September 30th, 2013
03:42 PM ET

What I'm reading: Rethinking Middle East maps

By Fareed Zakaria

“Outsiders have long gamed the Middle East: What if the Ottoman Empire hadn’t been divvied up by outsiders after World War I? Or the map reflected geographic realities or identities? Reconfigured maps infuriated Arabs who suspected foreign plots to divide and weaken them all over again,” writes Robin Wright in the New York Times.

“I had never been a map gamer. I lived in Lebanon during the 15-year civil war and thought it could survive splits among 18 sects. I also didn’t think Iraq would splinter during its nastiest fighting in 2006-7. But twin triggers changed my thinking.

“The Arab Spring was the kindling. Arabs not only wanted to oust dictators, they wanted power decentralized to reflect local identity or rights to resources. Syria then set the match to itself and conventional wisdom about geography.”


“Every college and university worth its salt has a ‘grand strategy’ program today (indeed, I taught in one when I was at Yale). Yet for all the hundreds of twentysomething strategists we produce every year, not to mention the endless conferences and edited volumes on ‘American strategy,’ we are becoming less and less adept at strategic planning and are falling dramatically behind in diplomatic skill,” argues Michael Auslin in the National Review.

“There is a damning dearth of creative thinking among our foreign-policy mandarins, an inability to clearly articulate the consequences of American choices, an unwillingness to decide American goals, and a lack of initiative to figure out the middle ground between diplomatic accommodation and military action. Occasional flashes appear, such as the Bush administration’s financial sanctions on the Kim regime’s bank back in the mid-2000s. Yet those are almost always surrendered on the altar of negotiation.”


“By volume the output of Chinese science is impressive,” notes The Economist. “Mainland Chinese researchers have published a steadily increasing share of scientific papers in journals included in the prestigious Science Citation Index…From 2002 to 2012, more than 1 million Chinese papers were published in SCI journals; they ranked sixth for the number of times cited by others. Nature, a science journal, reported that in 2012 the number of papers from China in the journal’s 18 affiliated research publications rose by 35% from 2011. The journal said this ‘adds to the growing body of evidence that China is fast becoming a global leader in scientific publishing and scientific research.’

“In 2010, however, Nature had also noted rising concerns about fraud in Chinese research, reporting that in one Chinese government survey, a third of more than 6,000 scientific researchers at six leading institutions admitted to plagiarism, falsification or fabrication. The details of the survey have not been publicly released, making it difficult to compare the results fairly with Western surveys, which have also found that one-third of scientists admit to dishonesty under the broadest definition, but that a far smaller percentage (2 percent on average) admit to having fabricated or falsified research results.”


soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    One map that sorely needs to be redrawn is that of Kurdistan. In 1919, the British promised the Kurds a right to eventually set up their own home state only to renege four years later! Both the Turks and Iraqis need pull out of North and South Kurdistan respectively and finally let the Kurds establish their own home state just like Israel did in 1948. In fact, Iraq itself is no more than the creation of both Britain and France in 1919 right after WW1 and needs to be divided between the Sunnis and the Shiites in order to stop the violence there.

    September 30, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • Quigley

      It appears Joseph, that you're one of the few bloggers here to ever say anything intelligent. I get irritated with these other jerks who post on this website without ever saying anything to amount to a hill of beans like that idiot wertwert3452345 below! I totally agree with you about the Kurds whereas everyone else here just simply ignores them!

      September 30, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
    • ZACH


      October 2, 2013 at 10:20 am |
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Why then ZACH, did Yugoslavia fall apart? That country had a prosperous economy and helped to defeat Germany during WW2. Before that country split up, it had a very bright future! Besides, the Kurds have just as much right now as the Israelis did in 1948 to establish their own home state.

        October 2, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • naphtalian

      On that same note, Mr. McCarthy, let us not forget the Assyrian people. They are a Christian people centered around the ancient city of Ninevah (capital of ancient Assyria). They too were promised a homeland of their own. Yet, here they are, fighting the ethnic cleansing of their people from Iraq. If anyone deserves a country of their own, it is the people of Assyria. East Timor was given independence because of the brutality of the Indonesian government against their people. Why can't the Assyrians achieve independence?

      October 2, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Thank you, naphtalian. I completely agree. The Assyrians, like the Kurds, do deserve their independence from Iraq which has become a nightmare since the U.S. led invasion in 2003. On the other hand, Saddam Hussein wanted to mold Iraq into a totally Arabic state which was also wrong.

        October 2, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
  2. wertwert3452345

    Padres: Ann Dunham, Barack Obama Sr.

    September 30, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  3. wertwert3452345

    Akie Abe

    September 30, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Robin Wright wrote in the New York Times about the wisdom of defending the current borders in the Middle East drawn by European colonialists before they left the region. Indeed it might be time to remap the region, which is seeing a balkanisation. A Yugoslavian-style breakup might just as well be the solution to ending ethnic, sectarian conflicts there.

    October 1, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • Patrick

      Well said, j. von hettlingen. Thank you.

      October 1, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  5. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    October 1, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
  6. Binhomud

    Do these politicians in Washington really believe the world is going to stand by and watch child minded imbeciles run world affairs in this manner for much longer....

    Pathetic to see a country with so much resources and wealth run by irrational politicians...

    We urge the international community to hasten the inclusion of Brazil, India, and Indonesia into the security council to alter this “balance of power” ... We cannot stand by and allow them to continue managing world affairs in this manner there must be mobilized international mutiny!

    October 11, 2013 at 7:17 am |
  7. emp3z

    Wohh precisely what I was searching for, regards for posting.

    April 13, 2018 at 12:33 pm |

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