Reading Henry Kissinger’s typically well-considered and intelligent article for the Wall Street Journal this weekend (“A Path out of the Middle East Collapse”), I had a growing sense that it isn’t so much a prescription for the future as a description of the past.
The sense began with the first paragraph, in which Kissinger defines the scope of what’s collapsing, and dates it only to 1973, when the U.S. moved to stabilize the Middle East during the Yom Kippur War.
But far more than recent U.S. policy on the Middle East is collapsing today. What we’re seeing is more like the collapse of “Rome” itself: the organization of Western power as a Europe-centric territorial phenomenon, setting unbreachable boundaries north, south, and west of a restless and perennially “unorganizable” Middle East.
Last year, we might have said that it was “Sykes-Picot” that was collapsing: a popular shorthand reference to the European colonial disposition of Middle Eastern boundaries at the end of World War I. But that was last year. Now it’s 2015, and with the utter paralysis of Western nations in the face of massive and unforeseen, unarmed migration, it’s clear that Roman Europe itself is no longer a meaningful reality.
Consider: the Roman Empire in its heyday would not have tolerated this migration. Neither would the Europe of muscular Christendom, or the Europe of trading monarchies, of the Westphalian nation-state era, of the “concert of Europe” era, or of the Cold War. As long as Europe had a civilizational idea of defending and preserving itself, the legacy of Rome was alive. Altered, perhaps, with the passage of time and the emergence of new ideas, but still kicking.
Today, the legacy of Rome looks to be an empty shell. There is territory left, of course – but there is no idea. In fact, the West has spent much of the last 50 years apologizing for ever having had its signature idea, and vowing to no longer have it.
Without that idea, the West has no motive to organize itself against destruction, either internal or from an external source.