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Yesterday’s enemies, today’s allies … and tomorrow ?

October 7th, 2014

When a militarily powerful country tries to govern the affairs of millions of people on the other side of the planet, we shouldn’t be surprised that chaos results …

That’s of the grab from my latest piece in Inside Story, commenting on the utter incoherence of US (and therefore Australian) policy in the Middle East. An extended version:

How could it be otherwise? A rich and militarily powerful country has taken it upon itself to govern the affairs of millions of people on the other side of the planet, of whom it knows nothing. Its emissaries routinely elevate particular individuals, ethnic groups, religious sects and political parties as favourites, then just as quickly dump them in favour of new friends. Its tools vary randomly from overwhelming force to plaintive exhortation, with no clear or consistent rationale.

The key observation is that, with the exception of slavish obedience to the whims of the Netanyahu government, the US has switched sides on almost every conflict in the Middle East in the space of a couple of years.

My policy recommendation to the US is

an announcement that, from now on, the people of the Middle East would be left to sort out their problems for themselves. In particular, it would be useful to state that the United States has no strategic concern with Middle Eastern oil, and that energy policy is a matter for individual countries to determine according to their own priorities.

Inside Story doesn’t appear to take comments so read there (lots of other interesting stuff) and comment here.

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  1. Nicholas
    October 7th, 2014 at 19:08 | #1

    I like the conclusion: “the United States has no strategic concern with Middle Eastern Oil; energy policy is a matter for individual countries to determin according to their own priorities.” May this one day be known as the Warren Doctrine.

    Jerryrigging a constitution with a centralized state, hand picking a few leaders the US thought would work out (such as Nouri al-Maliki), and focusing almost all of the resources and attention on military responses to the civil war which followed was not the right approach. It failed utterly. The civil war was a reaction to the problems of top-down decision-making and badly designed political institutions.

    Instead of presupposing what the political arrangements were going to be, the United States should have worked with communities to find many thousands of people with interest and aptitude for non-violent community work. Those people could have been funded to study non-violence. It would have been a long-term, intensive process. Several months of training to begin with, followed by months of community work, followed by periodic training events to share learnings and seek guidance on specific points. Those local activists would have facilitated activities in their communities to build trust and address shared problems. Infrastructure, sanitation, schools, clinics, housing – the decisions about what needed to be done should have been made in a participatory way. This would have made the decisions relevant and legitimate. It would have enabled people of different ethnic and sectarian groups to build trust and respect for each other by working together on shared concerns. After several years the participatory action groups could have federated into larger structures covering regions, and larger scale issues could have been decided on that basis: constitutions, borders, tax systems.

    People who are interested in that kind of work exist in Iraq. But they were ignored. The United States preferred, for its own convenience, to deal with a small number of elites.

    Did handpicking Nouri al-Maliki to run a diverse nation work out? No. He was terrible. He never would have emerged as leader under a participatory process in which people decided whether they wanted a single centralized state, how to deal with sectarian divisions, how to prevent discrimination and abuses of power.

    Will the current military intervention be followed by support for community-led political development? No. It’s being done to defend the existing flimsy political structures. Centralized state, handpick a few elite players and work with them. It will fail again. Civil war will continue.

    There’s no point in supporting military intervention unless it is coupled with commitment to a good plan for conflict transformation.

  2. October 7th, 2014 at 19:44 | #2

    Pr Q said:

    When a militarily powerful country tries to govern the affairs of millions of people on the other side of the planet, we shouldn’t be surprised that chaos results …

    Oh I dont know, the long-range imperial chaos principle did not seem to apply to the British Raj which seemed to have some success in ruling India in an absent minded way for a couple of centuries.

    The US is a republic with imperial powers which makes it constitutionally unable to do what is necessary to properly subjugate another people. Simply recruiting client states will not do the trick, the natives must be mastered.

    Never get off the boat. But if you do, then go all the way, like Kurz.

  3. Ikonoclast
    October 7th, 2014 at 20:11 | #3

    It is all eminently sensible advice. Of course, the US will pay not the slightest attention to anyone suggesting that it rein in its strategic overreach. Since neither humanitarian concerns nor long term strategic self-interest will convince the US to rein in strategic overreach, we have to ask what will do the trick? Inability to maintain the stance will be the deciding factor. When the US can no longer afford the charade of attempting to impose its will in the Middle East, then the US will retreat from Middle Eastern interference. When that time comes, the retrenchment will be glossed over with all sorts of ridiculous lies. The “mission is achieved”, “it’s time for the peace dividend” and so on.

