THE SECOND REBUTTAL: HISTORY AND SPREADING DEMOCRACY
As Cheryl Rofer
and I continue our debate, I would like in particular to expand on the aspect of spreading Democracy by force, a point of interest in Cheryl's first rebuttal
. Her second rebuttal
can also be found here along with Cheryl's original post
. Here are links to my first rebuttal
and to Part I.
and Part II
. of my original post.
Cheryl opened her rebuttal with the following observation, largely an accurate one:"One reason is that we have different assumptions. Mark seems to accept the Bush administration’s assumption that democracy can be spread at the point of a gun. I may be a bit unfair in stating it that way, but I’m not aware that that theory has been clearly enunciated by those in authority. The examples of Germany and Japan miss the point. World War II was not fought for the purpose of bringing democracy to Germany and Japan. It was fought because those two countries attacked others and occupied them. However, once the war was over, both those countries required significant rebuilding. It made sense to couple physical rebuilding with political rebuilding."
I have to agree that the Bush administration dangerously attempted to skip over the steps of nation-building that were present in postwar Germany and Japan. The assumption that things would fall into place because Saddam and his sons were the most hated figures in Iraqi history proved to be dangerously wrong. The need for post-conflict, nation-building or what Dr. Barnett
more comprehensively categorizes as " System-Administration
" intervention, does not mean that Democracy cannot be spread by force or that we should not try - only that force is the starting point and not the conclusion of the process.
The operative question here is not whether it is possible to spread democracy with a bayonet –it is, at least in terms of the military power starting a substantial nation-building effort by enforcing a change in regime. Nor is the question whether or not force is the ideal way to spread democracy – it isn’t. A foreign invader cannot instantly inculcate the deep cultural support for democratic norms that centuries of political evolution, revolution and civil wars brought to Britain and the United States. They can only force the conquered to start anew on the democratic path and remove forces of coercion that stand in the way of an open society. No, the real question is whether or not spreading democracy, by force if necessary, is the most viable policy for America’s current strategic circumstances.
It would really be nice if the power-wielding elite in the Arab-Islamic world had an empiricist view of political economy and drew the appropriate conclusions from the history of the twentieth century in attempting to reform their societies. Unfortunately, they don’t, being composed of an authoritarian group of rentier autocrats, Islamist theocrats and socialistic nationalists, the Arab-Islamic elite stubbornly hew to the path of state failure and stagnation rather than risk change in a system that has them perched comfortably at the top of the decrepit heap. Liberalization, much less full-blown democracy, endangers their status.
This situation would be tolerable in terms of American security of these Arab-Islamic rulers also managed to exercise full sovereign control over their states but they do not. Instead, fearing their own people because of their own illegitimacy, most ME regimes irresponsibly attempt to export their social and political problems to their neighbors and the West. What they cannot export they try to suppress by force and fear. What intractable problems still remain, they studiously ignore and postpone the day of reckoning.
Then there are a second tier of states like Syria and Iran that are actively hostile in their policies and have a decades-long record of support for terrorism. Their intransigence is active rather than passive. The potential worst-case scenario risk factor of WMD terrorism makes further blanket indulgence of Arab-Islamic authoritarianism politically impossible for the Bush administration. Or for any future moderate Democratic successor that we are likely to see. A President Biden could not ignore the dangers of an Islamic Jihad Egypt or an al Qaida Emirate of Arabia.
After 9/11, the United States will no longer grant these regimes “ plausible deniability” for terrorist acts nor will the U.S. look the other way at NRBC proliferation. These states must either reform (KSA, Pakistan, Egypt), come to some diplomatic accommodation with the United States (Libya) or be forcibly changed (Afghanistan, Iraq). Those states that remain “ on the fence” between conciliation and conflict – Iran, Syria, Sudan – will come under increasing international political and economic pressure to conform backed up by the specter of a potential regime change attack by the United States. American military commitments in Iraq may prevent the U.S. from occupying Syria or invading Iran but there are enough assets available in Iraq and in carrier groups to destroy the Syrian regime or decapitate Iran’s hardline leadership while decisively obliterating key units of the Pasdaran and the secret police.
Spreading democracy as a policy has heavy costs and considerable risks and to a considerable extent the Bush administration has not been completely forthcoming with the public as to what they are. Instead, the administration has pointed, accurately, to the potential dangers of allowing the status quo to fester in the ME, to the positive potential benefits of spreading liberty and to their critics total lack of an alternate strategy for the GWOT. In a sense, this is unsurprising, foreign policy is dealt with in broad strokes when politicians talk to the general public which tends to tune in fully only at a moment of crisis like 9/11. And then only for a short time.
But to be sustained, to become a cornerstone of American foreign policy like Containment requires a deeper campaign of consensus-building for the promotion of Democracy by the Bush administration. The world is watching closely to see if America means it, if we will shy from Democracy abroad when it is inconvenient or potentially anti-American in the short run. Or if the USG is simply as cynical as their own corrupt leaders or the jaded European elite who have to be dragged to seeing genocide in Africa or even in the Balkans.
The Bush administration, in short, now stands at a crossroads and history is going to judge their deeds by their words.