Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The "Freedom Doctrine" -- Ten Months Later

In January of this year, President Bush, in his Second Inaugural, seemed to indicate that democracy promotion would now become the central organizing principle of American foreign policy. As the year comes to a close, four commentators offer their perspectives (which will form part of a symposium for the Winter 2005/06 issue of The National Interest):

Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations:

"The real policy-makers in the Bush Administration come down to six people, and while President Bush might well believe his new doctrine, he has no track record on the subject before entering the White House. Nor did he say much on this subject broadly during his first term. Vice President Cheney, on the other hand, is a hard-headed conservative pragmatist whose whole history would suggest great skepticism about policies designed to transform the world. Secretary of State Rice spent most of the Clinton years calling that administration dangerously naïve for fomenting notions like human rights and democracy. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld delights in debating doctrines, not advancing them. Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser and consummate policy lawyer, never met a generalization, let alone a high-falutin’ idea, he liked. Karl Rove, the key White House political strategist, probably doesn’t object to promoting democracy abroad as long as it helps Mr. Bush and hurts the Democrats at home. (And who could be surprised to find such noble motives in American politics?) One other, now departed, was present in the Pentagon at the creation of the democracy doctrine—Paul Wolfowitz, who almost certainly believed it then. ...

"So, we can say with confidence that at least one senior member of the administration is devoted to the doctrine, namely, Mr. Bush himself. His adherence to his own doctrine is no trivial matter. It means that he will insist on repeating it and that the Secretary of State will loyally join in, regularly. The doctrine will not be discarded as was the anti-nation-building doctrine.

"Nor, it seems, will the democracy and freedom doctrine be implemented. The administration did publicly twist President Mubarak’s arm to hold free elections for Egypt’s presidency. Much to everyone’s surprise, he emerged victorious. Now, Egypt is freer and more democratic, and we can turn our gaze elsewhere. But the administration doesn’t appear to be cashing in its chips to democratize Saudi Arabia. ...

"About the only place where the administration seems to be applying the doctrine is Iraq and there, only barely. We plow ahead, as we should, promoting the constitution and elections. But the realistic aim is now much more to avoid a civil war than to transform the country into a free-market democratic paradise."

Dan Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum:

"Personally, I am somewhere between idealism and realism, sometimes encouraging the United States in its unique career of exporting social and political institutions (think Japan) and at other times fearful that such efforts will overextend the American reach and end badly (what I expect in Iraq). I encourage the vision of spreading American-style democracy even as I worry that the circumstances are not propitious (whereas the Japanese had been defeated in war, war liberated the Iraqis).
Turning to George W. Bush’s policies ... I should begin with two observations: The Middle East will define his presidency, and with regard to each of the region’s major issues (terrorism, radical Islam, Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict and perhaps yet Iran) he has proven himself to be a radical innovator prone to reject decades-old, bipartisan policies, tossing them aside with élan and even disdain.

"I admire the spirit but worry about the practicalities. The vision of a free and prosperous Middle East is incontrovertible, but a characteristic American impatience wants it all done yesterday. Experience shows that full democracy requires decades of preparation, rehearsals and mistakes (look at the troubled careers of Russia and Mexico).
In all recent Middle Eastern moves toward democracy—such as elections in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt—a too-quick removal of tyranny threatens to create conditions for Islamist ideologues to take power and enduringly install their totalitarian ideology. Islamists have what it takes to win elections: the talent to develop a compelling ideology, the energy to found parties, the devotion to win supporters, the money to spend on electoral campaigns, the honesty to appeal to voters and the will to intimidate rivals.

"The Middle East currently suffers from a severe case of totalitarian temptation, so democracy could well bring even worse regimes than the unelected tyrants of old. Enthusiasm for the “Cedar Revolution” has already quickly tempered in Washington after Hizballah did well at the polls and joined a new government in Lebanon. A pro-Iranian Islamist became prime minister of Iraq, leading to the ironic situation noted by Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, that, after fighting hard to keep Iran out of Iraq, “we are handing the whole country over to Iran without reason.”

"As for the “pothole theory of democracy“—the idea that the imperatives of governance will absorb the attention of extremists and reduce them to moderation—it has never worked. Mussolini made the trains run on time, the Soviets cleared the snow efficiently and the Islamists can likewise do well practically, even as they nurse their ambitions."

Robert Merry, publisher of Congressional Quarterly:

"Anyone is free to imagine a world in which all regimes are free and democratic, and conflict among peoples ceases to generate violence. ...

"Where, we might ask, did Bush get this utopian vision? After all, he is a president who embraces the conservative label. And, as Samuel Huntington of Harvard wrote a half century ago, “No political philosopher has ever described a conservative utopia.” Bush of course is no political philosopher. But neither is he a true conservative. He is simply a product of his time, a child of the zeitgeist that descended upon America at the end of the Cold War.

"Utopianism emerged out of that hoary Western idea of Progress, the notion that history is the story of mankind’s inexorable rise from blindness and folly to ever higher levels of civilization and enlightenment—and that, since this progress is part of the human condition, it will continue as long as mankind resides on earth. Along the way, many thinkers and intellectuals found that the idea of Progress as part of the human condition was leaving them cold. If progress would continue forever, they asked, how do we know where it is going? How do we even know it is going in a good direction? No, they concluded, it was going to a particular end point, a culmination of human development. And they could reveal what that was because it happened to be their own vision of nirvana on earth.