    The Soviet empire collapsed when the Russian economy could no longer afford the crippling costs of empire. When the suppressive apparatus comes to to cost more than the loot being extracted then empire becomes a negative game. The U.S. empire is already following this path.

  4. October 7th, 2014 at 22:21 | #4

    I agree with Jack: don’t get off the boat, or go the full Kurz. Not sure if I agree about whether the old colonialists would have done a better job, but I suspect they might have seen ISIS coming.

    What I want to know is how it is that the spy agencies of several countries were listening on everything we say and do “for our own good” but they still didn’t see ISIS coming, don’t know who the black dude is in the Flames of War video (he has a pronounced accent – they can narrow him down to an American city but they still don’t know who he is!) and couldn’t find either the kidnapped Britons or identify their captor.

    If I was Obama, I’d line these intelligence dudes up in my office and tell them: you have an hour to explain this failure, or you’re being sacked on national TV.

    Dickheads.

  5. Ivor
    October 7th, 2014 at 22:41 | #5

    Huh?

    … the people of the Middle East would be left to sort out their problems for themselves.

    I am not sure that leaving the Middle East to sort out their own problems is sensible. I would advise setting up an UN Commission agreeable to the General Assembly (not the Security Council) to:

    1) sort out borders in Palestine and to recognise legitimate ethnic zones elsewhere in the Middle East;

    2) to provide military support for such new agreed borders and

    3) to impose sanctions against states supplying funds or arms for renegade tribal or religious sectarian warlords.

  6. Ivor
    October 7th, 2014 at 22:46 | #6

    @Ikonoclast

    The Soviet empire collapsed when the Russian economy could no longer afford the crippling costs of empire.

    Just so wrong that this should be retracted.

    It would take too much diversion in this thread to sort out this fallacy.

  7. ChrisH
    October 8th, 2014 at 02:38 | #7

    I can’t leave alone the ‘go all the way, like Kurtz’. Kurtz, and the real Congo villains like him, was part of a program of vicious oppression and pillage.
    King Leopold through his Kurtzes killed somewhat more than half the people in the Congo – one of the great mass killings, certainly more than ten million killed, maybe closer to fourteen million – to amass a huge personal fortune first from ivory and then from natural rubber. To do it, people were decapitated; they were murdered by many means; they were mutilated; their families were held hostage for them to abandon farming for collection for the organised thieves; and large numbers were enslaved and worked to death (as porters and the like). Many others starved because of pillage of local resources instead of farming or development.
    Leopold’s cover was the pretence of humanity and of advancing civilisation – but that was entirely sham. When detected, the result was the Belgian takeover from Leopold and some amelioration.
    Kurtz was not, in Conrad (Heart of Darkness) or in real life, going ‘all the way’ to do what was needed to sort out local divisions or to become the ruler.
    Kurtz was engaged in plunder. If that’s going all the way, it’s not somewhere anyone with a shred of humanity even as a would be ruler ever wants to go.

  8. Ikonoclast
    October 8th, 2014 at 06:37 | #8

    @Ivor

    I will not retract what I consider to be a correct statement. There is a sandpit where you can criticise my statement. I am not one of the one-eyed left who criticise the US empire and then pretend Russia and China are not oppressive empire builders in their own right.

  9. Fran Barlow
    October 8th, 2014 at 06:45 | #9

    @Ikonoclast

    The old USSR certainly was one that held distinct communities against their will as buffer states against the perceived threat from Germany. In that sense it can be called ‘an empire’ but unlike most empires, there’s no evidence to suggest that the citizens of Russia did better on the whole that those of Comecon. Bulgarians and Hungarians and Czechs probably lived on the whole better than Russians.

  10. Fran Barlow
    October 8th, 2014 at 06:47 | #10

    Oops … than those of Comecon.

  11. Ikonoclast
    October 8th, 2014 at 06:51 | #11

    @Jack Strocchi

    The British East India Company and the British Raj caused plenty of chaos and death in India.

    “In 1780, the conservative British politician Edmund Burke raised the issue of India’s position: he vehemently attacked the East India Company, claiming that Warren Hastings and other top officials had ruined the Indian economy and society. Indian historian Rajat Kanta Ray (1998) continues this line of attack, saying the new economy brought by the British in the 18th century was a form of “plunder” and a catastrophe for the traditional economy of Mughal India.[15] Ray accuses the British of depleting the food and money stocks and of imposing high taxes that helped cause the terrible Bengal famine of 1770, which killed a third of the people of Bengal.[16]” – Wikipedia.

