Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Freedom Crusade, Yet Again Revisited

As I have noted before, Paul Saunders and I received a great deal of criticism for our Spring 2005 essay "On Liberty" because we raised doubts about the feasibility of a strategy to promote democracy that relied on rapid revolutionary change. (We did not, for the record, argue against the desirability of democracy--but instead argued that the best way to promote it is via evolutionary change.) Of real concern to us was the question of U.S. credibility--that having enunciated a policy of democratization in this way, that when the first challenges arose, we would be accused of hypocrisy.

Tom Carothers, in his recent op-ed in the New York Times and the IHT, launches the first end-of-year salvo accusing the Bush Administration of falling short on its own stated rhetoric. Citing the examples of Egypt, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, he says:

"American presidents of the last several decades embraced democracy promotion in principle but usually deferred it in practice when it came to friendly tyrants who supplied America with oil, sites for military bases and other economic and security benefits. President Bush's agenda implies a fundamental change in that pattern. Such relationships will have to change, not for the sake of mushy ideals, but in pursuit of a deeper, post-Sept. 11 security interest.

"So, is the Bush administration serious about this? ... So far it, too, has followed the familiar script, accenting the underwhelming positives and playing down the overwhelming negatives.


"The big question now is this: Will these leaders pay any real price in their relationships with the Bush administration for having defied it on democracy? The administration has a rich selection of tools for expressing serious displeasure: delaying new trade agreements or interrupting existing ones, refusing White House visits and other diplomatic rewards, reducing economic aid, modifying military cooperation and, perhaps of greatest potential weight, issuing frank, critical words from the presidential bully pulpit.

"The administration has not yet made clear which way it will go, but as each day passes the sense of business as usual solidifies. Iraq may be the most visible battleground of the President Bush's pro-democracy ambitions. But it is an exceptional case. The many autocratic allies used to getting free passes on democracy are the real proving ground for a policy that must show consistency, seriousness and results. "


No doubt, the response will be that those evil realists who infiltrate all sectors of the American foreign policy establishment subverted the president's idealistic vision (perhaps those State Department obstructionists). Seriously, however ...

The paradox of democracy promotion is what to do when governments you want to democratize are also governments you do depend on for a variety of other goods and services and who view your democracy promotion activities not as benign assistance but as an indirect form of regime change and removal.

So far, the bargain that apparently has been offered to Mubarak, Nazarbayev and Aliev is the one that God offered King Hezekiah in the Old Testament--peace and stability in your lifetime, the deluge for your successors.

I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy. But that could change.
-- Vice-President Dan Quayle
The administration chickened out in the three cases Carothers points out, and he's right. There have to be consequences for leaders who fail to deliver on promises of democracy. Even public disapproval from the White House can have a major impact. No public receptions. No words of praise. Keep things formal and businesslike.
The administration has to press democracy when it can and balance other interests at the same time. Take a page out of the Reagan book--American conservatives with credibility and understanding of power realities have been better at convincing authoritarian regimes to reform (Bill Casey in El Salvador) or to depart (Marcos). The East Asian tigers transitioned to democracy via this strategy.
For Americans and for President Bush to have 'guts' to stand by their words of Democratization; one will have to wait for ever...

Why even debate such points? Time and again American history is to pick ‘selectively’ what it regards as fights of freedom. There is no other word than 'disgusting' to hear President Bush and Sec. Rice to lecture rest of the world about Democracy and Freedom. It is simply one more area where this Administration attempts to fool rest of the world.

Otherwise how would one reconcile the history of American backing to the hilt of all undemocratic governments of Pakistan including the current one? No doubt, for Indians this is very obvious to point. But in the end, how can we deny the truth in this claim? This Administration is simply continuing the grand American tradition of 'sleeping with' Pakistani dictators. To expect something else is foolish. And in the case of Pakistan, it is the same state which has proliferated nukes to everyone who spares a dime.

It is not wrong for America to do what is best for her interests in International Relations. What is wrong is to continue the hypocrisy of trying to hide the plain naked self interest in the garb of 'support for freedom'. It is all humbug. And it is unlikely to change with this Administration as well as many future ones too.

This is neither to deny / disown the obligations of rest of the world towards many Americans who died for the freedom of many countries; nor to reject solid American efforts & dollars consumed in so many cases for democratization. It will be wrong for the world to forget never repayable efforts of America in Europe during and after WW II, as well as continued support to Asian Tigers and now to Eastern European countries. And that is precisely the reason rest of the world is at pains when it sees that America ignores certain other critical freedom fights for some misguided views or short term gains. With President Bush, it is all the more laughable in a sense since the guy is trampling America’s own ideals at home and also utters propositions which are not matched by action, occasion after occasion.

Why does the call for Freedom stop at Iraqi border and does not cross into the House of Saud? Is anyone under the illusion that any American Administration would cut the relations with Saudi Arabia for the lack of Democracy (and even when their Emams are continuing vituperative propaganda against America); especially when the oil is at $60? Forget it.
All my friends in other countries who clamp down on the media, rule using brutal and authoritarian methods and who oppose the United States are "dictators." Most of my opponents who do the same are visionary reformers. Always love my friend George's double standards.
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