By Chet Yarbrough
By: Robert D. Kaplan
Narrated by: Michael Prichard
In “The Revenge of Geography”, Robert Kaplan recounts the significance of mountain ranges, rivers, deserts, and oceans in the history of regional and world conflicts. Kaplan reviews geographic benefits and challenges to one civilization’s domination of another. He argues that geography remains a relevant factor in hegemonic rule of nation-states, nation-state’ confederacies, and continents. Kaplan is a journalist that has traveled the world. He supported the second invasion of Iraq and, as an imbedded journalist in Fallujah, observed his confessed mistake. Kaplan has visited many, if not all, the countries he refers to in this book.
“The Revenge of Geography” is a journalist eye view of the world seen through a prism of geography; i.e. a prism refracting light that offers color to debatable and probabilistic predictions of world confederations and pivot point events that might change the course of history.
History’s pivot points, impacted by geographic circumstance and culture, color Kaplan’s observations of the Middle East. Kaplan argues, Turkey and Iran are potential pivot points of world change because of the Euphrates river origination in Turkey and the “Jesuit like” education of Iranian Imams. Turkey’s water from the Euphrates for Middle Eastern basin countries and the Muslim influence of a well-educated ancient Persian culture in Iran suggest that either or both of these countries may create history-making turning points in the Middle East. On the other hand, “Arab Spring” is changing the make-up of Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, and even Saudi Arabia, equally storied ancient Middle Eastern countries. However, Kaplan observes, their path to Middle Eastern influence (as pivot point countries) is much longer because of their lack of effective political and economic infrastructure.
Another interesting observation made by Kaplan is the influence of China on the Indian Basin countries and the existence of flat land borders with Mongolia, parts of Russia (near the Sea of Japan), and the eastern border of Kazakhstan. As China’s population and influence grows, it becomes a pivot point for much of Asia. Kaplan also suggests India has potential as a pivot point country for Asian hegemony based on its history of relationship with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, but India’s path to hegemonic influence suffers from a weak and corrupt political structure.
Russia, in Kaplan’s opinion, will not succeed as a pivot point country unless it adopts “a lead by example” (rather than coercion) mentality to re-establish itself as an Eastern Bloc leader. Kaplan suggests that Russia is presently too corrupt for other countries to follow and will continue to lose population because of unfair practices that deny equal opportunity and relative security to its people.
Europe is working on its identity as a confederated power through the European Union but the current financial crisis is impeding progress. Kaplan suggests that Germany has the key pivot position as a probable hegemon for the European Union; however some European Union’ countries like Greece may turn to the East because of their historical connections with Eastern Orthodox culture.
The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans continue to offer geographic security to North America. However, Kaplan notes that Obama’s re-focus on a naval presence in the Far East is an important move for America to remain among the hegemons of the world. At the same time Kaplan suggests that America needs to prepare itself for replacement as the dominant economic and military leader of the world. This is a wise observation; i.e. the wisdom is in the fact that when one is the strongest, it is possible to create the closest friendships; when one becomes weaker, bonds of friendship may offer future security.
Kaplan saves the most insightful–some would say incite driven–observation in the last part of the book.
Kaplan’s analysis of America’s relationship with Mexico is the most earth-shaking and important geographic argument in “The Revenge of Geography”. Kaplan argues that Mexico should become part of America. It is a comment carrying the symbolic weight of Reagan’s statement that the U.S.S.R. should tear down the Berlin wall. The flat land contiguity of Mexico with the United States makes separation of the two nations practically impossible.
The continuing growth of the Hispanic population in Southwestern America is made clear in American’ presidential and local elections. Further, demographically, America has a growing labor shortage with an aging population. Mexico can alleviate that labor shortage by continuing to add to America’s workforce. America, in Kaplan’s opinion, should be spending money to help Mexico succeed in its war against drug lords because that war has the potential of making Latin America a tribal terrorist enclave, only a few miles from America’s current border.
On May 10, 2012, Kaplan wrote in the “Atlantic Monthly”—“While the foreign policy elite in Washington focusses on the 8,000 deaths in a conflict in Syria—half a world away from the United States—more than 45,000 people have died in drug-related violence since 2006 in Mexico.” Kaplan goes on to write “…Mexico will affect America’s destiny in coming decades more than any state or combination of states in the Middle East.”
Africa is not clearly dealt with by Kaplan in its relationship to the world. Africa has been exploited by post-industrial nations for its resources rather than invested in as an industrializing continent. South America is also reviewed on a cursory basis; in part, because it also suffers from resource exploitation. However, Kaplan suggests that South America’s relationship with North America would be changed by a revision of America’s relationship to Mexico.
There is some sense and, undoubtedly, some nonsense in Kaplan’s predictions but he is better suited by his research, observation, and experience than most geo-political’ commentators. There is much to be thought about and discussed in Kaplan’s interesting assessment of the geography of the world.