Syria, Iraq and Ukraine: Is Secession right?

Those who have followed this blog for a while will recall a number of posts on some of the issues involved in these countries. What is common to these countries is that all have armed uprisings to achieve either overthrow of the government, or secession. We might also note that many in Scotland want to secede, BUT they are going about it by having the Scots vote on it. Further, my guess is that if Scotland secedes, there will still be a substantial fraction of the Scots who do not wish to. If we think of Ukraine, the question of secession by the East may well be answered differently if only the east votes, or if all Ukraine votes. Majority have to win a vote, but the majority of whom? If there is an armed uprising, for the uprising to end, there has to be a good reason to lay down the arms. So to end the uprising, either concessions have to be made, or the rebels have to be removed from the field, either by arrest or by killing. Now, not everybody can get their way, so why do they want secession? Alternatively, why does Union work?

The most obvious example of where union works is the US. There we have fifty states, many of which would qualify as powerful countries, and they are held together by a Union. The United Kingdom almost works, but is apparently a little creaky at the seams. So what are the differences here? The most obvious one is history. Scotland and England spent many centuries warring. The parts of the UK still consider themselves separate countries within the Union, which makes it different from the US. One important aspect of the US is that the educational system imprints the importance of being United, and the citizens accept that. So, in my opinion, a United system works best when everyone speaks a common language and has no more than location to identify citizens as being different. Notwithstanding that, a Federal system works quite well when there are regions with different languages and different cultures, provided the Federation accepts the differences and shows pride in them. Thus Canada, although occasionally a little creaky, basically works well. In the US there are differences between states, and again these are accepted and praised. The Federal government makes a major effort to see that all states are treated more or less equally. Also, a fair application of fair law is required.

Now if we look at our troublesome regions, Ukraine is plagued by a section that uses a different language, and worse than that, the Western Ukraine has in the past seemed to want to suppress that language, and there is no reason to believe that attitude will change. Poroshenko has promised that suppression will stop, but the problem there is nobody believes him. That gets to the next obvious requirement for a Union: the various parts have to trust the whole to treat them according to agreed rules. Ukraine fails because law is not strongly founded there.

When we look at Syria and Iraq, the problem is reasonably clear: governments based on religion do not work when there is more than one religion. Governments must be secular. It is here that the West has failed these regions. Yes, Saddam and Bashir are not exactly examples of good governance; they have been brutal and of course they are/were anything but democratic. However, provided you obeyed the rules, you were generally safe there, and until the West started bombing Iraq the first time, Iraq was prosperous, secular, safe, and reasonably liberal. Now it is a feeding ground for Jihadis, who cannot wait to get revenge on the West. Now, the Shia government has decided to get revenge on past suppression, and it is actively discriminating against the Sunni minority, which is hardly desirable when that minority provided most of the military class previously. The US hardly helped either by effectively making the Kurdish part a separate entity.

The question now is, what should be done? My view is that everybody else should keep out. Yes, what is going to happen is not going to be pretty, and a lot more blood will be spilt, but this is largely due to outside intervention. There has been no sign of competence so far, other than in bombing, so why does anyone think there will be an improvement? The problem is, politicians visualize the ending they want; they do not seem capable of visualizing what they do not want.

Why should my comments count? I have no special experience that makes my opinion more important than yours, and my one and only experience that is relevant was being caught up in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, during which I talked to people from both sides. On the other hand, I have thought quite a bit about the issues in general because in the future history novels I write, I have “invented” various forms of governance to support the themes related to abuse of power. After all this thought, I do not know the answers, although I think I can guess what will not work. If you, the reader, feel you can contribute, please do.

Finally, remember the reduced prices on my Mars novels this solstice; see the previous post for details.


10 thoughts on “Syria, Iraq and Ukraine: Is Secession right?

  1. Interesting. Since you mention Czechoslovakia, it did break up into 2 countries, quite peacefully. Yugoslavia broke up into many countries, after an awful war featuring atrocities we currently see in the early stages in Ukraine. The USSR broke up too by the way.

    Several southern US states seceded from the US in 1861, and it took 4 years to fight that war, which was considered bitterest in US history. There is still lingering tension in some parts of the country. There was talk of it in Texas as well, but of course they started out their statehood by making war wit the US and Mexico at the same time, in a very confusing series of events also in the mid 19th century.

    Secession resulting from a vote of the people, is a HUGE improvement to the two traditional way in which borders of countries are formed — which is — #1: conquest, #2: treaties made to settle wars fought to a stalemate, or #3: imperial decree in the post-colonial situations.

    As to who should vote? Why should one even have to ask?

    Should questions Scottish statehood should be determined by a vote that includes the English? Well since England has 10x the population, the whatever the English want would be the end of it.

    So Let’s ask it in reverse: Should, questions of English statehood be determined by the Scots?

    Ridiculous right? But WHY is it ridiculous?

