Iraq

Out of Iraq, etc.

A century of neocolonialism should preclude any more intervention.

|

British troops in Iraq, 1941
Public Domain

Nearly a century ago, after four bloody years of World War I, British colonialists created the state of Iraq, complete with their hand-picked monarch. Britain and France were authorized — or, more precisely, authorized themselves — to create states in the Arab world, despite the prior British promise of independence in return for the Arabs' revolt against the Ottoman Turks, which helped the Allied powers defeat the Central powers. And so European countries drew lines in the sand without much regard for the societies they were constructing from disparate sectarian, tribal, and ethnic populations.

Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations declared that former colonies of the defeated powers "are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world." These included the Arabs (and others) in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and the Levant (today's Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine/Israel). Because they were not ready for independence and self-government, the covenant stated, their "well-being and development" should be "entrusted to advanced nations who … can best undertake this responsibility."

In other words, the losers' colonies would become the winners' colonies. British and French politicians would judge when the Arabs (and Kurds) were fit to govern themselves. Until then, they would remain under the loving care of enlightened Europeans. On the few occasions when Arabs failed to appreciate their good fortune and resisted, their benefactors had to punish them with tough love in the form of aerial bombardment and other means of modern warfare. It was for the natives' own good, of course.

Or that's how the imperialists told it. Only a cynic could believe that their economic and political interests lay behind this neocolonialist system.

We might keep this history in mind as we view with increasing horror what is taking place in the newly declared Islamic State (formerly ISIL or ISIS) in large parts of British- and French-created Iraq and Syria.

No one can say how the Middle East would have turned out if the Western powers had butted out after the Great War and let the Arabs, Kurds, and others find their own way in the modern world. But treating the indigenous populations like children cannot have advanced the cause of peaceful civilization.

It's no exaggeration to say that virtually every current problem in the region stems at least in part from the imperial double cross and carve-up that took place after the war. And the immediate results of the European betrayal were then exacerbated by further acts of intervention and neocolonialism, most recently: President George H. W. Bush's Gulf War and embargo on Iraq; President Bill Clinton's continued embargo and bombing of Iraq; President George W. Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq and overthrow of the secular regime of Saddam Hussein (al-Qaeda, of which the Islamic State is an offshoot, was not in Iraq before this); President Barack Obama's support (until recently) for the corrupt, autocratic Shi'ite government in Baghdad; and Obama's throwing in with those seeking to oust secular Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which made that country a magnet for radical Sunni jihadis, the same who are now threatening genocide against Shi'ites, Christians, and Yazidis in Iraq. (Thus Obama's policy is at war with itself.)

History alone does not tell us what, if anything, outside powers should do now; there's no going back in time. But we can say that without foreign interference, even a violent evolution of the region might have been far less violent than it has been during the last century. At the least, the violent factions would not be seeking revenge against Americans.

The rise of the brutal Islamic State, with its unspeakable violence against innocents, is an appalling but unsurprising outcome of the last 100 years, including seven decades of neocolonialist American intervention. This suggests that U.S. intervention at this stage will only come to grief by boosting anti-American jihadi recruitment and even encouraging the targeting of Americans at home. Wars never go as planned. After all this time, any so-called "humanitarian" intervention will be interpreted in imperialist terms — and should be.

The U.S. government must get out of Iraq (etc.). Intervention not only violates the rights of Americans; it is sure to exacerbate the violence in that pitiable region.

This article originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

NEXT: "Why Obama's Iraq War Will be a Disaster"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Neocolonialism? Is this a PhD thesis at Brown?

    1. Neo-Colonialism: Changing the definition of colonialism so that we can make a foreign policy we don’t like seem really bad.

      Colonialism was the conquering of territory, the usurping of markets, settlement of territory with non-natives and usually the repopulation of the government by vassals to the colonizing state if not outright natives of that state. The parent state forced those colonies to pay tribute and dictated the economic arrangements of each colony.

      American/Western Foreign Policy over the last two decades has certainly been bad, but it has shown none of the hallmark traits of Colonialism.

      1. Something tells me that if more of the East had economic policies dictated to them by the West, they’d be better off in the long run. Look at Japan and South Korea…

  2. Or that’s how the imperialists told it. Only a cynic could believe that their economic and political interests lay behind this neocolonialist system.

    Actually, it seems naive to think that middle-east intervention is driven by economic and political interests. If that was the case, it would have ceased long ago, as the cost of intervention rose ever higher (certainly that’s what happened with other british colonies).

