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Before rushing in to establish a new government system for an essentially tribal Iraq, planners should abandon failed notions of "nationalism" and "self-determination" and look to ideas that have worked, and which involve making full use of the country's oil wealth. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EK20Ak01.html Nov 20, 2003 PERCEPTION AND REALITY Oiling the wheels of a tribal society By Reuven Brenner Austrian Karl Renner (1870-1950), who was foreign minister after World War I and also the first president of the new Austrian Republic (1945-1950), suggested a solution to rising nationalism within the Habsburg Empire. Some of his recommendations - though neglected at the time - are worth a closer examination. They lead toward an alternative way of looking at the situation both in Iraq and the Middle East, and toward solutions not considered at present. Renner argued that the economic sphere should cross national boundaries, and that there should be a central, supra-national government - anticipating features of the European Community (although two World Wars and many smaller conflicts later). He also suggested redrawing the empire's maps around countries homogeneous in language. According to him, this could have solved the nationalist problems in nine-tenths of the Austrian Empire: native language stood as proxy for ethnicity in the empire. In places where people were too intermingled to be separated, special provisions and institutions were to guarantee equal rights and an impartial administration. Renner's precise idea was that each individual, irrespective of his domicile, should be a member of one ethnic organization which would have agencies all over the empire - much like the Catholic Church, once it became independent of the state. Renner was not successful in carrying out his ideas. United States president Woodrow Wilson's policies and principles were just one of the many obstacles he faced. Since the Wilson principles are still among the obstacles that keep solutions in the Middle East out of sight, let's take a closer look at them, and see if they can be overcome and allow one to perceive an Iraqi solution from a new angle. A possible solution is to first offer each Iraqi citizen an immediate stake, by committing to distribute a fraction of oil revenues, an equal sum to every Iraqi man, woman and child, with the remaining funds being managed by a properly structured trust fund. This idea roughly follows the very successful Alaskan model. Once this is done, powers can be delegated to lower, tribal levels. This sequencing gives a greater chance for rebuilding Iraq and the Middle East on sounder foundations. By looking at a sequence of historical events, we'll see why. As Mark Twain wrote, history may not repeat itself, but it sure rhymes. Let us see what rhymes, and what does not. Ethnic groups within arbitrary borders I do not know how the conflicting territorial claims of Romanians, Greeks, Serbs, Albanians, Turks and others would have been settled if they had been left on their own at the end of the 19th and beginning of this century. But, as with Iraq during the 20th century - born in 1920 with arbitrary borders drawn in the sand - they were not left alone. Russia declared war on Turkey in 1877, on behalf of the Bulgars (shaping Bulgaria's borders), and later Germany helped Turkish ambitions (shaping Turkish borders). In 1908, Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, which Serbia wanted and thought it could get with Russian support. But the Russians could not help because they lost the war with Japan in 1904-5. In 1912, another Balkan crisis arose as a consequence of the successful war which the Christian states of that peninsula (Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece) fought against the Turks. This crisis, too, was solved without a general European war. Even when the victors quarreled over the spoils and a second Balkan war broke out (1913) that pitted Serbia, Greece, Romania and Turkey against Bulgaria, prompt capitulation on the part of Bulgaria prevented widening of the conflict. Despite such evidence of failure of putting nationalist principles for guiding political actions, the principle of "self-determination" and the legitimacy of "nation-states" triumphed after World War I, probably the culmination of nationalism going awry (race was yet to be invented as another misguided political principle). These principles still prevent perceiving possible solutions in the Middle East, in Iraq in particular. Principles and demography The demographic map of the world shows that ambitions based on nationalist principles are in conflict, since ethnic groups either do not live in compact territories or their territories became part of bigger entities because some great powers in the past drew arbitrary lines in the sand. In what was once Yugoslavia, about 9 million Serbs, 4.7 million Croats and 10 million others: Albanians, Hungarians, Slovenes, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Bosnian Muslims intermingle. In what has been for the last 74 years Czechoslovakia, 10.5 million live in the Czech Republic, 5 million in Slovakia, of which 600,000 are Hungarians. (This demographic distribution is already the result of the expulsion of 2.4 million Sudeten Germans in 1945). In the midst of Azerbaijan (whose majority is Muslim), there is the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave of about 150,000 Armenians (who are Christians). In the South of Armenia, at the Iranian border, there is Nakhichevan, which belongs to