    Under British East India quasi-rule there was;

    Bengal famine of 1770 (1769–1773)
    Rohilla War (1773–1774)
    First Anglo-Maratha War (1777–1783)
    Chalisa famine (1783–84)
    Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780–1784)
    Cornwallis Code (1793)
    Permanent Settlement
    Cochin become semi-protected States under British (1791)
    Third Anglo-Mysore War (1789–1792)
    Doji bara famine (1791–92)
    First Pazhassi Revolt in Malabar(1793–1797)
    Nizam of Hyderabad becomes first State to sign Subsidiary alliance introduced by Wellesley (1798).
    Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1798–1799)
    Second Pazhassi Revolt in Malabar(1800–1805)
    Nawab of Oudh cedes Gorakhpur and Rohilkhand divisions; Allahabad, Fatehpur, Cawnpore, Etawah, Mainpuri, Etah districts; part of Mirzapur; and terai of Kumaun (Ceded Provinces, 1801)
    Treaty of Bassein signed by Peshwa Baji Rao II accepting Subsidiary Alliance
    Battle of Delhi (1803).
    Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803–1805)
    Remainder of Doab, Delhi and Agra division, parts of Bundelkhand annexed from Maratha Empire (1805).
    Ceded and Conquered Provinces established (1805)
    Vellore Mutiny (10 July 1806)
    Anglo-Nepal War of 1814
    Annexation of Kumaon, Garhwal, and east Sikkim.
    Cis-Sutlej states (1815).
    Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817–1818)
    States of Rajputana accept British suzerainty (1817).
    Cutch accepts British suzerainty (1818).
    Gaikwads of Baroda accept British suzerainty (1819).
    irst Anglo–Burmese War (1823–1826)
    Annexation of Assam, Manipur, Arakan, and Tenasserim from Burma
    Bengal Sati Regulation, 1829
    Thuggee and Dacoity Suppression Acts, 1836–1848
    Mysore State goes under British administration (1831–1881)
    Bahawalpur accepts British Suzerainty (1833)
    Coorg annexed (1834).
    North-Western Provinces established (1836)
    Agra famine of 1837–38
    Aden is captured by Company (1839)
    First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–1842)
    Massacre of Elphinstone’s army (1842).
    First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–1842)
    Annexation of Sindh (1843)
    Indian Slavery Act, 1843
    First Anglo-Sikh War (1845–1846)
    Sikhs cede Jullundur Doab, Hazara, and Kashmir to the British under Treaty of Lahore (1846)
    Sale of Kashmir to Gulab Singh of Jammu under Treaty of Amritsar (1846).
    Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848–1849)
    Annexation of Punjab and North-West Frontier Province (1849–1856)
    Construction begins on Indian Railways (1850)
    Caste Disabilities Removal Act, 1850
    First telegraph line laid in India (1851)
    Second Anglo-Burmese War (1852–1853)
    Annexation of Lower Burma
    Ganges Canal opened (1854)
    Annexation of Satara (1848), Jaipur and Sambalpur (1849), Nagpur and Jhansi (1854) under Doctrine of Lapse.
    Annexation of Berar (1853) and Awadh (1856).
    Postage Stamps for India were introduced. (1854).
    Public Telegram services starts operation (1855).
    Hindu Widows Remarriage Act (25 July 1856)
    First Indian universities founded (January–September 1857)
    Indian Rebellion of 1857 (10 May 1857 – 20 June 1858) largely in North-Western Provinces and Oudh
    Liquidation of the English East India Company under Government of India Act 1858.

  12. Ikonoclast
    October 8th, 2014 at 06:57 | #12

    There’s plenty of evidence that the British Raj was the ISIL of its day.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/aug/24/india.randeepramesh

  13. Ikonoclast
    October 8th, 2014 at 07:00 | #13

    @Fran Barlow

    I will take my reply to the sandpit.

  14. Paul Norton
    October 8th, 2014 at 07:49 | #14

    The British handling of Palestine can be compared to that of an unethical motel owner who books the same room on a pre-paid basis to two different travellers, takes payment from both of them, then when both turn up to the motel claiming the same room does a bunk and hides upstairs at the local pub rather than trying to manage a decent settlement of the argument between the two travellers, and without refunding either of them.

