24 December 2011
This Post below is a reprint from 2005 and although there are some points with regard to weighting I might change, the overall view is one I still hold, namely that Iraq is a failed state.
The events of the past week (2 April 2005) in Iraq, the abortive attempts to form a government amongst the fractious parties have brought into sharp relief the deep and inherent differences separating them. The situation has more than ever underscored the importance of applied Geopolitics in nation building.
This post is a lengthy one, but if the subject is to be studied seriously, there are many considerations to be taken on board and analysed. Bear with me.
In order to consider as objectively as possible the viability of an “Iraqi” state or nation I believe it behooves one to look both into history and political philosophy for reference points.
Since August 2002 I have written often of my belief that an invasion of Iraq with the objective of promoting democracy and transforming that country into a stable nation state would prove well nigh impossible and counterproductive. My reasoning was based on a study of Geopolitics and how it relates to foreign policy, and not prompted by US domestic politics preferences. In that regard, there is not, nor has there been in recent history, any substantial difference between the two major political parties.
Now, almost three years later, just over two years after the invasion and two months following the elections in Iraq it would appear my fears are being realised.
In August 2002 I warned that the US was once again ignoring history in favour of wishful thinking. I pointed to the British experience in Mesopotamia in 1920; the ill-fated attempt to bring together the disparate parts of that benighted territory – the Sunni and the Shia, who were at each other’s throats in a bloody war. The British did indeed bring them together, redrew the map and created a new country which they duly anointed “Iraq”. The irony and tragedy of that success was that the warring parties bonded to fight and eventually drive out the infidel British. Finally, after constant strife and loss of 2000-3000 troops, the British turned over “Iraq” to an off the shelf monarch, Faisal, in 1921. Since then, that arbitrary geopolitical creation, Iraq, has been ruled by a succession of despots, the only way it could survive given the incompatibility of the constituent cultures.
For those wishing to read more on the subject of the British experience in Iraq I refer you to the following two brief articles:
The United States, having ignored or having been ignorant of that historical episode, decided to proceed on the same well trodden and failed path in 2003.
What the US has been trying to do not only ignores history, it flies in the face of what my professor of Geopolitics at SFS Georgetown University described as one the basic principles of Geopolitics, raison d’etre; it goes against the basis of what constitutes a nation or nation-state, a reason for being.
In writing this post I thought it a good idea to re-examine the nature of a nation or nation-state under the lens of contemporary thought; then, see if present day Iraq, or rather its fissiparous parts, qualify for that appellation.
If one consults dictionaries or an encyclopaedia, one is more likely than not to come up with some fairly simplistic definitions, to wit:
Merriam Webster: nation-state, a form of political organization under which a relatively homogeneous people inhabits a sovereign state; especially : a state containing one as opposed to several nationalities
Brittanica: People whose common identity creates a psychological bond and a political community. Their political identity usually comprises such characteristics as a common language, culture, ethnicity, and history. More than one nation may comprise a state, but the terms nation, state, and country are often used interchangeably. A nation-state is a state populated primarily by the people of one nationality.
Then there are the following:
A people who share common customs, origins, history, and frequently language; a nationality. A relatively large group of people organized under a single, usually independent government; a country.web-savvy.com/river/schuylkill/glossary.html
Once a synonym for "ethnic group," designating a single culture sharing a language, religion, history, territory, ancestry, and kinship; now usually a synonym for state or nation-state.highered.mcgraw-ill.com/sites/0072426527/student_view0/chapter12/key_terms.html
In researching this topic one of the most reasoned but lengthy discourses I came across was produced by Dr. John G. Boswell, Professor of Education, George Washington University. The link to his full tract is below:
For purposes of this post I shall merely extract some of the relevant arguments in which he takes care to differentiate amongst State, Nation and Nation-State. I quote:
“Looked at from the point of view of an individual nation, the state is a centralized organization of the whole country. Those studying this dimension emphasize the relationship between the state and its people. The English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that in order to avoid a multi-sided civil war, in which life was "nasty, brutish, and short," individuals must necessarily surrender many of their rights -- including that of attacking each other -- to the "Leviathan", a unified and centralized state. In this tradition, Max Weber and Norbert Elias defined the state as an organization of people that has a monopoly on legitimate violence in a particular geographic area. Also in this tradition, the state differs from the "government": the latter refers to the group of people who make decisions for the state.”
