Wednesday, December 07, 2005

World Affairs, Bill Buckley and populist authoritarianism

I just returned from speaking at the Ambassador's Roundtable of the World Affairs Forum in Stamford, CT. The World Affairs Councils (and the American Committees for Foreign Relations) are an unsung resource in ensuring that in a democratic republic like the United States, foreign policy questions are not limited to a high priesthood of Washington wonks but are discussed and analyzed all across the country. It is groups like these that help provide the glue of our civil society.

My hosts invited me to a gala last night for the Ferguson Library Foundation in Stamford, which was honoring one of Stamford's most prominent literary citizens--National Review founding editor William Buckley. In the conversation that followed, he was asked about Iraq. I found his answer to be quite interesting: that Iraq is not a "conservative" war in the sense that a "conservative" policy is based upon prudential assessments, especially the likelihood of achieving one's goal. If the goal is defined not as removing Saddam Hussein but constructing a working democracy in Iraq, then the war cannot be seen as a conservative undertaking, given the near-utopian nature of that project.

This morning's talk was on "Russia and the Crisis in Europe" and one of the themes that emerged is the rise of populist authoritarianism. Certainly the recent elections in Azerbaijan, Venezuela and Kazakhstan have demonstrated that people, if given a choice between destabilizing liberal reformers and authoritarians promising stability and prosperity, will either vote for the latter and/or not object to the regime's efforts to stay in power. I think that in Kazakhstan perhaps some of Nursultan Nazarbayev's team went a bit overboard--if he was likely to get 70-75 percent of the vote, why damage the country's reputation by over-managing the process to get 91 percent? Perhaps they were paranoid about voter apathy.

One can argue that populist authoritarians can depend on rising oil and gas prices to buy off populations--and that is certainly true to some extent. But what about a country like Belarus, with no oil and gas of its own, or the faltering revolutions in Serbia or Ukraine? I think that those of us insulated from major economic shocks don't have an appreciation for how dislocating reform can be and why, if reforms falter or go bad, democracy itself can be discredited.

And it is interesting that continental Europeans, at least the major German, Italian and French conglomerates, prefer dealing with Putin's state capitalism rather than with the old "free-market oligarchs" ...

I wonder how much of Buckley's definition of what constitutes a "conservative" endeavor is related to age; it is interesting that when people talk about splits among conservatives on Iraq and other foreign policy issues there is a definitive generation gap that seems to be in play.

Probability of success is not always a conservative determinant; the American Revolution was a profoundly conservative revolution launched by the patriots without pretty firm guarantees of success. So it would seem that conservative wars can be launched out of a sense of principle, not simply pragmatism.
Certainly with regard to Iraq, and I would suggest the same principle applies to most issues, - the primary split between conservatives internally, and between liberals and conservatives in general, may perhaps relate to probabilities, and/or entail generational gaps, - but it is driven entirely by ideologies and timelines.

One camp operates in the factbasedrealities of the present, the other looks to the far off utopian future.

Liberals and the old school conservatives like Buckley, Cain, the elder Bush, et. al., are firmly rooted in the present, or the very near, or short term future in the formation of "conservative" or "liberal" policy (that)is based upon prudential assessments, especially the likelihood of achieving one's goal."

The "rightwingideologue" conservatives, - the socalled neocons and Bush government "high priests" proselytize wildly visionary hopes and rosy prognostications perpetually chasing after the carrot of an "utiopian" future, effectively ignoring or least looking beyond the present factbasedrealities in the assessment of "achieving ones goal."

The first group looks at the present factbasedrealities and makes "prudent assessments" based on the probabilities of success or failure in achieviing the desired ends.

The latter group represents the pentultimate "ends justify the means" policythink. For this group there is no doubting the ends, regardless of how costly or bloody the means may be presently or in the short, or even long term future, - because those wildly visionary hopes and rosy prognostications are deeply entrenched in purely ideological reasoning and logic that is utopian, incontestable, not open for debate or discussion, and obdurately superior, or (supremist) in design.

The two opposing camps can never reach a common ground because - like the men are from Mars, women are from Venus logic, - the intrinsic wetware, - the essential psychologies of these two groups are entirely separate, as though they are two different species of human being.

Of course, the people regardless of the philosophical, religious, or political beliefs for proclivities have absolutely no say, or input into any of these issues, or any of the decisions of policy makers left, right, or center. The people are essentially disempowered and totally dependent on the largess and/or kindness and wisdom of leadership.

Though social revolutions like those witnessed in the former Soviet Untion and Easter block counties, and more recently in Serbia, Venezuala, and the Ukraine, and to some extent, the socalled cultural revolution here in America feed upon the delirium of imagined empowerment of people, of the people having a voice in the conduct of thier government. The brutal reality however is always shattered in the end, and once the new regime assumes control of the mechanisms of the government and eonomies - the people discover they are once again powerless.

Powerlessness may fuel testy or grumbliing factions within free societies, (of which there are fewer every year) - but as long as the majority of the people are clothed, fed, housed, relatively secure, and can afford a beer and MTV, - there is no energy, necessity for revolution.

A relatively propserous and secure society is a somnabulent and pliant society.

From the lowly perch of the pedestrain - as long there is food on the table and the kids can go to schoold and play soccer without being blown up, - Authoritarians, dictators, the peoples politicians, messianic prophets, or revolutionaries are all the same far off disconnected disembodied voices on TV, and just some politician or priest spouting off.

But, if and when the people are deprived, forced to suffer, or ruthlessly oppressed, or extraordinarily abused, - then the land is ripe for Voltaires grim exhortation to the people to rise up and "strangle last king with the entrails of the last priest" in violent revolution.
Here is something that needs to be discussed by a roundtable at the Worl Affairs meeting. During speech class you are taught to catch the audience attention with your opening statement. Apparently the Iranian President not only understands this concept he has mastered it. “Burn in Fire”, “Wipe them off the Map”, “Destruction”, “Retaliation”, “Not until they are all gone from this land”, these opening remarks not only get the audiences attention it gets the worlds attention.

Iranians do not like to be called Arabs, they consider themselves Persians. However, when it comes to Israel the Iranian leader refers to Palestinians, Egyptians, and Lebanonese, as his Arab brothers and sisters. The Iranian President never misses and opportunity to speak about his support of Arab countries in their struggles, and conflicts, with Israel. However, many feel its Irans’ support, and meddling, in the Arab-Israeli issue that is the real stumbling block to resolving the crisis in the Middle East.
Raymond B
Via Winds of Change, there is a great article by Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post titled "The Cost of Incompetence" detailing the problem with Iran.

Here is the first paragraph:

"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a self-professed holy man. In a video released on an Iranian Web site linked to the Revolutionary Guards (and reported on by "Regime Change in Iran" Web site), Ahmadinejad related that during his speech in the fall to the UN General Assembly, he "felt a light" surrounding and protecting him. In his words, after the light appeared, "the atmosphere changed and for 27-28 minutes the leaders could not blink…. All the leaders were puzzled, as if a hand held them and made them sit. They had their eyes and ears open for the message from the Islamic Republic.

Iran is a situation wherein it would seem pragmatism, not simply principle should be driving policy.

Tragically the wayward misadventure in Iraq blurred, obscured, and detoured the visionary hopes of the Bush government, who are seemingly incapable of forming pragmatic policies to confront the very real threats developing in Iran.
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