Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lessons from Yugoslavia, At Least for Some of Us

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that we continue to learn nothing from our past, and it might not be such a big deal if the consequences of this unforgivable ignorance weren't so dramatic. It's not exaggerating to suggest that hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of our failure to totally grasp the lessons we should have drawn from the breakup of Yugoslavia. The series of events and interactions that transpired since the death of Tito and the failed attempt at a unified government have played out throughout the Middle and Near East, where a myopic US foreign policy time and again fails to understand that it cannot control events and cannot design an outcome contrary to the natural inclinations of similarly situated groups of people.

Yugoslavia's stability was a direct consequence of it being under the rule of a powerful leader who understood the need to create a strong but culturally diversified central government, but to balance that with a certain degree of local autonomy over matters of local interest but not having ramifications at a national or international level. With Tito's death, it was only a matter of time before that experience with local autonomy would intensify and transform into a sense of nationalism and desire for self-determination. At the very least it would translate into demands for greater representation in any national government.

You could even go back to the experience of the Soviet Union for lessons that should have been applied to the current crises in the Middle and Near East. President Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost initiatives were risky attempts at satisfying the growing impulses of an impatient public, but their success in fact planted the seeds of its own destruction, setting in motion desires for autonomy that led to the eventual breakdown of the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union itself.

How is it possible that our so-called foreign policy experts did not foresee what would happen in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria, in Afghanistan, literally in all of the nations throughout this region. I realize that our foreign policy is driven by a myriad of influences and concerns over national interest and national security, but how could we even have that debate without even once making reference to the experience of Yugoslavia. The Kurds certainly learned from the experience, and no doubt the tribes and ethnic groups of the region learned from Yugoslavia's dissolution as well. What they learned is to be tenacious and firm in your demand for greater autonomy, greater power, and greater control over resources.

I mean, is my observation wrong, or does it seem that the only people pushing for a strong national government are the United States and those who spent much of the post war period living in exile where they had a disadvantage forming a strong internal coalition of power.

I have so little confidence in our political leaders and so-called experts; they all pursue agendas that are personally enriching and fail to represent our true interests overseas. Can we please, once and for all, stop this charade that we can manipulate and coerce people to do as we say. Once and awhile we are lucky and our interests may align, but otherwise we are simply kidding ourselves. We cannot make the world in our image, nor can we make it as we imagine it to be.

Once again, it is the pragmatists and the realists who are being silenced, as our foreign policy, much like our domestic policies, move from one mistake to another. No matter what the stage, it is the theatre of the absurd. Frankly, its a performance I'm tired of reviewing.

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