Joe Klein expects a major redrawing of international borders in the Near East:

I have no idea how this is going to turn out, about who will benefit, except to say that it is going to be exceedingly messy and that there will be new countries when it is over. There is likely to be a Kurdistan–and it’s about time, given all that those people have suffered….The Sunnis of Syria and Iraq and Jordan may create a more accurate Assyria [bold mine-DL]. Or the Palestinians of Jordan (70% of the population) may join with the Palestinians of the West Bank to create a viable Palestine. Who knows at this point?

It’s possible that new states might emerge from the breakup of existing ones in the region, but I’m not sure why Klein is so certain that this will happen. Iraqi Kurds continue to benefit from remaining part of Iraq, and Turkey will not allow an independent Kurdistan. Since all states’ borders are ultimately artificial and imposed, they tend to change only when the state in question can’t or won’t maintain them.

In any case, Klein’s idea that there is such a thing as a “more accurate Assyria” that might be invented and organized along sectarian or any other lines is flawed. There was an idea of a “Greater Syria,” and it mainly included the lands of modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine. There is no chance that a state with those borders would emerge in the foreseeable future. Besides, pan-Arab nationalism of the sort that Klein is talking about here hasn’t been a major political force for decades.

Beyond that, it’s important to challenge the assumption that there are “accurate” borders defined by the makeup of a country’s population. There was a time when enthusiasts for self-determination thought that Yugoslavia ought to be created to join various South Slav nations together, and then eighty years later a new generation of enthusiasts for self-determination thought that it was “natural” for Yugoslavia to be broken up because of ethnic differences. Borders that seem “natural” or “more accurate” to people in one era appear phony and imposed from the outside to people in another. There’s no such thing as a “more accurate Assyria,” and the belief that such things can be identified, mapped, and turned into political reality has been one of the major sources of conflict and misery for the last two hundred years.

P.S. I want to note that Klein really is arguing for the position that the U.S. should be “open to the nationhood of actual countries in the region.” That takes for granted that the countries that currently exist in the region are not “actual countries” because their borders were drawn by the great powers. There are countless regions and peoples that might have a claim to being an “actual” country in some sense, but it doesn’t follow that all of them should have their own nation-states. One danger of distinguishing between “actual” and “artificial” countries is that there is a tendency to identify countries that “we” like as “actual” and those that “we” find troublesome to be “artificial,” which often leads to support for partitioning the latter.