“International borders are never completely just. But the degree of injustice they inflict upon those whom frontiers force together or separate makes an enormous difference — often the difference between freedom and oppression, tolerance and atrocity, the rule of law and terrorism, or even peace and war.…Accepting that international statecraft has never developed effective tools—short of war—for readjusting faulty borders, a mental effort to grasp the Middle East’s “organic” frontiers nonetheless helps us understand the extent of the difficulties we face and will continue to face. We are dealing with colossal, man-made deformities that will not stop generating hatred and violence until they are corrected.”—from “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would Look”, Armed Forces Journal (AFJ), June 2006”, by Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters
What is a nation-state ever but a crude perimeter around a discrete subset of man and his manmade “deformities”? Both in her radically reconfigured 2006 map known as the New Middle East (such an Americanism not unlike New Improved Tide Detergent!) and her prescribed manner to achieve it (via ‘constructive chaos’ i.e. war; ah, the banal evil of euphemistic abstractions!), U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought a solution to the problem of poorly-drawn, and thus violence-prone, borders through the violent imposition of new borders. Alas, when the cure is the disease, the syndrome is a circle. For whiter whites, rinse, wash, repeat.
Aptly timed and doubtless coordinated, Lt. Col. Ralph Peter’s (ret.) 2006 book (quoted above) echoes the non-virtuous circle that Rice’s fruitful chaos rushes to complete. Peters’ ‘ineffective tool’ of statecraft, war, can only be mitigated, it seems, by more application of same. That’s right, only war can stave off war. No doubt this cogent piece of Orwellian doublethink was music to the tanks of the military industrial complex. The fact is poverty, income disparity, sectarian and tribal divides, not to mention the West’s propensity for regional machinations (of which border-fiddling is one) form an underlying, indigenous and highly complex disease pattern to which border overlays are, at best, a surface irritant. Depending on the depths of one’s cynicism, it could be argued all those grinding and seemingly intractable social ills (has anyone ever really tried to render them more tractable?) promise a surfeit of what the West really seeks: prolific, inexhaustible and lucrative regional frictions.
If one looks even further between the lines, there lurks a more profound non-indigenous disease tracked in on the heels of arriving Westerners. This smallpox of the psyche, we might call Freudian transference. Indeed the planks in our own eyes never cease to amaze with their ability to parse the specks of sawdust in the eyes of our distant brothers. Though the western tendency to impose itself is historically disparaged under a host of socioeconomic terms—mercantilism, colonialism, cultural hegemony, the Crusades—(such macro deflections are routinely invoked by the aggrieved individual as a means to salvaging personal dignity and honor) what we really seek is an expunging of our sins on the backs of rude and swarthy savages. Furthermore the colonized, who must live the indignities every day, feel the shadowy impartation of which economic exploitation becomes but one lurid and visible feature. What were the Crusades after all but the Superego arrived to hunt down and redeem the Id? This oddest of maladies might best be called expansionist xenophobia as it involves quarantining ourselves from the imagined diseases borne by third-world strangers (or are they the personification of disease itself?), an especially tall order since it is we who have sought historically to inflict ourselves upon them. Ultimately then, the fault lies not within our lines, but within ourselves. Hence the Sunni ‘psychological warfare’ Conflict Forum’s Alistair Crooke refers to of exhausting and demoralizing the interlopers by creating an expansive mirror within which the latters’ inherent contradictions must be gazed at and ultimately retreated from. To the extent we are not who we think we are, we become even less self-recognizable (Conrad’s Kurtz might say) in the estranging embrace of faraway lands. Hegemony is an “elaborate mechanism” which, among other things, elaborates our alienation, itself the very animus fueling our escape to places unknown. (See ‘The Inevitable Has Happened In Egypt’; by Alastair Crooke, Al-Monitor; August 18, 2013),
Technology adds its own porosity to the business of borders. Affordable handheld devices are prying things open. Universally condemned and feared by the powerful, Wikileaks shines a light on the most verboten state secrets. Twitter is street-level spirit armed with global reach. As journalism expires in corporate gulags, citizen cellphones are inheriting the Fourth Estate. There are shards of light peeking through power’s shuttered corridors. The House of Saud is in conniptions over a blogger who offers detailed descriptions of one corrupt business dealing after another. Against these asynchronous eruptions, power does its frantic best at playing whack-a-mole. Whether in the form of suitcase nuke baggage handler or brave freedom fighter, one man becomes incalculably dangerous. While humanity fears the first, Power, it should be noted, can tolerate neither. All this has the potential of becoming good news for the People, except Julian Assange cautions about the digital footrace underway right now between state surveillance and the progressive cyberpunk culture. From one small room within London’s Ecuadorian Embassy, the future looks, let us say, very sanguine indeed. This over-here, over-there bifurcation creates a scattershot of Cartesian planarities and two-dimensional partitions: roadmaps to peace, arcs of influence, red lines, green zones, pre-1967 borders, 38th parallels, etc. If you listen closely you can hear the NFL trope of 1st and ten within the red zone rattling in amidst the geo-politesse. The home crowd wants to roar so badly its hurts. Alas the Middle East clock never runs down. It’s been fourth and inches for centuries. No less, the American mind yearns to trade pens on an aircraft carrier with a contrite foe. And should you fail to report to the main deck like a proper good sport by God we’ll send our own man and declare victory all by ourselves. America will not be deprived of its pomp. Hell, half the reason we do this shit is for the self-congratulatory pats on the ass at mission’s end. Such bad cricket that the world will not allow us to make a game of it!
