Restore the Turkish Empire!

The Turkish Empire, also called the Ottoman Empire, was founded in 1299 and lasted until 1922. At the start of World War I, the Turkish Empire still included much of the Levant, including what are now Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and part of Saudi Arabia. The Sultan, as the emperor, was also the head of the Caliphate, the realm of Islam.

Libertarians are generally opposed to empires. However, a great historical error was made by the victors of World War I. The chiefs of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, broke up the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Turkish Empire. Whereas the Arabs helped the British defeat the Turks in the expectation that they would achieve independence, the British and French betrayed these hopes by making the Arab lands colonies. The British obtained Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq, while the French took Lebanon and Syria.

Under the Turkish Empire, the diverse religions of the Middle East were able to co-exist. The Empire had a policy of local self-governance under the “millet” system whereby people could use their own religious laws. The term derives from the Arabic word millah, for meaning “nation.” Because they were all under one empire, the ethnic groups such as Kurds and the religious minorities did not fight over land.

Today’s problems in the Middle East, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Syrian civil wars, the dictatorship and war in Iraq, the violence in Lebanon, and the rise of supremacists, all stem from the breakup of the Turkish Empire. That realm had its problems, including violence against Armenians and others, but most of the residents of the former Turkish areas would probably wish they had stayed in the Empire.

With the discovery and development of oil Iraq became of strategic interest. If the Turkish Empire had not been broken up then the oil would have served the Empire; and the dictatorships and tyrannies of Syria and Iraq would have been prevented. Most likely, the Turkish Empire would have been a constitutional monarchy. The retention of the Caliphate would have avoided the nostalgic yearning of Muslims for its restoration by violence.

But now, is it too late? We cannot restore broken Humpty Dumpty, can we? Maybe not, but what is the alternative? Nobody is talking about restoring the Turkish Empire, but there does not seem to be any better solution.

The restoration of the Turkish empire does seem crazy, ridiculous, and absurd. But it would unify the region. There was no Sunni-Shia war under the Turks. Christians were able to follow their faith. Jews who had lived in the region since the BC times did not have to flee.

The new Turkish Empire would include Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq. Kuwait was separate from the Empire, and could join or not as it wished. The government of Turkey would start the process by sending in troops to take control of Syria and sections of Iraq. The other states would be invited to join in.

The new empire would not be called “Turkish,” although Turkey would be the major power holding it together. It could be called the Confederation of the Levant. The states of the confederation would retain their own institutions. Israelis and Palestinians would benefit by joining the new Turkish empire. Just as Muslim cities once had Jewish quarters, the Empire would regard Israel as the Jewish quarter of a Muslim empire, while Palestinian Arabs would no longer be under Israeli occupation; they would constitute a state within a Muslim Caliphate, and the Israeli settlers would recognize the Palestinian jurisdiction by paying rent.

The US is now reluctant to send in troops to pacify the Levant, and Turkey is in the best position to do so. Having become more Islamic, now is the time for it to take the next step and restore an Islamic empire with a Caliphate, but a peaceful, democratic, and tolerant one.

Just as breaking up the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a big mistake, which allowed Nazi Germany to swallow up Austria and then Czechoslovakia, so was the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. The European Union has replaced the old European realms as it becomes a new empire of democratic states. Nothing like that is happening in the Middle East.

It’s time to talk Turkey!

Creative Destruction in the Levant

Creative destruction ain’t just a place for the marketplace, baby! The National Interest has an article out by Mark Donig on “The Twilight of Sykes-Picot.” It’s a great piece that basically acknowledges the end of an era (European imperialism and cartographic arrogance), and what this will mean for the United States.

Sykes-Picot is an agreement between France and Great Britain that divided the Ottoman Empire up between the two after World War I (the article goes into a bit more detail if you’re interested). Russia was also a part of the negotiations for carving up Europe’s sick man, but after the Bolsheviks seized power all imperial pretenses associated with the West were abandoned in Moscow. European cartographers abandoned the Ottoman approach (learned over centuries of trial and error) to governing territories in the Levant and instead carved up the region as they saw fit. The end result was, of course, a number of states that could only be held together by a strong man. Today, these post-colonial states are collapsing and in their place are a greater number of pseudo-states.

In many of these pseudo-states, Islamists run the show. Donig, an international law student, is worried that if states like Syria and Iraq collapse, the chemical and biological weapons stockpiled in secret locations will fall into the wrong hands. Donig’s suggestion is that the US pay very close attention to what is happening in the Levant, but I think he is much too pessimistic.

The US should embrace political disintegration in Levant wholeheartedly. Doing so would mean recognizing sovereignty of nasty-looking regimes. Yet is would also end the power struggles for the “center” in Sykes-Picot states, which would in turn end the reign of strong men in the region for good (for a concise explanation on why strong men emerge in post-colonial states, see “Imperialism: The Illogical Nature of Humanitarian Wars“).

Were the US to embrace decentralization in the Levant, it would be wise for Washington to play an active role implementing trade agreements both between the new states  as well as with Washington. The separatist movements in Scotland and Catalonia illustrate my garbled point well. Scots and Catalonians don’t want independence without membership into the international trading confederation known as the EU, and membership in an international confederation requires relinquishing some sovereignty (Daniel Larison inadvertently makes this point here; people on both the Left and Right who point to evils of EU rarely acknowledge that many states and regions would love to be a part of this confederation, warts and all, and that they stake their very separatist claims on such a membership).

Trade agreements would play an integral role in making or breaking these new states within their newly decentralized region (see Becker or yours truly on the importance of trade in politically fragmented regions). Once recognizing sovereignty of new states, the US would gain some much-needed trust from the peoples of these new states, and then Washington could use that influence to push for more economic integration (between the new states and with the new states) while at the same time recognizing the reality of political fragmentation in the region.

At any rate, full-on American diplomacy in this area is a must, especially given the TNI report’s account of possible chemical weapons stockpiles. This is something the US could work with Russia on, thus building a measure of trust which could, in turn, be used to work with Moscow elsewhere (especially in Europe). It still surprises me that dovish policymakers in Washington and Moscow have not yet used their respective government’s mutual enemy (Islamism) to build much-needed bridges between the two countries.