Austin Bay

The European Union seems to have solved the Franco-German border issues, which it was designed to do. The EU, however, 100 years after the First Balkan War (1912), now confronts a Balkan crisis in Greece. Though Greek austerity protestors decry German financial imperialism, this is a battle of budgets, not bullets. Parliamentary democratic politics direct Berlin, not the Kaiser's whim.

Not so in the Near East, where World War I's aftermath remains most unsettled.

Follow Arab Spring's Mediterranean littoral. Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria were at one time Ottoman provinces. (For that matter, so was Yemen.) The Turco-Italian War of 1911-1912, which was fought in Libya, set the stage for the Balkan Wars, which ignited World War I. Aspiring Italian imperialists snatched Libya from the decaying Ottomans. Rome won, Constantinople lost, the desires of Libya's Arab and Berber residents be damned.

By 1918, however, "self-determination" mattered enough that Woodrow Wilson said the "interests of the populations" (the residents) must be balanced against "questions of sovereignty" (political authority of the imperial power). The ex-Ottoman provinces missed the balance. T.E. Lawrence's Arab guerrillas harried the Turks. They thought they were fighting for independence; they got Sykes-Picot, and became satraps.

Which dovetails with Ajami's analysis. He noted that China, vexed by Tibetan separatists, insists on "unfettered claims of national sovereignty." Hence Beijing consorts with Putin's Moscow to draw a line in Syria -- yet another attempt by empires of the sword to thwart self-determination. That great war continues.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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