Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Continuity and Chaos in the 20th Century Middle East

Many Afternoon Map readers already contributed to improving the maps which appeared in this recent Washington Post piece. Now I'd be eager to hear their thoughts on the piece itself, which tries to begin making sense of what historical factors may have contributed to the instability currently afflicting a number of Middle Eastern countries. 

In Washington’s ongoing debate about the cause of the continuing chaos in the Middle East, President George W. Bush stands condemned for the 2003 intervention that pushed Iraq into civil war, while President Obama stands condemned for the nonintervention that worsened Syria’s civil war. In Libya, meanwhile, Washington’s partial intervention also failed to bring peace, while too few Americans are even aware of their country’s role in the conflict afflicting Yemen.

Without trying to defend or absolve U.S. policy, then, it is worth stepping back to ask what shared historical experiences might have left these four countries — Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen — particularly at risk of violent collapse. The following maps help highlight how, at various points over the past century, historical circumstances conspired, in an often self-reinforcing way, to bolster the stability of some states in the region while undermining that of others.

At the outset of the 20th century, then, neither Iraq, Syria, Libya nor Yemen existed as states or governments in their current form. All four then experienced direct colonial rule between World Wars I and II and subsequently overthrew their governing regimes in the postwar period. Finally, these four countries all ended up, to greater or lesser degrees, on the losing side of the Cold War.
But alongside these patterns, readers have almost certainly noticed the equally striking exceptions at every stage along the way. So while it is easy to predict that the violence currently afflicting Iraq, Syria Libya and Yemen will leave a legacy of instability moving forward, exploring the continuities of history can serve as a first step toward escaping from them.

Read the full article here and please weigh in if you have thoughts on it!