Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tito and Hussein: A Useful Comparison

The year I was born, Josip Broz became Marshal of the confederation of Balkan countries we used to refer to as Yugoslavia. Known as "Tito," he was a Croatian by birth, but during World War II, he joined the Serbian-dominated, communist-allied Partisans. They were opposed to the Quisling-style traitorous state Croatia had become under the nominally Catholic government of Fascists known as the Ustasha. (Led by a bloodthirsty maniac, Anton Pavelic, Croatia welcomed Nazi invaders and engaged in a pogrom against Serbians, Jews, and gypsies. Some say the genocide that ensued claimed upward of a million lives.) After the war, Tito rose to power, first as premier, then as president, and although he was a dedicated communist himself, his defiance of the U.S.S.R. led, eventually, to Yugoslavia's expulsion from the Cominform. (It's entirely possible that Tito, unlike some die hard card-carriers in the West, knew that Stalinist Russia had more in common with Nazi Germany than with any utopia envisioned by Marx and Lenin.)

Tito ruled the confederated Balkan states with an iron hand. He was hardly a tyrant, though. Under his leadership, faithful followers of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Islam lived and worshiped side by side in peace and harmony. Although frequently critical of the United States, Tito kept the Soviets distracted and was an unexpected if only de facto ally during the Cold War. When Tito died in 1980, I knew Yugoslavia would disintegrate into chaos, and I was soon proved prescient. (In the 1970's, I had researched Serbo-Croatian relations extensively for a magazine article I did about a Croatian war criminal living in the U.S. with Justice Department complicity.) The rise of Serbian hegemony and subsequent "ethnic cleansing" (a euphemism for genocide) saw takeovers of Bosnia and Croatia, all-out warfare throughout most of the '80's, and the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of thousands, including untold numbers of Muslims. Yet today Milosevic is all but forgotten. We must repeat history when we fail to learn from it.

In some ways, the Second Iraqi War is a repetition of history. For all his evil and anti-democratic ways, Saddam was the only thing between civil war by the two major factions in the Islamic faith: the Sunnis and the Shiites. Saddam is said to have copied his personal Qu'ran from his own blood, but despite the claims of some Neo Con hard liners, the Butcher of Baghdad was a non-sectarian thug whose only allegiance was to the ruling minority party in Iraq, the Baathists. He was shrewd enough to know that imposition of Shari'a on his "subjects" was inimical to the illusion of democracy he wished to perpetuate, and his wars against Iran and Kuwait were not waged for ideological differences but for territorial and economic ambitions.

Yet, so long as he was in power, Saddam protected the Sunni population of Iraq -- and, by extension, the majority of Islam -- from the Shiite revolutionary goals of the Iranians. The latter deeply trouble not only the Saudis but many other countries in the region. The toppling of his regime may have freed the Kurds to live in peace in Northern Iraq and to extend to the majority Shiites rights they'd envied in their Sunni masters, but it provoked a civil war in Iraq that endangers stability in all of the Mideast.

This is precisely what Osama bin Laden wanted, and it has resulted in the Balkanization of Iraq. The stupidity and hard-headedness of the Bush administration has them emulating Cold War East Germany and modern-day Israel in the construction of barriers and walls in hopes of separating the U.S. from Mexico and Sunni Baghdad from their Shiite neighbors. Although the administration labels this "part of the new strategy in Iraq," as if the last-ditch efforts of the "surge" had envisioned it all along, it was only instituted after martyrs blew up part of the legislature's meeting hall within the Green Zone. This sent a double signal to anyone paying attention: not only is the zone of security in Baghdad vulnerable to attack, the surge has only exacerbated the many problems in Iraq. Now-minority Sunnis have already said that they prefer risking Shiite militiamen to being "imprisoned" in their own city -- in a word, ghetto-ized.

After religiously watching a full week of one-hour documentaries on Jihadism on PBS, titled America at a Crossroads, I've come to the conclusion that democracy and Islam are mutually exclusive, which perhaps explains the passivity of Iraq under Saddam, just as it mirrors the fatalistic attitude of the Muslim faith: 'Mshallah is more resignation than blessing. One by one, the Jihadists interviewed said pretty much the same thing, that while democracy emphasizes the freedom of the individual, Islam emphasizes individual submission to Allah. This is at the heart of Islamic fundamentalism, opposed to everything Western, everything "liberal" and democratic.

George Bush began lying to the American people long before the notorious "WMD" and "911-al Quaida" propaganda campaign. He lied during the televised debates when he told the electorate that he did not believe in "nation building." When the nuke and terrorist excuses were exposed, Bush switched to the very thing he had eschewed in the campaigning: imposing democracy on people who can't handle it.

What Bush and the Neo Cons don't seem capable of understanding is that Sen. Harry Reid is right: we really have lost the war in Iraq. Although Reid has backtracked in typical Demo fashion, his heart if not mind was in the right place; what he meant, I think, is that the loss is only military in nature. We may have lost the war, but we can still "win" the peace. The solution is entirely political in nature, and the Bush administration seems completely disinterested in finding a political solution. The Bushites now claim that the war in Iraq must be perpetuated to prevent Jihadists from fighting us on our own soil. This is a phoney line since, as intelligence experts already tell us, Jihadist cells including al Quaida and Hezbollah terrorists are already set up in the U.S., biding their time until a propitious time to strike.

What the Bush argument suggests is that the administration had ulterior motives for going to war in the first place. My wise older brother once told me, "America plans to deplete all the oil of foreign countries before we resume development of our own resources." Time has proved him right.

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