Friday, December 23, 2005
Iraq and the Future of the Middle East, continued
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.
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?
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: http://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/p.php?i=20051231&v=t&a=7588).
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.