Robin Wright on Imagining a Remapped Middle East

How national geography is shaped by current events and conflict–and how in the Middle East, everything is connected:

Syria’s unraveling would set precedents for the region, beginning next door. Until now, Iraq resisted falling apart because of foreign pressure, regional fear of going it alone and oil wealth that bought loyalty, at least on paper. But Syria is now sucking Iraq into its maelstrom.

“The battlefields are merging,” the United Nations envoy Martin Kobler told the Security Council in July. “Iraq is the fault line between the Shia and the Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq.”

via Imagining a Remapped Middle East –


8 thoughts on “Robin Wright on Imagining a Remapped Middle East”

  1. This is all very reminiscent of the break up of the Balkan states after the cold war. The ethnic nationalism that caused the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s is similar to what is being seen in the middle east today. Although it sounds nice to redraw borders based on ethnicity or religion, but in reality it is a very bloody affair. It will be interesting to see if the situation in Syria results in a new middle east and if it is more peaceful than it’s Balkan predecessor.

  2. I’ve been calling for a “balkanization” of the Middle East for years now (especially for Kurdistan), and I’m glad that this idea is being discussed again. People fear the bloody aftermath but unlike Yugoslavia, the bloodshed is already happening in the region. If anything, new borders would reduce the violence, especially if they are written with the parties involved.

    One of the huge problems I see with the current Syrian Civil war is that the rebel are demanding the whole country, the government is trying to hold onto the whole country and the Kurds are actually fine, at least I heard. If they would all agree to withdraw to their traditional territories, things would be better off. The Russians could keep their Alawite allies and the US could try to ally with the Syrian Sunni State or more likely find a decent ally with the Kurds. The biggest losers would be the Druze, but at this point a lot of them are preferring Israel to Syria anyway.

    See also: This is a map from about 7 years ago tackling this issue. Sadly, I couldn’t access the original article. It has some interesting ideas, especially the Islamic Sacred State, which would serve to wrest control of Mecca and Medina from the House of Saud and hopefully reduce the influence of Wahhabi Islam on the global scale.

  3. I wonder how long it will take before the West realizes that the fissures in the Middle East will not go away. There are religious and cultural factors at play that we just can’t understand. It all just goes to show that leaving it up to Western powers who are divorced from the situation on the ground to draw arbitrary borders for new states as was done with much of the world after WWII will only lead to problems in the future. I think it would be most beneficial to return to the ideas of the League of Nations charter which advocated for the self-determination of states’ borders based on cultural and ethnic boundaries.

    1. I agree. The West needs to learn that getting its nose into every conflict is just going to cause more problems. Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim culture is sooo different than what we are used to in the West. In my Arabic class, we have been learning about the extreme cultural differences, and I think that Western politicians need to learn/pay attention to these differences. In some things, our cultures are just total opposites. That being said, I do not think it the best idea to just sit here and watch everything play out.

  4. I think it would be great if we could make the Middle East a collection of nation-states as John has suggested; however this is impossible seeing how religious groups and civil societies are spread across the region. The inability to unite the groups is what ultimately makes it difficult to conceive reorganizing the Middle East. Not to mention that it seems too easy to create new divisions in societies. Honestly it is impossibly to perfectly align nations to states, so we must work with what we have to make compromises–unfortunately, compromises are difficult to make with extremist groups.

  5. I throughly enjoyed this article, and appreciate the important points it brings up. I think the first thing we need to remember here in America is that the Middle East of today was not divided up by history, geography, and culture. Instead, it was fabricated by the European colonial powers during the early 20th century. Why then, are we surprised by the ethic and religious conflicts that have been brewing there for decades? We grouped together the wrong people, and created countries with no regard to their long term cultural and ethnic composition. Because of this, I would have no problem with the idea of breaking up some of the countries in the Middle East. Though it wouldn’t solve all problems, I believe it would greatly reduce ethic and religious violence in the region.

    This being said, the involved parties must also be very cautious. Reshaping the Middle East would not be as simple as just drawing lines on a map, and the potential for initial violence is great. In addition, we need to be wary of creating any power vacuums in the region, which could be filled by terrorist factions of radical Islamic groups.

    1. The conflict in the Middle East is as old as the middle East itself. The chances of bringing peace to an area riddled with religious and cultural belief is not high if there is no cooperation and agreement among the different groups in the Middle East. Redrawing state lines is not going to bring peace. Yet again, the countries will push their borders driving into areas with more resources and better industry. If there is not a feeling of mutual respect among the nations, the cycle will continue. The first thing that needs to change is the hatred and hostility and only then will redrawing the borders make a difference.

  6. I think that Sarah’s comment has the most insight of the things yet said. Today I heard from Michael Novak that the incredible way Japan and Germany recovered after WWII demonstrated that of the three great powers in a state–political, economic, and moral/cultural, the strongest is moral/cultural. With only this, even though the political and economic system was destroyed, the cultural strength of Germany was such that they were able to recover and become even better than ever before within a 4 year period. The root of behavior lies in cultural morality. The Arab culture has benefits and problems just as with any culture in this world, however, they currently have a culture which is slow to allow for equality in diversity. If this would change, much would change in the region in general.

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