    The true horror is that there’s just this permanent consensus that we need to continuously try to reshape the region to be “better” (whatever that means). The Middle East is simply 50+ years of management by Top Men.

    1. European colonialization of the ‘Middle East’ began in the early 19th century when Europeans were finally strong enough to go to the source of pirates that had been terrorizing them for many centuries.

      ISIS may well represent the first truly post colonial arab state. In which case it is a reversion the predatory states that prompted colonialism in the first place.

      People in the West don’t want to face the evidence that Arab culture really may be different than ‘Western Cultures’ culture and incompatible with a modern open world.

      1. Yeah right, the West would have really stayed out of the Middle East if it weren’t for those pesky Barbary pirates.

        I think Sheldon is wrong only focusing on the past 100 years and the West’s role in colonialization to explain the current situation, there are disputes in the region going back to the battle of Karbala, but it’s ludicrous to say that the reason the West colonized the ME was because of pirates.

      2. European colonialization of the ‘Middle East’ began in the early 19th century when Europeans were finally strong enough to go to the source of pirates that had been terrorizing them for many centuries.

        This is hilariouslywrong. While the pirates were a problem, and Europe did quite a bit to deal with them, the prime purpose of Colonialism was the monopolization of trade in these regions. That has always been the purpose of Colonialism.

        1. And a nice mix of “national honour” protecting other colonies/interests and spreading “European civilization”….

          1. I for one think the rest of world could use an additional dose of classical European civilization, not colonialism except that which is voluntary. For all the evils of colonialism, surely telephones, sewage disposal and European philosophy has lifted uncounted amount of people out of humanity’s natural state of abject poverty. Aside from Confucianism, there was hardly any rational philosophy conducive to the production of wealth throughout all of human history that did not originate in Europe.

            1. Free Society, I agree, Good comment. Kind of like Dinesh D’Zouza said. His dad didn’t like colonization, but Dinesh saw that it brought the rule of law and other benefits.

              1. It also did much to erode the Hindu caste system which is one of the most unjust and most destructive of wealth of any society-wide governing philosophy. Hinduism to name one notable example, is probably the single worst religion in regards to the production of wealth and betterment of living conditions.

                1. I would argue that Islamic Theocracies (like the caliphate that ISIS is attempting to resurrect) are worse.

                2. Second only to the current religious philosophy of the ME

        2. True, but that doesn’t fit the narrative as well. All hail the narrative.

  3. The history of prgressive neocolonialism,and post-colonialism in Africs, Asia, and elsewhere should point to one thing; a return to good ols fashioned Colonialism. The people in most of these places are not going to be governed by their own will. They are going to be governed by the will of whatever strongman can seize control. Since they are going to be miserable and oppressed, let them be miserable and oppressed to our benefit.

    1. Evidence seems to indicate that colonialism conferred many benefits on the recipients. Provided that the colonial power is liberal enough to qualify as a bringer of liberal (pro-liberty) philosophy and vanquish the oppressive superstitions that have governed most every society that was colonized. With few exceptions, the colonized populations weren’t the colonizers because they governed their societies with superstition and irrational oppression.

      Look at the difference between former Spanish colonies and former British colonies if you want to see how a difference in popular philosophy can effect the well-being of generation upon generation of that philosophy’s inheritors. The Spanish were pillaging slaver colonizers. The British and to lesser extent the French, were capital investors who saw a higher value in property rights and trade rather than pillage. Today the Anglophone societies are among the wealthiest in the world. The societies that inherited the Spanish legacy are generally more despotic in political philosophy and idiotic (high time preference looters) in regards to economic philosophy.

      1. Very interesting points, thanks for bringing them up.

  4. Yes, everything would have been better if left to the colonialism of the Ottomans.

    Sheesh.

    1. Yeah, they were pretty benevolent, if you get past the genocide and enslaving Christians.

      1. For many centuries they did keep things in check. It was with the decline in the late 19 century that they went into a high-speed wobble. Prior to that non-muslim life was comparatively safe. (At least that’s my very cursory understanding of it.)

        1. yes as long as they were good Dhimmis they weren’t treated like Kaffirs

          That sort of like saying the good slaves weren’t whipped in the confederacy

    2. Ironically Ottoman and other Islamic colonial ventures into southern Europe exploded spectacularly in their faces.

      It that sparked the Crusades, the Spanish Reconquista, and greater political cooperation in Europe.

      1. Er… the Crusades started against the Umayyads and the Spanish were fighting to regain Iberia from the Almoravids and the Almohads….

