Monsters of Our Own Making

Published on
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the Los Angeles Times

Monsters of Our Own Making

Foreign policy nightmares are everywhere for the US these days.

by
Rosa Brooks

Happy Frankenstein Month! Yes, this month marks the 190th anniversary of the publication of "Frankenstein," Mary Shelley's novel about a man who dreams of reshaping humanity but ends up creating a monster. And you're probably wondering: Just how should I observe Frankenstein Month?

Hallmark seems to be slacking off here -- I couldn't find a single Frankenstein's 190th anniversary card. Fortunately, you can still mark the occasion just by skimming the week's newspapers, which contain an above-average number of "Oops We've Created a Monster!" stories from the world of foreign policy -- many starring the U.S. government as a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein.

Start with this week's big story from Pakistan. According to Tuesday's New York Times, Islamic militant groups funded and nurtured for years by the Pakistani intelligence services -- with U.S. backing, in the 1980s -- are now completely out of control. The Pakistani government, which hoped to use militant groups to further its own interests in Afghanistan and the Kashmir region, now finds that the militants have instead "turned on their former handlers," carrying out "a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units."

Making matters worse, many analysts say that the Pakistani intelligence services are riddled with agents who support the militants and their extremist agenda. Despite this, the Bush administration continues to shower Pakistan's military and intelligence services with aid, even as Pakistan sinks further into chaos. Long-term U.S. strategy? None. Score: Monster, 100; Frankenstein, 0.

Next door in Afghanistan, six years after we "liberated" the Afghans from the Taliban yoke, Frankenstein reenactments are also taking place. Tuesday's Washington Post fronted a major story about the deteriorating situation: "After more than six years of coalition warfare in Afghanistan, NATO is a bundle of frayed nerves and tension over nearly every aspect of the conflict." Warlords -- some supported by us -- control many Afghan regions, the Taliban is resurgent and a new "Taliban offensive [is] expected in the spring, along with another record opium poppy crop." Suicide bombings are up by 30%, and there are signs that Al Qaeda is regrouping.

On Wednesday, this newspaper reported that the death rate for U.S. troops in Afghanistan was higher in 2007 than ever before.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates now predicts a need for at least 7,500 additional troops in Afghanistan. And -- though we've already found reason to regret our 1980s policy of arming the Afghan militants who later became the Taliban (we liked them when they were fighting the Soviets) -- the U.S. is now contemplating arming additional southern Afghan tribes to help fight the resurgent Taliban. Exit strategy? None. Score: Monster ahead, eroding early gains by Frankenstein.

Then there's Iraq. Deaths are thankfully down somewhat, but the lack of political progress has left a tenuous, still-violent stalemate, sustainable only if U.S. troops remain indefinitely. On Tuesday, Iraq's defense minister said Iraq couldn't provide internal security until at least 2012 and wouldn't be able to defend its borders until at least 2018.

Iraq was supposed to be a beacon of peace, democracy and stability. Instead, it turned into a recruiting beacon for Islamic militants, a black hole for taxpayer dollars and a quagmire for our troops.

Even our apparent successes have bred new problems. Arming local tribal and religious leaders has undermined efforts to strengthen Iraq's fragile central government, and Iraq's greatest success story -- the relatively stable Kurdish region in the north -- has been marred by escalating conflict with Turkey over claimed Iraqi havens for Turkish rebels. This week, Turkey bombed targets inside Iraq for the fourth time in a month. In Iraq as elsewhere, we have no exit strategy; the monsters we created continue to run rings around us.

So here's my proposal: Let's join together to mark Frankenstein Month, a national period of reflection on foreign policy hubris and unintended consequences. President Bush has established National Mentoring Month, National Farm-City Week and Great Outdoors Month -- so why not Frankenstein Month?

Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein built his monster out of body parts pilfered from corpses, and the monsters created by our reckless foreign policies also reek of the charnel house. Of course, in Shelley's novel, Frankenstein is tormented by guilt when he realizes what a horror he has unwittingly unleashed on the world, and he tries desperately to undo the damage he's done. There might be some lessons here for the White House.

--rbrooks@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times

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