Friday, August 11, 2006

Politics: The "B" word...

In talking with a lot of folks who have considered opinions on the situation in Iraq, many of whom have actually had boots on the ground there recently, a disturbing word keeps popping up:

Balkanization.

P.J. O'Rourke once wittily remarked that Tito had a great strategy to keep Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and all the other constituents of his polyglot ersatz nation from killing each other. His plan was a brilliantly simple one: he did it for them. After he was gone it didn't take long for the denizens of the synthetic republic of Yugoslavia to start rummaging through sock drawers and digging behind loose bricks in their fireplaces to drag out long-dormant grudges and start beating each other over the noggin with them. The country went to pieces so fast that nations as far away as the USA were hit with the shrapnel.

The situation in post-Saddam Iraq is starting to look depressingly similar. Now that Saddam is no longer available to kill them wholesale, his liberated subjects (liberally goaded by outside agents provocateur from various Muj factions) are happily back to slaying each other on a more retail scale. This of course raises the troubling question as to which is the proper approach for us: Do we keep applying splints and bandages and hope the country knits itself together stably over the long term? Or do we accept the centripital forces at work and try to manage the fragmentation, letting the country split itself into the three chunks into which it's so desperately trying to shatter, and thereby focus our attention on the breakaway republics that need it most? Either way is a gamble, and the potential payoff for each path has its upsides and downsides.

I'm just glad it's not up to me to make calls like this...

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how little national identity the rest of the world seems to have. I'm constantly suprised by how Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds, Croats, Serbs, Muslims, Chechs, Slovaks, Hutus, Tutsis and every other little group seems like they would rather just kill each other than assimilate into one culture.

Tam said...

"Three hundred thousand Yankees are dead in Southern dust,
We got three hundred thousand before they conquered us,
They died of Southern fever, of Southern steel and shot,
I wish we got three mill..."

Huh? You were saying something?


Just kidding. Mostly. ;)

Anonymous said...

Yeah. At least that was over 100 years ago, and we got over it.

I dunno. I don't think that any of that will work until the people fighting get tired of killing each other, I don't see that happening soon.

Fathairybastard said...

It would have been the hard, "Realpolitic" thing to do if we'd gone into Iraq, told them, "look, this fuckin country was drawn out on maps in Paris. It has no reason to exist. We're dividing you into three nations so each of you can protect your own interests. We've got you back so long as you're not too much trouble. Here are the guns you need to protect yourself. We're outa here. Bye." But we delude ourselves into thinking that we should do the right, moral thing.

There is a school of thought that says democracies don't have the capacity for the level of ruthlessness it takes to be effective great powers. Too much conscience. Too many conflicting interests. Too much short term thinking. Too much politics. We demonstrated a bit of it in the 60s and 70s, but it didn't last. There's always gonna be a Carter who comes along after each Nixon, to apologize and try to make people like us.

In that case, maybe we should go back and try to be a neutral country, like we were for about 160 years, realize that Israel is NOT the 51st state, and maybe we'll be able to avoid the seemingly inevitable dirty nuke floated into some port facility some day. Ok, pure fantasy time. We're hooked like crack heads on the power, and who the hell would we turn the car keys over to?

Fathairybastard said...

...and as far as the "Southern dust" thing goes, your point is well taken. It's always amazing how few people (Yankees) remember the cost that was paid. About half the South's adult male population between the ages of 14 and about 40, killed or wounded. Makes the current unpleasantness seem like play time. So, should we be shoving our way into anyone else's civil wars, trying to make nice once we've leveled the place? We're back to the Powell Doctrine... you break it, you own it.

Art Eatman said...

I ran across an article, years back, talking about the cost of projecting power. Back when only Europeans had the "high tech" weaponry (repeating rifles, etc.), it was easy to control Fuzzy Wuzzy.

Then came progress, politics and oil money.

Back when the primary occupation of mideast folks was hustling camels, goats and donkeys, westerners ran things--rather inexpensively. The awl bidness provided money; the Cold War changed the whole political deal. Now Fuzzy Wuzzy has all the RPGs, AKs and SAMs he wants. Nukes on the way.

Couple homo sap's biologically hardwired distrust of "otherness" with religious fervor and you have a serious problem.

A problem for the Average American is that we don't really understand hatred, particularly the religion-based sort. That lack of understanding leads to the notion that if we could just sit around Starbuck's and shmooze with folks, we could have a peaceful settlement.

Uh, yeah.

Art

B&N said...

Big topic, lots of problems and no easy solutions.

You guys have covered the relevant points, and it should be clear, painfully so, that this whole nation-building thing in Iraq is a lose-lose proposition when looking at the issue historically.

Some folks just want to fight, and for no apparent reason.

Oleg said...

Other people's quarrels are none of our business. If I had my say, the US would have stayed out of WW1 and WW2-Europe also.

Anonymous said...

The idea of balkanization is an old one for Iraq -- there was serious talk about it during the first Gulf War, and even long before that. Often, the very kinds of ethnic tensions threatening to destroy Iraq are what lead to the rise of a strongman in the first place. And, when that strongman is deposed, the fallout is almost a foregone conclusion. We need to be talking about this much more openly and seriously than we are, because this is where Iraq is almost certainly heading.

Anonymous said...

"centripital: moving or directed toward a center or axis."

Might you have meant "centrifugal"?

Sincerely,

The Grammar Police

Tam said...

Centrifugal force is a "pseudo-force", like the UN.

Centripital force is what keeps things going in circles, like the Democrats.

Inertia is what causes things to want to fly off on a tangent, like these comments. ;)

link

BobG said...

Actually, we did not have a civil war in this country. A civil war is where 2 or more factions are fighting for control of a country. The South did NOT want to control America; it was trying to secede and form its own government. This is a rebellion, not a civil war, the same way that the 13 colonies rebelled against England' we did not fight a civil war with them.