Here are a few quotes from The Revenge of Geography that lay out the book’s objective.
. . . the aim of my study [is] to have an appreciation of the map so that, counter-intuitively, we need not always be bounded by it. For it is not only narrow-mindedness that leads to isolationism, but the overstretching of resources that causes an isolationist backlash. [The U.S. has been aggressively overstretching our resources throughout the new century.]
Geography informs, rather than determines. Geography, therefore, is not synonymous with fatalism. But it is, like the distribution of economic and military power themselves, a major constraint on – and an instigator of – the actions of states.
I wish to argue for a modest acceptance of fate, secured ultimately in the facts of geography, in order to curb excessive zeal in foreign policy, a zeal of which I myself have been guilty.
Kaplan writes not just about how geography affects the United States. He covers the globe, with chapters for each of the world region’s: Europe; Russia and Central Asia; China; India; the Mideast from Egypt to Afghanistan; Iran; the former Ottoman empire and specifically Turkey; and the Americas. His ideas about the United States and Mexico are, for me, revelatory.
The blurring of America’s Southern frontier is becoming a geographical fact that all the security devices on the actual border itself cannot invalidate.
While we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars to affect historical outcomes in Eurasia, we are curiously passive about what is happening to a country with which we share a long land border, that verges on disorder, and whose population is close to double that of Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
In the long run, looking deep into the twenty-first century and beyond, . . . a border between a highly developed society and a less highly developed society will not attain an equilibrium, but will advance in the more backward society’s favor. In other words, the preservation of American nationalism . . . is unachievable unless Mexico reaches First World status. And if Mexico does reach First World status, then it might become less of a threat, and the melding of the two societies only quickens. Either way, because of the facts that the map imposes, we are headed for a conjoining of Mexico and America in some form . . .
Kaplan throws in a healthy does of information about the history of geographic and geopolitical thinking – about a third of the book is devoted to such. He concludes this section with the chapter The “Crisis of Room”
With civilizations densely jammed one against the other, and the media a vehicle for constant verbal outrages, as well as for popular pressure from oppressed groups, the need for quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy will never be greater. One crisis will flow into the next, and there will be perennial need for everyone to calm down [Kaplan’s emphasis].
I learned a great deal from this book. Kaplan writes objectively with no partisanship. He just wishes to point out that geography is important – so pay attention. The maps are excellent; the writing absorbing; the lessons important, believable, and thoroughly backed-up by logic and geographic fact.