Wednesday, October 10, 2007

They Lied About Iraq. Or They Were Slinging the Bullshit . . . Part Deux.

Specifically, this is a shout out to all the members of the "We Support the Iraq War," Tin Foil Hat Brigade who claim to have half an understanding of Geopolitical Theory, specifically the theories first articulated by Mackinder.

My first shot (as you are likely to take it that way) is did you ever hear the line . . . if you had half a brain you would be dangerous? That is what having (not specifically half but ) an incomplete, partial, fragmentary, poor, inadequate understanding of the wider concepts that can fall under the category of Geopolitics, and planning and acting in the International Sphere based on such an incomplete understanding can lead to; danger, death, disaster. Case in point? Iraq as it is here in the Year of Our Lord 2007. But I am getting ahead of myself here.

Here is my quick and dirty recap of the core (and even if as seminal it is, it is woefully inadequate all by itself) theory as expounded by Mackinder. First, I will give you a quote:

Sir Halford John Mackinder was a British geographer who wrote a paper in 1904 called "The Geographical Pivot of History." Mackinder's paper suggested that the control of Eastern Europe was vital to control of the world. He formulated his hypothesis as: Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland, Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island, Who rules the World-Island commands the world.

Mackinder's Heartland (also known as the Pivot Area) is the core area of Eurasia, and the World-Island is all of Eurasia (both Europe and Asia).

Mackinder's Heartland Theory

My quick and dirty recap is Mackinder is considered the father of Geopolitics as he is reportedly the first (modern) person to lay out a theory about how geography is central to the the idea of expansion of countries/nations (read also and particularly, Empires) and the inevitable clashes countries/nations will get into as they try to expand. And by 1904, the only place any country could expand into was some body else's territory.

Now here is the quick and dirty reason why even if it is good to know Mackinder's theory, that putting too much faith in it is the mark of someone even more ignorant the the person who knows nothing about it at all, either by name or by concept:

(a) Mackinder was basically a 19th Century man, who (b) came up with a 19th Century idea that (c) was based on the goals of a 19th Century empire, in other words, colonial expansion of that empire, and (d) the natural conflicts an expansionist colonial empire will have with other states.

This is not to say that there is no value on Mackinder's theory. In fact, I stand by the word I used to describe it already; seminal. But as all seminal works, that is only where the discussion begins, not ends.

I could go longer with the analysis, but I am going to begin my exit strategy here, instead, by posting the conclusions of a rather decent essay written by someone affiliated with the U.S. Army's War College:

"Eternal" geopolitical realities and national interests are mirages. The idea that a Heartland power has any advantages due to its position on the map cannot be historically or theoretically justified; the notion that an imbalance of power in Eurasia (even if it were conceivable) would somehow threaten the interests of the United States is not tenable; and the idea that geographic "realities" of power can operate outside of the context of ideology, nationalism, and culture is pure fantasy. Worse than mirages, these ideas can cripple the way we run our foreign policy in the new century.

Debunking the fundamental assumptions of geopolitics is an important task when one considers how policy is made. Policymakers operate with a set of assumptions and frameworks through which they interpret international events. As Richard Neustadt and Ernest May have persuasively argued, historical (and often wildly inappropriate) analogies, banal slogans, and outdated theories often become the driving forces in policymaking.[29] One of these outdated theories that persists in our intellectual memory is Sir Halford Mackinder's geopolitics.

Mackinder, Geopolitics,and Policymaking in the 21st Century

Two last points, before I "cut and run."

Firstly, I was inspired to post this part deux based on the fact I saw some silly (allegedly a veteran) twit on a message board post about how Iraq is the "Pivot Point." Now I did not need the author of the fine essay I posted here to inform me of the basic flaws in Mackinder's theories; I learned about the flaws when I first learned about the theory, more than 20 years ago. But instead of leaving his words as the only opposition to the "Iraq as Mackinder-esqe Geopolitical Pivot Point," theory, presented by that nit wit, I will add my own cheeky reply:

"You really think that we should be employing the theory based on the world view, ambitions, and related concerns of an expansionist, colonial 19th Century empire, here in the post colonial, anti expansionist, post World War, post Cold War, asymmetrical warfare with non states oriented 21st Century?

Good God! If you had half a brain . . ."

I will end there. Point two can keep, for now.


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