“For Weber, this was an "ideal type" or model or pure case of the state. Many institutions that have been called "states" do not live up to this definition. For example, a country such as Iraq (in June-July 2004) would not be seen as truly having a state since the ability to use violence was shared between the U.S. occupiers and various militias and terrorist groups, while order and security were not maintained. The official Iraqi government had very limited military or police power of its own. (This situation has been called that of a "failed state.") The official Iraqi government also lacked sovereignty because of the important role of U.S. domination.”
“A state is an organized political community occupying a definite territory, having an organized government, and possessing internal and external sovereignty. Recognition of the state's claim to independence by other states, enabling it to enter into international agreements, is important to the establishment of its sovereignty. The "state" can also be defined in terms of domestic conditions, specifically the role of the monopolization of the legitimate use of force within a country.”
“nation— or an ethnos ("ethnic group")— is a community of people who live together in an area (or, more broadly, of their descendants who may now be dispersed); and who regard themselves, or are regarded by others, as sharing some common identity, to which certain norms and behavior are usually attributed. In common usage, terms such as nation, country, land and state often appear as near-synonyms, i.e., for a territory under a single sovereign government, or the inhabitants of such a territory, or the government itself; in other words, a de jure or de facto state.”
He goes on to point out “Nations are often thought of as having a common language. However, language fits Japan and Britain, but not India and Canada, and certainly not Nigeria. Ethnicity is another attribute often used in thinking about nation. While the Japanese see themselves as ethnically homogeneous, the Swiss are multi-ethnic. Religion is another often used characteristic of nation, but, the rise of secularism in the modern world that has made religion less of a force in some societies. Further, for every Poland and Saudi Arabia with their single, dominant religion, there are an India and a United States with varieties of religious belief.”
So where does all this leave us in characterizing the status of Iraq Version 2005?
Going beyond Boswell’s statement above that Iraq is a “failed state”; that it lacked sovereignty because it shared the necessary tools of violence and because of US influence, I believe there are other more salient arguments. Let us take the various common points raised in the several definitions of nation or nation-state and see how they apply to a unified Iraq.
Religion: As Boswell posits, there are indeed nations which have diverse religions such as India and the United States, but the former has been wracked by internecine religious warfare for centuries. As for the United States, secularism was dominant but it would seem to be losing out to increasing influence of religious fundamentalism and is in danger of acting as a divisive not a unifying force. North Ireland can hardly be regarded as a example of people living together in religious harmony, nor can Nigeria with its periodic civil strife between Muslims and Christians. Then, and more to the point, where do the Sunni and Shia live in complete peace – that is, unless they are united in fighting a common enemy? Weighted value: Considering the almost fanatical loyalty and belief extant in Islam I would have to award Religion a value of 85.
Common ancestry: Despite the assertion by the Kurds that they are distinctive, in the mists of history they do share a common heritage of sorts bound together by living in the same general neighbourhood as the Sunni and Shia. Weighted value: Almost insignificant – at most a 5
Language: There is a common language, Arabic, shared by the Sunni and Shia, but the Kurds take great pride in promoting the use of their own Kurdish tongue. I have often contended that language is the glue that holds a culture together, but I believe it is not the only factor necessary for cultural cohesion. Without a common language it is difficult, even in well developed countries such as Belgium and Switzerland to carry on daily civic affairs. At the very least a fully multi-linguistic society creates an enormous bureaucracy and paperwork to satisfy the sensibilities of the various language groups. The old USSR laboured for seven decades to impose the Russian language on all its Republics without total success. However, against the backdrop of religious differences in the context of Iraq it is not as significant. Weighted Value: 10
Common Interest: Here is the rub and the nub of the problem. For people of diverse beliefs and culture to live in harmony, there must be an overriding common interest, a benefit in the case of the Sunni and Shia that will override the trenchant differences that have divided them for centuries.
One must ask what the relative advantages are of a unified Iraq that could overcome the seemingly rigid ideology that stirs such passion?
For the Kurds, I see no advantage. They have within the territory considered theirs, The Asset, oil. From that they can build a prosperous society, and have their long cherished dream of being independent, of having a Kurdish State. I am not arguing the external considerations here, namely the objections by Turkey, the fear of a Greater Kurdistan. I am merely putting forward what is of interest to the Kurds.
The Shiites also have nothing in particular to gain from melding their culture with the Sunni or with the Kurds in the north. Under Shia soil lie some of the biggest oil reserves in the Middle east. All that is lacking is development and there will be no wanting for countries happy to finance and carry forward that work, something that was already in process before the war. Furthermore, their Iranian Shia brethren to the East will be on standby to provide political and military support to them should it be needed.
