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Procrustean policy, Quagmires and Poor Outcomes

Procrustes was a robber, who offered the hospitality of a bed to unsuspecting travelers seeking succor or shelter and then If they were shorter than the bed, he stretched them on a rack and if they were longer, he cut off their legs to fit the size. Needless to say, all who sought his help perished eventually. Thieu, Diem, Suharto, Mobutu, Shah of Iran, Marcos and Saddam come to mind offhand and many Kings, generals and Asian presidents could suffer the same fate.

The drawback of American education is poor knowledge of geography and almost total lack of familiarity with world history. After the Second World War, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and sundry autonomous regions were patched together as Yugoslavia under a communist strongman called Tito. No sooner had he kicked the bucket, the artificial construct started unraveling under the strain of religious, linguistic and economic disparities. US and European reluctance to keep the peace at the risk of casualties, led to the Procrustean policy of massive bombing and subsequent reluctant and inadequate policing with ground forces. The outcome is being bogged down in policing forever and becoming the target of persistent factional discontent.

History repeats itself, first as a tragedy and then as a farce. Anyone familiar with Afghanistan history and wars, with the Sikhs, British, Russians, and amongst the Afghans, knows that it has never been a country. It is Balkanized into fiercely warring tribes and tribal loyalties, susceptible only to bribes and intrigues with frequently shifting loyalty and a penchant for internecine raiding and warfare in the absence of any other enemy. There are no roads, communications or common language between areas of Pashtun, Hazara, Turkmen, Uzbek and Tajik population. Smuggling and drug running are major commercial enterprises. The former King ruled by not interfering and subsequently there were three coups, war with Russia and then civil war. Then the Taliban ruled like Tito by force and fear. We used our standard strategy and bombed them to oblivion, from their prior Stone Age status and imposed a president, whose rule extends to his front porch, only when American troops are guarding it. In order to minimize casualties, we used the Northern Alliance, who have a record of loot, rape and murder and thus gave the different regions to warlords, who deal in heroin and smuggling and shoot up one another to establish their turf or to resolve disputes. Even the CIA did not read a book called 'Beyond the Khyber Pass' written by their operative John Waller. The peacekeeping forces are under the constant threat of terrorist attacks and billions of dollars are being spent with no end in sight. One could justify all that, since it had become a base for terrorists who attacked us, we had no choice. This is our second quagmire.

Iraq is ruled by a thug and merciless tyrant and has a Shiite majority in the South that could easily align and fuse with Shiite Iran, no friend of ours. The middle has a Sunni but Arab minority, which forms the ruling faction. In the north are the Kurds, a different ethnic group with its own language, clamoring for a separate state. The Kurdish areas of Turkey and Iran abut Iraqi Kurdistan. There is a serious possibility that Iraq may fragment and the Kurds will form an independent Kurdistan causing Turkey, an ally even more trouble than it is having now in fighting and oppressing the Kurds. If the southern Shiites join Iran, it will strengthen a potential adversary and give it even more oil. If we install an obedient tyrant, it will keep Iraq whole but rub more Muslims the wrong way, making it easier to recruit terrorists. We would have to maintain a ground presence in Iraq for years and end up refereeing between factions and be potential targets of antipathy or terror.

Our sanctions and the 1991 war has caused nearly a million Iraqi casualties and if the Iraqi army doesn't collapse as we predict, street to street fighting in Baghdad and the use of WMD by a desperate Saddam could lead to high casualties for us and their civilians, thus causing the same loss of goodwill we face in Serbia and Afghanistan. These were the reasons we didn't depose Saddam in 1991.

Our one bed fits all Procrustean policies are leading us into another mire. We do not seem to learn from experience. In addition there are serious problems with the economy. Budget deficits and poverty are increasing. Unemployment is going up and the stock market down. There are daily corporate scandals. Social Security is going broke and nearly one-sixth of the population lacks health insurance. Drugs and crime are a problem and pollution plagues our cities and even national parks. States are in the red and services are being cut. Education is a mess and student performance on test scores dropping. I don't know who is fooling whom, whether the trigger-happy are fooling themselves or the people. 'Once you fool me, shame on you. Twice you fool me, shame on me. Third time you fool me, you are a rogue scam artist and I am a retarded uneducable idiot' or something like that, as the Great Leader said. His confession proved that in spite of his isolation and strict quarantine, he had acquired foot-n-mouth disease, which was spreading to other houses as well.


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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