Azerbaijan, though there is no territorial continuity. The former Soviet Union's five Central Asian republics - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - all have mixed, intermingled populations. Such demographic patterns are neither unusual, nor typical of only communist, Ottoman, British or Russian empires. Switzerland's population consists of a 65 percent German-speaking majority, Eighteen percent French, 10 percent Italian and 1 percent Rhaeto-Romansch speaking population, who share a pleasant existence, and shared it even when France and Germany were at each other's throats. In 1910, what was the Austro-Hungarian Empire with its 52 million people, did not share a pleasant existence. It consisted of 23.9 percent Germans, 20 percent Magyars, 12 percent Czechs, 10 percent Poles, 4 percent Slovaks, 5 percent Croats, 3.8 percent Serbs, 7.9 percent Ruthenians, 6.4 percent Romanians, 2.6 percent Slovenes, 2 percent Italians and 1.2 percent Mohammedan Serbo-Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In what defines the borders of Iraq today, there are the Shi'ites in the south, the minority of Sunni Arabs concentrated in the Sunni triangle, and the Kurds (who happen to be Sunnis, too, but disliking their Arab counterparts), in the north. What can adherence to the principle of "self-determination" imply when looking at such patterns? President Wilson's administration did not raise these questions when committing itself to the idea of "self-determination" after World War I. Nor were they addressed years later when the idea found its way into the United Nation's 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law, with a predictable unsatisfactory distinction between the right of self-determination and the right of secession. Whatever Wilson's personal views, his administration's interest in "self-determination" was pragmatic and two-fold (though based on disregard of the overlapping ethnic map of Europe). The administration hoped that the new nation-states emerging from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire would counterbalance the strong German nation-state. At the same time, the administration hoped that nationalism as an idea of linking people, establishing loyalty and achieving international recognition of political legitimacy, would prove to be a strong competitor to the communist doctrine. After all, the latter also sought to re-link people, demand their loyalty, and obtain political legitimacy. But unlike nationalism, it was based on the notion that there is an insurmountable animosity between classes: allegiance to the social class should dominate those of ethnicity, religion, language and culture Wilson's administration miscalculated. The policy prevented neither German nor communist aggression. Adherence to the abstract principle of "self-determination" also showed that the creation of small nations did not solve the problem of other smaller ones, which now found themselves within new borders. They were just called "minorities", so as to deflect their claim to nationhood and self-determination. Language, too, can be an effective weapon. The internationally recognized principle may even have made things worse by raising expectations of any group which had any grievances, and which could now appeal for assistance to the Great Powers in the name of "self-determination". Such expectations could only start conflicts or prevent them from being settled quickly. Jumping many decades, this brings us to Iraq. During the Cold War, the West needed the Middle Eastern countries in their fight against communism. However, the large oil resources, and the eventual cartel prices, had as a consequence allowing these countries not only to buy arms, but also, once a ruthless politician got to power, to use the money and the arms internally, with minorities bearing the burden. The consequences were similar to those in Europe almost a century ago. The new countries fought one another constantly, as did minorities within these countries. What are the solutions? Whether or not Renner's principles could come eventually to life in the Middle East and elsewhere, and provide a permanent solution for ethnic rivalries, I do not know. They seem plausible, since they mean decentralizing and de-politicizing culture and religion. Having institutions along the lines he advocated gives smaller roles to government, and more to voluntary organizations, dispersing powers. Renner's solution reminds one of the separation between church and state. However, since among Islamic countries only Turkey achieved that, and there are no Mustafa Kemal Ataturks on the Islamic horizon, Renner's suggestions seem at present a very long, very distant shot. But have there been any political-institutional arrangements that have been not just offered, but tried, that succeeded in diminishing ethnic, religious and linguistic conflicts? One system that has been pursued with obvious success is the melting pot of the federal US government - an example of a state creating in the course of time a new, large tribe with the most open financial markets in the world. When its financial markets were closed to some groups - Afro-Americans prominent among them - symptoms of aggressive "tribalism" surfaced within the US too. However, at the same time, new organizations came into being, such as the civil rights movement that started to restore trust between the many "tribes" living under the US's federal umbrella. These new institutions were also successful in transforming governments into a source of capital for these marginalized groups, when financial markets remained