Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Kurdish Independence

The Christian Science Monitor has a new article about the aspirations of Kurdish independence. That the Kurds have long wanted a nation of their own is no secret; that they deserve one of their own is rarely in dispute, at least in the West. When the Western powers drew up the borders of the modern Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Churchill was one of those who argued for a sovereign Kurdish state. T.E. Lawrence was another.

When the U.S. created the no fly zone above their territory after the first Gulf War, we emboldened their aspirations for independence; now, for the first time, a Western power was affording them a degree of protection from their persecutors. When we demolished Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, we emboldened them even further by removing one of the major obstacles to their aspirations.

I have been called a cynic, a pessimist and a defeatist because I have said since 2002, when the Bush administration began making the case for an invasion of Iraq, that removing Hussein would make a Kurdish state inevitable. In contrast to my "pessimism" is the shockingly naive "idealism" of the Bush administration, which believes a nation as ethnically and religiously diverse as Iraq can raise a unified democracy from the ashes of a totalitarian state. Apparently the lesson of Tito's Yugslavia was quickly forgotten by anyone of consequence is the president's inner circle.

The Kurds have long shown all of the qualities that we dream about when we imagine a future Middle East; they are mostly secular, pro-Western and enterprising capitalists. When they eventually do demand a sovereign nation of their own, there will be many formidable obstacles in their path.

I hope our nation is not one of them.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Women in Congress

Sunday's edition of "Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria" had, as usual, some fascinating facts between segments. One of them was called "Women in Congress/Parliament," and it showed the following statistics:
Saudi Arabia: O%
Iran: 4%
Pakistan: 21%
Iraq: 31%
And the United States? A humbling 15%.
There you have it. There are actually Moslem nations with more women in their national legislature than in the good old USA. What would have been even more fascinating is if Foreign Exchange had first quizzed a random sampling of Americans to match up the percentages with the nations. I'm willing to bet that a vast majority would haved guessed we had the 31%.
I say this not to bash on my own country, but to point out what should be obvious to a nation whose majority of citizens call themselves Christians: that humility is one of the greatest virtues, and we as a nation ought to be more humble, particularly in our opinion of ourselves as Americans. Patriotism can often cross a fine line into idolatry, and it has become fashionable for some politicians and commentators to gleefully rail against those who seem to believe "America is a fundamentally bad nation." Never mind that these same critics often describe America as a modern day Sodom; the point is that any sane, sober and reflective American knows our nation has many shortcomings. We can and should talk about them, and even better, do something about them.
We rant about the need for democracy and opportunity in areas of the world like the Middle East, and yet our own democracy is in many ways less democratic than our parliamentary cousins across the ocean. Do we have runoffs for the presidency? Do we have proportional representation? Do we have more women in Congress than the Pakistanis do in their parliament? Do we have a healthy multi-party system where a party formed only two months ago can win a national election?
The answer to all of these questions is no. Maybe instead of criticizing the speck of dust in our brother's eye, we ought to remove the plank from our own.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Those Who Forget History...

This morning, while reading about the history of the Phillippines over a cup of coffee, a particular passage struck me. Describing America's drift toward war with Spain, the author wrote, "Republican party imperialists passionately denounced Spain, and the Democrats followed, fearful of forfeiting a potentially popular issue." The emphasis is mine.

How sadly predictable. More than a hundred years later, our political parties and our foreign policy are much the same as they were at the dawn of the twentieth century (a century, by no cooincidence, that was the bloodiest in recorded history). One party (usually the GOP) gets fired up with patriotic zeal and warlust, while the other (usually the Democrats) lacks the moral and political courage to take a stand against it, until the war is well under way and the public is showing signs of unhappiness. How anyone on either side of this political divide can today stand up and defend their position as "bold" or "visionary" or "right" is ridiculous. They merely prove George Santayana's point that "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

So what to do? Probably nothing; if there is any uniquely human quality, it is repeating one's own mistakes. Collectively, humans seem to have very little interest in studying history and profiting from its lessons, much less in examining their own individual faults and correcting them.

But for those of us who need to cling to some sliver of hope, is it too much to ask that supposedly "Christian" Republicans spend a little more time reading the Sermon on the Mount than listening to right-wing radio? Is it too much to ask that Democrats grow some spine and figure out what the hell their foreign policy is? For that matter, is it too much to ask that we break the morally and intellectually bankrupt stranglehold these two decrepit parties have on our nation? More than a century after the Spanish-American War, all they offer us is the same choice they did then: war, or bemoaning a war already well under way.

When Ariel Sharon got sick of the foreign policy deadlock between the two leading parties in Israel, he started a new party. And they won. And we have the temerity to consider ourselves the paragon of democracy? A nation that can only accomodate two parties--two parties with a proven record of unevolving and unimaginative policies--even after two centuries?