Once upon a time there was a country that was located on one of the fringe areas of western geography and to which most people paid little attention. It was made up of several diverse groups of people, separated by religious and ethnic differences, and with a long history of conflict and distrust among them. Its boundaries had been set by the European colonial powers as an outcome of WWI with its breakup of traditional empires. These borders were not particularly mindful of older divisions and rivalries and traditional territories. It was ruled by a ruthless dictator who used force to keep his potentially divisive peoples together in some form of polity.
When the dictator was removed from power, the groups fell to bickering among themselves, and then fierce and bloody conflict broke out. Militias, mass killings, mass graves, and neighbor vs. neighbor soon became the norm, along with shellings of civilians, hostage taking, rape, etc. There were larger countries armed with nuclear weapons who espoused the concerns of one or the other of the fighting ethnic groups. The western powers were shocked, and the fear that this smaller war could easily lead to a larger one was discussed endlessly. Many ways to keep the country together were proposed and some were tried. But no one could muster the requisite amount of blood and treasure to impose a “colonial” solution. Despite all the hand wringing, and all the bloodshed and reprehensible war crimes, the center did not hold.
The result, however, was not the creation of a terrorist haven, or the triggering of a larger war of the traditional powers. The result was Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro. And maybe Kosovo, depending on how one counts. One large country—Yugoslavia—was now seven smaller ones. Is the world better off or worse off?
It is hard to understand any argument that the US or NATO or the EU or the Bobbsey Twins should get involved in Iraq and the murderous, unfortunate conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Let us stipulate that it is a tragedy for those directly involved, and that many innocent lives will be lost, and that maybe even a quite unattractive Islamist regime enforcing Sharia law will be established in part of the territory. Productive capacity of all sorts will be destroyed, as well infrastructure that the US has built or funded. Cultural landmarks will be desecrated or looted despite UN designation. Competing parties from the outside, notably Saudi Arabia and Iran, will support their own co-religionists and prolong the conflict. And once everyone has finished killing enough of everyone else, there will most likely be three smaller, weaker countries where one had stood before.
These three countries will not be particularly attractive as global democratic partners, they will have values that we do not espouse, especially with regard to the treatment of women, they won’t like us much in general, and they won’t be very good trading partners. They will not be nice places in which to take a vacation. But one thing is for sure—they will still sell us oil. They have to, it’s all they’ve got and they will need the money.
Note as evidence for the above that just last week, Oryx Petroleum Corporation Limited a publicly traded and Toronto listed oil company, announced on 7 July a production and drilling update for the Demir Dagh field in the Hawler license area in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The results were generally positive, with production capacity not approaching 4000 barrels per day.
Oryx Petroleum is the operator and has a 65% participating and working interest in the Hawler license area. The Chief Operating Officer noted, “We expect to spud DD-7 [an appraisal well] in the coming weeks and expect to drill three additional development wells at Demir Dagh this year in order to increase production capacity and continue delineating the field.
Importantly, our operations remain largely unaffected by the security situation in northern Iraq, outside of the Kurdistan Region. We continue to vigilantly monitor the situation and implement measures to mitigate risks.”
That used to be important. Thanks to the advances of technology, and not thanks particularly to US policy (see the Keystone XL pipeline debate), the US is rapidly headed to being a net oil exporter. So the Iraq states, once the destruction is over, will sell their oil to Europe and India and China, which is probably just fine.
One or all of these countries may continue to pose threats to their neighbors, but they will pose no particular security threat to the US. They may serve as a haven for terrorists, but there are lots of havens for terrorists and one more or less really won’t make that much difference, so long as we have the intelligence apparatus to keep watch and the long range weaponry to make terrorist training centers unpleasant places from time to time.
I would far rather live in a world with lots of little and unpowerful countries, versus one with fewer large, powerful countries. China will no doubt be handful enough in the coming decades. Having three countries in what used to be Iraq instead of one is in fact a good thing, for us and for the rest of the world.
—-Robert Hemphill is an author and former senior executive with a global power company. His most recent book is Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons, a humorous look at international business. Learn more at www.rfhemphill.com.