Maps and globes can be fascinating. Interesting to study while engaging one's imagination to form images of persons and places. To visit where one has never been, to venture where one might not dare go, or to encounter those one will never meet — all this can be yours with little risk to life or limb. But those colored spaces within those lines only represent one reality — and not necessarily the reality of greatest import.
In a rather dystopian view pf the future, Robert D. Kaplan questions the deceptive simplicity of lines on maps in his soberingly—titled essay 'The Coming Anarchy.' Writing in the February, 1994 issue of the Atlantic Monthly (sub. req.), he anticipates the dissolution of those cartographic scribblings along with the political and social structures that they ostensibly enclosed. As the world dissolves into chaos, so too will those tortuously drawn boundaries fade into meaninglessness.
Kaplan wrote this article at least partly as a result of his visit to West Africa.. There he found his anarchy hypothesis in an advanced state of confirmation and the political map of coastal Africa, from Sierra Leone to Nigeria, to be totally at odds with the reality of geography and human activity. The boundaries dividing the political entities are all perpendicular to the coast. The climatological, religious, ethnic and economic fault lines are all parallel to land's end. In reality, those greatly considered and colonially drawn lines do not exist. The map of West Africa is a fiction that is a reality only in the map maker's mind — and ours.
The same, as Kaplan discusses and any map of 'Kurdistan' will show, is true of the region bordering northern Iraq. Kurdistan, not a political entity but a term of self—description, is formed by Kurdish Iraq and the contiguous parts of eastern Turkey, eastern Syria and Northwestern Iran where the Kurds constitute a substantial majority of the population. Our political maps show us no more than how the British and French decided to slice—up the Ottoman Empire at the end of WW I. I don't know, but would not be surprised to learn that splitting up the Kurds politically was done as a means of avoiding having them organize themselves into a substantial thorn in the colonial side. And so, what we have here, is a failure of the Kurds to consolidate. And that is something the Turks have absolutely no intention of letting them do.
I also assume the same resistance would be forthcoming from the Iranians and Syrians should the Kurds be so bold as to attempt secession from their respective countries for the purpose of forming their own. But the Turks would be the biggest obstacle. They have the second—largest standing army in NATO and aren't afraid to use it to keep the Kurds in line as they currently and eagerly do. There has been a low—grade insurgency in Turkish Kurdistan for quite some time. The refusal by Turkey to permit the 4th U.S. Infantry Division to traverse their territory so that we could simultaneously invade Iraq from two directions may have very well been prompted by fears that doing so might ignite an uprising by Turkish Kurds.
More likely would be their fear that once in Turkish Kurdistan we would actively support such an uprising. This same paranoid fear is reflected in the novel Metal Storm that sold 100,000 copies in less than three months after it came out in December of 2004 and is thus one of the fastest selling books in Turkish publishing history. The story is about an invasion of Turkey by the U.S. from its bases in Iraq after we create a pretext that they fired first. We want their borax for its boron content. Metal Storm Ltd, (MTSX for those of you interested in weapons systems investments) is also the name of an Australian company that has just successfully test fired its "area denial weapon system capability demonstrator" near Adelaide, Australia. Just coincidence, but somehow this all seems just too strange.
But even stranger is that this sort of conspiracy theorizing is standard fare in the Middle East. In this case it may not even be all that theoretical. With the Kurdistan Worker Party (PKK) giving the Turks fits and Kurds in Kirkuk being accused by the U.S. and the Turks of a power—for—oil grab at the expense of Sunni and Turkmen, anything seems possible. U.S. diplomats are pushing the Kurds to acquiesce to the Shia majority in Iraq, something they seem highly unlikely to do. In the background are the Saudis who support the Sunni Turks and are actively promoting the Wahhabi brand of Islam as they seem eager to do the world over. Remember the November, 2003 bombings in Turkey? An oppressed Shia minority occupy the eastern coastal regions of Saudi Arabia where the oil is to be found. All the while we're more worried about the Islamabaddy Jihad primarily manned by Saudi expatriates and financed by $60 per barrel oil.
Meanwhile, Chalabi freely moves back and forth across the Iraq—Iran frontier as do the Kurds on either side of their section of the non—existent political line dividing Saddam's former principality from that of the former Shah's. Now the Iraqis have six weeks to complete their constitution prior to holding elections later in the year. In the meantime, the Kurds, Sunni and Shia are all going to bury the hatchet and remain within the old colonial map lines so as to not obsolete all those lovely cartographic coffee table weights. Right.
Now I don't want to sound too awfully pessimistic, do I? But political stability in the region would probably be better served if we started out with a map showing the ethnic and religious groupings rather than political fantasies. Carve up the area after drawing boundaries around these entities as political units while being careful to consider economic viability and such things as not leaving the Kurds land—locked. Give the Saudi oil fields to the Saudi Shia and join them with the Iraqi Shia. Have the Iraqi Sunnis join their religious brethren the Wahhabi Saudis in the desert and encourage them to revert to their nomadic Bedouin past — as they will probably be forced into doing without all those petro—dollars.
The people not happy with this arrangement would be the Saudis, Turks and Sunni Iraqis. Which is probably as it should be, as the Saudis are not really our friends, the Turks are not really our allies, and the Iraqi Sunnis really are our enemy — as well as the enemy of democracy in Iraq. We would simultaneously dry up Saudi financing of world terrorism; pull the teeth of the Turks who are increasingly hostile to the U.S. while becoming increasingly fond of Islamic fundamentalism and looking to upgrade their military; and screw Iraq's Sunnis, who have it coming for their thirty—years screwing of the Kurds and Shias. This would, of course, make fast enemies of some who already are not our true friends. But we'd really score points with the Kurds and Shia.
Downside considerations? Well, Sunnis do constitute eighty—five to ninety percent of the Muslim population. Would this plan really sour things with the rest of the Islamic world? The Saudis have thrown their monetary weight around in the Balkans, but not without creating some resentment along with the influence they have purchased. Stephen Schwartz once again points out that their financial lubrication is behind most of the world's Islamic terrorism. But with the Saudis broke and reduced to the income level of the rest of the Arabs, how many would still love them? What an opportunity for those same Arabs to relish a little schadenfreude!
And the Turks? You tell me how many peoples love and cherish the Turks. That's almost an oxymoron. The Greeks don't love the Turks. The Kurds certainly don't. The Armenians are still demanding that the Turks own up to the genocide they began in 1914. Are there any in the former Ottoman territories who do? Call it empire hangover.
And the Iranians? The Iraqi and Iranian Shia are going to work it out on their own no matter what we do.
The Syrians are probably not worth mentioning, but then, I just have.
What about the doomsday oil field destruction devices rumored to have been put in place by the Saudis? Well, if they exist, they didn't put them in. They don't know how. Westerners built and run the oil production infrastructure. So it must have been a foreign outfit that installed the system. Maybe even an American company. And I don't see how it could be done without someone on our side knowing about it. Would just have to be part of the planning. Even if we couldn't prevent all destruction of the fields, at least the Wahhabis would lose their funding. Nothing worthwhile comes without risk nor without cost.
In any case, we cannot be real imperialists without redrawing maps. Perhaps we are being unrealistic regarding Iraq and the Middle East if we do not even consider doing so. After all, the lines are on the maps and not on the ground. They were not divinely drawn nor scribbled by us.
Time for a new regional atlas. I'm calling Condi, and then Rand McNally!
Dennis Sevakis is a frequent contributor.