December 18, 2007

And Everyone Has a Share

In Joseph Heller's masterpiece of World War II satire, Catch-22, Milo Minderbinder, the quintessential capitalist, stood in for war profiteering and amoral corporate business practices generally. Milo followed the profit principle wherever it led, mindlessly, indifferently, relentlessly. Eventually it led to Milo's joint venture with the Germans and to the bombing of his own squadron on the island of Pianosa. It might seem like treason to cooperate with the Luftwaffe, and indeed a court martial was contemplated, but then Milo, with the assistance of able counsel, demonstrated that what was good for business was good for America. The charges were dropped. In the most emotionally searing passage in the book, Yossarian, in his efforts to ease the suffering of the wounded airman Snowden in the tail of a B-25, finds the morphine syringe has been stolen by Milo and replaced by a certificate good for a share in M&M Enterprises, in which all the squadron members "have a share."

I was thinking about Milo when I read today that the United States military is now cooperating with the Turks on cross-border invasions into Northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) rebels. The Turks are flying sorties against Kurdish positions and the U.S. is helping with intelligence. The Bush Administration is quick to point out that the PKK is a "designated terrorist organization," but it's worth noting that the "central" government in Baghdad has protested the Turkish invasion in vehement terms. The U.S., however, has seen its popularity in Turkey fall from a post-9/11 52% to its current 8% and reasons it shouldn't do anything more to alienate this key ally in the Middle East, which, after all, is Israel's one solid ally in the Muslim world.

At this point an objective observer would have to admit that we're practicing a Realpolitik which Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, would have commended . These days we just do what we gotta do. Still, from a strictly formal perspective, one which takes into account the sovereignty of the "nations" involved, even Bush might have to admit that there is something anomalous about supporting an invasion of a country we're occupying, especially where the government we're propping up has gone on record as opposed to the invasion, as indeed Nouri al-Maliki's government has. It would seem (though no one, surprisingly, has even suggested this) that it is the role of the United States to deal with a destabilizing Kurdish separatist movement in the north in the same way that, I suppose, we deal with Sunni insurgents or Mahdi militia or Saudi infiltrators and jihadists who are trying to destabilize the central government.

This seems especially true when one considers that the eruption of a Kurdish separatist movement which would involve the Kurds in eastern Turkey was one of the complications which was earliest foreseen prior to the U.S. invasion. We knew this would happen; in fact, one of the major buyers of Bell and Sikorsky helicopters for decades has been the Turkish government, which has used them to bomb and strafe Kurdish militants on both sides of the Turkish-Iraqi border (see Spoils of War, by John Tirman, an indispensable book for understanding otherwise mystifying Congressional votes, e.g., Joseph Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein). So now they're doing the same thing but it's while we're occupying the country. Which is ...weird.

Until you consider that the U.S. just doesn't have the manpower to deal with the Kurdish question. We can't hazard the casualties, not with the surge "working," and it would be a PR nightmare for the United States to begin a program of ethnic cleansing in the north of the kind the Turks have been engaged in for a long time. The essential problem is that the Kurds do not see themselves as part of Iraq, and the PKK does not see the Kurds in eastern Turkey as part of Turkey, a position which probably many non-rebel Kurds hold as well. It's the reason that Saddam spent so much time crushing revolts in the north. As Bush reminded us every few minutes before invading Iraq, it was where Saddam Hussein used "poison gas on his own people." Every time the Baghdad central government, whether under Hussein or the current Shiite theocracy, has found itself under siege, the Kurds make a break for the exits and resume efforts to fulfill their ancestral dream of Greater Kurdistan.

Meanwhile, Milo Minderbinder would be proud that America is not a slave to unworkable principle. Maybe it's a fiasco in Iraq, but everyone has a share, and will for decades to come.

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