September 1, 2006  

The fallacy behind Ralph Peters’ new Middle East map

The fallacy behind Ralph Peters’ new Middle East map is the presumption that there is something the U.S. can do to make the Middle East accept U.S. domination [“Blood borders: How a better Middle East would look,” June].

Taking away land from existing states would certainly weaken the people who annoy the U.S. today, but why should an oil-rich Shiite Arab state not try to take over leadership of the Muslim world? Why should Kurdistan stay pro-American after the first euphoria has worn off? The Kurds have spent their history fighting each other and everybody else; why presume that that will end? Turkey has been a key U.S. ally for 60 years, and Peters is proposing that that be rewarded by dismantling her. Why should anybody want to be a U.S. ally if you do that?

Peace in the Middle East ended in 1918 when Britain took over Turkey’s Arabic-speaking territories with the intention of stealing their oil. It will not return until the oil revenue is used to finance the economic development of the Middle East instead of being invested in faraway lands.

Ralph Peters responds:

Mr. Gurkaynak and many others read my article through the distorting lens of Turkish nationalism — with which I have had my share of unpleasant first-hand encounters. Even then, he did not read it closely. At no point does the article suggest that the U.S. can and should redraw the Middle East’s borders. We can’t, and we won’t. The article sought to portray the way the Middle East would look if the people, rather than dictators and oppressive states, determined the lines on the maps. It was meant to sober the American political establishment, not to inspire it to extravagant deeds. I do believe, as the article stated, that the U.S. made a tragic mistake by trying to keep the ineptly constructed state of Iraq intact; beyond that, the article merely states the truth: Flawed borders generate violent conflicts, within states and among them. Redrawing the map of the Middle East on paper sought to force U.S. decision-makers, diplomats and military leaders to think beyond the traumas of the moment in order to understand how deep and intractable the Middle East’s problems are and shall remain. Rather than instigating American attempts at domination, the point was to clarify how difficult any efforts at changing the collapsed civilization of the Middle East would be. It was meant as a warning to blithe Americans, not to sensitive Turks.

As for Mr. Gurkaynak’s mention of “Turkey’s Arabic-speaking territories,” well, they weren’t part of Turkey but of the Ottoman Empire — a very different thing. And that Istanbul-ruled empire mired the Middle East in backwardness, tyranny, corruption and a culture of failure. The world continues to pay the price for Ottoman brutality today. I do agree, however, that the revenues for Middle Eastern oil should be “used to finance the economic development of the Middle East,” and I suggest that the writer apply to the Saudi royal family directly.

Mr. Gurkaynak’s claim that Turkey has been a key American ally for 60 years is, sadly, wrong. For almost 60 years, the U.S. supported Turkey, ignoring the legacy of the Armenian genocide and the oppression of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. We defended Turkey, armed Turkey, argued for reductions in Turkish debts and fought — successfully — for a pipeline system from the Caspian Sea that would provide Turkey with economic and strategic rewards. In return, Turkey betrayed us the single time when Ankara’s help would have been of serious benefit to the United States. By not allowing U.S. forces to transit Turkish territory to depose Iraq’s monstrous dictator, Turkey stabbed us in the back on the eve of war. By manipulating the parliamentary vote to achieve the outcome it desired, the Turkish government overplayed its hand fatefully.

On a personal note, I have long been fascinated by Turkey, have visited the country many times, and even honeymooned there. But the level of anti-Americanism fostered by Islamist parties and backward nationalists turned me from a lifelong supporter of Turkey into a skeptic about the country’s honor, its value and its future.

Sukan Gurkaynak

Ankara, Turkey

Ralph Peters