Hubris as always is the team captain. One people cannot paint a line across another as no border can stand when the human spirit is so moved. Humanity conforms more to the wavelike spirit of quantum—wind, water, love, intentionality—whereas borders signal a departed world of Newtonian fixities: barbed-wire, gates, towers, checkpoints. Of course the world of fixed addresses provides at the very least devils we know, if not outright familiar comforts:
“We are no longer talking about a fight against groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, which have established addresses for an Israeli military response and discernible targets against which Israel could wage war. The new terror groups, collectively known as global jihad, are operating along the country’s borders as small autonomous cells without permanent addresses or a supreme leader.” — from “Israel’s New Adversary: Global Jihad”, Al-Monitor, August 23, 2103 by Shlomi Eldar
Birds of a feather prefer contending together. Nations seek the comfort of their own, the better to exchange their bombs and forge their alliances. How existentially vexing it becomes fighting a stateless foe especially when said foe is an infectious idea borne by men, one example of which Crooke has recently taken to calling the borderless ‘idea’ of Salafist Jihadism against whose main tactic of nation-state “vexation and exhaustion…Saudi Arabia now [seems most] ripe.” So much for the death of ideas, or at least their programmatic amalgams, ideologies; global jihadism ‘survives’ as an idea only because it is conceptually dead on arrival. Jihadism is the negation of thought. It is nihilism.
In that “colossally deformed” region (Peters), the Middle East, the nation-state constructs of Sykes-Picot did not pretend a social contract in any chaste Lockian sense. Everything about them screamed top-down imposition (not least of all the geographic composition of the Agreement’s signatories: Britain, France and Russia). In fact, they are overtly cynical ‘antisocial contracts’ established between a West eager for corruptible footholds and a Western-trained third-world elite only too eager to oblige. There’s never a shortage of well-heeled aspirants and latent megalomaniacs ready to take up the reins of reign. Who wouldn’t want to run a bleedin’ country? Think of the perks! Once statehood is assigned, a lockbox is opened to which IMF loans can safely be deposited; a national anthem’s composed, a nice flag’s stitched, a comfy chair at the UN is secured; then, photo ops galore with Leaders of the Free World, a state jet, deadly new toys and cooperative military exercises i.e. all the swank accoutrements of ‘Western arrival’. Corruption is the lingua franca of these contrived realms. Banish all talk of cleaning things up.
Borders are the common man’s trap whose jaws he eternally mistakes for a protective embrace. Marx was at his most adroit skipping over them entirely to address workers of the world. The nation-state makes the game a bite-sized, can-do business, each with a teller window (an IMF-approved Central Bank) complete with stateside on-the-hook peons surrounded by menacing border guards with strip search privileges demanding stamped travel papers—and that’s when you’re trying to leave! Defensible borders are an indefensible trope-made-flesh through the power of manipulated fear. Jingoism eats and sleeps borders. Ruinous national debt makes it bones in war which is the lucrative harvesting of the friction between borders. Driving through West Virginia recently, I encountered a billboard, God Bless Our Troops. They’re Fighting for Our Freedom to which I immediately thought God bless the mountain folk, my Scotch-Irish kin, decent to a fault, and to the children they unquestioningly offer up time and again. Yet, how much greater the chance of being taken out by a domestic drone patrolling Interstate-81 than the Charlestown arm of al Qaeda, much less an amphibious battalion of Taliban? For God’s sake, wake up Lil Abner! Map lines are not painted on the ground. They’re painted on the mind. So how do you perceive them, comrade—as a moat to lock invaders out or a wall to lock good people in?
But enough of Appalachian credulity and moonshine as a far better buzz can be had shuttling oil, guns and drugs around the world stage. There’s that cousin of Freudian transference, cognitive dissonance (itself a variant of doublethink), which allows newly constructed bridges in Bagdad courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers to happen alongside crumbling infrastructure in Charlestown. Hegemony may be, as Zbigniew Brzezinski argues, old as man himself. But we must try to starve the beast at home, especially as it’s doing all it can to starve us out of house and home by indulging ruinous international (mis)adventure. What exactly is this unhinged will-to-power monstrosity that offers no clear benefit to either side? Localism hardly argues for the erasure of national borders but merely a right-sizing of them, i.e. returning the international stage to appropriate scale. The daily tenor of my life, your life, the average Egyptian’s life is most profoundly affected by local phenomena: weather, traffic, air quality, the safety of our streets and schools. Look at the massive commonalities that are being deliberately concealed from us, all to maintain a credible war footing. Frankly if Americans at-large have ever reaped the benefit of any of these hegemonic exercises, I am at a loss for them