“The Middle East That Might Have Been”
The Atlantic, February 13, 2015
“In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson dispatched a theologian named Henry King and a plumbing-parts magnate named Charles Crane to sort out the Middle East. Amid the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, the region’s political future was uncertain, and the two men seemed to provide the necessary combination of business acumen and biblical knowledge. King and Crane’s quest was to find out how the region’s residents wanted to be governed. It would be a major test of Wilson’s belief in national self-determination: the idea that every people should get its own state with clearly defined borders. After spending three weeks interviewing religious and community leaders in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and southern Turkey, the two men and their team proposed that the Ottoman lands be divided as shown in the map above. Needless to say, the proposals were disregarded. … Today, many argue that a century of untold violence and instability—culminating in ISIS’s brutal attempt to erase Middle Eastern borders—might have been avoided if only each of the region’s peoples had achieved independence after World War I. But as the King-Crane Commission discovered back in 1919, ethnic and religious groups almost never divide themselves into discrete units. Nor do the members of each group necessarily share a vision of how they wish to be governed.”
Quickie analysis: While noting that the recommendations of the King-Crane Commission were also unlikely to succeed, this article takes a look at the recommendations of the Commission and the obstacles and considerations that went into those recommendations, many of which seem to echo the contemporary even though they are now nearly 100 years old. The article includes maps and a link to the Commission’s actual report.