Ironically, the Sunni are the ones that would profit the most from a unified Iraq, yet they are the least disposed to collaborate. Why? Two reasons: 1) because of the profound religious differences separating them and 2) as a distinct minority, they are loathe to subjugate themselves to people they formerly ruled and repressed. The Sunni, electing to be marginalised will, I fear, become a refuge and platform for continuing instability in the region. They have no industrial or natural resource base but they will be sustained by negative forces, internal and external, whose interests are to create turmoil.
The latter point takes us back to my question as to whether there are common interests and practical considerations which can overcome ages old prejudices and cultural divides. I conclude that in the case of Iraq the answer is a resounding NO. Self interest, even if destructive, plays a more decisive role.
Weighted Value: Theoretically common interest should be a major factor in encouraging cooperation and the formation of a Nation-State, but in Iraq, ideology and self interest trump – Value 0.
All considered, it is possible that Iraq could be held together into something vaguely resembling a Nation-State, but only in the short term, and only in an atmosphere of continuing strife and civil war. In the medium to long term, the internal, centrifugal forces would tear it apart.
My final words are that I recommend the US foreign policy establishment review the basic principles of Geopolitics before embarking on similar misadventures or before staying with the present policy that can lead only to an Iraq that is a Failed State.
2 April 2005
29 November 2010
Rumoured attempts by Australia to withdraw Assange's passport will not deter Wikileaks. It is more than a website, and more than Julian Assange. It is now a Movement, one for transparence in foreign policy and for putting an end to hypocritical public utterances by governments. Crowley's statement that US diplomats are only diplomats is nonsense, a blatant lie. Every US embassy employs in its staff a "political officer" whose job is to gather intelligence. Yet the spineless US media never questions such assertions.
The present problems are, in part, the fault of both parties. The paranoid and unpredictable regime in the North is highly sensitive to any perceived threat, justified or not, and I believe the joint military exercises of the US/South Korea were unwise. They served no purpose except to provoke and give the North an excuse for hostile action. The North knows full well that the US will not attack them for two reasons: 1) the US cannot afford to engage in another ground war, particularly against this well armed million man army (and 7 million reservists) with nuclear capability; 2) the second reason is China, which would not tolerate the presence of foreign troops above the 38th parallel and on their border. The answer to this conundrum is to come to an agreement with China that would involve the overthrow of the Kim government and reunification of Korea, but guarantee China no foreign troops on the Korean peninsula, i.e. demilitarise the entire peninsula with Korean security being mutually guaranteed by the US and China. China is not interested in instability in North Korea and an influx of refugees that would bring into China but, they want assurance that the US would have no military presence near its border.
The US should accept that the Pacific Ocean is no longer an offshore lake of California and that it belongs as much to China as the US. China is just as sensitive to foreign powers being off its shoreline and on its borders in Korea and Japan as the US would be if there were Chinese troops in Mexico or Canada!
22 October 2010
The US pressures China to be less reliant on Exports and to increase domestic consumption for its economic growth. When that happens, China will indeed be less reliant on the US market and moreover less inclined to buy treasuries and US debt. That could be the tipping point for the US economy. China could then not only cease buying treasuries, it could safely begin selling them. Where then would the US find another creditor so flush with cash and willing to finance its debt?
16 October 2010
Herewith the link requested by respondent Jules:
I hope this one opens...
I hope this one opens...
19 September 2010
Following the Pope's tour of the UK I am somewhat mystified by his statements linking the Nazi movement and Atheism. He seems to impute to Atheists the responsibility for wars and atrocities and refers to "aggressive Atheism". Really? Who started WWI, but a gaggle of Christian nations? Then, there were the Civil War in the US, the Crusades, all the European conflicts of the past 1500 years. Of all those leading nations into war and committing atrocities the only miscreant I can think of as an out and out Atheist was Stalin, a former seminary student.
Regarding the Nazis, and Hitler in particular, the Nazi party, unlike the Soviets was not ideologically atheist, although there may well have been atheists in the party. Even Hitler was ambivalent about religion and certainly never persecuted the Church, as did Stalin.
As for Atheism being "aggressive", again I am unclear what he means by this. Atheism surely does not conduct missionary efforts around the world trying to convert people to Atheism as do Christians, Mormons, and Muslims for their faith. True, books are written arguing the cause of Atheism but nothing like the tonnes of print extolling the virtues of organised religions, so what are Atheists doing that is so aggressive?
