Monday, January 30, 2006

Democracy Promotion and Realism

This weekend, Reuel Marc Gerecht and I had a conversation about President Bush's democracy promotion strategy one year later on National Public Radio. I don't know whether the hosts were hoping for more clash, more of a traditional neocon "democracy is great" versus realist "stability is best" match up.

My closing point that was broadcast--" if our strategy is we're simply going to open up a political system and then our job is done because virtue is its own reward, and pro-American movements will just simply appear out of nowhere, then that's a misguided strategy. It leads to this situation where elections will produce results that we don't like."

Of course, we taped more material that wasn't broadcast due to time limitations. That democracy promotion to be in alignment with U.S. interests means that you have to cultivate broad pro-American constituencies. That trade, economic, immigration and security policy all have "democracy impacts" (e.g. you can't penalize a country's economic system due to your trade policies and then hope that voters will return pro-American politicians to power). That a country has to be committed to this strategy of democracy promotion--you can't expect to do these things on the cheap.

Which leads me to a final analysis. Realists often are accused of being anti-democracy. But what led me into the realist camp was to see the failure of idealist policies proclaimed with vigor and implemented on the cheap, which led me to the conclusion that if a country is not going to undertake the massive effort needed to transform societies then the best option is to encourage evolutionary change from within that can be sustained by modest support efforts.

Let's face it--no one is joining the U.S. military these days to "promote democracy"--and it is telling that our recruitment ads either trumpet "defending the homeland" or "learning skills".

Nikolas - "But what led me into the realist camp was to see the failure of idealist policies proclaimed with vigor and implemented on the cheap, which led me to the conclusion that if a country is not going to undertake the massive effort needed to transform societies then the best option is to encourage evolutionary change from within that can be sustained by modest support efforts."

Your choice makes a lot of sense as you frame it. But I wonder if you would agree with two qualifications.

First, to conceptualize democracy in terms of internal change alone is not the only relevant context. There is also an external dimension, in which new democracies need to be reinforced by inclusion in wider security structures that are permanent in nature. While it is hard to imagine a structure for the Middle East that would not require domestic change, it is hard to envision the stability of civil society in a region of insecure states.

The problem we had after 9/11 was the danger (rightly or wrongly perceived) of a war with all of Islam. What we tried to do was force real change in southwest Asia while at the same time limiting our effort to do so. With hindsight it is easy to see how this would have run into trouble, but I wonder if trying to do only one or the other wouldn't have strengthened the enemy. What we really needed (and still need) is a long-term goal that isn't so easily derailed by short-term setbacks.

Second, we can't know that the chain of events we have begun will fail in the long-run, although our actions certainly haven't had the short-term consequences expected and hoped for. At the moment I am pessimistic about the near future: the prospects of moderation in places like Iran and a Hamas-ruled Palestine frankly may be no better than they were in Germany after 1933, and in the case of Iran I worry that the Bush administration is once again more acutely aware of the consequences of inaction than it is of taking action to head off a threat. But if Ahmadinejad doesn't provoke a confrontation, his long-term prospects and those of Hamas may not be all that good.

Here the external dimension may be a factor. How the Middle East evolves will depend in part on whether the European Union and NATO wall off North Africa and the Levant or try to integrate it with the West by offering inclusion in stages or at least closer degrees of association.

Realism in a political science (synchronic) sense is a kind of predisposition to think about the world in a certain ongoing way; realism in a historical sense is a response to a particular set of circumstances. I think we may all have to be realistic in the latter sense. The challenge to realism is to match means to ends that are worth having and not just ends to the means that we have.
The real question is: can democracy work really long term anywhere? As the Holy Spirit's messages point out on the Christian Prophet blog, democracy is a system of conflict. It always leads to political factions fighting against each other. Democracy does not teach peace. It teaches struggle.
The question should really be is our alliance with business or nation? Most people are only worried abut their job, they disregard the nations concerns. Now with the amount of outsourcing, even American executives are selling us out. What will these same people do when the countries we outsource to turn their backs on Americans? We need to take care of our own.
Raymond B
I think, David, your point about external support is very valid. I think, though, that it means we need to think about new organizations beyond the EU and NATO, which I think are reaching their breaking points; perhaps reviving someething like CENTO which would bring in the U.S., the UK, interested European partners and emerging states. I think that the EU itself needs to be much more creative with its Wider Europe policy rather than making it a stepchild to full membership.
The trick is to get authoritarians who understand the need for reform and don't have children (the temptation to create an imperial presidency). We were lucky in South Korea and Taiwan to have authoritarians who were prepared to move forward on reform; how we do it in the Middle East seems a lot tougher.
First, I don't think that Reuel has strongly disagreed, or did he? My experience with neocons is that they are very much less ideologic than most people think.