  15. Paul Norton
    October 8th, 2014 at 08:00 | #15

    On the general argument raised in the OP, I agree with JQ. The dilemma for someone like me is that I can conceive of actions that could be taken to support, for example, the Kurds of Cobane against ISIL, but the actual decisions about what will be done will be made by politicians with one eye on how those decisions will play out with voters who think that Kurd Cobane is a dead rock star.

  16. Paul Norton
    October 8th, 2014 at 08:13 | #16

    Further to my comment @16, the error of decent people such as Nick Cohen, Bruce Hartnett, the late Pamela Bone, etc., who supported Gulf War II was to think that Bush, Blair and Howard would be running the Cohen/Hartnett/Bone agenda rather than the Cohens, Hartnetts, Bones, etc., unwittingly providing a left-liberal cover for the Bush/Blair/Howard agenda.

  17. Michael
    October 8th, 2014 at 08:23 | #17

    faustusnotes :
    What I want to know is how it is that the spy agencies of several countries were listening on everything we say and do “for our own good” but they still didn’t see ISIS coming

    The answer is that they are incompetent. The main qualification for work in this area is loyalty and a shared paranoid worldview. Repeated failure is not punished or investigated – that much is clear in Iraq – and showing fresh insight that challenges the already drawn up plans would probably get you marginalised or fired. It’s just one massive unaccountable boondoggle at the tax-payers expense.

  18. Paul Norton
    October 8th, 2014 at 08:26 | #18

    Further to Fran @9, people I know who visited the former East Germany before 1989, and who had no illusions about the political character of the regime, assure me that the people’s core material needs were quite well looked after in a way that Australians would find boring, but not insufficient. The people of Poland, however, were constantly short of the basics of everything.

  19. Paul Norton
  20. Paul Norton
    October 8th, 2014 at 09:06 | #20

    Michael @17, it’s one of the paradoxes of intelligence work that the best people to be intelligence agents are people that are capable of an imaginative sympathy with the people they’re spying on and their supporters, and of understanding why reasonable people might have a grievance with the government on whose behalf the spying is being done. It’s no accident that the KGB was the main institutional driver of reform in the former USSR, and that former Mossad chiefs are all supporters of a two-state settlement with the Palestinians.

  21. TremdousHarm
    October 8th, 2014 at 09:11 | #21

    @Paul Norton

    That War Tard guy calls it like it is every time.

    Air strikes are not going to work against ISIS.

    The thing that bothers me is what do you do in the face of a threat to your way of life?

  22. Donald Oats
    October 8th, 2014 at 10:45 | #22

    We supposedly trained the Iraq army to be good enough to defend themselves. They cut and ran. So, our assessment of what a good job we had done training them was patently wrong. Or did all that training evaporate in the heat of the Iraq sun?

    We didn’t see ISIL coming until it came. So, all that wholesale hoovering up of internet traffic on US and Australian citizens has helped us how?

    Now we think we know better: just one more war, and we can fix it all up, put Humpty back together again. Alas, that assumes there was an intact Humpty in the first place. The Middle East has been a place of very fluid allegiances for centuries, so what are we going to achieve by participating in bombing and burning and ground engagement?

    The crazy thing is, I think we can only “win” this war in one of two ways: strategy (1-a) is to be crazy-brave, it is to nuke the entire of Iraq and Syria, leaving only empty ground, winning briefly—until we are nuked in turn by some other crazy country; (1-b) is to go in with a big enough ground force to cut off supply, to occupy valuable grounded assets, to sweep through cities seeking and killing all militants, until there are no militants left—most probably alienating an entire region, thanks to the huge collateral damage; or (2), pack up, go home, and leave ISIL to themselves—wait it out until the dust has settled, in other words. With strategy (2), either ISIL turn out to be capable of running a new country, in which case its neighbours will keep it in check; or, they fail to run the new country, and the turmoil surges anew, in which case we have lost nothing by waiting. Strategy (1-b) is no longer viable, because the air-strikes and long lead time have given ISIL operatives plenty of time to melt into the cities and towns they occupy; how on Earth can we really tell who is an ISIL radical, and who is merely too scared not to help ISIL when commanded to?

    Frankly, the more I think about this war, the more morally depraved it looks. Depressingly, Aussies seem hardly bothered by yet another war in our name; perhaps if conscription was brought in, we would all sit up and take notice, but short of that I see little concern among Australians at the harm we inflict upon those we are “saving”.

  23. nawagadj
    October 8th, 2014 at 16:35 | #23

    Any chance that the supporters of these various wars and intrigues in the ME, might acknowledge that their routine undermining of /opposition to/disinterest in, recent democratic initiatives in the Muslim world (eg Palestinians and Hamas, Egypt and the MB) have strengthened ISIL?

