A History of Nation Building – Part 4

Most countries that resulted from the Colonial Era are not like the United States or Canada. The native populations were not replaced, and many had to resort to varying levels of civil unrest to achieve independence.

As I said in the introduction to the previous part, while often marginalized even by the Colonial Powers, nation building was part of the intent. The efforts towards that in these countries varied, with some well along the way to local rule, others nearly abandoned as decolonization became a race instead of a process, and a few becoming independent because of extreme violence.

A number of important examples can be found by examining various parts of the British Empire. I will start with the Middle East.

Of Incense, Oil and Kings

Throughout the Middle East and into Egypt and Sudan, the British played a constant game of trying to balance access to trade with local sensibilities. The Gulf started with treaties signed with local sheiks to prevent piracy and provide access for British traders. Of course those “local sensibilities” translated into “Islamist monarchies”. Where the British installed strong ones, their nations succeed, where they installed weak ones, their nations failed, and with one exception came under the rule of generally left-leaning dictators.

Where did they succeed?

Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In Saudi Arabia they originally supported the wrong side but switched quickly when their chosen candidate lost. They gave Jordan and Iraq to the loser as a consolation prize. Unfortunately those states have all gone on to be major sponsors of Islamist terrorism, “conveniently” making sure said terrorists were exported from their countries to pester anyone else.

Where did they fail?

Egypt’s King Farouk

In Egypt and Iraq the monarchs were weaker, remaining heavily dependent on, if not mere figureheads for, the British. As a result Arab Nationalism, Marxism, and Islamist grew. In Egypt, King Farouk also suffered a significant loss of prestige as a result of failing to conquer Israel, as well as Egypt being the home of the Muslim Brotherhood, and was replaced by Nasser in 1952. In Iraq, King Faisal II attempted to hold on by forming a closer alliance with his cousin King Hussein of Jordan to counter the pan-Arab union of Egypt and Syria, as well as support Lebanon against Syria, but that just made him more offensive to the Arab Nationalists, and he was gone in 1958. Both Egypt and Iraq came to be ruled by a succession of strong dictators with a distinct Marxist lean, and pretensions of pan-Arabism. The Marxism faded, no coincidentally with the fading of the Soviet subsidies, to be replaced with Islamism. That ended in Iraq when Saddam Hussein annoyed the U.S. one time too many. Egypt appears stable, but is facing a looming crisis as Hosni Mubarak attempts to pass the Presidency to his son as Assad did in Syria.

Jordan falls somewhere between those two. Its monarchy is stronger, it did better against Israel in 1948, and it defeated the Marxist/pan-Arabist uprising of Yasser Arafat. Despite that it remains a prime candidate for Royal Line Most Likely to Go Extinct in the Middle East.

Yemen is a mess. The monarchies there were always weak, and when the British finally left Marxist uprising promptly replaced them. In the south this was relatively peaceful. In the north it led to a major war with Egypt intervening on the side of the Marxist/pan-Arabist rebels, and Saudi Arabia supporting the Shiite monarchy. (Though no doubt hoping to annex the entire region if they could.) The monarchy fell, the Yemens eventually united, and the Marxist rhetoric faded as it has in Egypt and Iraq. Of course this has left the Yemeni government with absolutely nothing to bolster itself, and so Islamist extremism is on the rise, as well as a resurgent Shiite insurgency in the north.

If possible, Sudan is an even bigger mess than Yemen. It began when the Egyptian pre-monarchy began conquering it. When the monarchy wound up bankrupt, the British bailed them out with Sudan as the collateral and the British actively trying to take over that collateral. The Egyptians eventually gave up on trying to get it back, cutting their claims in an attempt to get the British out by undermining the legitimacy of the British claim. Unfortunately it worked. The British left, and Sudan descended into decades of civil war, Marxist governments, and ultimately Islamists governments. Now Southern Sudan is on the verge of independence, but what nation is built there remains very much in question.

That brings us to Israel.

In many ways Israel is like the United States:

  • It was born of an “anti-colonial” guerilla war.
  • It has maintained a stable, thoroughly Western, government since its inception.
  • It has not become an economic powerhouse, a result of having to spend too much on its military, too much on integrating refugees, and too much on a socialist safety net, but it is a major R&D powerhouse, outdone only by the U.S., which is several hundred times it size.

So why isn’t Israel just like the U.S.?

Location, location, location.

Not as a neighbor to the Arabs, but as a neighbor to Europe.

Once the U.S. was independent we were simply too far away for Europe to muck with us. Yes, we had that little dustup in 1812 with the British, but then we both just gave up on it as a lost cause. The French fought the Quasi-War with us then gave up and sold us Louisiana. The Spanish didn’t even bother with a war, they just sold us Florida. They did resist somewhat over Cuba and Puerto Rico, but that was slightly more than a border dispute by European standards. The Russians were happy to irk the British by selling us Alaska rather than losing it in a war to the British. That left Mexico, whose problems require their own set of essays to properly explore. Suffice that they had already lost a civil war with Texas and were fighting another when we beat them to reach the Pacific.

Conversely, aside from the British and French “hiring” Israel for the Suez Crisis, the Europeans have been more than happy to stick their noses into Israel’s foreign affairs from the beginning to the point that Israel has trouble stretching to the far shore of Lake Galilee, let alone from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea or Gulf of Eilat.

That the British government retained a long term resentment for getting kicked out by the Israelis didn’t help, and that the Soviet Union was more than happy to buy the pan-Arabist groups over to Marxism did not help either.

For the final part we will look at Southern Africa and the effects of a “very peculiar institution” on nation building.


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