Now that ISIS in Iraq is apparently defeated, the country will begin to reorganize itself. Let’s hope it’s a peaceful process. At least it is starting with a vote on next Monday, September 25th – the Kurds in the north are voting on a referendum on independence.
Twelve years ago during a debate with then Congressman Christopher Cox (R) I suggested a plan for reorganizing the area which took into account cultural differences and ignored political boundaries. Too bad the Republicans in power ignored the idea at the time. My advice is still pertinent. Please see a version of the OPED I wrote at the time, published in the October 21, 2005 edition of the Orange County Register.
The primary lesson in international relations of the last fifty years is that culture trumps politics. When the British gave up control of India, the “nation” divided into three based on religion and languages. The Israelis recreated their own country. China took Tibet and the Koreas divided; but angst remains in both cases because political borders are defying cultural. Colonially designed sub-Sahara Africa continues to writhe in tribal (read cultural) conflicts. Parsed Vietnams and Germanys have been stitched back together. The Czechs and Slovaks have gotten a divorce. Even Canada periodically contemplates a divide. The Brits and the Portuguese returned Hong Kong and Macao, respectively. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia disintegrated. And, now we have colonially designed Iraq in its death throws.
Contrary to the Bush administration plan for a democratic state, what will evolve there whether we like it or not is three states – one Shiite in the south, one Kurdish in the north, and a Sunni state in the middle. Indeed, the civil war has already commenced there. The civil war there is also killing and wounding thousands of our young men and women and wrecking our economy here. Following is an exit strategy proposed that specifically takes into account culture as the defining element of organization on the planet. As national borders around the world fade with the new globalization, cultural borders take on new salience. Ignoring this simple fact of international, or better intercultural, relations will only continue the catastrophe in Iraq.
After World War I the British arbitrarily composed Iraq. The British held it intact until the Sunnis took over – the most recent incarnate was, of course, Saddam Hussein. For the Sunnis, control of the country (even using poison gas on the Kurds) has been important because they lack oil in the center. The main oil reserves are located in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north. So as the Sunnis are losing control of their “wealth” with the new constitution and they fight to defeat it yielding the current carnage.
Iraq should be at least temporarily divided into Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish regions, and should be administered by three different countries. After things calm down, if they wish, if there remains an Iraqi cultural pull, if economics drive cooperation, then it is easy to reunite peacefully. Of course, reunification by force ala Hussein and Kuwait, or China and Tibet, makes no sense. Instead, think the European Union or NAFTA, and peaceful integration.
The Japanese and the Norwegians should be immediately entreated to participate in the pacification and economic redevelopment in the Kurdish north and Shiite south, respectively. Both countries produce some of the best negotiators in the world and both know the petroleum business well enough to earn back their investments of personnel and capital. For example, the Norwegian brokered peace plan is finally being implemented in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
A separate Kurdish state will be seen as a threat to both Turkey and Iran with their own Kurdish minorities. Efficient borders, managed, organized, and financed initially by the Japanese, will let commerce flow and ease the urge to expand to a larger Kurdistan. By the way, the Japanese have a cultural advantage in negotiations with the Turks – both their languages have the same roots, Altaic ones. Finally, both the Norwegians and the Japanese owe us on the international relations tally sheet. You may remember the damage done our defenses by Toshiba and Kongsberg milling machines producing quieter propellers for Soviet subs during the 1980s. It’s time to call in that chit.
That leaves the Sunni Triangle to us and the tough job of pacification of the former ruling minority, now deprived of oil revenues. I propose that USAID help the people of Baghdad rebuild the city and the Sunni Triangle as the educational center of the Middle East. And the University of California system, not Halliburton, should be invited to help in a long-term, systematic way. Indeed, look around the world – oil revenues never guarantee wealth. The lesson of the 21st Century global economy is that education is the only truly precious product. Or, just take a look at the development of Irvine. The Irvine Company gave the land away to the UC Regents dramatically increasing the value of their surrounding land for commercial and residential development. Indeed, perhaps the Regents should have charged the Company for accepting the gift! But, the point is that education attracts civilization.
There’s a final interesting irony associated with the University of California helping out in Baghdad. Regular readers of these pages may recall an article of mine from 1998 (October 18) that describes the origin of the word “California.” Rather than the story about a mythical Princess Calafia, etc. told most recently by Kevin Starr in his tome on the history of the state, or by Whoopi Goldberg at Disney’s California Adventure, or in your kid’s current fourth grade text book, the name California actually appears first in the 11th Century French epic poem, the Song of Roland. Most Roland scholars agree that in the poem the meaning of the term Califerne is “the Caliph’s domain.” Cortez and his fellow Spanish explorers initially believed Mexico was India, and northwest of India was the Muslim Middle East of the time. So, perhaps blue-state Californians from the University of the “Caliph’s domain” will be especially welcome because of this strange cultural artifact based on the old Spaniards’ geographical mistake.
Implementation of this culturally nuanced plan would allow for troop withdrawals to commence almost immediately and to be completed by March 1, 2007, that is, four years after the invasion commenced.