Notes on Fractured Lands

The New York Times recently published what amounts to a history of the Middle East, from the Invasion of Iraq, forward, focusing on the stories of individuals from Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. The article is quite long, but to WC is Pultizer Prize-level journalism that helps a reader understand the nearly unbelievable complexity of the Muslim world. And the utter insanity of President George Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

You really should read Fractured Lands. Yes, it’s a long piece; about as long as a single issue of the Times. But it is important for several reasons.

The article shows how the current conflicts are a product of history, dating back centuries, exacerbated by the division of the Ottoman Empire among the allies at the end of World War I, and further exacerbated by the creation of Israel after World War II and the proxy Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Horrific dictators like Quaddafi in Libya, Mubarak in Egypt, Assad in Syria and Hussein in Iraq existed, in part, because of the backing of the Soviet Union and, later, Russia, and the United States. In a sense, their very brutality held their fractious countries together. President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq wasn’t the only cause of the current crises, but it was a principle cause.

But the article also shows just how thin a veneer “civilization” is, and how tribalism, clans and subclans can blow apart the idea of a nation. One of the lessons of Fractured Lands is that it could happen here, in our comfortable and complacent United States. The recurring secessionist movements in states like Texas and Alaska are just American examples. The Scottish vote on withdrawal from the United Kingdom,  the “Irish Troubles;” all are illustrations that this is not just a Muslim problem.

At a time when most Americans couldn’t find Syria on a map, at a time when a spokesperson for a U.S presidential candidate can’t get an elementary chronology of events right, it’s critical that Americans make an effort to understand just what a near-impossible mess Syria is right now, and how Iraq has pretty much failed as a state.

Simple solutions aren’t going to solve Iraq, Syria or ISIS. They will very likely make it worse. But Americans can’t and shouldn’t proceed without an understanding of the complexities. Fractured Lands is a good introduction to those complexities.