Journalist Robert D. Kaplan thinks that what is wrong with the Middle East is a lack of imperialism, and he urges that it be brought back. It is how, he says, most of the world has been ruled by “default.” This argument is so ahistorical and wrong-headed that it takes the breath away.
First of all, “imperialism” is an imprecise term. Kaplan is trying to sweep up different kinds of empire under one rubric. Until the early twentieth century, most people in the Middle East admittedly accepted the Ottoman Empire, which was Muslim-ruled and made minimal economic demands on them while offering minimal governance. But it was precisely at that point when the Ottomans began building railroads to deliver garrisons to the provinces and introducing modern, more intrusive bureaucracy that they began facing opposition from local elites like the Hashemite rulers of Mecca in the Hejaz. The rise of nationalism was also fatal to empire, whether Ottoman or any other sort.