16 September 2010
China is under fire once again from an American administration desperate to find a scapegoat for the economic malaise in the US. It is no coincidence that Timothy Geithner’s comments are being made now, a mere six weeks before mid-term congressional elections. Hoping to deflect criticism and dissatisfaction by the electorate, loss of seats in congress and mollify US labour unions, he is raising the spectre of the dreaded Yellow Peril.
Another example of clay-footed US foreign policy. Making public statements such as these does not help resolve differences; instead it serves only to exacerbate friction with China.
One can argue that China holds $843 billion of US debt (as of today), and that its economy depends on holding and continuing to purchase US debt to prop up its primary export market. To that equation should be added the $1.60 trillion in US dollar currency reserves China has on its books. That is a tidy sum to be held by a creditor and one would think the debtor would be grateful and be more interested in staying on good terms with said creditor. But no, the US seemingly wants to tempt fate by twisting the dragon’s tail.
As stated, China, at this point in economic development is still very much hostage to the US market but, as its domestic economy grows and, as other South East Asian and Latin American markets buy more from China, that dependence is due to change. And, threats related to revaluing the Yuan could prompt a potentially disastrous financial crisis for the US.
An article of 13 September on the Bloomberg site deals with precisely this issue: “Evidence of strengthening domestic spending in China undermined the case for Premier Wen Jiabao’s government to resist a faster pace of currency appreciation days before U.S. lawmakers meet to address the issue.:”
It also underscores an argument I have often made, namely that contrary to the views of many pundits, if push came to shove, and US levied punishing tariffs on Chinese imports, the Chinese could retaliate by dumping US treasuries.
I quote again from the Bloomberg article:
“If signed by Obama, the legislation could spark retaliation including the sale of U.S. Treasuries by China, Stephen Roach, Morgan Stanley Asia chairman, said last week. China is the biggest foreign holder of U.S. government debt, at $843.7 billion in June.”
As for US currency, China is cutting back on bond purchases after scrapping its currency peg in June, giving it less reason to buy dollars and invest them in Treasuries. China is also turning more to Europe and Japan, purchasing bonds of both nations. In the meanwhile Barack Obama increases U.S. debt to record levels, counting on overseas investors to buy, as he borrows to sustain the U.S. economic expansion. And if they, especially China, do not buy………?
We are already seeing moves by China to distance itself from US assets:
To quote Hu Xiaolian, a vice governor with the People's Bank of China:
"Once a reserve currency's value becomes unstable, there will be quite large depreciation risks for assets," she wrote in an article that appeared in the latest issue of China Finance, a central bank magazine.
"The outbreak and spread of the global financial crisis has highlighted the inherent deficiencies and systemic risks in the current international currency system," she said.
"A diversified international currency system will be more conducive to international economic and financial stability," she added, calling for greater cross-border use of the Yuan.
So, China would seen to be sending strong signals that it would not hesitate to withdraw support for the US economy, particularly if the US were unwise enough to challenge the dragon in its den.
11 September 2010
3 March 2010
Daniel Korski in his ECFR article argues as Europe and the US are both in decline it behooves them to work more closely together.
Although I agree that both the US and Europe are in decline, I do not see tying itself even more closely to the US as the solution for Europe. Why look to a sinking ship as a life preserver? On the contrary, Europe should work to decouple itself from the United States. The last two years have shown the high risk of following and supporting US policies, both political and economic. As Niall Ferguson pointed out in Foreign Affairs magazine, in his erudite article, “Complexity and Collapse”, to regard the US dollar (and for me the US economy) as a safe haven is akin to considering Pearl Harbour a safe haven in December 1941.
As for the Geopolitical divide mentioned by Korski, again, Europe, rather than accepting it, should seek to bridge that divide and ally itself with the emerging nation bloc. Therein lies the future and salvation for Europe. Europe, to survive, must move away from its past transatlantic reliance and become part of the global community.
27 February 2010
I do not support proliferation of nuclear weapons, for Iran or other countries. However, in the case of Iran, I believe the threat of Iran ever employing nuclear weapons is overblown. One should look beyond the Iranian government’s intemperate rhetoric. The government knows full well that a nuclear attack on any country would bring swift and catastrophic retaliation that would result in destruction of the Iranian government and much of the country’s infrastructure. Blustering rhetoric the Iranians are guilty of, but they are not fools
The hyperbole, threats and scare mongering by the US and Israel are surely more about protecting Israel’s nuclear exclusivity in the Middle East. However there is a far more serious issue about nuclear weaponry at stake.
