The early chapters were a dry-as-dust slog, all very scholarly with references to Herodotus and geopolitical thinkers from way back when.
But without access to ancient maps of empire and their shifting boundaries it became a quagmire of geography, history and politics which hindered progress and sucked the life out of the topic.
Plodding on, with frequent forays to the dictionary for explanations of big words where small ones would do, persistence was rewarded with broad and readable overviews of Russia and China’s outlook on the world.
You won’t find any analysis of the personalities and leaderships involved, which seems like a bit of an omission, but you do come away with a sense of the abrasions of history that drive the countries’ decision-making.
Kaplan keeps his most interesting, and controversial, opinion to the final chapter on Mexico. It is here, rather than Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, that the US should concentrate its energy, he believes.
By 2050, he says, up to a third of the American population could be Hispanic and, since US foreign policy emanates from within, the northward movement of Latin Americans will affect it profoundly.
He underlines the growing demographic and economic performance of Mexico and Central America “with which the US has an inextricable relationship” and quotes Arnold Toynbee on border issues:
“A border between a highly developed society and a less highly developed one will not attain equilibrium but will advance in the more backward society’s favor.”
Whatever decisions are taken on the southern border in the years ahead, the future character of the US in the 21st Century will increasingly be shaped by the people of Mexico.
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