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Middle East expert sheds light on Syria conflict

NBC analyst Rick Francona headlined recent Cazenovia Forum event

— There is a cruel joke about the Middle East that seems to encapsulate the nature of politics in the region: A scorpion needs to cross a river and asks a frog for a ride. The frog agrees and halfway across the river the scorpion stings the frog. The frog asks, “Why did you sting me? Now we will both die.” To which the scorpion replies, “Because this is the Middle East.”

The war in Syria seems to exemplify that notion, but retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer and CNN and NBC Middle East analyst Rick Francona knows that the problems in the region stem from many reasons. A guest speaker for the Cazenovia Forum, Francona told an audience of more than 100 people on Friday, May 2, at the Catherine Cummings Theatre that the complexities of the region can partly be traced back to the end of World War I when the victorious Allies carved up the former Ottoman Empire into artificially constructed “countries.”

In a fascinating wide-ranging presentation and question and answer session, Francona used his expertise and personal experience in the region to deconstruct the conflict’s origins and explain what the outcome in Syria could mean for the region and the world. He started with a brief recap of the recent history of the country. “Syria was bolted together from a variety of tribes and ethnic groups and religious groups into a country,” he said. “Syria came about as a consolation prize following World War I.” The French and the British were given a mandate from the League of Nations to administer the region

“The French created (Lebanon and Syria) out of that mandate, they drew the lines,” Francona said. “And they drew the lines primarily to protect a Christian enclave in Lebanon.” Francona noted that the straight lines of mid-east borders do not occur in nature. “When they drew these lines they cut through tribal areas, religious areas and everything else.” But while the borders may seem arbitrary, he said, the way the new borders divided various groups was clearly an intentional act of geopolitical maneuvering by the British and the French, with implications down to this day.

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