HISTORY AND SPREADING DEMOCRACY: A DEBATEThe Daily Demarche
issued a challenge recently for conservative bloggers to engage their liberal counterparts on the great question of advancing democracy. The first to do so were Marc Schulman of The American Future
and Eric Martin
of Total Information Awareness
. Their debate set a high standard in terms of eloquence, reasoning and civility that all future participants should aspire to match.CKR
has graciously agreed to discuss the following question:"How the use of history has shaped or should shape the role which the United States should play in the spread of global democracy to oppressed or less developed nations."
CKR's post can be found here.
Editorial Note to the Reader
: Circumstances of a technical nature have forced me to post this essay in two parts but each part represents for the purposes of this debate, only a single post and a continuous thread of argument. Part II
will be up shortly and I may possibly re-edit/re-post to combine them into a single smooth entry for archival purposes once CKR has digested them and finished her response.
With that, let the debate begin:History and Promoting Global Democracy
If we examine how the use of history has shaped or should shape the role which the United States should play in the spread of global democracy to oppressed or less developed nations, we should look first to America's legacy in that regard and then to how Bush administration policy falls within that tradition. While the road to spreading democracy has been an uneven one for American policy makers, filled with detours, bumps and the occasional dead-end, it is also a long road representing arguably one of the best aspects of American foreign policy.
The Bush administration is redefining and reinvigorating that policy in the GWOT and while their reliance on history as a guide to policy leaves much to be desired, they are also well ahead of previous administrations in that regard. History could be be used a great deal more than it is in the American national security decision making process but that would require a considerable shift in the general philosophy of personnel selection that have prevailed in recent decades.Part I. Lessons in Spreading Democracy:
Initially, the Founding Fathers, cognizant of the weaknesses and potential internal division of the young American Republic, sought a role of studied neutrality in world affairs. The United States would spread democracy not by force of arms but by becoming an example for the rest of the world to follow. Neither in the case of war with the Barbary states or in the republican revolutions of Santo Domingo and in South America did Washington take an active hand in spreading democracy, though words of encouragement and protection were eventually offered in the form of the Monroe Doctrine
to the Southern republics, this was primarily a paper exercise.
Practically speaking, spreading democracy was a policy born not of ideology but of the necessity of war. Prior to the Iraq War, the United States government made its greatest efforts to spread democratic governance with the conquered American South during Reconstruction and Germany and Japan in the twentieth century.
The first attempt at democratization through conquest and occupation by the United States Army was in the Deep South in the aftermath of the Civil War. The period of Reconstruction
has been thoroughly mythologized in the popular mind by Southern Lost Cause reactionaries and academic Marxists. The resulting composite view tends to be a cartoonish depiction of rapacious Northern capitalists brutalizing Southerners in a fetid orgy of political corruption with little or no thought to the fate of the former slaves. In reality, Radical Republican leaders like Thaddeus Stevens
sought far-reaching democratic reforms in the South to integrate Freedmen as full citizens. If they erred it was not in treating the former Confederate states as " conquered provinces" but in being unduly gentle with recalcitrant ex-rebel terrorists.
In Louisiana, for example the Military Reconstruction Act
, which barred disloyal ex-Confederate planters from office, resulted in a state legislature with a black majority that had remarkable achievements to its credit.. Led by P.B.S. Pinchback
, a wealthy African-American businessman, the state legislature passed a new constitution, established public school systems and the integration of public facilities. Had the North stayed the course of Reconstruction for several generations, the history of race relations in America might have been markedly different. However, failure of will led Northern leaders to allow the undermining of Reconstruction governments by a lack of response to White League terrorism. There were over 700 cases of assassination and political murder in 1868 in Louisiana alone . The de facto abandonment of individual Republican officeholders and voters in the South to campaign of intimidation and violence smoothed the path for the de jure end of Reconstruction in 1877.
President Hayes removed the last Union troops from the Southern States as part of the Compromise of 1877 that gave him the presidency. This freed ex-Confederate Democrats to reestablish their one-party regional authoritarianism based on white supremacy and backed by the threat of mob violence that would target anyone, white or black, who challenged the new status quo.. Moving quickly to establish legal racial segregation
the Democratic Party prevented the emergence of real democracy in the South for almost eighty years, incidentally condemning the region to economic backwardness as well.
Turning toward Germany and Japan, democracy is the child of two world wars. In reaction to Wilson's Fourteen Points
and fearing foreign occupation at the end of World War I, German Social Democrats supported by the Army jettisoned the authoritarian political system of the Wilhelmine empire. The Weimar Republic they created was one of the most liberal democracies in Europe, more so than several of the victors of W.W. I. But Weimar was also extremely fragile, containing large numbers of voters indifferent or hostile to democratic values
. Nevertheless, based on the electoral strength of the Social Democrats, a free press and a general war weariness among the German populace, a solid democracy might have taken root had Wilson been able to sustain the policy of American engagement in Europe.
Democracy failed in Weimar for a number of reasons, not least the attitude of the Germans themselves but foreign affairs played a very significant role. The actions of the British and the French undercut and discredited democratic leaders in Germany and associated democracy with defeat and humiliation in segments of the German public. Burdensome reparations payments, the war-guilt clause, the reoccupation of the Ruhr, French encouragement of Bavarian separatism all chipped away at the stature of the national government in Berlin and provided recruits for the extremist Communist and Nazi parties. It is no accident that Weimar Germany's most successful period coincided with the implementation of the Dawes Plan
, which stabilized the European economy and helped settle the balance of payments problem. Perhaps had America been a steady counterbalance to punitive French policies, Germany might have been integrated into a democratic Europe decades earlier, saving us from World War II entirely. Weimar leaders might have had the will and popular support to face down Brown shirt and Communist armies of street toughs warring in the streets during the Depression.
In reconstructing Europe and Japan after the war the Roosevelt and Truman administrations acted decisively to avoid past mistakes. Economic integration and freer trade began with Cordell Hull's
tariff reduction policies and the Atlantic Charter
agreement, later followed by Bretton Woods, the World Bank, the Marshall Plan and political support for Jean Monnet's European Coal and Steel Community
. Soviet plans for " deindustrialization " of Germany pushed directly by Stalin
or indirectly by the "Morgenthau Plan
" of Soviet agent Harry Dexter White
, were rejected by President Truman
Nor was there much romanticism about Allied occupation authorities being required to implement democracy instantly in Germany, Italy and Japan. Fascist totalitarian parties were prohibited outright in all three states and war crimes trials punished Nazi and Japanese leaders followed by Denazification proceeding, however unevenly implemented, for smaller fry. American leaders excluded the Soviets completely from any meaningful role in Italy or Japan, hampering NKVD support for local Communist cadres and the US secretly funded broad, centrist democratic parties to strentghen the electoral alternative to Stalin's robotic followers. In Japan, SCAP essentially rewrote Japan's Constitution when the Japanese elite proved incapapable and implemented wide-ranging economic reforms
to break up Zaibatsu
While not entirely " fair " to local Communists in the abstract sense, American policy makers realistically took into account that Stalin's followers were not committed to building democracies but to undermining them. American occupation policies set limits upon local politics until, by 1955, democratic values were strong enough among German and Japanese voters to weather extremist challenges. Germany, Italy and Japan proved to be successful test cases in spreading democracy by bayonet primarily because the investment in resources and political will was equal to the challenge. As one participant in SCAP recently wrote about Iraq:"In short, regime change, if it is to be more than a meaningless rallying cry, is an extremely complicated process and not for the faint-hearted. Even a domestically inspired revolution, which is a different kind of regime change, is not simple. Those who undertake it as foreign occupiers must be aware of unanticipated consequences, major gaps in knowledge and the likelihood that their efforts might end up being in vain, regardless of the high-minded aspirations with which they began. Moreover, changes in American and its coalition partners’ domestic politics and the international or regional environment can be expected to influence adversely initial expectations and goals. Caution is crucial."
Spreading democracy is not only possible, it is from the example of Germany and Japan, highly desirable but the requirements to succeed are tough. Corners cannot be cut.End Part I.