Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Convenience in Blaming Yourself

Say good-bye to Hippie Cellophane.  Western Easter, Easter, and Passover are over.  I hope y'all enjoyed it.  But, as I've said before, Hippie Cellophane is very rare.

Blaming yourself is definitely convenient in personal relationships.  It's a familiar situation to all of us. A breakup: "It's not you.  It's me."  Many times it is you.  The person has fallen out of love with you but they don't want to say why.

This applies to international relations as well.  Let me give you two examples:

A few years ago I studied the reasons why the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and the subsequent genocide they performed.  The conventional view of why Pol Pot came into power is because Nixon bombed Cambodia.  It's convenient.  Therefore, if we Americans hadn't become involved in the Vietnam War, Cambodia would have been a happy place.  No.  It was a much more complicated situation in Cambodia that helped the Khmer Rouge to come into power.  Who here reading this has heard of Prince Sihanouk’s  uncertain place on the chessboard?  Actually, who here reading this has heard of Prince Sihanouk?  Or Lon Nol?  I thought so.  Nixon's bombs over Cambodia may have complicated the political situation, but if we are going to blame anyone for the genocide, we have to understand how complicated the political situation was in Cambodia.  However, if we want to make it simple, just blame Nixon because, in many people's eyes then and now, Nixon is a villain.  We can pretend everything would have been fine and dandy if we, the West, had just kept out of Cambodia.  

By blaming ourselves, Vietnam, we can forget the "re-education" camps that were built in Vietnam and the genocide that occurred because of the "land reform" Ho Chi Minh tried to enact in the 1950s.  We can forget that Communist Chinese troops reinforced North Vietnam. We can forget the thousands of Vietnamese who fled North Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh to go to South Vietnam that was under "brutal" Diem.  We can forget the fact that, once Diem fell because of a coup,  there was no stable South Vietnamese government.  It's much easier to to forget that we were late entrants into an already brutal war between Communist North Vietnam trying to take over South Vietnam. It's easier to just remember Mai Lai and consider the atrocities that occurred our fault, even though that war was much more complicated than we want it to be.  We want to say it's our fault because the French were once in control of Vietnam.  Therefore, we don't have to look at the smaller complicated political situation that existed in Vietnam.  We can just claim the atrocities are our fault and then forget about how complicated it actually was.  

The reason we went into Afghanistan and Iraq was because we were facing the very complex local situations within the Middle East and the crisis of 9/11 made us fear that even greater terrorism was on the way.  The reason we went into Afghanistan was because we knew the Taliban was helping bin Laden and we saw him as our greatest threat.  Our invasion was successful, but we've learned that the Taliban is very successful at guerilla warfare.  The atrocities being committed there aren't our fault, however.  The Taliban wants to take back Afghanistan and they knew from the beginning that we could only stay there until we got tired of it. That's why at the beginning we had a stable Afghanistan and it's grown progressively more unstable as our enthusiasm wanes.  But it's easy to blame ourselves as the dominant problem, isn't it?  That way we can say that we should never have invaded Afghanistan and ignore the wider situation involving, among other factors, divided Pakistan and the local divisions of tribes.  The same factors apply to Iraq.  We knew Saddam sponsored terrorism and our (faulty) intelligence suggested he had nukes.  We now know that he did have old chemical WMDs that were ready (here's the link:  We successfully invaded Iraq.  Afterwards, we unsuccessfully occupied Iraq until Iraq managed to avoid a civil war between the rival Shiites (sponsored by Iran) and Sunnis (sponsored by al Qaeda), with the Kurds mixed in somewhere.  Iraq was still able to create a stable government that lasted five years.  We may have helped quell the chances of a civil war and provided backup to Iraq so that it could form a stable government. But, was the near civil war our fault because we invaded? No.  The near civil war was an Iraq trying to reorient itself after it had lost an oppressive leader who had driven the Sunnis and the Shiites apart and an Iran that was flexing its muscles. Yes, we  invaded, fought many militias, were attacked often, and we were certainly a large factor in the politics that created a new Iraq.  But the IEDs remained long after we left.  We were not the biggest factor in creating and shattering the new Iraq.  Iraq was.  

Those who backed the war laud the success of Iraq lasting five years on our troops.  Those who didn't back the war, especially now that ISIS has established itself in Iraq, blame our invasion.  But neither claim is true. Iraq successfully made Iraq for five years and then tore itself apart because it had not successfully mended the divisions between the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds created by Saddam.

Again, by blaming ourselves for the current conflicts within Iraq and Afghanistan, we are able to ignore the wide divisions and local divisions in the Middle East (such as say--Syria, Yemen, Turkey allowing foreigners to cross their border, the continuing threat of Hamas, general antagonism towards Israel, the Iranian nuke, and so on) and blame ourselves for creating those divisions. Therefore, we can either 1) argue that we should just leave the world to its own devices or B) argue that all of what we've done is immoral, we have created these divisions that are busy engulfing thee world, and so we are at fault for most of the ills in this politically complicated world. Then we can teach a course on Western Imperialism and cite all these examples as examples of our arrogance.  However, teaching a course on Western Imperialism in itself is arrogant because through this we ignore the real power of the people the Western world conquered and the divisions we didn't mend. 

Are we a major factor? Aye.  Are we THE major factor?  No. We need to look at the world with a huge map and microscope to understand what's actually happening. Doing otherwise is unwise.

"It's not you.  It's me."  Many times it is you.