Whereas the United States had little political interest in the Middle East before World War I, the two regions began to come into more and more political contact, especially during World War I and much more so following the Second World War. In 1917, the British government gave the Balfour Declaration, which made a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine”, and President Woodrow Wilson gave his support to the British government and facilitating the issuing of the Declaration. This idea of proposing a national homeland for an entire people within the region of an already existing people went directly against Wilson’s idea of self-determination, that the people should decide for themselves how to govern. The Western world was implementing its influence over the Middle East at the same time Wilson was condemning empires as a threat to self-determination.
The Bolsheviks in Russia declared that World War I was an imperialist war, lending to the idea that Russia pulled out of World War I once it went communist after the Bolshevik Revolution. In the Fourteen Points following World War I, Wilson proposed the breakup of the Ottoman Empire as a result of dissolving imperialism, a blow to Britain and France, who wanted to take away from the enemy Ottoman Empire and add it to their own imperial gains. Turkey would remain a country in the Fourteen Points, but the various parts of the empire would no longer be subject to the Turks. After World War I, it was found by a United States Commission that the Syrians were completely opposed to a French mandate that would establish control over Syria. Instead, the Syrians wanted to govern themselves, and if that could not be they would rather have the United States establish a mandate instead of the French, which helped along the snowball of increasing American influence. America decided against an American mandate because of Wilson’s want to allow self-determination.
The League of Nations, on many occasions, directly disrupted the idea of self-determination in Middle Eastern states. The League of Nations, which was doomed to fail because of the failure for Woodrow Wilson to convince the United States to join, awarded France its mandate over Syria and Lebanon, treating both of them in a single mandate and overlooking obvious cultural differences between each country as it was treated as a whole. Britain was allowed to apply the Balfour Declaration in Palestine and was granted, by the League, mandates over Iran as well as Palestine. Saudi Arabia was the only nation in the Middle East, save Egypt in Africa, to remain independent and relatively free of the clutches of the West. America’s European allies wanted the United States to issue mandates in areas of Turkey, namely the capital of Constantinople, or current-day Istanbul, as well as areas populated by the Armenians.
The United States Senate rejected Wilson’s request for a mandate over the Armenians, and he avoided a mandate over the straits in Turkey that included Constantinople altogether, and France and Britain took the encumbrance of the Middle East by themselves. Like Wilson, neither France nor Britain wanted to attempt to issue mandates that would allow them to control Turkey. In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne removed all foreign occupation from Turkey. This freedom allowed Turkey to reoccupy Armenia to the East. When the dust settled in the Middle East, boundaries had been formed in the states that would, to a large extent, remain permanent to the present day. With Western countries having their hands in the Middle East following World War I, it would allow America to take over the influence when other Western powers’ influences diminished.
David Fromkin: “A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922”
John DeNovo: “American Interests and Policies in the Middle East, 1900-1939”