Sunday, March 30, 2008

After Iraq

It is always a delight to see where a map might lead me... This week, while browsing the magazine stacks in the library, I was awe-struck by the map design on the cover of the January/February, 2008, issue of The Atlantic magazine. How did I miss it when it came out? I immediately appreciated the artists intent by his use of game pieces and dice on a map of the Middle East, as if it was all some sort of game.

After Iraq, by Jeffrey Goldberg, discusses the effects of the Iraq War on the Middle East including the possibility of independence for Kurdistan from Iraq. British influence in the Middle East led to the formation of Iraq and the separation of Palestine. A large-scale conflict between Shiites and Sunnis in the Middle East could occur. Intelligence expert Ralph Peters comments on U.S. plans for the unification of Iraq and the spread of democracy.

Peters also discusses the artificial nature in which Middle-Eastern borders were created following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire:

All states are man-made. But some are more man-made than others. It was Winston Churchill (a bust of whom Bush keeps in the Oval Office) who, in the aftermath of World War I, roped together three provinces of the defeated and dissolved Ottoman Empire, adopted the name Iraq, and bequeathed it to a luckless branch of the Hashemite tribe of west Arabia. Churchill would eventually call the forced inclusion of the Kurds in Iraq one of his worst mistakes-- but by then, there was nothing he could do about it.

That quote about Churchill and the arbitrary nature in which borders were redrawn after the Great War reminded me of a book I read just last year, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, by Margaret Macmillan. The author describes the six months following the end of the First World War when leaders of the great powers, as well as men and women from all over the world, all with their own agendas, converged on Paris to shape the peace. Wilson had noble (and naïve?) intentions of reshaping Europe (and the Middle-East) to create a lasting peace, but his frustratingly vague concepts like 'self-determination' often confused even his own advisors. Eventually, many of the borders drawn in Paris served only to forestall conflict. Just as the fall of communism exposed the underlying currents of racial strife in the Balkans, the fall of Iraq has served to re-ignite religious and ethnic tensions enclosed in the new borders.
Below are two maps from Paris 1919 that illustrate some of the many plans for divvying up the Ottoman spoils:

Another aspect of Goldberg's Atlanic article are his speculations on how the map of the Middle-East could change in the next ten to fifty years, as regimes rise and fall, and ethnic and religious differences lead to reduced, enlarged and newly created nations.

In his article, "Blood borders: How a better Middle East would look," in the June, 2006, issue of the Armed Forces Journal, Ralph Peters took a turn at re-imagining the Middle-East:

Jeffrey Goldberg talked to Peters in preparation for his Atlantic article:
Peters drew onto his map an independent Kurdistan and an abridged Turkey; he shrank Iran (handing over Khuzestan to an as-yet-imaginary Arab-Shiite state he carved out of what is now southern Iraq); he placed Jordan and Yemen on a steroid regimen; and he dismembered Saudi Arabia because be sees it as a primary enemy of Muslim modernization.

It was an act of knowing whimsy, he said. But it was seen by tbe Middle East's more fevered minds as a window onto the American imperial planning process. "The reaction was pure paranoia, just hysterics," Peters told me. "The Turks in particular got very upset." Peters explained how he made the map. "The art department gave me a blank map, and I took a crayon and drew on it. After it came out, people started arguing on the Internet that this border should, in fact, be 50 miles this way, and that border 50 miles that way, but the width of the crayon itself was 200 miles."
It certainly looks like we are nowhere near an end to turmoil in the Middle-East, and I fear that there will be more blood shed before there can be a "lasting peace". It is possible that to achieve that peace, new borders will need to be drawn...

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At Wednesday, April 02, 2008 , Blogger Michael5000 said...

Wow, those are truly fascinating alternative geographies. But one can sense the Turks going apeshit just LOOKING at their concessions to a free Kurdistan, just for starters....

At Monday, May 05, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

How dare are you that deciding for other nations, about their borders, democracy and ...?!!!
Why don't you first start this "brilliant" idea in U.S. or British or any other western countries?!!! What about independent Texas or Greater Mexico or Greater Ireland?
Furthermore, where is that democracy you are talking about?
Aha! I got it! It is killing more than one Million innocent ordinary people in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. and British army, or bombing Iraq by 10-ton bombs and sending the bill of the war to the remainder.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 , Blogger Cartophiliac said...

And do you only subscribe to magazines so you can look at the pictures? Did you actually read anything here?

Neither of the authors or maps quoted here suggest these changes in maps SHOULD be made. They are speculation on what MIGHT happen in the future.

Take your ignorance elsewhere, Troll.

At Monday, May 05, 2008 , Blogger Cartophiliac said...

Speaking of Greater Mexico... Been there, done that:

Keep reading.

They do have libraries at CMU don't they?


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