Thursday, June 29, 2006

Yugoslavia and Iraq

George Will almost sounds like an old-school self-determinist in his receipt Newsweek piece discussing the ever-growing hopeless wastefulness that is the U.S. policy in Iraq. Consider Will's parallel:

...a development 1,500 miles northwest of Baghdad, one almost lost in the welter of last week's news, deserves contemplation: Montenegro completed its dissolution of the union with Serbia. With that, the last bit of Yugoslavia was gone.

Yugoslavia and Iraq were created at the same time, in the aftermath of World War I, and for the same reason—to cope with that war's destruction of empires. Yugoslavia was assembled from shards of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Iraq was carved from the old Ottoman Empire. Both were artifacts held together always largely, and often only, by force.

As the sad and often bloody story of Yugoslavia comes to a close, the question of whether Iraq has a future as a single entity, let alone as a democratic one, remains open.

I like to think of it as crips and bloods in the same jail cell. Or, perhaps a drunken Dawg and Gator fan in the same hotel bar on the Friday night before Halloween (i.e., the night before the world's largest outdoor cocktail party, for you lay-people). It ain't gonna work. Some people don't like to play nice. And they dislike being told that they must do so even less. GW tends to throw around the term "bigotry" with respect to his opponents who suggest that certain "nations" (I use the term loosely to designate geographical regions unified in name only) and the peoples living therein can not, and will not, embrace American-style democracy and freedom. This characterization is a mistake. In fairness, you have to look outside the box. Our American "Melting-Pot" is, and absolutely should be, a powerful example for the geo-political world to follow; however, to date, our success is a rather rare exception to an otherwise all too common rule. To be sure, for centuries, a large majority of the world's tribes have been mostly immobile and, during that time, they have chosen to remain ethnically and religiously homogenous, thereby resisting the reach and influence of their alien neighbors. Indeed, the French and Germans have been breaking each other's skulls for millenia and they are all, genetically, Frankish-brothers and sisters (give or take some mixtures of Goth, Vandal, and Visigoth blood here and there). Thus, even before the invention of the euro-modeled nation state, tribes within immediate proximity of each other could not resist the urge to kick one another around.
Viewed in this light, I think it is clear that our American experiment is quite unique, even today. Just look at a post-World Cup match celebration for instance. So, what is our secret? The melting-pot achievements of America, I believe, are largely based upon the progressively liberal, tolerant, and individualistic-tendencies of our ancestors who actively chose to pull up stakes and make a new life on the American continents. They actively chose to ditch the old, static and historically ethnocentric ways of their respective homelands and to necessarily embrace the heterogeneous melting-pot of America. We, for the most part, don't reflexively distrust those with different religious views and cultural outlooks. The key is choice. Of course, there are exceptions here at home - the anti-immigration crowd, ethnic-nativists, certain segments of the evangelical-movement, the hyphenization zealots, to name a few; but generally, most Americans accept the cultural, religious and racial differences of their neighbors and abstain from promoting civil wars between them. We are special and deserve recognition accordingly. At the same time, however, it is important to recognize our little utopia of tolerance is not going to immediately translate into the land of the Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites. I see nothing bigoted about realism.