Second point: To adhere to a kind of "New Realism" means to me that we have learned that democracy promotion is part of security. We can make deals with dictators, but dictatorships are, by their nature, unstable. The main reason for that is that dictatorships are mostly bad in delivering public goods. To dicatorship means unrest and instability, aggression towards the own subjects as well as towards the outer world. Iran is a good example, Saudi-Arabia another one.

Therefore, it's in the genuine interest of the West to promote democracy and market economy. We did it in Eastern Europe in the nineties - with huge successes.

Second point: To promote democracy does not mean to do it in a stupid way, but in an intelligent way. That means to use the influence the West or the "Core" (Thomas Barnett) already has. What we - Europe and US - are currently doing in many regions is promoting dictatorship: helping dictators to survive.

To promote democracy in a "new realistic" manner means to me that we need to check our influence and our messages towards undemocratic countries: Are they in favor for democratisation or not? What can we do to help forces who struggle for democratic reform? Or does our influence do damage to them?

Here, I think, is still much work to be done. Most important is to cooperate on both sides of the Atlantic.
Firing shots in the dark doesn't mean you will necessary hit the target. I think where many of us fail is in understanding that the problem needs to be analyzed and defined, only then the solution can be architected. As far as I understand, we have set out to defuse terrorism and extremism, not to undo communism (which was the case in Eastern Europe). There is no evidence that democracy can automatically defuse extremism, and there's country after country where terrorism and other conflicts are endemic despite decades of democracy.

Yes, democracy is a worthy goal, and has a role to play in the long run, but by putting on blinders to the innumerable other factors that are involved, we are doing a disservice to our own prospects. We can push democracy down the throats of peoples and all we will get is resentment, Hamas, Shiite militia rulers, Ahmedinajad, maybe Muslim Brotherhood next, etc.

Are democracies really stable? Those are the kind of statements that are bandied around without sufficient evidence. There are nations that go back and forth between democracy and authoritarianism. There are democracies that produce suicide bombers and Al Qaeda sympathizers. There are democracies that launch wars all the time.

What actually is causing the extremism that results in the growing terrorism problem around the world in recent times, needs to be understood, before we jump to the conclusion that democracy is a multi-spectrum antibiotic for the malaise of terrorism. A start would be a thorough perusal of Jessica Stern's book on "Why Religious Terrorists Kill".

The point then is, apart from our ingrained urge to "spread freedom", what purpose does a policy based heavily on democratization serve? Is it cost effective considering that resources are limited? What other tools are there to achieve our policy goals, particularly national security, and even energy independence? Have we done a thorough cost-benefit analysis of various options? Is there maybe a mix of various tools (even including democracy promotion, but not limited to it) that would be the most cost-effective policy?
btw, just to add that, a stark example is the cosponsorship of the Taliban and Bin Laden by Pakistan under the democratic regime of Nawaz Sharif. Kind of blows away the theories about democracies being Gandhian peacelovers.
A White House source declares:
"Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal -- we seek the end of tyranny in our world. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it. On September the 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country. Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer -- so we will act boldly in freedom's cause."
I think this is too generic. Dictatorships sheltering terrorists that strike at democracies? Context matters. IRA found shelter and succour in democratic United States to carry out acts of terror against a democratic state. Nihilists maybe strike at generic regimes but every terrorist movement of the 20th century has had specific countries targeted for specific reasons and have been supported by governments if they felt it was in their interest.
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