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Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

One option re: Iraq that might get considered and doesn't

As the new Iraq moves closer and closer to civil war, as the factions in question (Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite) fight over who will have how much power in the new republic, I find myself asking one question that some people don't seem to want to accept really ought to be on the table:

Why are we (the US and the West in general) so set on seeing to it that these people all live within the same national boundaries?

Think about it. One of the usual rationales for binding smaller entities (like the Greek city-states in antiquity or the somewhat more historically recent German principalities) into larger entities that the people may not be so happy with (modern nation-states) is that the small fry will be easy prey for the empire builders, unless they give up a little of their identities and some of their self-determination, and band together for mutual defense. But take a look at the parties in question, and take a look at what is becoming of the Iraqi landscape. Do these factions seem likely to come to the defense of one another?

For that matter, do they really seem like "small fry"? Quickly skimming some comments by the UCLA International Institute, one comes across a condescending reference to the Kurds as being a "rump state". There are, in fact, 20 million Kurds, which would make a unified Kurdistan about half the size of Spain, or twice the size of Portugal. If that's a rump, it's an impressively big one, substantially larger in population than the original United States, which nevertheless was large enough to sustain political stability. (See remarks in Federalist papers regarding the dangers of majority faction formation in very small political entities).

One does not even have the far-fetched rationale the colonial authorities had, as they released Egypt from their grip, of resurrecting a long lost ancient land. Mesopotamia was a region, not a kingdom or nation, that would frequently be divided between two or more civilizations (eg. the Akkadians and Sumerians, the latter a diverse collection of city-states) and united only under empires which would spread far enough to hardly be specifically Mesopotamian (eg. the Assyrian Empire). One would have something akin to 19th century Romanticism at its most absurd - a reckless return to a past that never was, that would blindly ignore all that had changed in the thousands of years of real history that had happened since the time of one's imagined bygone realm. None of which, by the way, has produced anything resembling a rationale for thinking of the Iraqis as being any more each other's countrymen than the countrymen of some of each other's neighbors. A Kurd in Mosul is closer to an Arab in Baghdad more than he is to a Kurd in Southeastern Turkey? Why would that be?

Why, then, fight so hard to revive and keep united an ancient land which never really existed, at least not as some would carelessly imagine it? Let the three regions go their separate ways, each a respectably sized nation unto itself, and the issue of domination by the hated other ceases to be an issue, at least in the new parliament, or parliaments as the case may be. Because, apparently, the British government decreed it to be so a few decades back, without feeling any great concern about what the newly made Iraqis might think about their newly created identity imposed from on high by their departing colonial masters, and the fashion is to take the status quo as being an unquestionable given. Which, considering the remarkable look of the current maps of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, takes a remarkably willful blindness and more than a little inertia on the part of some to maintain. (Small reminder: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, once deemed to be permanent Soviet acquisitions, to be inevitably Russified, are now members of NATO - the world does change, and it changes greatly).

I went looking for available references today, after getting back from tutoring a client, and am still looking, but this is what I remember (and please check the history to see if I've remembered this correctly) - I remember a reference being made to the Kurds being incorporated into the newly created Iraq over the objections of the Kurds on the basis that if they were granted the independence that they desired, that one of the two remaining factions in Iraq would easily dominate the other. Well, I'm sorry, but to offer that as a rationale for giving away somebody else's country is just simply arrogant. One does not have the right to give away another's future as a gift; the Kurds had the right to make their own destiny regardless of whether or not their choices would suit somebody else's geopolitical aims. Such a stance is, in civilized terms, unbelievable. Imagine the descendants of a triumphant Mongol Empire finally agreeing to leave a long colonized Europe, and telling the English that they would be forced to remain part of the new country of Noreuropa which the Mongols had just assembled, including most of what was once France and Germany, because in their absence the ethnic Germans would easily dominate the ethnic French.

The proper response to such an argument is "what of it and who do you think you are". I could certainly understand why an appointee of the British Empire would behave in such a highhanded and presumptuous manner, but given the history and rationale of the foundation of the US, why does our government feel compelled to rubber stamp the results of the aforementioned highhanded act of nation building, governing imposted on terms agreeable to Britain without the consent of the governed? Wasn't there some small disagreement between our countries about that kind of thing back around 1776? But apparently the Kurds et al. are not supposed to expect the same say in their creation of their own future, that America demanded for itself - and got? This position would irritate almost anybody on the receiving end, and it is decidedly un-American, so one might well ask, where is it coming from?

Go to Europe or North America and you will find, for all of the many imperfections of these two regions, countries whose boundaries were set through the struggles and choices of those living within them. The results have not been perfect, especially in such cases in which an unwilling weaker subject has been annexed by a stronger power, but in time more and more of those are finding their way to freedom (eg. Ireland in the 1920s and many of the newly independent Eastern European countries), and along the way we have countries that basically work. Go to much of the Third World, to Africa and the Middle East in particular, and one will find nation-states whose boundaries were set by fiat by outsiders, without consulting the natives, and lo and behold - one finds countries that basically don't work. There should be a lesson in that for some of us, but it's a lesson that some of us are reluctant to learn because it calls for a little humility - know when to back off and leave tradition be, because we're never as clever as we think we are.