From the Comments: The New Internationalism

My dear, brave friend from Iran, Siamak, takes issue with my recent musings on the state of affairs in the Middle East:

I’m completely against this. Any changes in mid-east borders could start a Religious-Ethnic Oil war that brings years of savagery and massacre. The problem of middle-east can be solved with tolerance through diplomatic acts. I can’t believe that some libertarian agoras are supporting breakaways in mid-east. As a libertarian person living in mid-east, I’m telling that this political view is so dangerous and can demolish little advances for peace in mid-east completely. Instead of trying to make a new geopolitical order in mid-east (as neo-cons) tried to do, Isn’t it better to try to recognize the mid-eastern countries and try to deal with them? You think new states will bring new nations?! No! Nowadays discussions about creating new countries in mid-east are states predicated on Ethnic differences. Some Kurds want their states! Some Azeris, Some Ashouris, Some Arabs, Some Jews, etc… I’m pretty sure that any changes in the geopolitical order of mid-east will start a big and long long war.

I thought I’d pick this apart for a couple of reasons, but the main reason would be because so many people read the words ‘decentralization’ or ‘secession’ and simply go into autopilot. Rick Searle shares his eloquent thoughts here. Moussa Cidibe shares his pertinent critiques here. Wbwise shares his criticisms here (some of Dr Delacroix’s well-informed thoughts are here, and in the same thread). Dr George Ayittey dedicated quite a bit of energy to tackling my argument (that’s two academics in a row, in case you lost count). Neenergyobserver is skeptical as well.

Each of the objections listed above look very similar to the objections raised by Siamak. I figure now is as good a time as any to go through my argument again, and I’m going to break down Siamak’s pertinent protestations to do it. First up is a concern about changing borders in the Middle East:

Any changes in mid-east borders could start a Religious-Ethnic Oil war that brings years of savagery and massacre.

This may have some merit to it, especially if one looks at the Balkans in Europe or the wars in the Horn of Africa. Yet one can also point to the velvet divorce in Czechoslovakia (and under the umbrage of the EU) or the dissolution of the Soviet Union as peaceful separatist movements. One thing that we can all agree on, I would hope, is that today the world is already witnessing years of savagery and massacre in the Middle East. Additionally, this savagery and massacre have only been dampened by American imperialism in the region, thus bringing my taxes into the picture.

If this last statement seems rather bold, think about the various balancing acts that occur in the Middle East (Iran v Iraq; Saudi Arabia v Iran; Israel v Egypt; etc., etc.) and how much more brutal these conflicts would be if the US were not pulling the strings behind them.

This observation should not be taken to imply that I support US imperialism. I do not. In fact I oppose it vigorously. Yet it goes without saying that the US arrived in the Middle East when the current borders were intact as they are, and that these current borders (created by Europeans) were recognized by some but by no means all. This struggle for legitimacy, in turn, is the major cause of political, economic and social strife in the region.

To reiterate: the Middle East is already a mess, and looking at alternatives is neither a crime nor a dangerous precedent (especially on a blog as humble as our own). I think some of these reactions to my argument for more decentralization can stem from a misreading of what has actually been written. For example, when Siamak writes:

Instead of trying to make a new geopolitical order in mid-east (as neo-cons) tried to do, Isn’t it better to try to recognize the mid-eastern countries and try to deal with them? You think new states will bring new nations?! No!

He is not grasping my argument. At all. Most of the criticisms of my argument have fallen into this camp, so Siamak the individual is not to be faulted. I think it goes back to those keywords identified earlier in this piece (decentralization and secession). Here is what I actually wrote:

the West should emphatically not go around breaking up the states of the Middle East into smaller ones, but it should recognize breakaway regions as soon as they, uh, break away. This’ll give these states a little bit of breathing room on the international scene and deter older states from trying to reclaim their old territory.

Can everybody see how this argument is very different from the one Siamak (and others) have attributed towards me? The article that I originally riffed off of argues no such thing, either. This is not to say that Siamak’s fears are unfounded. In fact, the original article argues that the Middle East needs to embrace decentralization as a way to protect itself from the West’s own plans to break up the states in the region in order to better play them off on each other. Both imperialists in the West and the anti-imperialist factions are now at a point where they recognize the states as they are in the Middle East need to be smaller to be effective.

I understand that when states break up there can be turmoil. This is why I believe it is best that states break up within free trade zones (like the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the EU, or – potentially – Scotland, Catalonia or even California doing the same). However, even without free trade zones in place, recognizing the independence of breakaway regions (away from Russia’s and China’s peripheries, of course) saves lives. Think of the amount of violence that Sudan and South Sudan have contributed to since the latter’s independence, and then think of the violence that occurred before South Sudan’s independence.

Siamak is right when he states that “the problems of Middle East can be solved with tolerance through diplomatic acts,” but is it not also true that secession and the creation of many smaller states out of a few large ones can be achieved through these very acts as well?

The Arab Crack-Up: Are New States on the Way?

Let us hope so, but I won’t hold my breath. Sharmine Narwani thinks otherwise. She argues that both Western states and “the locals” are now looking at more decentralization in the Middle East as a viable option:

The Mideast will one day need to make region-wide border corrections, but to be successful, it must do so entirely within an indigenously determined process. The battles heating up in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere are a manifestation of a larger fight between two “blocs” that seek entirely different regional outcomes – one of these being the borders of a new Middle East.

The rest of the article is fairly atrocious, but it goes without saying that she should read (ha ha) my musings on how to go about decentralizing in a cool, calm and collected manner. Here is the shorter version of my argument: the West should emphatically not go around breaking up the states of the Middle East into smaller ones, but it should recognize breakaway regions as soon as they, uh, break away. This’ll give these states a little bit of breathing room on the international scene and deter older states from trying to reclaim their old territory.