What If There Is No Solution?

Food prices are going through the roof for basic commodities. This is causing instability in many places around the world. Spengler says there may be no solution.

From the Straits of Gibraltar to the Hindu Kush, instability will afflict the Muslim world for a generation, and there is nothing that the West can do to stop it. Almost no-one in Washington appears to be asking the obvious question: what should the United States do in the event that there are no solutions at all?

No one, that is, but US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius March 22 that "the unrest has highlighted 'ethnic, sectarian and tribal differences that have been suppressed for years' in the region, and that as America encourages leaders to accept democratic change, there's a question 'whether more democratic governance can hold ... countries together in light of these pressures'." The implication [Ignatius writes]: ''There's a risk that the political map of the modern Middle East may begin to unravel too, with, say, the breakup of Libya.''

Well we used to know how to handle these problems. And it was ugly.
In the bad old days of imperialism, the rapacious Europeans looted their colonies, and sometimes, though no fault of their own, left them in better condition than they had found them. That is not true everywhere; in the Congo, the kings of Belgium left nothing but a trail of pain.

India, though, was first unified by the British, who gave it a civil service, the example of a parliamentary system, a railroad system, and a national language; although the British interest in the subcontinent was predatory not philanthropic, India benefited in some respects from the Raj. The British, rather like Goethe's devil, were the spirit that always wanted to do evil but at least sometimes did good.

His outlook for the future is quite gloomy.
As I said of Egypt in my February 2 essay: we do not know what kind of state will follow Basher Assad. We only know that it will be a failed state.
Well what about Imperialism? Maybe we should bring it back. This article from October 2001 makes that argument.
America has no alternative but to wage war against states that habitually aid terrorists. President Bush warns the war may be long but he has not, perhaps, yet grasped that America may have to accept long-term political obligations too.

For the nearest historical parallel -- the war against piracy in the 19th century -- was an important element in the expansion of colonialism. It could be that a new form of colony, the Western-administered former terrorist state, is only just over the horizon.

Significantly, it was the young United States that initiated this first campaign against international outlaws (most civilized states accepted the old Roman law definition of pirates as "enemies of the human race").

It makes me think of Somalia in the current age. Which brings to mind another thought. Should we consider Islam in some of its forms "the cult of the pirate"?

I want to raise the Google score of that phrase so I'm going to repeat it:

Islam is the cult of the pirate.

Pass it on.

Back to Imperialism.

Pirates were the main reason Congress established a navy in 1794. In 1805, American marines marched across the desert from Egypt, forcing the pasha of Tripoli to sue for peace and surrender all American captives -- an exploit recalled by the U.S. Marine Corps anthem: "From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli."

It was reinforced in 1815 when Commodores Stephen Decatur and William Bainbridge conducted successful operations against all three of the Barbary States, as they were called.

This shamed the British into taking action themselves, and the following year Admiral Lord Exmouth subjected Algiers to what was then the fiercest naval bombardment in history -- 38,667 rounds of cannon balls, 960 large-caliber shells and hundreds of rockets. However, these victories were ephemeral. The beys repudiated the treaties they were obliged to sign as soon as American and British ships were over the horizon.

It was the French who took the logical step, in 1830, not only of storming Algiers but of conquering the entire country. France eventually turned Algeria into part of metropolitan France and settled one million colonists there. It solved the Tunis piracy problem by turning Tunisia into a protectorate, a model it later followed in Morocco. Spain, too, digested bits of the Barbary Coast, followed by Italy, which overthrew the pasha of Tripoli and created Libya. Tangiers, another nuisance, was ruled by a four-power European commission.

So colonialism was in part a response to piracy. But colonies are expensive and hard to manage.

In any case just mounting punitive expeditions doesn't solve the problem.

Britain had learned from experience that "covenants without swords" were useless, and that the sheikhs would only stick to their treaty obligations if "enforcement bases" were set up.

Hence Britain found itself becoming a major power in the Middle East, with a colony and base in Aden, other bases up and down the Gulf, and a network of treaties and protectorates with local rulers, whose heirs were educated at the British school of princes in India.

The situation in South-East Asia and the Far East was not essentially different. Amid the countless islands of these vast territories were entire communities of orang laut (sea nomads) who lived by piracy. Local rulers were too weak to extirpate them. Only the Royal Navy was strong enough.

But that meant creating modern bases -- hence the founding of Singapore. That in turn led to colonies, not only Singapore but Malaya, Sarawak and Borneo. The Dutch had been doing the same.

So piracy led to colonialism. That is something I never learned in history class. Evidently no one notified Howard Zinn either.

So what will the US be doing in those areas for the next few decades?

America and her allies may find themselves, temporarily at least, not just occupying with troops but administering obdurate terrorist states.

These may eventually include not only Afghanistan but Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Iran and Syria. Democratic regimes willing to abide by international law will be implanted where possible, but a Western political presence seems unavoidable in some cases.

I suspect the best medium-term solution will be to revive the old League of Nations mandate system, which served well as a "respectable" form of colonialism between the wars. Syria and Iraq were once highly successful mandates. Sudan, Libya and Iran have likewise been placed under special regimes by international treaty.

Countries that cannot live at peace with their neighbors and wage covert war against the international community cannot expect total independence.

I might go a little farther and not allow them any independence. To start. Gradually as the colonies become prosperous and a moderately honest civil service is formed the reigns can be loosened. But to allow them to go slack prematurely (as was done in far too many places post WW2 - at America's insistence I might add) would be a grave mistake.

So let me add another phrase to finish this post off:

Islam is the cult of outlaws and pirates.

Pass it on.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon on 04.11.11 at 01:57 PM


It is worth noting that while the United States successfully stood up to the lawless pasha, eventually the Ottomans removed his regime and restored order:


The Ottoman Empire ruled over much of the Mideast (including Saudi Arabia and Iraq) until it made the fatal mistake of siding with Germany and Austro-Hungary in World War I. Since then the former inmates have been running the place.

I don't think the U.S. has ever really wanted to be an empire, and while I hate to think out loud (and would not do so in a blog post), we might want to consider restoring the Ottomans.



That way we could still get the oil, and maybe even pull the strings behind a new puppet Caliph!

Eric Scheie   ·  April 11, 2011 2:53 PM

I should add that it took a very long time for the Ottoman Empire to fall:


Eric Scheie   ·  April 11, 2011 3:11 PM

I've often read that the British acquired an empire by accident. This mechanism makes sense.

India turned out pretty well but it came to be separated from Muslim influence by the partition of Pakistan.

I've long doubted that the US would completely withdrawl from Iraq since both parties benefit from our continued military and political involvement there. We could even make the case that the US should benefit even more than we do.

Whitehall   ·  April 12, 2011 3:42 PM

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