Friday, September 12, 2014

Dune and the US State Department

I think someone at the US State Department should read the sci-fi novel, Dune by Frank Herbert.

In it, the villain of the piece, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, sends his cousin, Beast Rabban, to rule the planet Arrakis.  The Baron tells Rabban to "squeeze and squeeze".

For those of you who aren't in the know - and shame on you, since Dune is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century - Arrakis is a metaphor for the Middle East.  A desert world, it provides the "spice" which is necessary to sustain the interstellar travel needed to support human civilization as well as having many, many other uses.  Control of the desert society of Arrakis is largely over control of water as hydraulic dictatorship - the Harkonnens control the water, so they control the population of Arrakis and, thus, the control of spice.

Except that's not really what the Baron has in mind.  It's what he says, but with his orders for Rabban to squeeze and squeeze, the Baron knows that this will do nothing but intensify and spread opposition to Harkonnen rule and make Rabban the particular target of their hatred.  The Baron's plan is to whip the population of Arrakis into a frenzy and then recognize their suffering, execute Rabban and install a relatively gentler rule under his nephew, Feyd.  It is worth noting that Rabban is an idiot - it's part of the reason the Baron is using him like this. Rabban is too stupid to see through the Baron's plan.

Which is to say that Vladimir Harkonnen better understands Arrakis than the US State Department understands the Middle East.

The United States is about to start a fight with the Islamic State.  The model that the President of the United States is going after is the "successes" the US has had in Somalia and Yemen.  Oh, sure, both places are war-ravaged places where al-Qaida cells continue to proliferate in great numbers than ever, real hellholes, but the reasoning is that neither has attacked the US, recently.  Therefore, success stories!

So the US is going to work along that model against the IS.  It's like they're Rabban being told to squeeze and squeeze again and, like Rabban, the US government is full of idiots.  They don't seem to realize that groups like the Islamic State are flourishing because of the political chaos created by the United States after destabilizing the whole area.  We squeeze in one place and something pops out in another.  We squeeze in Iraq and al-Qaida moves to Yemen.  We squeeze in Yemen, IS pops up in Syria.  Our response is to squeeze harder, imagining that things will eventually stop popping out but that won't happen.

Unlike Baron Harkonnen, we have no exit strategy.  There is no relatively benevolent Feyd in the wings or, really, any other plan.  The whole of our strategy is to squeeze and we have no notion at all, not the faintest whim of understanding, on a national level, that what we do in one place has consequences in other places.  That invading Iraq and bombing the shit out of Yemen and other countries, in violation of law and sense, has created the groundswell of resentment that is fueling the growth of these radical organizations.  We squeeze and that's the pressure that drives recruitment in these organizations.  But there is no plan beyond squeezing.

The US government is the Beast Rabban, but without the benefit of a Vladimir Harkonnen!  Which is truly awful.

Someone should really send a few copies of Dune down there.

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