Borders and Empires -Various

Robert Kaplan has penned a provocative piece in Foreign Policy entitles “The Ruins of Empire in the Middle East” where in he argues for the virtues of empire in the Middle East as a means for maintaining stability: “Imperialism bestowed order, however retrograde it may have been. The challenge now is less to establish democracy than to reestablish order. For without order, there is no freedom for anyone.”

Not surprisingly, there has been a response. Benjamin Denison and Andrew Lebovich argue that Kaplan’s history is shaky and vague at best, and that “Kaplan and others call for imperialism-lite — without acknowledging that empires aren’t always sunny, stable and successful. Policymakers and scholars alike need accurate historical examinations of imperial rule, and need to stay alert to the ways in which local politics, outside political forces and military intervention affect countries in untold and infinitely complex ways.”

The debate also raises a deeper question about the nature of the state system in the Middle East. Since the rise of IS it has become increasingly popular to argue that the Middle East state system is entirely artificial, a remnant of the Sykes-Picot agreement, and therefore unsustainable. In two separate articles, Marc Lynch and Sarah Pursley argue that the history and the current reality are too complex to be captured by this common though simplistic argument.
Lynch argues in “Rethinking Nations in the Middle East” that identities based on the current state system do have resonance:

And in a two part article,’Lines Drawn on an Empty Map’: Iraq’s Borders and the Legend of the Artificial State (Part 1 & 2)’ Pursley describes the division of the Middle East as a complex process at least in part influenced by local politics: