Friday, February 03, 2006
Democracy and Religion: Hamas Announcement
I am always concerned about these vague formulations--we've already seen them in Iraq and Afghanistan--about Islamic law being a "basis" or "source" for legislation. Not because I don't think a nation needs to look to its own culture and values--but because these vague formulations seem deliberately tailored to be two-faced; to say to the West and secularists that there will be "room" for non-religious understandings of law and society but to also say to harder-line supporters that "we really mean Islamic law will be the only basis" for how society is structured.
These formulations are problematic because they ignore the tension and provide no means of resolution; further, as Amitai Etzioni points out in an article for the forthcoming spring 2006 issue of The National Interest, they never specify what version or interpretation of Islamic law. He notes that there is a major difference between a moderate interpretation and an extremist one--and that such differences should be openly stated.
OPPONENTS OF U.S. policy in the Middle East have described Hamas's victory in last week's Palestinian elections as a disaster that proves that President Bush was wrong to insist on elections in the West Bank and Gaza. The result, they say, has been the destruction of the peace process and the empowerment of a movement inimical to Israel and the United States; the lesson is that Mr. Bush should stop pressing for democratic change elsewhere in the region.
No, the lesson is not to stop pressing for democratic change. This is the same as the "with us or against us" red herring.
There's two problems that are left out in this either/or path -
- Democracy at the point of the gun, as was accomplished in Iraq is going to result in resentment, insurgencies, terrorism, etc. The side effects of such an action will often not be worth the fact that one can check off the democracy box at the end of the day.
- Democracy is not a panacea in the post 9/11 world, as it wasn't in previous times either. There will continue to be ethnic strife, terrorism, religious conflict, resource competition etc. with or without democracy. There are many such factors that generate conflict, extremism and terrorism, and by just having democracy on the storyboard, we risk missing the many other variables. Democracy should indeed be encouraged, but not as an island onto itself.
"Democracy at the point of the gun, as was accomplished in Iraq is going to result in resentment, insurgencies, terrorism, etc. The side effects of such an action will often not be worth the fact that one can check off the democracy box at the end of the day."
The side effects may indeed be problematical in some cases but not necessarily in all. We brought democracy at gunpoint to Japan after 1945 without provoking insurgency. What is needed is an understanding of the risks and unique aspects in each situation.
"Democracy is not a panacea in the post 9/11 world, as it wasn't in previous times either. There will continue to be ethnic strife, terrorism, religious conflict, resource competition etc. with or without democracy."
A democratic society begins (and sustains itself) when a common sense of citizenship is more deeply felt than the separate identities into which a population may divide. The problem with some countries in which elections have recently been held is not that they have held elections, but that the sense of common citizenship is either conflated with a sectarian or ethnic identity or is struggling with it in a very serious way.
The larger foreign policy question for the United States is whether some regions should go through these struggles in their own time and in their own way, or whether the outside world should intervene to accelerate the process. Ordinarily, we do not intervene in other countries unless and until events appear to require us to do so.
What changed after 9/11 was that a bipartisan consensus in the United States emerged, briefly at least, that we could not wait for another dramatic event and that in addition to taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan we had to act to remove Saddam Hussein. The cost of the intervention in Iraq turned out to be higher than anticipated and the degree of the threat also turned out to be more debatable than many had thought. But we must be careful about the lessons we draw from this experience.
During the Cold War, we had a larger strategy that (despite severe testing at times) did not collapse as a result of local setbacks. This strategy did not emerge overnight and the world we face today will require a very different strategy. But in one respect the present situation is similar to earlier ones, in that we will fail if we lose the ability to distinguish the long-term from the exigencies of the moment and if we generalize about all moments from the outcome of any particular one. What we need is a larger sense of context that won't be collapsed by disappointments and setbacks.
Good points, and again, there are variations in every situation, so generalizing one way or the other is not useful. And I agree that there has to be a larger context in strategy.
The problem is that the strategy has been put forward without fully understanding and defining the problems we are facing. While Japan and Germany (WW II) and eastern Europe (Cold War) may have been defeated, and democracy leveraged to ensure that the ideologies did not rise up again, what we were fighting there was not religious fundamentalism. The latter transcends democratic and authoritarian systems, and we could go into various examples, some of which I have cited, to understand that merely bringing democracy would do little to undermine the threats.
And when we talk about waiting for democratic societies around the world to overcome separate identities, we are in for a very, very long wait. If that is the beginning of democratic society we may never achieve it in a huge portion of the world. You are absolutely right that we need to consider whether our intervention in these struggles around the world will be net positive or negative for us, because I don't think we have put that much thought into it yet. There really never was a national discussion on this after 9/11. The bipartisan agreement to go to Iraq had much to do with a highly exaggerated perception of Saddam's threat; it wasn't exactly based on a thorough understanding and prioritization of threats, or a consequent well thought out strategy.
The word like democracy mean nothing if not supported by actual deeds actually advancing democracy.
The Bush governments' socalled interventionism exclusively involves nations with oil.
No oil, and the Bush government warmongers and profiteers have no interest in promoting democracy or any other form of interventionism.
Israeli/Palestine issue is only lightly touched upon, (the Bush government pays lipservice and devotes remarkably little time, energy, and resources, ie money to the Israel/Palestinian issues) - because other Arab nations (rich in oil) make it a important issue.
Subract oil, and the Israeli Palestinian issue, and the socalled interventionalism intending to promote democracy anywhere in this wild and violent world is woefully lacking if not completely absent.
Hense the lethal flaw in this socalled democratization policy.
It's has nothing to do with democratization, or liberty and everything to do with the wests addiction to oil, and the Bush governments pathological intent to usurp and commandeer other nations oil by any means possible.
Attacking, occupying, militarily imposing any form of government on sovereign nations, usurping that nations resourses, slaughtering thousands of that nations civilians, destoying that nations infrastructure and economy, and profiteering wantonly in and from the unholy process is TYRANNY, and predatory imperialism, - not liberation or anything like the promotion of democracy.
The true sterling examples of democracy a borning in Latin American were peasant backed socialist political parties and leaders are winning elections, rejecting the tyranny and oppression of the local elites, oligarchs, and their fascist warmongering and profiteering backers in the US, and redistributing the wealth and resources of their respective nations to the poor and emerging middle class.
This is why Chavez and Morales have such strong support amongst the majority of their respective populations, and also why a fascist warmonger profiteer and incompentent chickenhawk like Rumsfeld slimes and diabolizes these leaders as Hitlerian.
Ours is a government of liars supremists, tyrants, warmongers and profiteers mass marketing doublespeak, but practicing military imperialism.
Nothing, - not one single world issued from the Bush government has any credibility or foundation in truth.
Again, we cannot legitimately promote democracy in other nations and at the same time pervert, dismember, and destroy democracy in our own nation.
The hypocricy would be laughable were it not so appalling.
You may well be right about it taking a long time for common identities to take priority over separate ones, particularly when the latter are rooted in fundamentalism. It was largely by redrawing the boundaries with faith that modern democracies were able to arise in the first place. Whether this is possible in critical parts of the world in any less time is hardly clear.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld the other day expressed his view that we stand at a moment analogous to the early 1950s. I'm afraid we may be entering a more dangerous period like the 1930s. The Germans certainly seem to think so. The people gaining power in the Middle East don't (to me) resemble the Russians in the Cold War. Once they get nuclear weapons, it looks like the mullahs will have the opportunity and the incentive to move in the region and beyond before their neighbors get such weapons.
If we really do reach a point where war with Iran is imminent, we had better be thinking about a postwar world at least as different as 1945 was from 1939. Our only chance of peace may be to propose a more radical future of the world than the one we are defending right now, either (1) to raise the opportunity cost to opponents who might be contemplating a challenge and/or (2) to rally the American people and as much of the world as will join us in the event that a confrontation occurs.
I hope I am wrong to have these concerns. Perhaps the sense of crisis is exaggerated and a resolution is underway through back channels. But the visible signs are not encouraging.
"Subract oil, and the Israeli Palestinian issue, and the socalled interventionalism intending to promote democracy anywhere in this wild and violent world is woefully lacking if not completely absent."
Leon Hadar's point in the discussion yesterday tracks this--that U.S. policy through both Democratic and Republican administrations in dealing with the Middle East revolves around access to oil and securing Israel.