closed, offering them hope and a stake in the system. The debate today in the US asks whether or not capital markets have now been opened sufficiently to members of these groups, and thus whether government should no longer single them out for preferential treatment, whether at universities or for obtaining government grants. But forget about the US model for the Middle East: it's not in the cards. The ethnic tribes in the Middle East are not about to melt (how long have the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland been fighting?), and they do not have the maze of institutions needed to support open financial markets. Countries such as Canada, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland have pursued other solutions. Though they have each faced conflicts of their own, their problems pale in comparison to those other multi-ethnic states such as Russia, the Balkans, the Middle East and several African and Asian states. It is no accident that the Western states have on the whole found the more stable solution. They had open capital markets, more checks on government power, a wide variety of voluntary organizations dispersing power, and bringing about greater accountability. They also allow experimenting with a wide variety of new organizations. Whereas some other countries around the world have such institutions, most those in the Middle East, Iraq in particular, do not. What can be done? First execute an idea that has been in circulation for a while, modeled after the Alaska public trust fund, which would offer each and every Iraqi a fraction of oil revenues. The other portion would be invested and could not be spent without well-defined voting procedures. This arrangement would ensure that people had an immediate stake in the new Iraqi system, and incentives to both prevent sabotage and cooperate. The oil revenues could be managed by an international trust fund. With this arrangement in place, Iraq could be roughly remodeled along the - for the moment - unique Swiss lines, where the French, the German and the Italian-speaking have each carved out territorial entities. There is one Italian Canton (Ticino), many German ones, a few French, the last French one - Jura - having been carved out from the German canton of Bern in 1974, through a series of votes because of the French minority's dissatisfaction with the German majority's misallocation of funds. Once the revenues from oil having been solved first, and allocated proportionately among the tribes, a major potential obstacle for delegating powers to lower levels has been eliminated, since there is less to redistribute on the central government level. And, as noted, the groups living now within Iraq's borders, do live in rather geographically distinct territories. With revenues from oil being widely dispersed, the chances of much funds going for rebuilding centralized military and police powers are diminished. "Power" has been dispersed and brought closer to the people. Whether or not such dispersion of financial clout will lead to developing - bottom up - a "canton"-like federal arrangement as in Switzerland, or lead to a breakup of Iraq along ethnic lines - time would tell. Both solutions seem more stable than what the world now faces. If the tribes do not see eventual advantages of staying together, so be it. The separation of Slovakia from the Czech Republic did not end in any great disaster. If the ethnic groups now populating Iraq can't get along, and will end up fighting, the resulting instability can be more easily contained, since none of the groups would have as much financial (oil-generated) clout as Saddam Hussein had. The best scenario would obviously be if these tribes - now having stakes in stability because of shared oil revenues administered by impartial outsiders (some Swiss, maybe?) - slowly find ways of making deals, and trade and live together. But even if one is prepared for the worst-case scenario - of the three major tribes not finding a modus vivendi and breaking up within the anyway artificial borders of what now defines Iraq - the harm is minimized. Ideas have long lives. Embodied in institutions, they outlive their usefulness - and bring about instability. Ideas, which were initially useful in fighting misgovernment by foreigners and which were a response to growing mistrust among the increased population within each European "tribe", were transformed into deeds and institutions. These institutions sustain myths, create habits, which are then exported to other countries. Habits of thought slowly harden into character - with the origins of thoughts and events that set this sequence in motion, long forgotten. Oil money sustains both dictatorships and much outdated institutions and character traits. This is why the crucial first step in achieving stability in the Middle East is to disperse the funds among people living within the now recognized borders, rather than let it flow through the hands of unaccountable and corrupt rulers and governments. Unless the people within the present Iraq borders are given such tangible stake in the future, "democracy" and "constitutions" will become nothing but empty promises and worthless pieces of paper, with the vast majority of people mired in poverty and ignorance. After all, keep in mind that for decades Latin American countries had beautifully written constitutions and people voted. Yet Latin America stayed poor and unstable. Reuven Brenner holds the Repap Chair at McGill's Faculty of Management. The article draws on his last book, The Force of Finance (2002). _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk