Making smaller countries only fosters war

Published 9:50 am Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pothole Prairie by Tim Engstrom

Maybe it’s because I come from a big country, but I believe if the world wants to strive for peace in the Middle East, it ought to strive for bigger counties.

To me, it seems bigger countries handle massive, peaceful power transfers better than smaller, more vulnerable countries.

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America is a big country. Whatever issues that arise — guns, abortion, gay marriage, creation vs. evolution, fiscal debt, partisan polarization, education of our youth — we are certain the system in place will continue. We can swing from George W. Bush all the way to Barack Obama without violence. We work it out with debate.

Yes, our big country has seen violence. The U.S. Civil War is the prime example. But we pretty much haven’t had all-out war on American soil since that horrific slaughter. We’ve grown since then, too.

And big countries change peacefully even if they aren’t democracies.

China is a one-party country, ruled by the Community Party. It went from being a closed economy in the 1970s to figuring out the benefits of capitalism by the 1990s. That’s a remarkable turnaround. I’m not glorifying China, but common people there aren’t being ravaged by war. That’s good.

And look at how the Soviet Union fell. Not a gunshot fired.

Perhaps I’m wrong. I merely am speculating here. I don’t condone Russia’s treatment of Ukraine, by any means. I don’t like the Chinese propping up the North Korean regime.

Still, I’d like to see research based on sheer territory and by population density to determine whether big countries foster more peace worldwide than small countries.

In a nutshell, world politics works like this: The powerful countries have a hard time getting what they want from other powerful countries, so they use small countries as pawns instead. Sometimes it is mere diplomacy. Other times, it is all out war.

Iran is big. It maintains domestic tranquility but interferes in the politics of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, to name a few. The United States does the same in various ways around the world. We’ve started wars abroad, too.

To me, it was a mistake by the European powers to divide the Ottoman Empire in the wake of its loss in World War I. The Ottoman Empire was a Turkish-run country that controlled a large swath of the Middle East from the Balkans to Mecca to Baghdad. The empire was partitioned between 1918 and 1923 along many of the lines we recognize today.

The League of Nations — the forerunner to the United Nations that existed between the world wars — permitted France and Great Britain to decide what the former Ottoman Empire would become.

The British Empire established the Kingdom of Iraq in 1921 and granted full independence in 1932. Since then, the country has gone through violence and turbulence, except during periods ruled by fierce dictators. Why would the European powers, with all their knowledge of racism, nationalism and religion-motivated violence back on their continent, decide it might be reasonable to form a nation of Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Yazidis and Turkmen is beyond me?

I’ve been to Iraq. I was in the Army in the Persian Gulf War back in 1990. Iraq can be a beautiful place when it wants to be. If only it could find peace. Lately, there has been talk making Iraq into three small countries.

Imagine if, instead, the Middle East were made into five major powers. Partition it into countries called Persia, Arabia, Turkey, Israel and Egypt. They would be strong enough to quell rebellions and establish peace.

Egypt would be as it is now, plus Libya. Israel would have all of Palestine. Turkey would occupy Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. Persia would have Iran, Afghanistan and southern Iraq. Arabia would have the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan and central Iraq.

Power would provide balance. Balance provides peace. Peace fosters trade. Trade fosters goodwill and a middle class.

That might seem extreme, but I bet it would work. There would be fewer little countries through which the big countries could play tug of war.

What’s the precedence? Look at the peace in the Middle East under five centuries of Ottoman rule. There was balance among big powers and no small players.

Isn’t it strange that a so-called peace treaty after World War I resulted in the end of peace?

It would be difficult to divide the entire region in one fell swoop, but perhaps the start would be splitting up Iraq and giving areas of that country over to its neighbors, rather than making even smaller, even weaker countries dominated by warlords.


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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