ISIS and the neocons: fearful symmetry?

Daniel Neep of Georgetown University in Discover Society last month provided a refreshingly skeptical overview of the various plans for redrawing the boundaries of the Middle East, in a piece entitled "The Middle East, Hallucination, and the Cartographic Imagination." We call it the balkanization agenda of the most hubristic neo-conservatives, although Neep doesn't use those terms ("DC policymakers," he says). He discusses how these ideas have been broached by imperial officialdom, e.g. in Lt. Col. Ralph Peters' writings in the Armed Forces Journal, and Wilson Center wonk Robin Wright in the New York Times. Neep's piece is most interesting for its comparative maps of all the schemes that have been floated. They all pretty much amount to the same thing: Iraq and Syria divided into Sunni and Shi'ite zones, an independent Kurdistan, Hijaz breaking off from Saudi Arabia, and so on. The irony is that all these theorists blabber on about how the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement created "artificial states," while the drawing of new maps by Beltway wonks merely replicates the hubris of Sykes-Picot!

A further irony is that these neocon re-mapping schemes closely mirror the internal boundaries on the maps that ISIS has released of its pretended "caliphate"—which is to cover every inch of territory ever ruled over by Muslms, including Spain and the Balkans. Of course the neocons seek to weaken the Muslim world by reducing it to fragments, while ISIS would see a totalitarian Islamic empire. But they both share the fetish for "natural states," a dangerous fallacy if ever there was one. (See the ISIS map at Daily Mail of last June 30, which frighteningly tells us the jihadis hope to acheive their vast "caliphate" within five years.)

We don't know which is the more annoying thing about this endless Mideast balkanization jive (as if it worked out so great in the actual Balkans): the neocons who actually promote this agenda or the conspiracy set that waxes paranoid about it. We are not arguing here for the vulgar conspiracy theory that we've heard too much of, that the whole post-9-11 paroxysm of ultra-imperailsm has been part of a neocon balkanization plot—or (worse still) that ISIS is a creation of the neocons and Zionists. Tiresome bunk. If anything, the neocons are now so humbled by the chaos they've unleashed that some of them would rather stick with Bashar Assad as the Devil they know. It's more a case of "Watch out—you might get what you're after." Nor do we wish to loan comfort to the paleocons who would preserve the current borders of the Middle East, and prop up the despots who rule within those borders, in the name of an oppressive "stability." What neither side gets is the obvious: The political order in the Middle East should be decided by the people who live there.

We've also noted elsewhere the irony that the jihadists who want to re-conquer Spain for a new Muslim caliphate are perfectly mirrored in the Zionists who treat the ancient borders of the Hebrew kings as a cosmic real estate deed. We aren't saying that contemporary borders are sacrosanct (as anarchists, we'd like to do away with them entirely), and we acknowledge the right of the oppressed and excluded to struggle for autonomy—under any state they find themselves under. But the logic of endless separatism leads straight to hell, as we saw in the ex-Yugoslavia 20 years ago—with minority breaking off from minority breaking off from minority (e.g. Metohija breaking off from Kosova breaking off from Serbia), until the entire region is a patchwork of militarized ethno-supremacist mini-states. And it was bad enough in the Balkans, thank you. The stakes for world peace are inestimably higher in the Middle East.