ETF.com: What are you working on?
Robert Kaplan: I have a new a book that’s finished. It’s about American geography and foreign policy.
ETF.com: Interesting. Can you give more details?
Kaplan: It’s about how America’s geographical placement still determines its foreign policy. It’s about how our first empire was not Cuba or the Philippines. It was the Rocky Mountain West, and that formulated how we saw the outside world into the 20th century.
ETF.com: Tell me a little bit about what your views are on what’s going on in the Middle East—in particular, Syria and the broader implications of the Syrian conflict for the Middle East and Europe.
Kaplan: There are underlying causes for greater Middle Eastern anarchy that haven’t been in the newspapers. What’s happened is we’ve seen the successive collapses of imperial systems. Don’t believe that empire was bad; empire was very good.
Most of humanity for most of history has been governed by one sort of imperial system or another. At the end of World War I, the Ottoman imperial system in the Middle East collapsed. At the end of World War II, the French and British imperial systems in the Middle East collapsed.
Then we had rule by post-imperial strongmen—who governed according to the borders set up by imperialism, and they erected totalitarian prison states—like Saddam Hussein; Gaddafi; the Assad family. They’re almost all gone.
American power projection for a host of reasons I could go into is not limited to President Obama’s view of the world, is not what it used to be. So, you have vacuum. We’re in what I call a “post-imperial moment.” And I can break that down into details.
Another thing that’s happened that’s very relevant to Europe is that the Mediterranean for thousands of years was the center of Europe. But when the Arabs invaded in the seventh and eighth centuries, they split the Mediterranean into halves.
Europe was mainly thought of as a Northern enterprise, with the exception of Islamic and Christian Spain. Now we see the chickens are coming home to roost. We’re seeing the Mediterranean reunited by refugee migrations from North Africa, from the Levant back into Europe.
What I see in the Middle East is, despite all the discussions in the media about peace talks, the war in Syria is going to go on. These states—Iraq and Syria—are not going to come back together in their former form.