Thursday, February 18, 2016

The History of Failed States, the History of Oil, and the Status Quo that was Broken with the Downfall of Saddam Hussein

Failed states had already been on my mind when I listened to Richard Engel talk about his new book ("And then All Hell Broke Lose. Two Decades in the Middle East) with Bill Maher on Real Time. last week. There were really two parts of his appearance on that week's installment of the show, the initial interview, and then a brief minute or two during the "Overtime" segment, that had some interesting comments come out.

I should preface this, however, with a couple of interesting observations that Mr. Maher had already been repeating (memory escapes me when either started originally) concerning first, how the rest of the Middle East seems incapable of forming armies of opposition to extremist groups; especially as it concerns opposition with anything even near equal prowess, and second, that maybe we would have been a good deal better off in leaving Saddam in power. The foundation of the latter point, of course, stemming from the obvious stupidity that supposedly justified the war in the first place, not to mention the waste in lives on both sides, as well as the "you break it you own it" nostrum that still has us stuck in the region. I mention the second, with a reminder of the "you break it you own it" nostrum because, as Mr. Maher suggests it, its not just the bad justification for the war that would have made keeping hands off a good idea, but the "better the devil you know," and whatever stability he keeps an iron grip on, than the multitude of devils you don't know, and hardly any stability at all.

Mr Engle's points were that 1: Yes there was a form of stability which we broke, but it was still a festering stability, and 2: It is the instability of failed states that breeds extremist organizations like ISIS.

When you sit down and think about all of this, as well as the history of the region since the end of World War 1, it seems to me that you have to start being a good deal more careful in how you use the word "stability;" especially when what you really mean is "relative stability;"  where, even though things may still be functioning, more or less, and can certainly appear more appealing, compared to outright chaos, it is still a tremendous human, cultural/economic, fault line upon which pressure grows; which I realize gets us into mixed metaphors, but maybe that is indicative of the real problem. Maybe we haven't been using the right metaphors in the first place.

A hundred years its been since the end of WW 1. And all through that what has been the common threads of the ever changing "relative stability?" Great power meddling because of the need of a resource they can't do without (rinse and repeat for Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, etc). And when you look at that from the standpoint that these people were still intimately connected to the culture of the Ottoman Empire when WW 1 started, having not only their borders rewritten, but how they mixed with all of the other religions and cultures that have been part of that region since the beginning of culture and religion, you begin to see just how fractious the fault lines would have to become, and how an ever reoccurring cycle of build up and horrible release would then become inevitable.

Why can't they create armies of opposition to the extremists? Why would they even think of the alternative after 100 years of big powers doing all of the decision making, as well as the policing, to fit their interests? Why wouldn't so many of them have grown accustomed to letting such powers pay the price in lives and national treasure, while they could be amongst the elites enjoying whatever was left of "business as usual?" Wouldn't you?

What is especially damning, however, even after 100 years of of repeating the same mistakes, is that we are still dependant on that resource, and we still struggle to create new versions of "relative stability" that we ought to know won't last, and even if they did the immorality within them, as the pressures rebuilt, would serve mostly to make us ever colder and uncaring of the actual human suffering inherent in that repressurization. Ever more willing to settle for whatever devil, and the semi functional hell he rules with, rather than accept responsibility for our industrial addiction in the first place.

The real question ought to be "How do we go through addiction withdrawal, even as we physically withdraw, and still mediate the gradual reduction of power vacuums? Reductions that give all of the major factions a chance to restart actual sovereignty and self rule? Knowing that it will be bloody awful and contentious. Knowing as well that putting it off as we have been doing will only make the final release to equilibrium that much worse


Iraq profile - timeline