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Alex Bäcker's Wiki / Is Secession a Bad Name for the Right of Peoples to Self Determination
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Is Secession a Bad Name for the Right of Peoples to Self Determination

Page history last edited by Alex Backer, Ph.D. 15 years, 5 months ago

The Founding Fathers' Doctrine versus Abraham Lincoln's


President Bush has said he has two goals for US troops in Iraq. The first is to stop terrorism. Given that the one thing that all the terrorists seem to have in common is a dislike for foreign troops in Iraqi soil, this goal would seem to be best accomplished by removing U.S. troops from sovereign Iraq. President Bush’s second stated goal is to ensure that Iraq's democratic government succeeds. This requires an agreement as to what it means for a government to succeed. A look at our own history and that of other regions in turmoil can prove illuminating in this regard.


George Washington and the Founding Fathers believed in the right of people to elect their own government. They believed this right to be above that of a state claiming sovereignty over the people. In Washington's & Jefferson's value system, the American people's right to self-determination --to elect their own government-- superseded the British Crown's right to keep the Commonwealth united under one government.


This doctrine first got tested with the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln decided that the Confederates' right to elect their own government was to give in to the mandate Lincoln felt to keep the Union together. In Lincoln's doctrine, unity overruled the rights of people to self-determination. The Civil War had a second theme, that of the fight against slavery, but Lincoln did not free the slaves until after he had declared War on Confederates, and then only in Confederate states, not Union ones: Lincoln emancipated slaves in the Confederate States as an attempt to cripple the economic machinery of the Confederates and gain a military advantage in the Civil War, as a strategy toward his goal of unity.


Today, these two conflicting doctrines clash again. Should Iraqi unity be the goal, or should the very different peoples living in that land, which was stitched together by foreign powers, be allowed the very right of self determination that granted America its independence from European colonial powers?


Unity offers people all the advantages of scale –larger markets, more clout, larger armies. Yet when the differences –religious, cultural, political—between peoples run so deep that they bring a country to the brink of civil war, unity does not exist, and its benefits are undermined. In those cases, I believe it better to give peoples the right to elect their own government, and let unity build over time, as a decision made by sovereign peoples, not one imposed by force by a central authority. After all, the thirteen colonies voluntarily relegated some of their powers to a Federal Government. The European Union came into being through the will of sovereign nations, which chose which powers to delegate to a central authority and which to keep. Conversely, the authoritarian imposition of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia as states agglutinating different peoples failed, disintegrating after the fall of the authoritarian governments that enforced them.


In a world of economic globalization that knows no frontiers, the trend for the last few decades has been toward political autonomy of different peoples living in artificial states –witness the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Letting each Iraqi province vote to choose whether it belongs in Iraq or not could be the solution that President Bush is seeking for the Iraqi debacle. If Iraqis choose to separate into multiple states, an ancillary benefit to the world would be risk reduction via diversification of oil supply, reducing the amount of oil subject to the whims of any one regime.


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