This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: March 26, 2007): A9.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401)
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:
Partition. It was nobody’s first choice as an aim for U.S. Iraq policy, but partition might just be the best interim solution now available to protect our interests in 2007 and beyond. As a surge of thousands of additional U.S. Armed Forces personnel toward the war zone in Iraq proceeds, our responsible duty here at home is to weigh all the options about the ultimate aim of their mission. Unfortunately, excessive devotion to the principle of preserving the integrity of international frontiers has led too many policymakers, and too many of the influential among us, to exclude from consideration a time tested, durable, but imperfect solution: Redraw the borders.
Partition has a checkered past at solving international disputes, but a better one at managing them. In our current context, managing better the problems that have arisen from the occupation of Iraq, 2003-2007, should interest us. The day of the perfect solution is long past.
In 1947, partitioning to create separate states for the two major South Asian religious communities didn’t solve the animosities among Muslims and Hindus in British India. But, after huge population relocations, it did steer in a new, manageable direction the problem of the separate aspirations of the peoples of the sub-Continent. Fitfully, stability emerged, to be sure: small international wars contesting the lines still happened in Kashmir (1965), and these led in one case to redefining the meaning of the new international borders, as Bengla Desh was created in 1971. But all out war between India and Pakistan was avoided. Within India a social meltdown also managed not to occur, which is no small feat since nearly one hundred million Muslims continue to live in relative peace with more than a billion Hindus and Bhuddists there. The partition of South Asia in 1947 was no picnic, but it did channel in manageable directions the problem of intensely held, but violently separate, aspirations of distinct religious and cultural communities.
Conflict in Ireland also managed to be muddled through adequately by the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921, which partitioned Ireland. After years of war against Britain, the Irish were separated into two entities: the 26 counties of the largely Catholic south (now called Eire), and the six counties of the largely Protestant north which remain an integral part of America’s most reliable ally, the state known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Perfectionists –and Irish-American nationalists— will remind us that Protestant tyranny aggravated grievances of Northern Catholics for 50 plus years thereafter. True enough. And we must candidly acknowledge that the need to share power among these communities still in 2007 is better understood by the peoples there than by their elected political leaders. But despite more than 3000 deaths in sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, 1968-1998, the fragile peace agreed to by majority vote of all communities, and known since 1998 as the “Good Friday Accords,” is holding. Partition managed the problem of intense, religion-based political claims that led to violence until the peoples themselves were willing to reach for a solution: peace.
Partition never is anyone’s first choice. Radicals want always to eat the whole pie and share none with their neighbor. Even humanitarians are shy about endorsing partition because it imposes costs on innocent people. These costs are real. In real life, sometimes the costs even have been unfairly distributed. Each armed faction in Ireland sought other outcomes at the onset of hostilities, and Partition produced losers: pressures to move South were strongly felt by Catholics after Partition. Partition as much as war uprooted, divided, and ripped apart communities and families. In British India, millions were forced by religious, inter-communal violence in response to Partition to flee their dangerous towns of residence, and to seek sanctuary in new, alien settings designated by outsiders audacious enough to re-draw borders. Tragedies similar to this made parallel the post-Partition experience of Palestinian Arabs and Jews from throughout the Arab world, after the United Nations drew new borders to designate Jewish and Arab states in 1947-48.
Managing the consequences of partitions in Ireland, India, and Israel / Palestine have so challenged world leaders for several generations that we may be reluctant to advocate the course of partition anew. Refugees leave, and some are forced out when lines are drawn; others sometimes end up footing the bill. Humanitarian costs appear high no matter who pays. But the calamitous costs of ethnic cleansing, sectarian civil war, and potential genocide are what properly ought to be compared to the payable costs involved in relocating people on new sides of artificially drawn borders. Moreover, managing a problem imperfectly is to be preferred to abetting catastrophe by inaction. Today, the millions of Iraqi refugees homeless inside Iraq and fleeing throughout the Middle East are such a catastrophe-in-waiting.
Thus it is that in 2007, the American interest in preserving life, preventing genocide, and obstructing emergence of safe havens for terrorists, may in Iraq now best be served by beginning openly to consider the merits involved if the place were to be cut up into smaller Kurdish, Shi’ite, and Sunni states. If Iraqis no longer prefer a united future together, no American surge of troops can be strong enough glue to achieve protection of either our interests or our values there.
return to Professor Bowen's main page