. It is that land north of Mecca and Medina and south of Anatolia, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.
In 1915, Britain, to win Arab support for its war against the Ottoman Turks, committed to the independence of these lands under Arab rule. In November 1917, however, Lord Balfour, in a letter to Baron Rothschild, declared that His Majesty's government now looked with favor upon the creation on these same lands of a national homeland for the Jewish people.
Between these clashing commitments there had been struck in 1916 a secret deal between Britain's Mark Sykes and France's Francois Georges-Picot. With the silent approval of czarist Russia, these lands were subdivided and placed under British and French rule. France got Syria and Lebanon. Britain took Transjordan, Palestine and Iraq, and carved out Kuwait.
Vladimir Lenin discovered the Sykes-Picot treaty in the czar's archives and published it, so the world might see what the Great War was truly all about. Sykes-Picot proved impossible to reconcile with Woodrow Wilson's declaration that he and the Allies were all fighting “to make the world safe for democracy.”
Imperial hypocrisy stood naked and exposed. And it was out of the implementation of Sykes-Picot that so much Arab hostility and hatred would come.
The Sykes-Picot map of the Middle East seems about to undergo revision, and a new map emerges, along the lines of what H.G. Wells called “natural borders.”
“There is a natural and necessary political map of the world,” Wells wrote, “which transcends” these artificial states, and this natural map of mankind would see nations established on the basis of language, culture, creed, race and tribe. The natural map of the Middle East has begun to assert itself.
Syria is disintegrating, with Alawite Shia fighting Sunni, Christians siding with Damascus, Druze divided, and Kurds looking to break free and unite with their kinfolk in Turkey, Iraq and Iran.
Shia Hezbollah controls the south of Lebanon and, with Shia Iran, is supporting the Shia-led army of Bashar Assad. They are carving out a sub-nation from Damascus to Homs to the Mediterranean. The east and north of Syria could be lost to the Sunni rebels and the Al-Nusra Front, an ally of al-Qaida.
Sectarian war is spilling over into Lebanon.
Iraq, too, seems to be disintegrating. The Kurdish enclave in the north is acting like an independent nation, cutting oil deals with Ankara. Sunni Anbar in the west is supporting Sunni rebels in Syria. The Shia regime in Baghdad is being scourged by Sunni terror.
Seeing the Shia crescent imperiled by the potential loss of its Syrian linchpin, Tehran and Hezbollah seem willing to risk far more in this Syrian war than does the Sunni coalition of Saudis, Qataris and Turks.
Who dares, wins.
Though the Turks have a 400,000-man, NATO-equipped army, a population three times that of Syria and an economy 12 times as large, they appear to want the Americans to deal with their problem. President Obama is to be commended for resisting interventionist clamors to get us into yet another open-ended war. For we have no vital interest in Assad's overthrow.
As the Sykes-Picot borders disappear and the nations created by the mapmakers of Paris in 1919-20 disintegrate, a Muslim Thirty Years' War may be breaking out in the thrice-promised land.
It is not, and it should not become, America's war.
Pat Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”