    It is ridiculous because the English are clearly more powerful. So it would be silly to ask the less powerful partner to make a decision, since everybody knows that the stronger make the decisions for the weak. That’s just the way it is.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Yes, of course there have been a number of mergers and separations in history, and yes, Czechoslovakia did break up, as did Yugoslavia, the first peacefully, the latter less so. Actually, I see Yugoslavia as the nearest equivalent to Ukraine, as the Serbs and Croats had historically been at each other’s throats, and of course there was that religious thing.

  2. Dear Ian, I have to say your analysis of the politics in Syria, Iraq is rather oversimplified. The problem is, that these countries, and you could add other failed countries like most of the Arab and African countries,since they were left after the decolonization to self rule, failed to created a functioning state, whose main aim is to improve the living condition of its citizens. Unfortunately in all these countries, and by the way also in most of the post communistic countries including the mentioned Czech and Slovak republic the only occupation of the political leadership is how to rob the country and enrich themselves. It seems to me that this kind of political behavior is caused by total loss of ideological intentionality, and also existence of masses, who still did not figure out how to control the acts of their leaders. By the way in Czech Republic few month ago the leading political party, that brought the corruption to unprecedented level, were almost completely wiped out from the political scenery. It seems the Czech citizens were the first to understand that in democracy they do have the power to punish the corrupt politician. Still it has to be seen if these corrupt politicians, who damaged the economy and the social fabric of the country, and almost succeeded to create skepticism among the people towards democracy, will be put on trial for their criminal deeds.

    But this happened in Czech republic, country in the very heart of Europe, with some democratic tradition, and well educated people.

    As contrary to it in the failed countries, (Arab, some Asian and African) there are relatively few educated people, and their education system is anachronistic, often based on memorization and not understanding, not to speak about exclusion of women from the education process due to cultural reason etc. This results alternative way of thinking of most of the population of these countries, not based on critical thinking and verification of evidences, but acceptance of traditional values and epical stories as dogmatic truth. And these epics are full of idealization of the Us, and hate and dehumanization and demonization of the others. And here you have the ideology of permission to kill. Add to it the growing population together with economic stagnation in these countries, concentration of the wealth in very few hands, mostly generated by unfair practices, like misusing political power and restricting competition etc.Then you have environmental catastrophes caused by general mismanagement of countries resources, and then not surprisingly you find that it is not just about political fragmentation, but more basic issues of economics, society, beliefs, ideologies etc.

    • Dear Eugene, of course my comments were oversimplified. What I am trying to do is to isolate some of the requirements for how governance should work. I do not claim to know the lot, and all I seem to be able to do in the novels I write is to illustrate the faults with whatever system I pick on. Your comments on the Czech republic highlight an additional requirement for governance to be for the benefit of the people: an absence of corruption, and that requires law enforcement above the government, and it requires a strong message from the citizens that corruption will not be tolerated, and it requires a mechanism (such as elections) that will remove a government that gets out of line. However, the topic of the post was limited to whether secession is desirable in these places. There are a number of corrupt governments around the world that seem to be stable. They do this by applying the corruption evenly! That is bad governance, but it does not necessarily lead to splits.

      Your last paragraph summarises fairly nicely what is wrong with the “democracy” concept that was imposed on those countries, which in turn were never countries prior to western intervention. Iraq was a particularly bad example, the boundaries being drawn with a ruler by some self-styled geographer after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. If the people refuse to analyse and vote for policies and instead vote for the religious/tribal/whatever head, that effectively is a vote for someone to pillage the treasury. Nevertheless, I dispute to some extent the idea that Iraq was always badly governed by Saddam. Yes, he was a dictator, and his war with Iran was disastrous, although I am far from convinced that there was not US “egging on” going on then. However, before the invasion of Kuwait, provided you were not planning a revolt, the evidence seemed to be that Iraqis enjoyed a high standard of living, with good health and educational benefits. The question then is, does the average citizen care that much who governs if their lifestyle if good? I rather fancy many Iraqis would prefer the conditions then to now.

      • Dear Ian, from Your comment about Saddam Husein it is obvious that You know very little about Saddam Husein and his acts. Even before his war against Iran, during the Shah regime, when Iran was the dominant force in the region of the Arab-Persian golf he was nothing else but a murderer. From the very first moment of his appearance on the political scenery his way of acting was bloody and murderous (according to rumors he personally killed one of his family members on his road to grasp the power). During the Kurdish uprising in the late seventies he committed war crimes, murdered hundreds of thousand civilians and used chemical weapons .

        The very best example of his character was his act in the assembly of the Ba’ath party on July 1979 a long way before any signs of war initiation against Iraqi neighbors.

