Monday, January 21, 2008

After Iraq

Remember Iraq? Well, The Atlantic has an intriguing article by Jeffrey Goldberg, here, entitled "After Iraq." He puts a different twist on the ongoing question as to what comes next. And the map on the magazine's cover is a natural hook to geography nerds like myself who used to draw imaginary countries on blank maps.

The article begins with a story from a Kurdish prison. The author was allowed to interview a pyschotic Sunni al-Quada operative. Before all is done, the Kurdish officer in attendance beats the prisoner over the head with a copy of the Koran, and then curses Muhammed's mother.

In the hallway, I asked the interrogator, “Aren’t you Muslim?”
“Of course,” he said.
“But you’re not a big believer in the Koran?”
“The Koran’s OK,” he said. “I don’t have any criticism of Muhammad’s mother. I just say that to get him mad.”
He went on, “The Koran wasn’t written by God, you know. It was written by Arabs. The Arabs were imperialists, and they forced it on us.” This is a common belief among negligibly religious Kurds, of whom there are many millions.

This story clues us into the one factor that is most determinative in the region--its "blood borders." The author notes that five years on, our war's unintended consequences are still accumulating, while its intended consequences are astonishingly brief. One of these unintended consequences may be the questioning of artificial borders, not just in Iraq, but across the region, the "incoherent amalgamations of disparate tribes and territories." For example, Goldberg finds that the real question is not whether there will be 2 states between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, but how many states will there be between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates? Or better yet, the Indus? As Goldberg observes, "All states are man-made. But some are more man-made than others."

Of course, the current turbulence in the Middle East is attributable also to factors beyond the miscalculations of both the hubristic, seat-of-the-pants Bush administration and the hubristic, seat-of-the-pants French and British empires. Among other things, there is the crisis within Islam, a religion whose doctrinal undermined daily by the global balance of power, with predictable and terrible consequences....But since 9/11, America’s interventions in the region—and especially in Iraq—have exacerbated the tensions there, and have laid bare how artificial, and how tenuously constructed, the current map of the Middle East really is.

A polling of Middle East experts offered nothing but bleak prospects. David Fromkin, respected author of The Peace to End All Peace, grumped “the Middle East has no future.” Military historian Edward Luttwak observed that "the United States could abandon Israel altogether, or embrace the general Arab cause 100 percent...[but] the Arabs will find a new reason to be anti-American.” Ralph Peters noted "It’s not a question about how America wants the map to look; it’s a question of how the map is going to look, whether we like it or not.”

Rather than following the European-drawn borders, he made his map by tracing the region’s “blood borders,” invisible lines that would separate battling ethnic and sectarian groups. He wrote of his map, While the Middle East has far more problems than dysfunctional borders alone—from cultural stagnation through scandalous inequality to deadly religious extremism—the greatest taboo in striving to understand the region’s comprehensive failure isn’t Islam but the awful-but-sacrosanct international boundaries worshipped by our own diplomats.

Goldberg concludes: Americans cannot make Middle Easterners do what is in America’s best interest....A first step in restoring America’s influence in the Middle East is to accept with humility the notion that America—like Britain before it—cannot organize the re­gion according to its own interests.

Good advice, that--but not likely to be taken by the next adminstration, or either party.

Just for fun, Goldberg maps the following possible changes:

Sunni Republic of Iraq
Shiite Islamic State of Iraq
Turkey (abbreviated)
Greater Azerbaijan (at the expense of Persia)
Greater Syria (so long, Lebanon)
The Alawite Republic (for the House of Asad)
Islamic Emirate of Gaza
Greater Jordan (West Bank reattached)
Bedouin Autonomous Zone
New Sudan (Christian)
Greater Yemen
Islamic Holy State of Al-Hijaz
Khuzistan (carved out of Pakistan)
Persia (shifted eastward)


Anonymous said...

Sunni Republic of Iraq
Shiite Islamic State of Iraq
Turkey (abbreviated)

A peacefully negotiated land-for-people exchange to create the above four changes is the only hope of avoiding even more bloodshed in Mesopotamia and even more regional instability.

Of course, the Turks would probably be given EU membership (much to Greece's chagrin) in exchange for giving up Turf, and Iran would have to agree to permanent military bases in Shiite Iraq. But, all things considered . . . .

Kirk said...


Georgia? (Oh, that's already taken!)

Gina said...

I don't think there can be such a thing as a peaceful land-for-people exchange. People have roots not just in their ethnicity, but where they live. How would you like it if someone came and told you "ok, all the Irish Americans (or fill in your ethnicity) are going to live in North Dakota from now on, so get going"?