Instead of worrying about Iran, one should be debating what to do should Pakistan go critical and fall into the hands of radical fundamentalists. Such a regime would be far more likely to launch a nuclear attack on either India or Israel than Iran would on Israel or the US. Should such a regime change take place in Pakistan, what would the response be? Bomb the nuclear facilities in Pakistan, initiate yet another war? Encourage India to invade Pakistan and trigger a wider regional conflict of frightening proportions?
This same question about nuclear proliferation could put be put with regard to any other country not considered an ally of the US. North Korea is far more unstable and less predictable than Iran, yet one hears little in the way of threats by the US or Europe to bomb or invade North Korea.
21 February 2010
Realpolitik, a definition: Realpolitik (German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises;
There is no listed Antonym for Realpolitik, but one can be found in the practice of Foreign Policy of the United States. The US has practiced an unrealistic, impractical policy since the end of World War II and it is a policy that unusually attracts bi-partisan support. Both the Democrats and Republicans are guilty of pursuing a policy clearly inimical to the US national interest.
The US foreign policy is the antithesis of practical no-nonsense national interest, diplomacy. All one needs to do to understand this is the recent row with China, the world’s second largest economy, the world’s number one exporter and most importantly, the US’s major creditor holding over $700 billion in US treasury notes. Without China’s purchase of US debt, the US would be on the brink of financial collapse. In addition, China’s economy is driving the global economic recovery. Yet, rather than applauding China, the US has done all possible to provoke and alienate China by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports at the behest of US labour unions; catering to a the Tibetan Dali Lama as a head of state when he is only a religious leader; supplying arms to Taiwan, regarded by China as a breakaway province. In addition to China’s importance as an economic power it also wields a Security Council veto. It can put a stop to any coordinated attempt to impose sanctions on Iran and could withdraw from the six party talks aimed at containing North Korea signalling the death knell of those negotiations. For the US in particular there is a huge risk in antagonising China. Presently, China buys US debt in order to prop up the US financial structure and thereby its major export market. However, should China’s domestic economy and those of its Asian neighbours mature, China would no longer be dependent on exports to the US market and no longer find it necessary to purchase US debt. At that point the danger to the US economy becomes acute.
Then, there is Georgia that foolishly began a war with Russia and invaded an inconsequential breakaway province, South Ossetia, which had opted to join Russia. The US inserted itself into the conflict supporting Georgia, which was clearly at fault, thereby angering Russia and went so far as to express support for Georgia’s application to join NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Georgia, situated in the Caucasus region on the Black Sea, far removed from the North Atlantic. Little wonder Russia looked upon this bit of foolery as an attempt to gain a military foothold into the Russian sphere. Somehow the US, which regarded the Soviet presence in Cuba as a threat to its national security in 1962 and invasion of its sphere could not understand why Russia should object to the US having a military presence in the Caucasus. Russia, no longer the formidable foe that was its predecessor state, the USSR, is still an important nuclear armed global power, and a member of the five nation UN Security council, like China, with veto power. Without Russia’s support in the six power talks on North Korea negotiations would grind to a halt. Again, without the support of Russia, there can be no effective UN Security resolution regarding Iran.
Without a doubt the most grievous and damaging mistakes made in the name of US non-Realpolitik has been the unstinting support of Israel. That support has led to the alienation of the entire Muslim world and has been at the crux of the rise of radical fundamentalism and attendant terrorism. The US, to mollify and gain the support of the US based pro Israeli lobby, has sacrificed relations with the entire Middle East, and large parts of South East Asia all in order to accommodate a nation state of no strategic value. The only value Israel now has is as an ally is to counteract terrorism, the cause of which was the creation of the state of Israel, and the US support of subsequent Israeli policies. One cannot turn back the clock and remove the state of Israel, but if the US were to be a truly honest and impartial broker in its dealings with the Palestinian problem, perhaps something could be salvaged from what is a geopolitical disaster. I fear, however, matters have now deteriorated to the point that not even a two state solution is possible, or even desirable. The bloodshed, acrimony and deep-seated hatred is so imbued in the Palestinians that the people will never fully accept such a compromise. In the long term, as one Israeli friend said, demographics will prevail, a separate Jewish state will not survive but will revert to a pre-war single state embracing both the Muslin and Jewish peoples. In the meanwhile, both the Israelis and the Palestinians will continue to suffer.
As so often much of the US foreign policy has been formulated to accommodate US domestic ethnic and religious pressure and lobby groups rather than for the national interest. And when one looks at the current conflicts and potential ones on the boil, most of them can be laid at the doorstep of a deeply flawed US foreign policy.