        But the Ottomans sure got Poland, Austria, Venice and others to work together, true, when it got really bad (ie. 1688)

      2. The Ottomans didn’t stand a chance of holding Europe even if they’d taken it. The decentralization of of European polities was always it’s strength that would eventually allow European civilization to conquer the world.

        1. “decentralization of European polities”

          Do you mind giving me a nickle lesson?

          Not sure what that means. This is not bait or criticism, just a question.

          1. Well the HRE to name one, was highly decentralized with hundreds of small principalities competing with one another for prestige, taxable population and wealth. Smaller states that fuck up their economies couldn’t persist in their blundering without a revolt on their hands. Smaller polities had a harder time engaging in trade protectionism, unlike larger states where tariffs (etc) could be implemented while they might lower the well-being of inhabitants, such measures would not outrightly result in the deaths of large parts of the population like it would in polities whose markets could not withstand protectionist counter-attacks from larger neighbors.

            A litany of German cities had universities, opera houses, engineers, museums etc. Contrast this with France which was a relatively centralized state by the late Middle Ages, where all the prestigious universities and other high culture benchmarks were concentrated around Paris and to a lesser extent Orleans and a select few other municipalities that were in the good graces of the central government.

            As far as political parasites upon society goes, smaller decentralized political authority has been less detrimental to the production of wealth. As libertarians this is something we understand, even if we are not familiar with the historical precedents that prove the case.

            1. Thanks, very helpful. I agree with everything, and you reminded me of something I’d read with regard to a more ‘decentralized’ Germany, although I don’t recall that word being used.

              Hope you’ll forgive me ignorance, well read, but most of my history was read before my eyes were open. And you might agree that history books tend to have a bias and view less centralized systems as less evolved and maybe even go so far as to view everything decentralized as embroyonic to the supposedly more evolved larger State that came later.

              1. Thanks, very helpful. I agree with everything, and you reminded me of something I’d read with regard to a more ‘decentralized’ Germany, although I don’t recall that word being used.

                I would recommend Hans Herman Hoppe whose written extensively about decentralization in theory and historically. Here is a very digestible video that discusses this subject in good depth, give it 5 minutes and you’ll get past his German accent. The vid is like an hour and fourteen minutes, so maybe convert the youtube video to a downloadable mp3 file here.

                Hope you’ll forgive me ignorance, well read, but most of my history was read before my eyes were open.

                No foul at all, ignorance is only a crime when one is recalcitrant about it.

                And you might agree that history books tend to have a bias and view less centralized systems as less evolved and maybe even go so far as to view everything decentralized as embroyonic to the supposedly more evolved larger State that came later.

                I would certainly agree. One need only think of the cursory education we received in public schools about the ‘great success’ of FDR’s New Deal programs, or the white-washing of other government crimes. It took me several years to undo the intellectual damage done by gubmint schools and universities.

                1. Listened last night. I heard a Hans Herman Hoppe podcast on barter and monetary policy, which he touched upon the video you linked. Brilliant, he really helped me understand why the Fed is so detestable.

  5. It’s no exaggeration to say that virtually every current problem in the region stems at least in part from the imperial double cross and carve-up that took place after the war.

    This — this right here — is why even among libertarians, Sheldon’s penetrating analysis has the same value as a street crazy crying “The End Is Nigh”. There is no place to discuss the harmful effects of Arab nationalism, socialist/protectionist economies, Islam and its fundamental opposition to a free society as well as its imperialist tendencies, Ottoman rule over the Middle East and the economic retardation that followed, and a number of socially dysgenic traits in Arab culture.

    The fact is, post-WWI the Balkans were subject to exactly the same type of colonial nation-splitting and quashing of nationalism, as was Eastern Europe. They did not become hotbeds for fanatical terrorists, and have in most cases picked themselves up from where the Allies left them and done better for themselves. There was nothing inevitable about the Islamic State and its presence as a regional power has more to do with the peculiarities of the region and religion than with any of the interventions which have afflicted the region.

    1. A hundred years later, writes Sheldon Richman, the rise of the brutal Islamic State, with its unspeakable violence against innocents, is an appalling but unsurprising outcome of the last 100 years

      Can Sheldon really be so ignorant of the violent expansion of Islam since it’s inception? Sure, they were practically Amish before we started meddling.

      There are decent arguments to be made against our interfering in the region, I agree, but “We caused their barbarity” is NOT one of them.

