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.

US Foreign Policy in 2013: An Assessment

Of course our parallels to Britain’s scaling back are far from exact. But the decade’s intervention in Iraq alone shows the idiocy and expense of social engineering in alien cultures and societies. None of this deflects the interventionists. Recent debates over Libya, and then over Syria, have summoned the same odd couple onto center stage—both liberal humanitarian interventionists and conservative neocon empire-builders stand ever ready to use killing force to chastise others.

Behind this lies, just as it did in Britain, a sense of mission civilisatrice and inflated exceptionalism. It’s all there even further back in history. All empires have succumbed to their siren call. Now it’s our turn to approach an inflection point.

This is from James Clad and Robert Manning, writing in the National Interest. I haven’t finished reading the whole thing, which is not that impressive so far, but this summary of American foreign policy as it stands on October 8 2013 is outstanding.

A Glimpse into Ottoman Syria

One must not lose sight of the fact that, historically speaking, and contrary to prevalent belief, the Alawites wanted no part of the “Unitary Syria” that emerged out of Franco-British bickering in the Levant of the interwar period. Indeed, when the French inherited the Ottoman Vilayets (governorates) of Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo, and Alexandretta in 1918, they opted to turn them into six autonomous entities reflecting previous Ottoman administrative realities. Ergo, in 1920, those entities became the State of Greater Lebanon (which in 1926 gave birth to the Republic of Lebanon), the State of Damascus, the State of Aleppo, the State of the Druze Mountain, the State of the Alawite Mountain (corresponding roughly to what the Alawites are reconstituting today), and the Sanjak of Alexandretta (ceded to Turkey in 1938 to become the Province of Hatay.)

But when Arab nationalists began pressuring the British on the question of “Arab unity,” urging them to make good on pledges made to the Sharif of Mecca during the Great War, the Alawites demured. In fact, Bashar al-Assad’s own grandfather, Ali Sulayman al-Assad, was among leading Alawite notables who, until 1944, continued to lobby French Mandatory authorities to resist British and Arab designs aimed at stitching together the States of Aleppo, Damascus, Druze, and Alawite Mountains into a new republic to be christened Syria.

From this long-winded (but useful) article by Franck Salameh in the National Interest. What would be interesting to research is how long it took the Ottomans to figure out how to best govern such a diverse set of peoples. God forbid anybody let them govern themselves. Also interesting to note is the “Arab unity” canard that ultimately created the state of Syria. From what I recall, Arab nationalism was largely pushed by a hodgepodge of urban liberals with connections to British and French businesses and rural aristocrats hailing from the Gulf and promised land and power by the British for turning on the Turks.

What a mess. The liberals, by the way, are long gone. They were swept away by the military dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s. The Islamists are largely a reaction to the military dictatorships. Islamism as we know it today only came into being in the late 1950s, when the leaders of the Middle East were all puppets that had been installed by the last vestiges of European colonialism. Arab nationalism was still strong in the late 1950s, so the Islamists lost out in popularity to the military dictatorships (which operated under the guise of “Arab socialism”). Twenty years of Arab socialism – guided by Generals and Colonels – paved the way for the Islamists and their internationalist rhetoric to become the voice of the Arab street.

I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing Syria dissolve back into six independent states. If the international community could get them to bind their economies together in a free trade zone of sorts, the region would heal quickly and set an important precedent: political decentralization and economic integration work well no matter where they’re applied.

Update: the Economist has more on the ethnic angle in Syria’s civil war.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft on Zionism’s Colonial Roots

Today, Benjamin Netanyahu is seen widely as a leader of the Right (although in comparison with Avigdor Lieberman and others who have held office in Israel lately, Netanyahu could look moderate), and Israeli politics have long been categorized in terms of Left and Right, with the Revisionists cast as right-wing no-goodniks. That was so from the 1930s: with the rise of fascism, it became quite common to characterize Jabotinsky as a fascist, a word widely used by his Zionist foes. Rabbi Stephen Wise, a prominent liberal Jewish American of his day, called Revisionism “a species of fascism,” while David Ben-Gurion—the leader of the Labor Zionists in the Yishuv (the Jewish settlement in British Palestine) and then a founding father and first prime minister of Israel—referred to his foe privately as “Vladimir Hitler,” which didn’t leave much to the imagination. And to be sure, while Jabo called himself a free-market liberal with anarchist leanings, the oratory of Revisionism—“in blood and fire will Judea rise again”—and the visual rhetoric—the Betarim in their brown shirts marching and saluting—had alarming contemporary resonances.

Read the rest, it’s very good throughout.

Leon Hadar on Obama’s Syria Decision

President Obama, unlike his predecessor, is not promoting democracy in Syria. He is instead pretending to play the game of power balancing, hoping that neither side in the war there wins, and instead allowing both to lose.

Read the whole thing. There is not much new information in the piece, but then again hawks in the US have known about the situation in Middle East for decades and have still advocated stupid policies. Nevertheless, Hadar’s account contains some brilliant rhetoric that I think may be of use to readers and writers that fight for liberty.

Around the Web

  1. Free Baluchistan! More on secession, this time in Pakistan. I’d highly recommend taking a gander at this one.
  2. The Economist has great article critiquing France’s “new” relationship with Africa. It appears to be just like the old one.
  3. Six Nations passports, issued in Canada for the indigenous, are more than just travel documents. Or are they?
  4. Bacevich has an article at Foreign Policy suggesting that NATO should become an all-European alliance.
  5. More on secession: Welcome to New Bohemia (this time from the Left).

Around the Web

Matt Steinglass has a couple of great posts over at Democracy in America:

  1. Mitt Romney on Israel: Kicking the Can
  2. Mitt Romney’s Problems: Elite Defections

Paul Pillar of the National Interest picks on Romney as well

As I keep saying over and over: Mitt Romney is going to win the election. Why? Because the economy sucks. If it gets better within the next seven months, then Obama will get four more years to urinate on the rule of law and our federal republic.

K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, stupid.

And last but definitely not least, Marxist historian Gabriel Kolko sets the historical record straight on Herbert Hoover and his supposed laissez-faire policies: The New Deal Illusion. This is a must read (h/t Steve Horwitz).

A Few Fun Links

  1. Europeans: anti-Semitic violence is okay as long as it’s done in the name of Palestine
  2. Five reasons to withdraw from Afghanistan by Malou Innocent in the National Interest
  3. Speaking of Afghanistan, Justin Raimondo wonders if the murderer acted alone
  4. In USAToday (!!) there is a great piece on libertarianism and science. Be warned all ye religious libertarians! (ht Wilson Mixon)

Okay! Okay! Perhaps they’re not that fun, but enlightening I hope.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Humanitarian War and the Omnipotent Expert

I have made an effort in my blogging escapades to continually point out the underlying reasons for military intervention in poorer (often former colonial) states. Two things that have stood out to me are (1) the condescending display of arrogance on the part of the interventionist in regards to both differing arguments and the people involved in a conflict and (2) the high levels of confidence that these advocates have in their ability to predict the future based, presumably, on past experiences.

If you haven’t made the connection yet, these two characteristics are often exuded in Leftist intellectual circles, in Leftist popular culture, and in the Leftist’s moral compass.

Oftentimes, when I come across an advocate for humanitarian war (the doublespeak alone is enough to make me wonder), I am presented with the example of the mass slaughter of civilians in Rwanda during the ongoing conflict there in 1994. The gist of the argument seems to be two-fold: (1) that the West was hypocritical in its treatment of Rwanda and (2) that the West could have prevented, or at least, stunted, the horrific massacre of over half a million people in three months time. Continue reading