Jeffrey Goldberg’s map of what the boundaries of Middle Eastern countries might be a generation from now (“After Iraq,” January/February Atlantic) is objectionable for two reasons. First, the map is based on one drawn by Ralph Peters and published in the Armed Forces Journal in 2006, which Goldberg admits fed the paranoia of many Middle Easterners who saw it as a blueprint for an American plan to redraw the region’s borders. Its publication in The Atlantic is likely to evoke a similar response, confirming the suspicions of those already suspicious.
There might still be an argument for such an exercise, if the discussion surrounding the map were a serious attempt to consider alternative developments in the region. But neither Peters nor Goldberg claims that the effort is serious. Instead, they regard it as an act of “knowing whimsy.” Unfortunately, it is hardly “knowing.” What they seem to know is that there are many ethnic groups in the region that might wish to become independent of the states that now control them. So they give them new states.
Both authors’ basic misunderstanding is their thesis that the borders of Middle Eastern countries have little or no reality, having been created by European powers for their own reasons. In fact, Egypt and Iran are historical entities going back thousands of years within approximately their present boundaries. Afghanistan goes back centuries, as does Ethiopia (both of which are included in the author’s Middle East). Turkey has carved out an existence that is unlikely to be challenged either by its own people or by its neighbors. Distinctions such as these must be the starting point of any discussion of the region’s future.
Raymond D. Gastil
Deep River, Conn.
One can learn more about Jeffrey Goldberg’s political opinions from the borders that he leaves alone than from the ones he changes in his map of the “new Middle East.” While Goldberg drags his imperialist crayons across the region, tearing down borders both old and new, he tellingly makes no changes to either Israel or Kuwait. Since he draws so many other borders along ethnic and religious lines, why is Kuwait not made part of Shiite Iraq, and why does Israel maintain control over the Galilee and Negev, two areas with Arab majorities?
Could it be that Goldberg doesn’t want to address the difficult questions that changing these particular borders would present? Redrawing Kuwait out of existence would be tantamount to admitting that the country has no history of nationhood and would remove the rationale for the Gulf War of 1991. Shrinking Israel would bring up the uncomfortable fact that the country rules many Arab citizens against their will. But these are the sorts of messy realities that one must confront when playing 21st-century colonialist map games.
Jeffrey Goldberg replies:
Unlike Raymond Gastil, I do not believe that it is “objectionable” for a free press to pose questions about the future of the Middle East. I tend to think that Americans should be allowed to think and write freely, even about the Middle East, and even if our thinking and writing makes Middle Easterners “suspicious.” Gastil confirms the argument that many countries in northeast Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia are particularly artificial by naming five that aren’t.
Mark Kawar suggests that I drew the map with “imperialist crayons.” The redrawn map reflects the well-known desires of the Kurds, the Palestinians, the Baluchis, and the Africans of south Sudan for national liberation, rather than continued subjugation. Exactly how, then, is this imagined map a reflection of “imperialist” thinking?
As an avid fan of The Wire, I was disappointed by Mark Bowden’s recent article (“The Angriest Man in Television,” January/February Atlantic) on the show’s creator, David Simon. Bowden argues that Simon’s bitterness and anger have led him to color his fictional Baltimore with “suffering, stupidity, venality, and vice” at the expense of “selflessness, courage, and decency.” In support of his argument, Bowden quotes the Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson, who writes, “What [The Wire has] left out are the decent people. Even in the worst drug-infested projects, there are many, many God-fearing, churchgoing, brave people who set themselves against the gangs and the addicts, often with remarkable heroism.”
Yet the genius of The Wire is precisely that it rejects such facile distinctions between good guys and bad guys, cops and robbers, churchgoers and drug users. Rather than suffering from a dearth of “decent people,” the show finds such people in all walks of Baltimore life.
Near the end of his piece, Bowden admits that the fifth season of The Wire has targeted for derision two friends of his, William Marimow and John Carroll, who worked with David Simon at TheBaltimore Sun. Ultimately, Bowden’s insistence on the skewed bleakness of Simon’s vision smacks more of an attempt to cushion his friends against caricature than it does of a genuine effort to capture the complexities that make The Wire such compelling television.
Matt Miller is right that “localist” arrangements in education deliver maximum power to teachers’ unions (“First, Kill All the School Boards,” January/February Atlantic), which can draw on national resources and political connections, stultifying attempts at real improvement. But in a national system, the fashionable, counterevidential theories of the technocratic elite remain beyond correction since, being national, they have been removed from competition.
So try this instead: central funding for schools, but using a voucher system. Take the total national schools budget and divide it by the number of school-age children. Then adjust that figure by area, allowing for differential living costs across the U.S.—then pay out the vouchers to parents. They can be redeemed against education in any school that agrees to submit itself to annual government testing of basic literacy and numeracy standards, and nothing more.
Then let market forces do the rest. Anyone can try whatever trendy educational theory they like. But, after a bit, they won’t have many customers. Schools will shop for students (which will drive up discipline standards), and students will shop for schools (which will do the same for teaching standards).
Expect some opposition from the teaching unions, though. They’ll have plenty of good reasons for keeping their nonaccountability to markets intact.
M. T. Pearse
Matt Miller’s intentions are good and his ideas are coherent, but in the end, they will change very little on the ground. I teach in a border town in Texas, where roughly half of the 50,000 students currently enrolled in our independent school district will drop out. This is a staggering problem that will manifest itself in increased crime and general economic decline.