      1. Not advocating Rose Wilder Lane any more than I would Ayn Rand, but you might give The Discovery of Freedom a read. Perhaps too romantic in her conceptions at come points, but an interesting perspective from a paleo-libertarian source.

    2. stems at least in part

      There’s plenty of room to discuss all of the issues you’ve brought up. If you were to email Richman, I’m sure he’d agree. And yet none of them are the focus of this article or SR’s particular interest in the west’s meddling in ME affairs.

      The degree to which neoconservative talking points have infiltrated mainline libertarianism and neoliberalism, much less the party that for decades was the principled minority opponent the War Party, is disturbing.

      1. “The degree to which neoconservative talking points have infiltrated mainline libertarianism and neoliberalism…is disturbing.”

        Could you expound on this a little, I am not sure which talking points you are referring to.

    3. sometimes I think that Churchill Screwed up the division of the Ottoman empire on purpose, to prevent the Caliphate from rising again and threatening the West

  6. By the time this country was founded, there was ample evidence of the consequences of getting involved in other people’s centuries long problems. But we did it anyway. From the foundation through roughly 1900, the US had more than it could handle getting the continent under control (feel free to compare and contrast Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum). But once it was all pretty much ironed out domestically, “federalists” began to look outward for asses to kick. And here we are, 110 years of welfare/warfare/collectivization later and things are hunky dory. We’re worried about some sub-tribe here, a genocide there, and – right or wrong – we’re on the hook for everything. That’s what comes with being the de facto inheritor of the Holy Roman Empire. Meanwhile, we’re coming apart at the seams internally and our borders are “slushy” to put it mildly. The Visigoths have been let into the empire, won’t be assimilated, and we’re likely to be brought down from within. We’re fighting losing battles on the proverbial Palatinate while rotting from within. THIS is what the founders were warning about.

    1. cont.

      What I find ironic, is the US’s very first venture outward, the Spanish-American war, itself devolved into a quagmire with Islamicists in The Philippines. We put our toe in the water, got it pinched pretty bad, and decided “fuck it” and dove in head first into all the world’s fights. It’s not like there wasn’t a worthy example to then compare to the founders’ warnings right from the get go. Just too much “good stuff” that comes with war. I suppose it always comes down to too many idle males around, and if you don’t turn their energies outward, they’ll turn inward. At least that’s the fear of the Top Men. There’s plenty of dusky shaded folk to have them chase after.

    2. *(feel free to compare and contrast Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum). *

      Throw in the Japanese invasion of China, which was straight outta the “Manifest Destiny” playbook.

    3. And here we are, 110 years of welfare/warfare/collectivization later and things are hunky dory.

      Defeated Soviet Union, open sea lanes, world getting more peaceful-not perfect but pretty good.

  7. Islamic savagery is all the fault of the Americans, eh? What did Lenin say? Colonialism is a stage of imperialism? It is…nice to see you clowns following that philosophy.

    Holocaust denial, Lenninism, eliminationist antisemitism (there are six million Jews in Israel, afterall) — you Libertarians are a piece of work.

    1. Holocaust denial, Lenninism, eliminationist antisemitism (there are six million Jews in Israel, afterall) — you Libertarians are a piece of work.

      Nice having you here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I…..uring_Test

  8. *It’s no exaggeration to say that virtually every current problem in the region stems at least in part from the imperial double cross and carve-up that took place after the war.*

    Total crap. Has this fool ever heard of Moorish Spain? How did the Moors get there?

    The Muslims colonised everything from Morocco to freakin’ Indonesia.

    Hell, while you’re at it, why not just blame the Romans.

    At some point, certain people in “the region” need to learn how to do something besides export oil and the suicide belt, otherwise they’re going to keep having “problems” with every other culture on Earth.

    1. We need to quit subsidizing their problems. Societies rooted in superstition and barbarism will die out naturally if we just let them.

  9. Could Sheldon please explain why the Kurds have no interest in extreme Islam or anti-Westernism despite being backstabbed by the West and others?

    The problems of the ME have little to nothing to do with borders. Doesn’t matter where you draw them, savages are going to be savage. There will always be minorities to oppress and kill. Excuses to go to war.

    1. Case and point: http://www.theonion.com/articl…..700,36484/

      😉

  10. It’s no exaggeration to say that virtually every current problem in the region stems at least in part from the imperial double cross and carve-up that took place after the war.

