Friday, December 23, 2005

Iraq and the Future of the Middle East, continued

C-SPAN is set to rebroadcast yesterday's discussion at 5:30 today (Friday, December 23). See yesterday's post for a summary of the points made by the various speakers.

A sign of a good discussion is that it continues to provoke debate even after it has been concluded.

"C-SPAN Junkie" raised some questions yesterday (in the comments section) and David Rivkin has been kind enough to provide this reply:

"I fully accept the possibility that some of our democracy-building efforts would go awry and even, that we might fail, producing all sorts of bad consequences in the process. I do not believe that this outcome is likely, especially if we apply ourselves vigorously to the task at hand and do not lose patience, but it is certainly conceivable. At the same time, I think it is entirely appropriate not to exempt the status quo from the same probabilistic analysis; stated differently, we should consider and evaluate all of the possibilities/scenarios, in which the currently existing, authoritarian regimes in the Middle East can produce all sorts of calamitous policy outcomes for the U.S., or succumb to Khomeini-type revolutions. My concern with the critics is that they usually only exhibit alarm about the costs and risks involved in democracy promotion, and act as if the continuation of the status quo is guaranteed to benefit American national interests."

A key point--because foreign policy is rarely defined in terms of a good and bad choice but between choices with possible negative outcomes and decisions are made with imperfect knowledge (this is the function, then, of good judgment).


On the question about standards, much depends on how wide or narrow one wants to cast the net. Paul Saunders in his remarks yesterday noted that a difference between his perspective and that of the president is that the president still puts together the foreign jihadis and the Saddamists and the Sunni rejectionists as opponents the U.S. needs to combat, whereas he would put the greatest emphasis of U.S. efforts on the foreign jihadis and let Iraqis take the lead--especially using political means--to handle the latter two.


Another debate is over democracy and Islam and whether one can "reform" traditional Islamic concepts. Those of you who watched the debate may have observed the exchange between Larry Johnson and Alexis Debat on the question of innovation. Larry notes that the Arabic words "Bida’ or ibtida’ would be the operational words both derived from the verbal root (BD’) in which the ideas of innovation and heresy are inextricably linked. " It is an interesting point--during the Byzantine period the word "to innovate" was paired with a meaning of "to cause injury" (e.g. departure from tradition is harmful). This is why it is always important, as my colleague Nicolai N. Petro has noted in his study of Novgorod region and why reforms took root there, to, in cultures that place a high value on tradition, to be able to show how "change" is related to "a return" to past traditions.

This comment may not be specifically connected to this entry, but since we are talking about democracy, I did want to make some points about the book "Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War" by Mansfield and Snyder. Over the next couple of weeks, hope to have some detailed thoughts on the book. It appears to have considerable statistical analysis, will need to spend some time walking through the data.

There are some interesting observations that deserve being critiqued within the first few chapters (and with cursory reading). There appear to be some instances where the authors are making statements about "incomplete democratization" that could easily be applied to some countries which are certainly considered as "complete democracies".

For example, p. 55-56 talks about interests such as "imperial, militarist and protectionist" acting as powerful cartels that push for aggression.

And p. 52 offers this comment:

"One of the main reasons that democracies are more prudent in their war-making is that "strong evaluative institutions ceaselessly scrutinize the government's foreign policies and make public the information that is needed to weigh the likely consequences of military action in a credible way."

Strikes a chord?
A propos the comment I made at during the discussion that perhaps
the difficulty with the hypothetical liberal Islamic polity of David Rivkin's model is that its Muslim proponents cannot quite write off their more illiberal correligious as being "beyond the pale," those following our discussion might find of interest my review of an apposite volume in the new (December 31) issue of National Review (see:
The problem with the "democratic reformers" in many parts of the world is that they are in the position of being "innovators" who must demonstrate why reform is in keeping with tradition, whereas the non-democratic advocates can fall back on the past. This was a problem even for the Catholic states of southern Europe and Latin America a generation ago, and it wasn't until the shakeup of Vatican II that a re-engineering of Catholic tradition to align with democracy took place.
My thanks to Mr. Rivkin for his comments, and for that clarification. He seems more level-headed and practical on this question than some of hte others I have seen talking about this question.
Transcript of the event is now available at Lexis-Nexis: found the closing statement to be quite useful and wanted to repost here:

I think that we leave you with, at the end of December 2005, is this idea that there is no quick, tidy politically mandated solution for Iraq that wraps everything up according to the dictates of the American electoral calendar. And that if we have commitments there, we need to see them through, but that at the same time there has to be a domestic consensus on what those commitments are and the cost and the price that we're willing to pay. Taxpayers' monies, civil liberties, all of these things need to be a part of the conversation. And perhaps the sloganeering that we've heard from both right and left on this is not really in the national interest.
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