  24. October 8th, 2014 at 16:56 | #24

    (Posting at both sites.)

    … the CIA coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected nationalist Iranian prime minister …

    No, he wasn’t a “democratically elected nationalist Iranian prime minister” when he was overthrown, though he previously had been before he himself overthrew Iranian democracy with a coup of his own. That assertion is perpetuating one of those “print the legend” things that has crowded out more precise details. Those are no more creditable for either the U.K. or the U.S.A., but they are muddier:-

    Before Mossadegh’s violent overthrow, he had already done a Napoleon III type coup of his own and started ruling as a dictator, locking up opponents or worse in the usual manner, so the U.S.A. was actually overthrowing a dictator and not a democratically-elected social-democratic regime (he manufactured plebiscites to give an appearance of legitimacy like Napoleon III too, and just as spuriously). Mossadegh had launched his coup when his parliamentary coalition fell apart and he was constitutionally dismissed by the Shah, acting as a constitutional monarch under the Constitution of 1906 (from memory), only instead of going to new elections (as he had on an earlier occasion) Mossadegh threw over his constraints completely. But

    – … the U.S.A. had been behind some of the erosion of Mossadegh’s parliamentary coalition in the first place, through bribery. But

    – … not only was bribery culturally acceptable and par for the course, some of the coalition had switched for genuinely patriotic reasons, fearing that international isolation and sanctions would hurt Iran (which they did). Also

    – … the U.K. wasn’t behind that latter part, and really only provided background intelligence. The thing is, Britain was geared up for replacing the Shah (as it had done to his father, when he proved risky during the Second World War), not reinstating him, and so had a pretender from the previous Qajar dynasty waiting in the wings. Yes, I know that’s like an alibi for murder being an armed robbery on the other side of town, but still. Also

    – … the U.K. didn’t get any good out of the exercise anyway; it wanted to get back the oil resources that Iran had seized, and sure enough Iran gave (most of) them up after Mossadegh’s overthrow – but the U.S.A. actually got them, not the U.K., which shows that the U.K. wasn’t a major player at that point. Also

    – … Iran was actually morally in the wrong on that oil nationalisation without compensation, in a number of respects: the entire oil exploration had been entirely at the cost and risk of British Empire entrepreneurs (William Knox D’Arcy et al et seq, who had nearly gone broke doing it, and had needed refinancing); the Iranian government and people had provided no unpaid inputs at all but had only undertaken not to interfere; by the standards of the time (early 20th century) the then Shah had been well compensated for his non-interference with both cash and a proportion of shares; unlike the analogous holdings in the Suez Canal Company by the Khedive of Egypt, the Iranian holdings had not been eroded (not that that justified that seizure either, since neither fraud nor force was involved in that erosion, though the Egyptian people had just grounds to seek compensation from their deposed king for the forced labour his ancestor had made their ancestors do to build the canal); and the Iranian interest in the oil fields was due for arms length renegotiation a few years later anyway, so Mossadegh had a contractual alternative open to him anyway if he were acting in Iran’s interests rather than his own short term political interests.

    So you can blame the U.S.A. and the U.K. for destabilising Mossadegh while he was still legitimate (in a way that matched what some accused the C.I.A. of doing to Gough Whitlam in Australia in the 1970s), even though at that stage they were acting within accepted norms and to recover unjustly seized property. You can blame Mossadegh for seizing the British-owned oil resources, probably under the faulty impression that they had been unjustly taken from Iran since so little direct benefit was then reaching Iran (as opposed to the scheduled deferred benefit), and so blindly destroying all basis for national stability (a fool, not a knave). You can blame Mossadegh for destroying Iranian democracy, albeit with some, but not sufficient provocation (a knave, not a fool). You can’t blame the U.K. for what happened later, because it neither gained from it nor had the facilities to do it. You can’t really blame the U.S.A. for how it eventually overthrew Mossadegh as such, but you can (and should) blame it for not doing a Glorious Revolution that restored constitutional monarchy but instead making the restored Shah into a dictator who started where Mossadegh left off, i.e. not measurably improving or harming the polity, instead leaving it on the same deteriorating path – quite the opposite to earlier rounds of western pressure, that had led in the first place to the Constitution of 1906 and in the second place to the cutting down to size and bringing within constitutional bounds of the first Pahlavi (who had taken over as a dictator and overthrown the previous dynasty after the First World War, using his power base in the formerly puppet Persian Cossacks once he was no longer under the Czarist thumb – Hasan Arfa’s Under Five Shahs is a good if biassed contemporary source).

