“Post Cold War” America, or maybe “globalist” America likes to believe that it has conquered the old tyranny of geography. Olden thoughts meant more for days when it took months to reach America by sea, when communication across the great plains was done by horses galloping at speed, when we were protected on our island continent by un-traversable seas. It’s easier for us, America is blessed with bountiful geography. Had we tried to design a land upon which we would build or lives, we would probably have created a land much like the one we have.
Not so the rest of the world. I recently finished a season in Armenia. A little Christian country nestled up against Turkey and Persia and Azerbaijan in the south, relying on its protection from only the Russian bear. I watched as its permanent enemy took advantage of a moment of global confusion to attack – how the country, so optimistic after a Velvet Revolution delivered to it at last a government by the people and for the people was again befuddled by its geography and reminded of why it has, forever, been the “weeping nation”. “We are in a bad neighborhood” my friends put it simply.
Geography still dominates our world. It defines not only how we will live but the opportunities we will have. It vexes policymakers and is the thing that most smart world leaders think about – much more than they do ‘supra-national institutions’ or conventions. I remember my days in Venezuela, when Hugo Chavez on his Sunday talk show would lay out a map of Venezuela and run his hands over the valleys and jungles and mountains – laying out for those who cared to listen the opportunities and risks presented by the national geography. The mind of a military man, of a planner.
All this is what “Prisoners of Geography” is about. A summary of some of the things going through the minds of successive world leaders as they look at the lands that they are tasked with governing (and protecting). Its a book about war and security, because though we’d like to believe that we are in a post-war world, the reality is that the human race is warlike and might never get over that fatal flaw. It is an introductory book, so not terribly complex. A taste of things to read more about – but also a prescient reminder that we should think about geography first, before ideology, when we consider our place in the world (and the perplexing motivations of our adversaries). That, I think, is the major lesson.