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

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.

39 thoughts on “Yesterday's enemies, today's allies … and tomorrow ?

  1. @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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.”

  4. 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.

  5. @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.

  6. 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).

  7. @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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

  10. @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.

  11. 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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