  25. Ivor
    October 8th, 2014 at 18:14 | #25

    Paul Norton

    people I know who visited the former East Germany before 1989, and who had no illusions about the political character of the regime, assure me that the people’s core material needs were quite well looked after in a way that Australians would find boring, but not insufficient. The people of Poland, however, were constantly short of the basics of everything.

    The difference was largely due to demands by the IMF (late 70’s to 1980?) for conditions on their loans. They demanded that resources be taken away from consumer items and put into capital and infrastructure.

  26. jungney
    October 8th, 2014 at 21:25 | #26

    @ChrisH
    I’m pleased you wrote what you did. The idea of “don’t get off the boat unless you are prepared to go the full Kurtz” really turned my guts. Genocide is a big subject, which I used to teach. It is one of the grand counter narratives of enlightenment, modernity and instrumental rationality, all gone wrong. The Belgian genocide, as you would know, in the Congo was … in Casement’s terms, and in Konrad’s terms, unimaginable and almost…almost…beyond language. Casement went to South America, on assignment, to investigate the genocide there, and reported the horror, in objective terms, of the fate of the Putamayo people.

    Years later a real gone Oz academic went to the homelands of the Putamayo and, on re-reading Konrad on the Congo, concluded that his literary retelling of what he witnessed there was so hyper-real that it was hallucinatory; he decided that Konrad’s description of what he witnessed in the Kongo, which he described as beyond words, was the only reasonable way to describe what he saw and found in South America.

    The Oz academic has enjoyed a good career in NY, of course, partly because so many of his colleagues are frightened to ride a lift with him because he still imbibes the hallucinogenic drugs that he took in his field studies days in SA.

    All of which yarn is not meant to detract from the profoundly genocidal impulse of the Europeans and the Nordic/Celtic culture. The future, should it turn out to be utopian rather than dystopian, will involve eugenics designed to cull the anti-social, the genocidal, the personality disordered and any other bio set that militates against common survival.

    On that happy note, cheers to you for speaking up against the idea of genocide because the idea has a practice and the reality is … beyond words.

  27. October 8th, 2014 at 21:46 | #27

    jungney :
    … The Belgian genocide, as you would know, in the Congo was … in Casement’s terms, and in Konrad’s terms, unimaginable and almost…almost…beyond language…

    That is another widespread misunderstanding. There was no “Belgian genocide” in the Congo. There was a genocide perpetrated in the Congo Free State by the King of the Belgians (who happened to be German, like much royalty of the day) with the aid of minions drawn from many countries (there was at least one Canadian, and there were quite a few Germans) – but no involvement by Belgium at all, apart from individual minions. The Belgians put a stop to all that once the story emerged, by nationalising the king’s personal colony. They should not be blamed for the genocide; that is guilt by association.

  28. Ikonoclast
    October 8th, 2014 at 22:35 | #28

    Interesting snippets from Freepressers: –

    “Responding to questions following a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School on Oct. 2, 2014, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden inadvertently noted that “our biggest problem is our allies”, and implicated Turkey as a major supporter of “ISIL”. He went on: “The Turks, who are great friends — I have a great relationship with Erdogan, whom I spend a lot of time with — the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war.”

    “They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra, and Al Qaida, and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” Biden did not mention the extensive role of the U.S. intelligence community in training, arming, and supporting many members of the 30,000-or-so strong foreign fighter force in Syria.

    Turkish President Erdogan demanded, and received, an apology from Biden, as did the government of the United Arab Emirates. The statement and the apology merely served to further alienate the U.S. political community from Turkey. The U.S. journal, Foreign Policy, noted on its website on Oct. 6.: “Joe Biden Is the Only Honest Man in Washington. The Vice President’s apologies to Turkey and the UAE show the dangers of accidentally telling the truth.”

  29. October 9th, 2014 at 02:42 | #29

    @Ivor
    The notion that the capitalist tool IMF was allowed into Poland in the 1970s, let alone made large conditional loans,is weird. Source please.

  30. Ivor
    October 9th, 2014 at 07:16 | #30

    @James Wimberley

    yes – 70’s is too early.

    Source as I recall was Fortune magazine.

