Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Sunday, July 21, 2002
Proving that great minds blog alike, the Kolkata Libertarian made a prediction of the emergence of what he calls the I3 (Israel, Iran, India) axis, essentially the prediction made here the same day, but without Turkey.

Aziz Poonawalla observes that part of what unites the I3 nations is that each is a genuine nation, carrying forward a long cultural tradition. This is untrue of many other states in the region (Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Pakistan), whose borders are often arbitrary lines drawn by the British Empire. Pakistan, for instance, was just those portions of the old British Raj that had a mainly Muslim population at the time of independence, but it had and still has little ethnic, linguistic, cultural, or even religious unity. Until it lost Bangla Desh in 1971, it lacked even geographic unity. Jordan was created as Trans-Jordan by Winston Churchill during the British Mandate, mostly as a reward to the Hashemite dynasty which had supported England and Lawrence of Arabia during WWI, but had lost much of its traditional territory to Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia.

By contrast, the I3 states all carry forward distinct and ancient national identities. Turkey is in this category as well; although not as ancient as the others, it does have an authentic distinct cultural identity dating back many centuries.

Jim Henley is less optimistic about this or any other alliance with Turkey, which he fears will lead us into conflict with the Kurds. This is a possible outcome, but by no means necessary or even probable.

An independent Kurdistan would be potentially destabilizing all through the region. Iran, which has its own Kurdish region, would be deeply opposed. India, with all manner of potential breakaway minorities, wouldn't like the idea any more. Pakistan and Afghanistan could both face problems with Pashtun nationalists who dream of uniting the Pashtun regions of those countries. Russia and China both have restless ethnic provinces and would be vigorously opposed. And so on, all through the region. So there are many good reasons unconnected with Turkey why the US opposes Kurdish independence and is unlikely to change.

What we can and should do is support the rights of the Kurdish minorities in Iraq and elsewhere. If the US is successful in installing a decent government in Iraq after Saddam is gone, this would actually be better for the Kurds than full independence, because the Kurds, as Iraqis, would be able to share in the wealth that is generated by Iraq's abundant oil, relatively little of it on Kurdish land.

If the Kurds are respected in their right to their own culture and traditions, and given a role in the government of Iraq along with a share in the nation's wealth, I suspect nationalism would be a far less powerful rallying cry. The current de facto autonomy in northern Iraq has been largely enforced by US power, and we have made clear from the beginning that it isn't considered a step towards independence. In spite of that, there have been almost no attacks from the Kurds on US or UN personnel.

I think the US will play an important role, along with Turkey, as the I3 axis emerges. We already have close relationships with Israel and Turkey, and close historic ties to Iran which should resume when the current unpleasantness ends.

As for US-Indian relations, they have fluctuated many times, mostly due to India's Pakistan issues. At present, the US feels a need to support a rather shaky government in Pakistan that helped us (with problems Pakistan played a large role in creating) in Afghanistan and seems to be making some attempt to deal with its domestic extremists. This has led to many Indians feeling abandoned by us. But India and the USA are the largest democracies in the world, each almost unimaginably diverse in ethnic and religious variety. These similarities run deeper than ephemeral political disputes. Bilateral trade is also growing quite rapidly, and so is the size and visibility of the Indian minority in the US. For all these reasons, I'm quite optimistic about US-Indian ties in the long run.