Beggar Thy Neighbor
The Moor Next Door warns of the dangers in stirring up ethnic grievances to advance foreign policy ends.
I find the stirring of minority ambitions, especially those which are revolutionary in nature, such as Kurdish ones are, in poor taste. One cannot put these back into a bottle. The linger and foment. This also undermines the argument made by the Americans that they are not being subversive when it comes to Iranian internal affairs (which has always been no more than a poorly masked lie). Already there are dozens of think-tanks in Washington trying to figure out how to overthrow the Iranian regime, which to me makes the Iranian complaint of the Americans trying to create a "velvet revolution" in Iran quite credible. If the Americans feel that an Iran "without the mullahs" (as is often said) would be less dangerous and less inclined to seek nuclear technology, they are mistaken. It has been the aim of every Iranian government since the Qajars to dominate the Middle East and the nuclear program has long been a part of that aim; and it is a popular objective.
All this Kurdish fuddleduddle seems to me to be at the same time dangerous and insincere. Dangerous because it damages the stability of our allies (i.e. Turkey) and other already unstable states (i.e. Syria). Insincere because the United States is not a revolutionary power; it is a status quo power and only half supports revolutionary movements, and generally tries to preserve regional boundaries. The Kurds will not find a Kurdistan in America. They will find themselves offered up as tools for destabilizing Iran and then abandoned (as they were against Iraq in the 1970's; and without remorse by the American Congress) to be locked up, butchered or worse. I call it fuddleduddle because I see no long term benefit to allowing the Kurds to let their friends blow themselves up in Turkish cities. The Kurdish region of Iraq is beneficial in the short term, but if it persists in being a launch pad for PKK attacks, I am forced to ask who is the more valuable ally, the Turks or the Kurds? In this respect, I see that the Iraqi Kurds express no concern for the national interests of their neighbors (even as those neighbors are the allies of their patrons), or of their supposed country men (the Arabs of Iraq to their south, for whom Kurds interviewed consistently express a mixture of contempt and indifference). What kind of ally can a Kurdistan really be?
These are fair enough questions, but ones everyone should be asking themselves. Syria is playing the Palestinian refugee game in Lebanon, the Sunni insurgency game in Iraq. Iran is playing Moqtada al-Sadr card in southern Iraq. None of this refutes the Moor Next Door's observation about the dangers of playing ethnic politics in a region as volatile as a powderkeg. But surely it is truthful to say that everyone is playing the same dangerous game.
The Moor Next Door rightly observes that, once having stirred things up "one cannot put these back into a bottle." That observation must apply not only to the traditional kind of ethnic proxy warfare being fought in the region by nation-states, but also to the movements like al-Qaeda headed by Osama Bin Laden. Motivating the Fort Dix Six to attack American targets through messages posted on the Internet or preached in secret are in some ways comparable to stirring up Kurds in Iran.
Whichever side of the political debate one is on, it may be possible to accept in common that the wave of covert, undeclared warfare now spreading is like the genie of his metaphor, liable to overwhelm its conjurors. What goes around, comes around. That observation doesn't solve anything, but it does make things clearer.
I remarked, half-facetiously some posts ago that Paul Bremer may in the end have been right in vetoing early US military proposals to organize the Anbar tribes. There are clearly great advantages to setting one faction against the other. But the obvious downside is that unless the process of pitting one group of gunmen against the other goes according to a plan the end result is a Balkanization of the country one is trying to build.
There are rumors Turkey has made an armed incursion into Kurdistan and the news is well covered by Pajamas Media. Iraq's neighbors do not seem to treat it as a state. The Syrians, Iranians and now the Turks feel free to cross its borders and attack it's nominally sovereign territory with impunity; to attack Kurdish guerilla bases, snatch British sailors or attack American troops according to preference.
Ironically, neither Iraqi, British nor American troops are on any account allowed to cross the border the other way. No sir. That would constitute a breach of international law. That frustration with the limitations of international law or rules of engagement limiting counterinsurgency inevitably tempt commanders to indulge instead in war by proxy. And there we are with ethnic instability again.
This creates a situation pregnant with danger. Turkey, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia are precisely the countries which diplomats hope will guarantee Iraq's internal peace and security once America withdraws. But in absence of an exteranal guarantor, the nonexistence of a de facto Iraqi state will mean every part of its carcass will be up for grabs. If news of the Turkish incursion are true, the buzzards are already taking their first tentative pecks.
Nor do Iraq's external guarantors provide much protection even now. Politicians in Syria and Iran can read the Western papers as well as anyone and know there is little political support for holding Damascus or Teheran to account. If Turkey has in fact raided across the border, the question is not why, but what took it so long. Whatever else the politics of the last two years has achieved, it has a sent a strong signal to both the Iraqi peoples and their neighbors that none of the structures, guarantees or assurances built since 2004 have any accepted credibility. That perception of weakness is a destabilizing factor in itself, and one for which no one will admit responsibility.