Support Political Decentralization and Enterprise for Middle East Regions and Refugees
Improved Kurdish relations with Turkey are good news for the Middle East and for oil consumers. Consider this June 23rd article on Kurdish oil being sold to Israel:
|Area historically inhabited by Kurds. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
The political significance is enormous. The Kurds have in recent years made peace with Turkey, a reversal of decades of mistrust. As detailed in a New York Times op-ed today (“Turkey’s Best Ally: The Kurds”), Turkey now has a 50-year deal to send Kurdish oil by pipeline to Ceyhan, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced support for the Kurds’ right to self determination.
U.S. authorities oppose the sale and support the outraged Iraq central government:
The trade naturally triggered outrage from Baghdad, which considers illegal any export of Kurdish oil not made under the auspices of the federal oil ministry. A U.S. State Department official told the Wall Street Journal that the deal opens up the buyer to “potentially serious legal risks.”
Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute has long argued for a “soft partition” of
Iraq (as well as Syria and Libya) that would decentralize economic and political authority. Partitioning for Peace, the title of Eland’s 2009 book on “An Exit Strategy for Iraq,” suggested an approach resembling the mostly forgotten idea of federalism in the United States.
Debaters should consider the advantages of U.S./Middle East policy reforms that reflect Constitutional principles relevant here in the United States. Supporting or at least not trying to block decentralizing “soft partition” overseas can be appreciated by everyday people here (if not in DC), as a better way to advance local control, peace, and prosperity.
We can wish that the elected Shia leadership in Iraq didn’t push Sunnis out of power the instant U.S. troops left the country, but they did. Sunni regions and neighborhoods don’t want to be dominated by a Shia government or Shia police forces. So they fight. Kurdish regions have addressed this problem through taking political and economic control. They have a soft partition already.
More on Middle East oil policy is in a previous post, and a similar version is online today on the MasterResource blog here.
The U.S. has long supported centralized secular authoritarian governments in the Middle East for a variety of reasons, including the misguided belief that “economic security” in the U.S. depended supporting the Middle East status quo, no matter how authoritarian and repressive.
The U.S. federal government is having a hard enough time dealing with scandals, deficits, lost hard drives and broken websites. How likely is it that officials at the State and Defense Departments will know what policies are best for the Iraq government to pursue?
Plus, a whole raft of other U.S. federal agencies fund various programs and policies in Iraq. Maybe they know what they are doing, but this money generally flows to the central government, and from there some flows out to support programs that may or may not improve the lives of everyday people.
Arguments are made that the U.S. needs to stay involved in Iraq to support the elected government. But supporting the central government may slow the process of natural partition of Iraq into self-governing regions that better match ethnic and religious tribal areas.
Additional U.S. government funds flow to other Middle East governments for other programs. Considering funding for refugees for which the U.S. has apparently provided some $2.4 billion:
As Lebanon places new restrictions on Syrian refugees, Secretary Kerry has announced that the United States will provide another $290 million of humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Syrian conflict, both in Syria and in neighboring countries hosting refugees, including $51 million to support Lebanon as a host community. This brings U.S. humanitarian assistance for refugees of the Syria conflict and their host countries to over $2 billion, and assistance for Lebanon to about $400 million. [Source: human rights first.]
Dozens or perhaps hundreds of nonprofit organizations work to assist refugees in addition to government programs and grants. Voluntary organizations have advantages in being less politicized and better able to adapt quickly with new projects.
Strangely though, consider that refugees are considered a project requiring “robust international aid” rather than a tragic but valuable opportunity for investment and economic development. Millions of immigrants to America in the 19th and early 20th centuries were refugees from overseas conflicts and famines. However terrible the conditions were in the lands they left, when they arrived in America, Canada, Argentina, and Australia, most were able to take advantage of economic opportunities to work their way out of poverty.
So in a world today with some 42 million refugees, how best can a coalition of those willing actually help? I would suggest that economic opportunity is still the best response.
The basement was cold and dank. The Iraqi refugee women huddled around the single kerosene heater – gloves on, scarves wrapped tightly around their necks. They began to speak. “We can do anything. We have to.” “Our husbands sit at home depressed and do nothing,” they said. Fierce. Tough. Reticent. We were in the grim, industrial city of Zarqa, some 30 miles north of Amman. It is a place where many Iraqi refugees relocate when they start to deplete their savings: the rents are cheaper than Amman; the city, shrouded in smog, is less desirable.
I was here on behalf of the Near East Foundation (NEF), a partner organization, to assess home-based enterprises: Are they viable? If so, which sectors provide the most realistic and lucrative opportunities?
Iraqi refugees do not have the right to work in Jordan, but they can engage in “under-the-radar” income generation activities. This informal work, much of it undertaken in refugees’ homes, is a source of much-needed money to provide for their families. In addition, prevailing socio-cultural norms often impede women’s mobility in the public sphere and hamper their access to markets and other economic opportunities. As such, home-based enterprises are the only feasible option for most Iraqis and even for many Jordanian women.
Previous posts have argued that economic freedom, or the lack of it, is at the root of poverty and conflict across Middle Eastern countries. No surprise then
that these countries where formal free enterprise is tightly regulated also restrict the economic freedom of refugees: “Iraqi refugees do not have the right to work in Jordan, but they can engage in “under-the-radar” income generation activities.” “Under-the-radar” unfortunately translates as informal or illegal, and that means police or politicians have to be paid off not to notice.
U.S. refugee policy toward the Middle East could encourage governments receiving U.S. aid to allow refugees access to productive work. In the status quo, government aid flows to host governments, and NGOs are free to bring their checkbooks and food aid. But bringing tools and technology to invest in productive enterprises is a horse of a different color. Suddenly there are fears that refugees and their children might be “exploited,” or might not receive “living wages,” or someone might profit from refugee labor (the horror!). Locals might complain that they should benefit from job opportunities or that refugees are putting them out of work. And local elites wouldn’t miss the chance to grab aid and investment dollars flowing by.
Mercy Corps is one of many NGOs assisting Syrian refugees. Mercy Corps also works to build capacity of communities to support refugees over time, which includes productive work.
MercyCorps Syria Crisis page and video here.
Reinventing refugee camps as free-trade zones or economic freedom zones would allow international investors, NGOS, and relatives overseas, to bring capital equipment for home and local enterprises where refugees from conflicts in Syria and Iraq could support themselves as they learn skills each day.