In addition to the other problems with Joe Klein’s references to “more accurate” borders, his remark that the U.S. should be “open to nationhood for actual countries in the region” is very confused. It is worthwhile to review what this phrase gets wrong. A group of people can be a nation without being located in a single territory, and the things that distinguish them from other nations are frequently not connected to the land that they currently inhabit. Not all nations have their own states, some never will, and statehood and nationhood are two very different things. States whose boundaries have been established by the legacy of foreign interference and domination are nonetheless real or “actual.”

Something else that Klein gets wrong is that the “actual countries” in the region are the ones that he is saying will be (and should be) broken up. While he says that the U.S. should be “open to nationhood for the actual countries,” what he means is that he thinks the U.S. should accept the dissolution of states that already exist. The “actual countries” that Klein has in mind are, in fact, mostly imagined ones that do not yet exist and probably never will exist.

Elsewhere in his post Klein keeps coming back to this formulation of “actual countries” versus “awkward contraptions” and “phony lines.” The “phony lines” in the Near East are older and better-established than many others, including some of the modern borders in Europe and the former Soviet Union. The lines are no more or less “phony” in other parts of the world, but we usually aren’t quite as quick to dismiss them as such. As a matter of international law and politics, the borders of these states aren’t phony. Some of these states may have an ethnically or religiously diverse population, but unless Klein wants to argue for the Lausanne principle (and I don’t think he does) that doesn’t automatically them any more “awkward” or less “actual” than any other state.