You Make a Mess; You Clean It Up

Some many of the contemporary world’s political problems have their roots in centuries of European and later Euro-American (Let’s lump ‘em all together and call it “Western”) colonialism. Wars, revolutions, riots, poverty, genocides, all because of the racist arrogance and greed of Western colonial powers. And nowhere is this more evident, at least at the moment, than in the Mid-East.

Let us consider as a case study Iraq. It did not exist until the Western colonial powers decided in the aftermath of WWI to carve up the defeated Ottoman Empire. Was their guiding principle what was best for the people living there? Respect for ethnic, linguistic, and religious boundaries? Recognition of the relations between differing tribes and other groups? Not a bit of it! Their guiding principle was: Get The Oil!

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that Iraq was created over lunch. Seems there was great debate about how to carve up that particular area, and Winston Churchill was getting tired of it. So over lunch, he pulled out his napkin, sketched a map of this new country, gave it to his staff and told them to create it. They did, and now we have Iraq.

Did this actually happen? I don’t know. The point is not the accuracy of the story. The point is the arrogance of the Western Powers.

There are three large groups of people in Iraq. There are the Sunni Muslims, the Shia Muslims, and the Kurds. The Sunnis and the Shia have hated each other for more than a thousand years. And the Kurds do not even speak a version of Arabic. They speak a language (languages actually) within the Persian linguistic family. It is more closely related to Farsi than to Arabic. (In fact, being Indo-european, it is more closely related to English than to Arabic.) As a result, the Sunnis especially, do not trust the Kurds. Sound to you like a marriage made in heaven?

And so now we have a new civil war in this cobbled together nation. I won’t go into how our domestic politics is involved in this. Books need to be written about that. Instead I want to address what I think would make sense for us it do.

  1. Admit that the US, among others, has made an unholy mess of things. We have caused untold suffering through our meddling in cultures about which we had little to no understanding and cared even less.
  2. Admit that our military regime change (Iraq War 1 and Iraq War 2) is the only thing that has held the current version of this nation together, and in turn this means that it has been a puppet government totally beholden to the US and that the withdrawal of our military simply permitted the civil war to resume.
  3. Admit that a resumption of US military intervention might damp the civil war down, but only temporarily and would therefore be a destabilizing influence in spite of appearances.
  4. Therefore the best thing we can do is to declare ourselves neutral and refrain from any attempt at influencing the outcome of the civil war, even of that means standing by and watching the dissolution of the nation of Iraq.
  5. Recognize that this will undoubtedly cause a lot of bloodshed and suffering and accept the fact this this is the inevitable result and legacy of Western Colonialism run amuck. We bear a major share of the responsibility for that bloodshed and suffering.
  6. Accept that it is therefore our responsibility to help to rebuild whatever emerges from the ashes, but only at the request of the people then in power and only under their control and direction. We help them build the nation(s) that they want, not the nation we want them to have.

The domestic political consequences of following this course of action strike me as enormous and mostly to the detriment of President Obama, were he to try it. In fact, our entire nation may well suffer for it. But the suffering we might inflict upon ourselves pales by comparison with the suffering we have inflicted upon others over the last few decades.

And if anyone has a better idea, I’d like to hear it.

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