    Virtually every current problem stems from Islam and it’s web of superstitious brutalism. As belief system it’s thoroughly anti-rational, anti-freedom and entirely about submission and slavery. Even the supposed achievements of Islamic societies during the so-called Golden Age of Islam, those achievements were thanks to those who were not strictly adherent to the faith and generally pushed the boundaries set by the religious authorities. The Islamic Golden Age is only golden because it was period of relatively weak religious authority and relatively higher individual freedom compared to the current anachronistic age.

    1. actually the “Golden age of Islam” was thanks mostly to the non Muslims they conquered. For example of a list of 22 scholars of the Golden age in Baghdad, 20 were conquered Christians, one was Persian and one was Muslim.

      1. That’s pretty interesting. The Islam apologists usually frame it as though Islamic society produced these developments as opposed to these developments taking place despite Islam.

        And what does it tell you about modern Muslims, that their culture is less accepting of technological and intellectual innovation now, than it was 1,000 years ago?

  11. We have made promises to protect people and cultures. We may not should have made those promises, but we certainly should live up to them. I was against the Iraq invasion, but we went in, and we pick up responsibilities doing so. Wishing we had not does not change that reality.

    1. Who is “we”? Did “we” also agree to pay the bills for the national debt and its soon-to-be-crippling interest payments?

      I appreciate that the federal government has been screwing the pooch in Europe and the ME for generations, but there’s zero reason why the next administration shouldn’t just offer an apology, pay out limited reparations to smooth over hurt feelings, and get the hell out of Dodge while reminding the world of America’s once-and-future commitment neutrality in foreign affairs.

    2. Yeah I’m not sure who the “we” is. Anyone who made promises on my behalf does not have any right to drag me along while it fulfills that promise. Do you use the same pronoun “we” when you read about US soldiers massacring civilians? I bet it becomes “them” pretty fast in that instance.

      1. So ‘we’ didn’t agree to ObamaCare, we didn’t agree to crush a man’s neck for selling an untaxed cigarette, and we didn’t agree to a bloody surge in Afganistan?

        Did someone tell Blue Team/Red Team about this? I think they should know.

        I’ve been expunging the involuntary or compulsary based “we” from my vocabularly for over two years without complete success. Try, try, try.

        1. All we have to do is the best we can. I find myself often saying “Jesus Titty Fucking Christ” even though I’m an atheist. Go figure.

  12. Reg: All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?

    Xerxes: Brought peace!

    Reg: (very angry, he’s not having a good meeting at all) What!? Oh… (scornfully) Peace, yes… shut up!

  13. While the reality may be repugnant to libertarians, a look at colonized and occupied areas before colonization, during colonization, and after colonization by the evil often shows life was often better in the colony under imperialism.

    Few cultures have respect for the rights of individuals. Freedom was largely spread by European navies bringing European values, particularly by the Brits and the Anglosphere.

    1. I agree, not all European philosophies are created equal. Those of property rights and individual liberty left legacies of wealth in their former colonies while the governing philosophies that emphasized slavery and looting left legacies of abject poverty in their wake. Those looted colonial outposts, like mainly those of the Spanish have in the modern era found themselves particularly susceptible to communism and socialist philosophies which are not unlike the slaving/looting philosophies of times past.

  14. Sheldon “the paranoid American” Richman – its not about you.

    You correctly ascribe rational motives of national interest to Western powers, but think the locals are motivated by revenge? Do you honestly think the locals are childlike toddler nations throwing a 50 year tantrum because the West spanked them too hard?

    You self centred American twit. The locals act in their self interest just like America and the West acts in its self interest. The middle east is violent because of the self interests of the locals to secure oil fields and oil pipelines. These are sources of massive wealth that if controlled militarily provide sustained prosperity. It is rational.

  15. Iraq will end up being partitioned into three separate states. Kurds will get the northern part, Sunnis will get the middle part, and the Shiites will get to the southern part. Most of the countries in that part of the world are artificial constructs anyway. Ultimately, the Middle East needs to have its own Reformation. If you’re familiar with with European history, you’ll recall that the Reformation lasted over two hundred years in Europe (from 1517 to about 1750). Maybe by the year 2300 or 2350, the Arabs will be ready to join the modern world.

    1. All states are artificial constructs

      1. But some states are significantly more “artificial” — and are therefore inherently more unstable — than other states. Iraq is a perfect example of this.

        My favorite professor in college used to say: “Balkanization is the end product of history.” Big states almost always tend to break up into smaller pieces. Why should Iraq be any different?

        Usually, the smaller pieces are still dysfunctional. But the scale of the regional chaos they can cause is moderated.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.