Two Blunders

Against the Current, No. 102, January/February 2003

Ernie Haberkern

THE OTHERWISE EXCELLENT statement of the ATC editorial board on the impending war on Iraq (“An Imperial Trifecta?” Against the Current 101, November-December 2002) contained two blunders.

The first, and most important warns of: “The danger that Iraq itself may disintegrate — if, for example, the Shia population in the south or northern Kurds reject a new American-installed authoritarian central government.”

I thought we were for the right of small nations to self-determination. Is there some escape clause that excludes the Kurds and Iraqi Shiites? Principles aside, and I personally am not for dumping principles overboard lightly, the right of self-determination is the key issue throughout the Middle East.

With the partial exception of Egypt and Iran, the “nations” of the Middle East are the creation of Anglo-French imperialism after World War I.

In the notorious Sykes-Picot agreement the British and the French betrayed the population to whom they had promised freedom in return for their support against the Ottoman allies of Germany. Instead, they divided the area into artificial “states” which were puppets of the imperial powers.

The notorious Balfour agreement which promised the Zionist movement a “homeland” in Palestine without the consent, or knowledge, of the inhabitants of the country is the best known of these imperialist trumperies. But it was not the only fraud perpetrated on the population.

Contrary to the burblings of Thomas Friedman and Ehud Barak in the New York Times, the prevalence of military dictatorships in the region, open in Syria and Iraq, thinly veiled in Turkey, is not the result of Islamic theology or Arab culture. Military dictatorship is the only way these artificial creations can be held together.

And, since at least 1943, the U.S. government has encouraged and supported these regimes. That is why papa Bush refused to take advantage of the opportunity in 1991 to eliminate his rebellious subordinate Saddam. That is why the “regime change” proposed now is a U.S. military dictatorship over the Kurds and the Shiites — that is, the overwhelming majority of the population.

Self-determination for the Kurds and Shiites would be a step in the direction of democracy. And a democratic Kurdistan or a federation of Iran and the Shiites of southern Iraq might want to decide for themselves to whom, and at what price, they wanted to sell their oil.

That is why Bush and Cheney are against self-determination and why we should be for it.

The second blunder is the paragraph that reads:

“The danger that a war in Iraq might set off upheavals threatening the historic American allies in the Arab world — Jordan, Egypt and the royal house of Saudi Arabia.”

Didn’t the editorial board realize that this is an argument in favor of the war? I wouldn’t buy it myself, since the “collateral damage” to Iraqi civilians could run into the tens of thousands, but would any of you shed a tear if the entire Saudi royal family were guillotined tomorrow? These people make the Bourbons and Romanovs look like Queen Wilhelmina of Holland.

–Ernie Haberkern

The Editors Respond:

IN BOTH CASES quoted by Ernie Haberkern – “the danger that Iraq itself may disintegrate” and “the danger (of) upheavals threatening the historic American allies in the Arab world” — our editorial referred to dangers to U.S. imperialist interests. This is why they are part of what we called “the debate over the `wisdom’ of war in elite media and policy circles.”

In the case of Iraq, we make no claim to know what the Kurdish population or the Shi’ite Arabs (who are, by the way, a disenfranchised majority in Iraq) want, and we make no assumption that they favor political secession. We do agree with Haberkern that it must be their own choice to make on the basis of the right of self-determination.

We don’t think that in principle, the separation of modern Iraq into the three former Ottoman provinces from which it was constructed (Basra, Baghdad and Mosul), under the hegemony of the new U.S. empire, is in itself a Good Thing.

ATC 102, January-February 2003