Interfering in States

Killing the Leviathan  

Posted on 1-July-2014

     When in the days prior to the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the French along with the Russians and the Chinese refused to vote for a UN Security Council Resolution authorising that invasion, they invited great Anglo-Saxon ire upon themselves. Such was the hubris of the group nicknamed neocons that ran policy in Washington those days that they had become impervious to any warning about the consequences howsoever wise. Jacques Chirac had warned that the action Bush and Blair proposed would create many mini al qaedas. The disastrous consequences of ignoring all caution and going ahead with that invasion are still unfolding themselves. The person chosen by the Americans as their proconsul in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein set about destroying the entire state structure of the country in the name of de-Baathification. It is evident that the alternative state structure in Iraq created and promoted by the Anglo-Saxons has either not been able to or its leaders not been willing to win the adherence of all sections of Iraqi population. At least the Sunni Arabs of the country have by and large been a sulking minority. This is the most plausible explanation of the easy advance made by the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant--now calling themselves the Islamic Caliphate--in north-western Iraq. A country living in peace under one whom the very zealous Tony Blair described as an abhorrent dictator was destroyed by an invasion mounted on one false pretext after another. Iraq has known no peace since 2003 and more people have died or undergone great suffering since Bush senior's Iraq war than ever before. Iraq has proved to be another example of wanton American destructiveness on a scale comparable to the destruction of Vietnam between 1955 and 1975.

     Soon after the first mass protests against the government of Bashar el Assad of Syria in March 2011 the American Secretary of State and the American President started saying alternately that El Assad's days were numbered and that he must go. They were evidently echoing the sentiments of Syrian opponents of El Assad or encouraging them. Outside interference in Syria was not confined to exhortatory declarations. In the first round of fighting in the region of Deraa, neighbouring Arab states, notably Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were definitely involved. There are credible reports of the involvement of the CIA, of different arms of the British and the French governments and of Turkey. While Bashar el Assad has continued in power, the destruction of Syria has been great and entire communities uprooted. One progeny of the Syrian Civil War is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, previously the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. They hold a swathe of territory in Syria and have now moved into adjoining areas in Iraq. Their name almost suggests that they want to undo the Sykes-Picot agreement though obviously since that agreement is not part of folk memory in the region it cannot be the basis of a political rallying call. The Americans have offered conditional support to the Iraqi government while ironically Barack Obama also wants to arm the Free Syrian Army--whose aim is to topple El Assad--so as to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. When people descended on the streets in Syria in the spring of 2011, journalists and politicians, especially in the west, cheered saying here was the Arab Spring in another country. The Arab Spring was snuffed out of existence in Bahrein with Saudi help and American connivance. The Egyptian generals have muzzled it with quiet approval from Israel and the USA. But for some reason not explained, the Arab Spring of Syria must not be allowed to die. After all it is only Arabs who are killing each other.

     Anglo-French intervention in Lybia with American logistical support is even more inexplicable though the consequences for the people of Libya after the removal of Moaammar el Qaddhafi have been barely less disastrous than those for the people of Iraq and Syria. After its abandonment of all its nuclear capabilities, Libya seemed to be settling down to normal relations with the west. Around the time when Abdelbasset el Megrahi was released and and repatriated to Libya, there were negotiationsns, it was reported, for an oil concession for BP in Libya. Tony Blair was personally involved in lobbying Qaddhafi on behalf of BP. There have been reports that Qaddhafi had made secret monetary contributions to Nicholas Sarkozy's political treasure chest. There have been reports of cooperation between British intelligence and Libyan security services. Qaddhafi, in the years after his abjurement of nuclear activities had been received and feted not only at the EU headquarters but also in sundry European capitals. Whatever the reason for the intervention in Libya,--it certainly was not for rescuing the Libyan people from the clutches of a brutal dictator--the country is yet to settle down to a peaceful, orderly life. Ben Ghazi is a deeply troubled area and in case its Islamic militancy spills over into Egypt, the generals who rule Egypt will surely be tempted to intervene, causing yet more trouble.

