Wednesday, October 16, 2013

America's Allies and Enemies in the Middle East: An Afternoon Map Movie

US policymakers and internet map lovers share a certain enthusiasm for radically simplified visions of the world. With this in mind I put together the following map showing how America's relationship with the various countries of the Middle East evolved over the past 75 years. The color scheme should be pretty self-explanatory. I tried as best as possible to reduce every complex bilateral relationship into the "with us or against us" dichotomy prevalent during the Cold War and the War on Terror, but in some cases (particularly between these eras in the 90s) it was necessary to introduce the ambiguous purple. There were, of course, plenty of arbitrary decisions that had to be made (when, for example did Pakistan go from friend to - thanks Foreign Policy - "frenemy") and I made them arbitrarily. The same goes for the symbols, denoting changes that occurred on account of invasions (the tank), coups (the gun), treaties or diplomatic decisions (the pen), elections (the check), other peaceful transfers of power (the weird baton thingy) or popular uprisings (the protestor). In any case, here is the map. You can watch it as a GIF, a format which nicely captures the inevitable unfolding of events faster than we can hope to fully observe or grasp them, or as a Youtube Video, corresponding to the historian's fantasy of being able to pause, study and replay the progression of time.

* If I'd had more time and realized how many people were going to see this, I would have added a little more geographic nuance by breaking the map down to incorporate Iraqi Kurdistan, Nagorno-Karabagh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It's interesting, actually, to see how few de jure border changes there have been in the region over the past 75 years.

** Excellent suggestions keep coming in for music to set this to, including some kind of frantic ragtime, a heavy metal anthem or something more pointed like "We Didn't Start the Fire" or Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me."