        During this assembly, Saddam claimed to find treason within the Ba’ath Party and forced one party member to read list of names of alleged co-conspirators.These members were removed from the assemble room one by one and taken into custody and most of them murdered by firing squad made of other high-ranking members of the party. By 1 August 1979, hundreds of high-ranking Ba’ath party members themselves. After this Saddam congratulated to those party members who were not part of the “conspiracy” and made them partners in the country leadership. They, out of horror and fear became loyal to him like flock of sheep.
        His social and economic achievement were nothing more than cynical usage of the newly found wealth after the 1973 oil price jump, initiated by the way by the Iranian Shah, to increase his personal popularity. But this policy of investment in economy and social services was short lived, and Saddam very fast started to use Iraqi wealth to military spending and his atom weapon program supported by the French president, Jacques Chirac,the criminal politician, who among other crimes initiated atomic bomb tests in the pacific in the eighties, when everyone knew the horrific consequences of such a test to the environment. Luckily for the world and the region Israel destroyed the Saddam’s intention to become atomic weapon power.
        Then Saddam initiated war against Iran, where he used again chemical weapons to prevent military catastrophe,

        During his reign, according to his own account he murdered about 2 million Iraqi citizens. The mass graves discovered after his downfall proved that he was not exaggerating at all.

        The truth is US interference in Iraq, mainly the second Iraqi war, was catastrophic because of misunderstanding of George Bush the junior and his co-partners of the political and military realities in the region. He was confused by the annoyingly aggressive military speeches of Saddam, that had no coverage of military strength behind.
        Yes the US political leadership can be many times horrendously ignorant about the world out of US, they are supposed to lead.

      • Dear Eugene, there is no dispute that Saddam was murderous, and killed, tortured, and variously mistreated a large number of Iraqis. However, the common feature of these killings were that he killed those who opposed him. Apparently he modelled himself on Stalin, who, as you may recall, was a far more efficient killer of his citizens. The point I was making, though, was if you accepted the rules and were staying out of politics, you were generally speaking safe, although being in a losing Iraqi football team was not good for you. I believe this was better than the current situation because now hundreds of thousands are dying from random bombs and events that are entirely unpredictable, and furthermore, unless you are in the right part of society, the chances of making a living through innocent activities such as trading are poor.

        Never let it be thought I approve of Saddam. It is just that I disapprove of the present mess more. Rather interestingly, before Bush II let fly, I managed to get a letter into Time magazine giving predictions of what would happen if the US invaded. It did, and my predictions were not too bad – the main flaw was I did not realise quite how bad things would get. Oh, by the way, I also KNEW there were no effective weapons of mass destruction, given the UN reports. The reason is that hidden weapons need maintenance or they become ineffective. If I knew it, why did not the CIA?

  3. Pingback: Dictators and other criminals | EugenR Lowy עוגן רודן

  4. I got your point. I just wanted to emphasize, that any hint describing Saddam anything else than a pure murderer who grasped the power, may be used by some conspiracy theory prophet to his purpose. Yes Saddam as cruel as he was, he was only one of the many murderers who grasped political power and implemented his sadistic desires, And he even wasn’t the most efficient murderer of the modern age. Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zhe Tung, Pol Pot, and you mentioned the others orchestrated much more effective killing machines than him. But his cruelty was still unique, when hi murdered personally some family members, and even more in case of his sons of law, when he ordered to kill them by their own family members.
    To my opinion, the recent events in Iraq Syria, are a transition turmoil that usually happens when a despotic ruler falls, and a vacuum in the political power structure opens. This is the time when the ordinary citizens are totally disorientated looking for a new king, who will continue to rule and terrorize them, as they are used too. This is again the period when everything is on the edge of balance, In rare cases the new leadership may turn towards liberal democracy, as it happened in Spain, Portugal after the death of Franco and Salazar, and also to Russia thanks to Gorbachev – Yelcin, but in most of the cases a new Despot will come, or the country will just fall apart. I would like to add to it that the Arab-Muslim despotic leaders are special case, because it seems that rule based on faith in religious or ideological faith, always revolves around an axis with tendency to create a despotic form of governance. In the turn of twenties century most of these governments disappeared, and instead appeared some form of Democratic regimes in case of most of the post Communistic and South American countries. But in the Arab countries the despots continued as if nothing happened for another 20 years. Few month before the out-brake of the “Arab Spring” i also published a prediction;
    But i don’t think anyone could predict, how much the acceptance of religious despotism and ethnic violence are rooted in the Arab societies.

    • Thanks for the comments, Eugen. I think we are in agreement about Saddam, at least in general, if not in detail. For me, Saddam was brutal in the extreme, but his ability seemed to be solely in the area of clinging to power, and staying alive. In other respects, he was hopelessly incompetent.

      I don’t agree about the events in Iraq/Syria being due to the fall of a despotic ruler as much as the sheer incompetence of the US administration when it took over Iraq. The basic problem was that Rumsfeld concluded that the troops he sent would easily beat the Iraqi army, and he was correct. However, he had far too few to control the place, a point made to him by the Chief of Staff, who promptly got fired for giving Rumsfeld the advice he did not want to hear. That led to chaos in the early days, and the clear message to Iraq that the US did not care to maintain law and order. The dictates of Bremner did not help, and the first few weeks were chaotic. These were followed by a period in which Bush seemed puzzled and seemed to be in the “What now?” phase, which should never have happened. Had Iraq been governed properly when Saddam fell, I think most of this could have been avoided, but I guess we shall never know. I may be completely wrong. Anyway, thank you very much for your contribution.

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