Sen. Rand Paul is right to call for an independent Kurdistan, and the arming of its forces, the Peshmerga. In doing so, he strikes a balance sorely needed in the GOP’s 2016 foreign-policy platform after years of imbalance.
The Bush administration’s subtly-stated justification for the Iraq War was to establish a vibrant, Muslim, western-style democracy in the Middle East. Such a development’s efforts in preserving Pax Americana can hardly be underestimated. An Arab democracy in the heart of the Muslim world would abide by the rule of law, uphold private property rights, foster free-thinking education, and enshrine the human rights of women and girls—all necessary ingredients to development and happiness dependent upon democracy, and woefully missing in the Middle East.
A vibrant Muslim democracy in the Middle East would also be a major blow to radical Islam, providing an example of modernity and wealth that an Obama-administration jobs program could never hope to accomplish. This would be the Muslim world’s ticket into the twenty-first century.
But establishing a democracy in Iraq proved hard to accomplish. Iraq’s sectarian divides were a powder-keg waiting to erupt, and the Iranians have too much sway over the Shia majority that dominates eastern Iraq. If there ever was one, all hope for an Iraq not entangled by Iranian influence is now lost.
Yet there is still hope of a Middle-Eastern, Islamic democracy: the Kurds.
Give the Kurds Their Own State
The Kurds practice a moderate form of Islam, have a democracy with regular elections, and are blessed with what The Economist calls “a raucous media” and “a boisterous parliament” (if our cousins across the pond think the media and parliament is let-loose, it really must be). It is time the Kurds in northern Iraq were granted statehood and given greater military aid. This is the Muslim democracy we have been hoping for.
Such a move is not nation-building. The Kurds in northern Iraq are a viable state already. They have oil revenues, functioning institutions, and a well-trained army. Kurdish institutions and society have also developed organically, unlike in Kosovo or greater Iraq.
America doesn’t have to engage in nation-building to try to ensure the success of democracy where its chances are already good. Long ago, John Stuart Mill distinguished between the futile effort of trying to impose liberty on those who do not desire it, and the fruitful effort of aiding in a people’s self-fought liberation—the latter epitomized by French assistance to the colonists during the American revolution.
“But the evil is, that if they have not sufficient love of liberty to be able to wrest it from merely domestic oppressors, the liberty which is bestowed on them by other hands than their own, will have nothing real, nothing permanent,” Mill writes in “A Few Words on Non-Intervention.” “…But the case of a people struggling against a foreign yoke, or against a native tyranny upheld by foreign arms, illustrates the reasons for nonintervention in an opposite way; for in this case the reasons themselves do not exist. A people the most attached to freedom, the most capable of defending and of making a good use of free institutions, may be unable to contend successfully for them against the military strength of another nation much more powerful. To assist a people thus kept down, is not to disturb the balance of forces on which the permanent maintenance of freedom in a country depends, but to redress that balance when it is already unfairly and violently disturbed.”
Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, the Peshmerga, have performed admirably in the face of Islamic State. They should be given weapons and greater Western aid to fight the jihadists. American assistance is also needed in negotiating a permanent and lasting understanding on such issues as the transit of oil and the territorial divide between the landlocked Kurds and the Arab-Iraqis.
What of resistance to a Kurdish state from the Iranians and the Turks, both of whom have a sizable Kurdish population? First, the Kurds are on good terms with Turkey’s flawed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but the issue is settled if a pact is brokered that guarantees a U.S. security blanket for Kurdistan as long as Kurdistan doesn’t seek to carve off portions of its neighbor’s territory.
Second, much of the U.S. reticence to arm the Kurds comes because of our attempted deal with Iran, as the Iranians act in the interests of their Shia-Iraqi proxies. If the Bush administration made an error in trying to grant democracy to the entire country of Iraq, the Obama administration is making an equal error when it fails to give the Kurds direct aid because of a desire to placate the Iranians.
The GOP’s 2016 Foreign Policy
So Paul is right to call for Kurdish independence, and arming the Kurdish Peshmerga. Such a move could have huge implications for the long-term fight against radical Islam. More broadly though, the senator from Kentucky is striking the right balance on foreign policy that the GOP sorely needs to articulate going into 2016.
Republicans want America to have a strong defense, and a global presence, because this maintains the Pax Americana. China and Japan, or South Korea and Japan, are not going to war right now because of Pax Americana. Ebola and HIV-AIDS are beaten back in Africa largely due to Pax Americana. Goods and services flow freely across the globe, employing countless millions, because of Pax Americana.
A strong case needs to be made for increasing funding for American air power, missile defense, and naval resources, while clearly distinguishing the military prowess necessary to maintain Pax Americana from nation-building.
A strong case must also be made as to why the current administration, and by association former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, practiced a reckless foreign policy when taking out Gaddafi in Libya and Mubarak in Egypt, but also a feckless foreign policy that refused to fully stand up for indigenous democratic movements in Ukraine and Iran (to name a few examples).
The GOP in 2016 can still be the party of a strong national defense, and the defense of fellow democracies, without being the party of nation-building and blind interventionism. Rand Paul strikes that balance, and calling for Kurdish independence is a good start.