"Thus was born Western utopianism, father of Hegelianism, Marxism and any number of other gauzy visions of human culmination. And, with the end of the Cold War, this outlook clutched the American consciousness. It is reflected in Francis Fukuyama’s famous 1989 “End of History” essay in this magazine—which has had far more lingering influence than anything Fukuyama has written since, including subsequent musings that seem to question his own endist thesis. It is reflected in Thomas Friedman’s dreamy glorification of “globalization” as the final universal culture, which turns out to be essentially American culture. Both men saw a new era of relative world peace emanating from their particular visions.
And this utopianism is reflected in George Bush’s foreign policy ..."

Joseph Nye, Harvard University:

"The correct charge against the people who developed the Bush Doctrine is not “idealism.” As Henry Kissinger has pointed out, prudent realists do not ignore values. Rather, the neo-Wilsonians who promoted the Iraq War were guilty of “illusionism”, a cognitive failure to produce an adequate roadmap of means that would balance the risk and realism in their vision. If one doubts this description, look again at the neo-conservative proclamation that Iraq would be a “cakewalk” or Paul Wolfowitz’ claim that General Eric Shinseki was wildly wrong in his estimates of the number of troops that would be required to win the peace (not just the war) in Iraq.

"Bush is correct that America needs to create a narrative about a better future that undercuts the message of hate and violence promoted by the extremists. But we have to learn to do it with our soft or attractive power and not succumb to the illusionists’ belief that we can impose it by force. And it has to be credible to others. Grandiose rhetoric merely leads to charges of hypocrisy. In the long run, a democratic future may help to reduce some of the sources of rage. But if we continue to choose inappropriate means in the short run, we may never get to that long run."

There is a gaping hole in the aggressive democracy promotion strategy that has been adopted by the United States for the past few years. One must remember the context in which the strategy was framed and sold - 9/11 and terrorism. If indeed democracy is a cure for terrorism, then we are absolutely right in toppling dictators using our military and incurring great costs to see through democratization of the Middle East and elsewhere.

But what if democracy has little do with terrorism, as F. Gregory Gause points out in a recent piece in Foreign Affairs? Gause compares authoritarian China and democratic India as stark empirical evidence against the theory that terrorism and democracy don't co-exist. While India has been wracked by terrorism in many regions for most of its democratic existence in the past six decades, China has been relatively free of the scourge.

There are numerous other contemporary examples where terrorism has thrived in democracies - Phillipines, Indonesia, Thailand in SE Asia, Sri Lanka (with the dubious distinction of making suicide bombing popular in the modern age) and Nepal in South Asia. Also in South Asia, Pakistan exemplifies a nation in which bin Laden links were forged during the democratic rule of Nawaz Sharif. Even in Britain and other European nations with solid democratic institutions extremist elements have become embedded in socieity.

Given the lack of correlation between democracy and defusing of terrorism, the entire foundation of a strategy which puts all its eggs, including a big proportion of our military and budget, in the democracy basket, has to be questioned.

Indeed, we should be promoting democracy around the world, because it is in keeping with our values, but it can not be at the forefront of our international strategy. We need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how we can deal with terrorism and strengthen our national security in the 21st century - merely democratizing the rest of the world is not the answer.
Democratizing countries as a national security strategy for the United States only works when there is a middle class who views alignment with the U.S. as serving their interests; to democratize a country without at the same time creating stakeholders in a positive relationship with the U.S. ends up producing more trouble down the road.
Subodh, a critical point on the India / China comparison. At the Saltzman Forum up at Columbia on democracy promotion, some of these questions were raised. The other interesting thing to note is the India / China comparison on economic growth and performance, and the extent to which democracy is a precondition for economic growth (as opposed to economic growth being a precondition for democracy).
As I went out today and contributed my share of money to the gross domestic product of America, I took time to consider my fellow Americans in the military who are serving abroad. They are performing an admirable job carrying out their assigned mission for the American people, as well as completing a very appreciative service to a foreign country trying to embrace a new concept of freedom. Rather than spend time debating the merits of bringing our soldiers home today or tomorrow I wish to reflect on a moving story I read a day or two ago about soldiers just trying to perform their duty. The story revolves around the life of marines in and around Fallujah. I wake up each morning, have my morning drink, take a shower, warm up the car, drive to work, drive home, then relax. After relaxing I turn on the daily news and watch the highlights or hot topics of the Iraq war. The television has sensationalized the war so much that at times I believe people forget these are real people in these 30 second video clips, this is someone’s brother or sister we are watching, not an actor who walks back to his trailer after a filmed battle scene. I hear debate over when the troops should be brought home, the discussion seems so impersonal, I feel that this is the wrong way to discuss this topic, the topic should be nothing but personal. Each time I drive down the freeway to work and I see the flag at half staff I throw up a quick prayer for the soldier that flag symbolizes, I may not know him but I know his kind and if praying for him is the least I can do to show my appreciation and respect then I consider it an honor and privilege to do so. I hope in the weeks to come more and more people discuss this topic, do not be discouraged by close-minded people who call you un-American if you discuss this issue. American soldiers such as these same brave men and woman fought for and died for your right to discuss these exact types of issues. Educate yourself, speak with your elected officials, do all that you can to support these brave men and women. Do more than just watch a 30 second clip on CNN or Fox News. Get involved, find out information, make an informed comment when you discuss the issue of bringing home our soldiers.
Raymond B
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