A poster of Assad in Syria.
As the West begins to gear up for the centenary of the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Middle East is being convulsed as never before by the legacy of the Ottoman Empire’s breakup. Look no farther than Syria, where one part of that legacy – the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the Levant into British and French spheres of influence even while the Great War still raged – is coming to a brutally violent end.
Likewise, the current turmoil in Turkey is, at least in part, a consequence of “neo-Ottoman” overreach by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government. In seeking to establish the type of regional influence that Turks have not had since Kemal Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey, Erdoğan has fallen prey to some of the Ottoman regime’s hubris.
The Levant has, of course, been the scene of countless conflicts through the centuries. Sir Archibald Wavell, one of Britain’s greatest World War II generals and the penultimate Viceroy of India, wrote in his biography of the WWI Field-Marshal Edmund Allenby, who led the Allies in the Levant: “The greatest exploit in the history of horsed cavalry, and possibly their last success on a large scale, had ended within a short distance of the battlefield of Issus, where Alexander the Great first showed how battles could be won.” » More
A Shaolin Warrior, courtesy of Sven Laqua/flickr
Last week, my colleague Kaisa Schreck wrote an excellent blog post on China. In it she argued that China had already saved the world economy and that it was bound to rule the region if not the world in the near future. Forbes’ ranking of Hu Jintao as the most powerful man in the world seemed to validate this assessment.
I personally think that China is lacking one key element to become a superpower: moral gravitas and appeal. And if we look at history, every powerful region or country has not only been powerful economically or militarily, but also “morally”.
Let’s look at the Roman Empire first. The empire ruled the whole Mediterranean region for centuries and its capital, Rome, had more than one million inhabitants, a significant number 2000 years ago. The Empire was not only powerful because it could crush its enemies, it was also morally powerful. By taking up Greek philosophy and focusing on philosophical and scientific education, the Romans quickly surpassed their enemies in thought and morality. The arts had a powerful place in Roman civilization and it shined from the shores of Portugal to Iran. Its values of citizenship, arts and philosophy were not only adopted by the Roman elites, but also by many of the neighboring elites. » More