  31. Ikonoclast
    October 9th, 2014 at 09:31 | #31

    Turkey continues to sit on the sidelines:

    http://www.newsweek.com/isis-take-kobane-natos-second-largest-army-sits-sidelines-275798

    Clearly, Turkey is not interested in assisting these Kurds or any Kurds. After all, they continue to deny autonomy and genuine equality to their own Kurds. According to some estimates, Kurds compose 15% to 25% of the population in Turkey. In “Turkish Kurdistan” (roughly the south-east of Turkey) Kurds form about 60% of the population.

    The push for a new country, Kurdistan, might manifest itself in the middle term future as Kurds also form majorities in parts of north-east Syria, northern Iraq and even mountainous border regions of north-west Iran. The Kurds are sometimes called the largest nation on earth lacking any form of self-determination. Of course, this statement calls into question what definition is used for the term “nation”. There are estimated to be about 30 million to 50 million Kurds.

    I make these statements not to support Kurdish nationalism necessarily but simply to point out, by example, that the Middle East has enormous problems with its current national borders. This is not a novel point of course. Much of the strife in the Middle East is of regional sectarian and nationalist origin. The West is adding another major layer of strife and chaos to this.

    The best the West can do is get out as J.Q. has said. After that there would continue to be enormous local strife and perhaps major regional wars until and if the many problems were sorted out. The West will eventually disengage from the Middle East. That is a given. The costs of strategic overreach mean we cannot afford to be there. The decline in the importance of M.E. oil and the decline in the importance of oil per se to the world economy will also propel this disengagement. It would be better to get ahead of the curve and disengage early rather than late.

    The M.E. is much more likely to sort out its regional strife and do it with far fewer deaths without Western intervention. The West is much more likely to reinvigorate itself economically and to find and develop renewable energy sources without throwing money, men, women and materiel into the black hole and hellhole the West has played a major role in turning the M.E. into. It is time, indeed it is past time to disengage completely from the Middle East. Realpolitiks would require the West to make one caveat. It would need to continue to guarantee the existence and defence of Israel but on the condition that the Palestinians get a homeland and become a recognised nation with recognised territory. How the latter could be realised I have no idea.

  32. Jim Birch
    October 9th, 2014 at 11:26 | #32

    Congratulations on making it onto The Browser

    http://thebrowser.com/?page=1

    Bt association, both well written and thoughtful.

  33. jungney
    October 9th, 2014 at 12:05 | #33

    @P.M.Lawrence
    I don’t accept that the people of Belgium received no benefit from Leopold’s ravaging of the Congo. He used his wealth for both private and public purposes. You would know that the Belgian parliament agreed to take the Congo from Leopold only after considerable European political pressure, especially British. Moreover, the administrative personnel after the change of ownership remained the same so that Belgium did then reap the benefits of Congo wealth partly because the same people who had terrorized the Congolese stayed on. The worst of the excesses stopped but the Congo under Belgian rule wasn’t exactly as state of enlightenment.

  34. October 9th, 2014 at 14:23 | #34

    jungney :
    @P.M.Lawrence
    I don’t accept that the people of Belgium received no benefit from Leopold’s ravaging of the Congo. He used his wealth for both private and public purposes. You would know that the Belgian parliament agreed to take the Congo from Leopold only after considerable European political pressure, especially British. Moreover, the administrative personnel after the change of ownership remained the same so that Belgium did then reap the benefits of Congo wealth partly because the same people who had terrorized the Congolese stayed on. The worst of the excesses stopped but the Congo under Belgian rule wasn’t exactly as state of enlightenment.

    Beep. Bait and switch. Even if we stipulate all that for the sake of argument (I will show where even that is wrong further down), we still have:-

    – “I don’t accept that the people of Belgium received no benefit from Leopold’s ravaging of the Congo” is not the same as “Belgian genocide”; the Belgians weren’t doing that. You could just as easily make that same guilt by association argument to make out that it was a British genocide, since the story first broke when a British shipping clerk spotted suspicious arms shipments from Britain – which meant benefits were going to Britain. Or you can say that it was U.S. genocide, because the U.S.A. was the first power to recognise the Congo Free State.

    – “He used his wealth for both private and public purposes. You would know that the Belgian parliament agreed to take the Congo from Leopold only after considerable European political pressure, especially British” is not the same as “Belgian genocide”; the Belgians weren’t doing that. Even if they were pressured into stopping it, the fact remains that they did stop it. Even if they hadn’t stopped it, they still were never doing it.

