Thursday, January 19, 2006

Dealing with Snyder/Mansfield

As a result of their appearance at Challenging Orthodoxies lunch, the subsequent publication of their article "Prone to Violence" in the Winter 2005/06 issue of The National Interest, and their January appearance at a forum at Cato to discuss their new book Electing to Fight, Jack Snyder and Ed Mansfield have certainly had ample opportunity to disseminate their ideas to the Washington policy community.

In looking at the avalanche of criticism that their ideas have generated, however, I think that there is a right way and a wrong way to engage them in debate.

The right way was on display at the Saltzman Forum up at Columbia University back in October, when National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman challenged the core thesis, that incomplete or premature democratization is what increases the risk of internal strife and external conflict. Looking at their case studies, Gershman countered that the cause was not democratization but poverty and economic performance; that poor authoritarian countries were just as more likely to be convulsed with strife.

This is a debate on the issues.

What I don't like to see is those who disagree with Snyder and Mansfield doing one of two things. The first is to say that because their research calls into question the "freedom crusade" then they must have been "friends of Saddam" or applauding the secret police massacring the Kurds, or that there were no alternatives but to support the way policy has been conducted in Iraq. Or that they (and other realists) really just prefer authoritarians.

It's hard to have a rational debate over policy with people who prefer to use the language of faith and belief.

The second is to play hard and fast with facts. I've already discussed this in relationship to rewriting Eurasian history. What I especially love, with regard to Ukraine, for example, is the dual-track approach. Yushchenko represents the demoratic breakthrough against previous "dictators" Kuchma and Kravchuk (denigrate the past to enhance the present). But then, to establish Ukraine's democratic "bona fides" and to qualify under the Robert Dahl two-decade rule for being considered a mature democracy, then Ukraine since 1991 has been a functioning democracy--and if a major push is to be mounted for Ukrainian membership in NATO this year, it will become imperative to stress Ukraine's "decade-long" democratic credentials, not imply that it "only" became a democracy in December 2003.

With regard to Snyder and Mansfield, we see this "fast and loose" approach with people removing "inconvenient" countries from their list of states. For some, Croatia does not become a "democracy" until 2000, post-Tudjman ... and the list of examples goes on (Ethiopia was or was not a democratizing country, etc.).

There is a realist case to be made for democracy promotion--John Owen IV and David Rivkin are both set to do so in the spring 2006 issue of TNI--and are willing to tackle head on these questions. That's the sort of debate we should be having.

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