The world is sick. Un/fortunately, while advocates of Brexit and other populists have correctly identified the symptoms of broad societal illness—overpowering anxiety about the present and the future; a loss of control of the self, the family, the community and the nation itself—they have misdiagnosed the primary cause of our infirmity and their efforts to cure the patient are therefore doomed to fail.
The palliative narrative offered by Leavers is a simple one. In their view, a nefarious cabal of ‘globalists’ are far removed from the everyday realities of regular people. Yet they have somehow wrested authority from local representatives (since globalism and national interest are inherently at odds), and thereby have undermined the democratic character and unique identities of individual countries. Leavers now suggest that a ream of new barriers and other protectionist measures will seal and heal the punctured state and allow people to “take back control” of their countr(ies).
Iraq is once again in political turmoil, and once again we are hearing calls to partition the country into three ethno-sectarian cantonments: Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurd. The partition trope resurfaces periodically, most often while Iraq looks “too hard to fix.” Advocates of partition suggest that Iraq is a false construct of the century-old Sykes-Picot treaty, and that Iraqis are incapable of sustaining a heterogeneous state. Putting aside the fact that the Sykes-Picot narrative is atbestcontested, it is time to put the partition trope to the test and then, hopefully, to rest. The mostly non-Iraqi voices who want to divide the country into thirds owe the Iraqi people and the rest of the world extensive, detailed clarification. Surely, any plan to drastically restructure Iraq must be more thoughtful and detailed than the widely condemned 2003 plan to invade Iraq. At the very least, advocates for partition should address some fundamental questions. If they cannot answer these satisfactorily then they should pause before reissuing what many Iraqis view as disheartening, and even inflammatory, positions about their state.
First, who wants to break the state into three parts, either under “loose federalism” or as separate states? There appears to be no evidence that the current Sunni revolt seeks sectarian partition. Other than the outlying Islamic State terrorists, Sunni Arab Iraqis want to be part of and, in some cases to control, the state. Most Sunni Arabs I have spoken with are terrified by the idea of partition. It does not appear that leaders from Iraq’s powerful Da’wa party, or even Muqtada al-Sadr, seek partition. While the two major Kurdish parties—the PUK and the KDP—do seek eventual partition or confederation for themselves, and while the head of the PUK has suggested three way partition, neither party has pushed hard for this solution and neither party can claim to represent Iraqi Arab interests. Arguments for partition cannot be predicated on the idea that this is what the Iraqis want. If Iraqis do eventually seek three-way partition, then there is no need to advocate the position, as they will get there of their own accord.
While the debate over American strategy in the Vietnam War has been long and bitter, it has also been strangely constricted. This stems in part from the fact it has largely been an anguished dialogue among Americans searching for the reasons which underlay their nation’s defeat. This means that a lot of research into the Vietnam War ultimately seems to boil down to a search for villains – be they firepower-mad generals, feckless politicians, or corrupt and incompetent local allies.
The current crises associated with terrorism notwithstanding, in particular the shocking acts by individuals in the beheading of civilians as acts of revenge, there are issues with regard to the nation-state and its role in the ‘shaping’ of terrorism that have remained undisclosed. The active participation of individuals and/or groups and their forming of a reaction to the nation-state is what has remained at the forefront of the commentary. By its very nature, the focus on the reaction implies a dyad: the perpetual reinforcement of the nation-state as being just and reasonable, and that those who react against the nation-state and its laws/wisdoms are criminals. Hence, there has been no comment with regard to the ‘process’ – such as the systemic brutalisation of a populace as encountered by the ‘Marsh Peoples’ of southern Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime, which caused them to rise up after the First Gulf War. To wit, governments need not acknowledge their role in creating terrorists, and terrorism. However, placing terrorism in perspective with regard to the nation-state provides a useful template and guide to what it consists ‘of.’
In Future StatesStephen Paul Haigh addresses the phenomena of globalization. The central argument made is for the resilience, adaptability and centrality of states in the global system, a system which is rendered neo-medieval in form by globalization. For Haigh, states transformed into embedded cosmopolitanism states are an institutional necessity in a global system that has returned to “medieval-style configurations of segmented or cross-cutting authority” (p.3). Clearly, the book deals with some extremely big questions and the author’s arguments are supported by a clear, subtle and reflexive analysis of globalization and states throughout.
Future States provides a comprehensive investigation of the development of modern states as we now know them. Haigh recognises that there is nothing natural about the concepts of sovereignty and the Westphalian state system (p.48), and he explores how they came to be. Haigh argues that with the formation of the Westphalian system “Pope above and Lord below lost influence; in their stead the King” (p.57). Driven by material causes (p.48) as well as and ideational ones (p.50), this political order signalled a shift of identity, power and allegiance from institutions at either extreme of near and far and concentrated them in the middle (p.57).