Note to self: ethnic cleansing is a useful first step in nation-building by mattsteinglass
April 1, 2009, 9:18 pm
Filed under: Europe, Iraq

Will Iraq hold after the US leaves, wonders Andrew Sullivan? Or will it collapse back into internecine strife as the Shiite-led government fails to continue buying off the Sunnis and the Sons of Iraq start battling the Army?

One thing nobody reflected on much back in 2003, when neo-cons were arguing that we built a democracy in postwar Germany so why not Iraq: as Tony Judt writes in Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, the postwar settlement in Europe involved vast amounts of ethnic cleansing, which left the states the US (and USSR) proposed to rebuild neatly settled on linguistic and ethnic lines. Czechoslovakia and Poland expelled millions of Germans. Yugoslavia expelled Italians. Hungary expelled Rumanians and vice versa. And of course the Jews were dead, and those that weren’t soon left for Palestine. The map of Central and Eastern Europe was sorted of most of its troublesome Austro-Hungarian complexity. And as it turns out it’s much easier to build a nation when its population doesn’t have murderous long-running internal religious and ethnic differences.


4 Comments so far
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Just look at the aftermath of the post-Yugoslavian ethnic cleansing: those nationalist forces didn’t continue to kill and rape and pillage but instead forcefully made nations. And then went on with life.

Not that things can’t flare up again and certainly not to dismiss the evil that went on, but it’s a pretty clear signal that ethnic cleansing does solve problems.

That runs counter to everything I want to believe in as an American who grew up around people from everywhere, lots of resources available, and not much economic hardship (and really no hardship by world standards.) I certainly want people to get along, but history has proven they often don’t want to. And the modern world has enough guns to force almost everyone out of somewhere, so I guess the best thing to hope for is for everyone to get a homeland rather than a mass grave.

Comment by jon

The issue is not that ethnic cleansing solves problems, after all, we solved our Native American problems in the US in the same way. There are two issues:

a) On a political-moral level, do we really want to implement, or justify, a policy that is widely perceived — today — to involve a gross violation of individual human rights?

b) On a strictly political level, ethnic cleansing in Iraq can only be a prelude to a breakup of the state into three entities: a Sunni one, a Shiite one, and a Kurdish one. If that happens, who gets the oil? (Say, around Mosul). Will a Kurdish state aggravate tensions with Turkey and its Kurdish minority? Will a Shiite state (which surely will get all the oil around Basra) become willy nilly a territory of Shiite Iran?

Some have been saying that partition — which would involve ethnic cleansing of a “voluntary” sort — was inevitable ever since the invasion in 2003. There certainly does seem to be a consensus that if partition/ethnic cleansing is carried out, the US will solve one set of problems and replace it with another set of problems that will be even more complicated and hard for us to manage.

Comment by Steve Moore

[…] the right circumstances, it is extremely conducive to the worst kinds of demagoguery.  And then, as Matt Steinglass notes, there is also the not-so-insignificant fact that democracies are better equipped to thrive when […]

Pingback by Ethnic cleansing is surprisingly conducive to democracy « The United States of Jamerica

“I’ve got one who can see…”

Comment by A.R.Yngve

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