In the Arena

Condi’s Middle East

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Condoleezza Rice has a scarifying op-ed in the Washington Post today in which she argues correctly that the Middle East may be on the brink of a rejiggering of borders — and, incorrectly, that if we don’t become more active diplomatically, Iran will be the big winner.

Rice is a Russia expert. I’m not sure how much she knows about the Middle East. Presumably she knows that there is an ethnic chasm between Iranians and Arabs — Iranians are Persian and tend to disdain their Arab neighbor — that might limit Iran’s long-term appeal in the region. (Short-term, Iran’s ability to provide weaponry and money to Shi‘ites — and occasional radical groups like Hamas — will be a force for mayhem.)

Rice also has insufficient respect for history and geography and an anachronistic optimism about America’s ability to control events in the region. She acknowledges that the Middle East borders were drawn haphazardly by a group of greedy, clueless European imperialists at the end of World War I. But for some reason — the temporary appearance of order, I suppose — she seems vehement about maintaining these phony lines. Long-term peace and stability would argue for actual countries rather than these awkward contraptions.

It would be nice to think that we can have some influence over the shape of the emerging Middle East and provide the diplomacy and incentives to keep the violence to a minimum. But what is really needed here, immediately, is a quiet Western recognition that we blew the line-drawing 100 years ago, the place has been a mess ever since, and the indigenes are not likely to look to us as the determiners of where the lines are drawn in the future.

I have no idea how this is going to turn out or who will benefit, except to say that it is going to be exceedingly messy and there will be new countries when it is over. There is likely to be a Kurdistan — and it’s about time, given all that those people have suffered. (My friend Christopher Hitchens wandered through Washington wearing a Kurdish flag lapel pin in anticipation of the great day.) The Sunnis of Syria and Iraq and Jordan may create a more accurate Assyria. Or the Palestinians of Jordan (70% of the population) may join with the Palestinians of the West Bank to create a viable Palestine. Who knows at this point?

But change is coming, and it’s in our best interests to see that it occurs as quietly as possible — and that we are open to the nationhood of actual countries in the region rather than the foolish and bloody lines in the sand that we imposed on the region 100 years ago.