The Cost of Balkanization

By Dr. Lawrence Kuznar, Ph.D., Indiana University – Purdue University, Fort Wayne

The last FAPITCA Platform post on Public Service was particularly poignant, given current events in American politics and the tragic inability of Iraq to stem the advance of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham).

Iraq is a nation of approximately 32 million people, with an active army of over 270,000 and reserves of over half a million. As of this point, it is being overrun by ISIS, a force barely 1/10th, and probably much less, its size. Furthermore, the vast majority of Iraqis oppose ISIS on secular and religious grounds, and in utter fear at the horrific acts this group is committing.

These acts include forced conversion, genocide, mass killing, torture, crucifixion, and the kidnapping, rape and forced marriage of hundreds of women. There can be no doubt that no matter what faction of Iraqi society one belongs to (except a tiny minority of Islamic radicals of the most extreme kind), defeat at the hands of ISIS means utter loss and humiliation, if not outright death and destruction.

Yet, the response of the Iraqi government is political infighting, markedly demonstrated by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s initial refusal to step down as the Iraqi government announces his successor.

The tribalism and balkanization of Iraqi politics is stunning, considering the ruin virtually all Iraqis will suffer because of it. For the sake of personal interest, Iraqi politicians actually are undermining their own interests and sealing their constituents’ fates. They failed to find Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom about disinterested politics as Carl and Chuck noted last week.

The situation should appear surreal to most outside observers, but the seeds of such destructive self-interest are easy to find, even here at home.

In light of the dire situation in Iraq, US politicians were eager to mount the airwaves, in part to condemn the horrific actions of ISIS, but first and foremost to condemn our President. It is one thing to dispute the wisdom of the President’s foreign policy, but their arguments were peppered with needless ad hominem attacks designed to denigrate the President and foment division in our political system. Alas, where is the loyal opposition?

Perhaps the most publicized example came from Representative Peter King (R – NY), who referred to the President as “weak,” and accused him of a “shameful abdication of American leadership.” [1] Wasn’t this the same president who gave the order to take a significant risk on getting bin Laden? How could he be seen as weak and abdicating leadership shamefully?

If Representative King’s statements were an isolated incident of a politician understandably frustrated and horrified by events that could threaten our security, it could be forgiven. However, this is typical of the balkanizing rhetoric that stands for political “debate” in our system today. Only days before, Republicans initiated a lawsuit against the President due to their disagreements over the Affordable Care Act, while others clamored for the President’s impeachment.

Moreover, the rhetoric employed by pundits that support the extreme opposition have no qualms about labeling the President a “tyrant,” “lawless,” or “Gestapo.” [2] In an especially egregious lapse this year, Representative Jim Bridenstine (R – OK) merely demurred when a constituent suggested President Obama was an “enemy-combatant” who “should be executed.” [3]

This level of rhetoric is dangerous. Words matter. Successful extremists begin their campaigns by increasingly demonizing and dehumanizing their opponents. [4] This is something different than opposing others’ views: this is about robbing opponents of their humanity, rendering them expendable, morally bereft and unworthy of existence.

John Locke's "Two Treatises of Government" - 1690. Source: Wikipedia

John Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government” – 1690. Source: Wikipedia

We should all be reminded that, while our nation was founded on the principle of competing self-interest, it was supposed to be an enlightened self-interest, balancing myopic self-interest with the realization that we are all on the same team and need one another to realize our interests…this goes back to John Locke and his influence on the British form of government that inspired our own. [5] The Iraqi government has utterly failed to appreciate this principle, and I fear Americans are losing that faith as well.

While I think that American political trends could in fact foreshadow an Iraq-like balkanization, I have a more practical and immediate concern to address. ISIS is clearly gaining ground, and if current US airstrikes and support of the Kurdish Peshmerga are not enough to defeat ISIS, ISIS will, as they have stated, strike at the West. Recently, ISIS spokesman Nidal Nuseiri stated that they have a systematic plan that includes attacking the American homeland before even attacking their hated Israel. [6]

As Americans, we have to ask ourselves: will we have set aside our differences and be united enough as a nation to prevent an ISIS attack? And if we are attacked, what will be our response? Will we devolve into an orgy of finger pointing and blame, allowing our real enemies to take liberty with, and from, us? These are the questions our citizens, our pundits and our public servants must take up now. Please try to think like Americans while you address these questions!

Originally posted by Carl Hunt, on behalf of Dr. Lawrence Kuznar, on 8/14/2014.

Editors Note: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of the primary authors of this Blog (Carl and Chuck Hunt), but we deeply appreciate the candor and perspectives of Dr. Kuznar as an honored guest blogger with FAPITCA. Thanks for your willingness to call it like you see it, Larry!


[1]  Meet the Press Transcript – August 10, 2014 , “Meet The Press” — Sunday, August 10, 2014 hosted by David Gregory

[2]  Obeidallah, Dean, The Right’s Dangerous Rhetoric: Obama as an ‘Enemy Combatant’, The Daily, 2/10.2014.

[3]  According to the cited Daily Beast article, “This statement was made to Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine at a recent town hall meeting.  What’s even more disturbing was Bridenstine’s response to this outrageous remark. He didn’t object to it. Instead, he simply laughed and then told the person: ‘Look, everybody knows the lawlessness of this president. He picks and chooses which laws he’s going to enforce or not enforce. He does it by decree…’”

[4]  Trommler, Frank (1992) “Between Normality and Resistance: Catastrophic Gradualism in Nazi Germany,” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 64, Supplement: Resistance Against the Third Reich., pp. S82-S101; Thompson, Allen, ed. (2007) The Media and the Rwandan Genocide. London: Pluto Press.

[5] Locke, J., Second Treatise on Government, 1690.

[6] Halevi, D. and Soffer, A., ISIS Spokesman Explains Why ‘Islamic State’ Not Supporting Hamas, Israeli National, 7/10/2014.

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