    – “Moreover, the administrative personnel after the change of ownership remained the same so that Belgium did then reap the benefits of Congo wealth partly because the same people who had terrorized the Congolese stayed on” is not the same as “Belgian genocide”; the Belgians weren’t doing that. Even if those people stayed on (only some did, and many others came), the fact remains that what happened then, under the Belgians, was not genocide.

    – “The worst of the excesses stopped but the Congo under Belgian rule wasn’t exactly as [sic] state of enlightenment” is not the same as “Belgian genocide”; the Belgians weren’t doing that.

    A Belgian genocide would be one done by Belgians as a whole, or by others answerable to Belgians as a whole. This genocide was neither of those.

    But the assertion itself is defective. We now know that colonies throw burdens on central machinery, with little flow on benefit apart from special cases (remember Macaulay’s comment that Indian wealth only served to drive up the price of both rotten eggs and rotten boroughs); they may be necessary to stop other, hostile powers getting strategic leverage and resources, but that is preventing a negative, not conferring a positive. Leopold’s public spending was mainly to build up his machinery in the Congo Free State, and none of it within Belgium can be categorised as anything but private. After the colony was taken over, a formal administrative structure was put in place. And, of course, even if “Belgian rule wasn’t exactly as [sic] state of enlightenment” by modern standards, that’s projecting today’s values on to the past; the fact remains that it was up there on a par with that of the French and above those of the Portuguese, Spanish and Germans, and only a little below that of the British (who were preferred by Liberian tribes that wanted to be brought under Sierra Leone rather than stay under the independent rule of elites) – and that’s only considering Africa. Don’t forget that colonialism was then conceived as protective in nature, prior to facilitating local development, and even the Congo Free State stopped slaving for self interested reasons; most colonialism stopped many such negatives (read up about the Grand Custom of Dahomey – large scale human sacrifice).

  35. J-D
    October 10th, 2014 at 17:23 | #35

    @Ikonoclast

    The 1920 Treaty of Sevres between Turkey and the Allies provided for the establishment of an autonomous Kurdistan, with the right to claim independence. But the treaty did not come into force because of the overthrow of the Ottoman government by the Turkish nationalists. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne which superseded it did not contain similar provisions.

  36. ChrisH
    October 10th, 2014 at 23:50 | #36

    The Congo Free State (free from freedom, but not from King Leopold) did not stop slaving. On the contrary: it conducted slaving on a huge scale, for its own purposes. It did, as part of King Leopold’s artistic management of public opinion, purport to stop slaving.

    I don’t want to enter the barney about the post-Leopold Belgian colonial period. Anyone interested can enquire.

    But asserting that Leopold stopped slaving requires a pretty strange version of slaving – perhaps limiting the meaning to ‘selling of slaves out of the Congo’: and even that wouldn’t be true, though Leopold’s use of enslavement was indeed very largely for the purposes of his pillaging of the Congo and so not for sale beyond his controls.

    If people are bound to forced labour, and bought and sold for the purpose, I call it slavery. Do you?

  37. October 11th, 2014 at 19:56 | #37

    I do agree that the middle eastern countries are going to have to sort this thing out for themselves.

    Some very curious alliances will be formed in the coming months, including with Israel.

  38. jungney
    October 11th, 2014 at 20:19 | #38

    @P.M.Lawrence
    Dear effing chreeist, is your family background Belgian? What is your issue with defending the Belgians? Do you imagine that King Leopold’s mercenaries didn’t involve Belgians? Of course they did; and of course the Belgians received benefit from King Leopold’s depredations.

    What you are arguing is that the people at the centre of colonialism didn’t receive any benefit from exploitation of the periphery. It’s like saying is tantamount to saying that the British working classes didn’t benefit from the exploitation of India. The working classes of the industrialized world have benefited immensely from colonial exploitation, and they still do, from cheap food, for example, flown into the UK from Africa, food produced in slave conditions.

    All of the immense public architecture of Belgium, hideous as it is, who do you think paid for that? The Congolese, mate, that’s who.

  39. October 16th, 2014 at 14:35 | #39

    Issues that should be decided at the 29 November Victorian State elections

    Victorian voters could on Saturday 29 November begin take back their state Parliament from the vested interests that are now running Victoria.

    If presented with open, informed discussion there is every reason to hope that a far larger proportion of Victorians than in previous years will vote for good independent or small party candidates and not for either of the two major parties.

    If you support these policies, and you know of a candidate in your electorate who also supports these polices, please consider offering to help him/her. Alternatively, if there is no candidate who supports these policies standing in your electorate or upper house region, the why not consider nominating yourself?

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