     Revolutionary France found itself fighting other more conservative European powers because they considered the revolutionary vision dangerous. But that was open war. Foreign interventions in the internal affairs of other countries for regime change were not quite the order of the day in 19th century Europe. In the 20th century there was a difference. Some notable examples are: western military support for the White Army in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution; the US intervention in Vietnam to save Vietnam and by corollary southeast Asia from communism; the US interventions in Chile, Nicaragua, Cuba, Granada and latterly Serbia for the liberation of Kosovo. The Soviet Union had its own record of interventions for saving revolutions: Hungary, Czechoslovakia and, in 1979, Afghanistan. Since the beginning of this century a new doctrine--Responsibility to Protect--to justify interventions in the cause of protecting human rights or stopping genocide has been propounded. There are four difficulties with this doctrine: what is the threshold mark of violation of human rights? who decides when the threshold has been crossed? and who leads the intervention and who participates in it? The fourth difficulty is that foreign interventions nearly always aggravate situations they are intended to alleviate, causing yet more disruption and misery. Besides, in real life interventions in internal affairs of other countries are rarely made in support of the declared lofty principles put forward by the protagonists but serve other purposes which are clear at times to ordinary people and at others not immediately so clear. The main reason for the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq was oil as both Alan Greenspan and Paul Wolfowitz have separately and independently stated. It certainly was not weapons of mass destruction, nor the danger of Al Qaeda nor the desire to rid the world of a monstrous dictator--many monsters in western lexicon started life by being jolly good fellows.

     One of the worst outcomes of foreign interventions can be the destruction of states--Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq which nearly always produces years of disorder, misery and suffering. Liberals of all hues, defenders of human rights and individual liberties often fall into the trap of berating the institutions of the state while all they mean to criticise is the abuse of power by those who for a short period or for long years wield the power of the state. But in today's world the state is the only viable kind of human organisation capable of keeping order and for facilitating economic and social exchanges of all kinds. What Hobbes called the Leviathan is a creature that evolved in response to the needs of people at different levels of economic, social and technical development. Inevitably with the increase in the complexity of life and ever more remote and intermeshed economic exchanges the Leviathan had to spread its tentacles everywhere and become more powerful. Even the weakest modern state is more powerful and more ubiquitous than a strong European nation state of say the 18th century. A stateless society at the present stage of human social evolution is only a dream to be dreamt of by third class poets. Then those who bemoan the existence of this monster Leviathan ought to be reminded that they do so from the comfort and security guaranteed by the monster.

     Another attractive principle which can pose dangers for the state is the principle of self-determination of peoples. Woodrow Wilson never tired of talking about it. It is said that he spent hours over a map of Europe trying to determine state boundaries in post first World War Europe in which full respect would be paid to the principle of self determination. In his delightful little book, Pandemonium, Daniel Patrick Moynihan describes how as soon as Wilson proclaimed his adherence to the principle of self determination of peoples, his Secretary of State set about devising ways of limiting the practical application of the principle. The most formidable difficulty in the application of the principle is to decide when and at what scale to apply it. That it should be applied in the case of a colonised people seeking independence from a colonial power is something that can be agreed to readily by almost everyone in our days. But what about a group within a state which complains that it is being treated like a colony? There can be no logically defensible answer to this last question. If every group in a state were to demand its own right to secede, there would be very little cohesion left. The rule of thumb that seems acceptable across the world is that an established state would not allow itself to be fragmented by the application of the principle of self-determination within it. Thus the world watches in silence if Spain, Russia or China uses force against the Basque, the Chechens or the Uighur. Then the principle can be used to create problems for a rival power. The Bolsheviks embraced the principle of self determination of peoples against the Tsarist empire but went on to enfold the same peoples within the highly centralised Soviet state.

     The Leviathan is a necessity. Killing it will create only disorder and suffering. The world as it is constituted today is a forest populated by some two hundred Leviathans. Until such time as there evolves a super Leviathan to control all the Leviathans and lay down the law for them, the most desirable way forward should be to to respect the private sphere of all the Leviathans and for individual Leviathans to protect themselves from the dangers of decomposition. Responsibilty to Protect or unrestricted application of the principle of self-determination are both dangerous for the orderly existence of human kind. In any case the Leviathan is worthy of being  protected, even though it should be taught to respect limits on its power.        


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Also on this site:               Introduction to The Waste Sad Time             The Waste Sad Time






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