Will the phrase “Guns of August” one day refer not only to the prelude to World War I in 1914 but also to the prelude to a Middle East war in 2013?
That is the ominous question posed by Roger Boyes, the diplomatic editor of the Times of London and a foreign correspondent for the past 35 years.
“The direction of events in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran should keep us awake at night. History is taking a dangerous turn,” he writes. “The region certainly cannot sustain two wars — Syria’s bloody insurgency and a near-civil war in Egypt — without wrecking established peace treaties and the normal mechanisms for defusing conflict.”
I sat down with Boyes in our London newsroom. He acknowledged that the conflicts coursing through a half-dozen Middle Eastern countries did not come from a single source, nor did they stem from a single reason.
But he feared the problems were becoming intractable and were spreading across state borders: “the new Sunni assertiveness, the rise of the jihad, the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood not only in Egypt but in every Arab society.”
And Boyes warned that, as in August 1914, the world was not paying enough attention.
“In August 1914 there was a lot of grouse shooting going on. In August 2013, politicians prefer to read doorstopper biographies in Tuscany and Cornwall. Yet the spreading Middle East crisis, its multiple flashpoints, is every bit as ominous as the prelude to war in 1914.”
The news certainly seems to get worse by the day. The West is now directly blaming the Assad regime for using chemical weapons against its own people in Syria. The drumbeat toward a military strike in Syria grows louder by the hour.
The U.K. is “making contingency plans,” according to the prime minister’s spokesman.
“The use of chemical weapons in the 21st century, on a large scale like this, cannot go unaddressed, cannot be ignored,” warned the French president.
And as the United States’ top diplomat put it: “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people."
Western officials warn that the decision of whether to attack Syria will be made this week.
The Guns of August, indeed.
ABC News' Mary-Rose Abraham and Brian Fudge contributed to this episode.