November 01, 2004

*Quick Reaction

One of the differences between Judaism and Christianity is the missionary position. Ahem. Let me rephrase that. Christians love to send missionaries all over the world, helping people and spreading the word of Christ. "Hey, look at this shiny new way we have of doing things. You'll love it. Come on over to the house later, we're having pie and discussing our Lord and Savior. Bring the kids."

Judaism isn't so big on recruitment. "We're happy over here doing things the way we've done them for thousands of years. We'll mind our own business and let you go about yours. Just don't try to kill us and we'll get along fine."

Democracy as DMo sees it is like the Christians up in the first paragraph. But the thing is, not everyone wants to do things our way. Some of them aren't ready for it. Tradition is a powerful thing. Look at Great Britain. The royal family has no real useful function, but people like having them around. They're symbolic. They're so closely tied to the country's image that you can't really picture an England without its royalty. "England with no queen? What's the point?" There is talk about ending the monarchy, and it will eventually happen, but that change will evolve as it's ready.

If democracy is as great as we think it is (and I include myself in that "we"), it will spread as it's ready. Sometimes quickly and violently, sometimes slowly evolving over time, but always at the pace the people are prepared for...we just need to be patient. When you force it, you suffer backlash from those in power who will be replaced.

We could fly into Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro tomorrow. Does that mean we should do it? Or should we wait until the old man finally kicks the bucket and see how things play out down there? In other words, do we let time run its course?

There are instances when we can argue there is a moral obligation to help those in need...Sudan comes to mind. But I don't remember hearing that argument before we went into Iraq or Afghanistan. We went into Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, who were harboring Al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. Freeing the people from Taliban rule was just an extra bonus. We went into Iraq because Saddam Hussein reportedly had weapons of mass destruction and posed an immediate danger to us.

American foreign policy should obviously favor and promote democracy, but not through force as DMo seems to propose. Our military is there to protect us and protect our interests. Is it in our best interest for the whole world to be democratic? Yes. Is it in our best interest to overthrow leaders we don't like? No. What? NO. You can't run around overthrowing governments unless you have a REALLY GOOD REASON. We do need some degree of cooperation from the rest of the world. Could China look at us and decide our power needs to be checked? Could an alliance of smaller nations? We're powerful, but we're not unstoppable. Our military force should be used when we (or our friends) are in danger and not as a tool to forcibly spread democracy.

"Just don't try to kill us and we'll get along fine."

Posted by Jennifer at November 1, 2004 02:30 PM


I appreciate the thoughts, Jen. But as a clarification, I do want to mention that I did say this: "this doesn't mean that the direct answer to rogue regimes is war. But, in the end, when diplomacy and prodding doesn't work, when sanctions fail, we have to be willing to liberate." So I'm not all about war as the first response. Just as the final response.

Second, you bring up Cuba - excellent. Can it really be said that the people of Cuba are better off now, with the Bay of Pigs operation having not succeeded than they would be if it had? I'm not so sure about that. Certainly, democracy is hard and some peoples have to be led into it (establish rule of law first, etc.). But a small period of instability is well worth the benefits of it.

Third, you say that there was nobody calling for the liberation of Iraqis and Afghanis before 9/11. This isn't really all that true. The establishment of democracies among the Middle East has long been a tenant of neoconservative thought and the overthrow of Saddam has been pushed for since the failure to do it in 1991.

Fourth, you end by saying that "Our military force should be used when we (or our friends) are in danger and not as a tool to forcibly spread democracy." This, as the sole policy of our country, strikes me as a somewhat America-centric and selfish stance. In the end, I think, our policy has to be (yes, of course, first about ourselves and our security) about something more than just our security. We have to exist, as a country, for something better. For a freer world. For a more democratic world. Maybe I'm just idealistic though...

Posted by: Daniel at November 1, 2004 02:57 PM

(Goddamnit, I'm having to type this a second time. The first one timed out for some reason.)

Point 4--I wasn't going to attack you with the "idealist" label, but you're right that your position is very idealistic. I think we need to be more pragmatic than that.

Point 3--GWB ran on a position against "nation-building" in 2000. HE wasn't calling for anyone's liberation before 9/11, and it was his administration I was referring to.

Point 2--Some Cubans love Fidel Castro. Are you a better judge of their situation than they?

Point 1--No clarification needed, but thanks.

Posted by: Jennifer at November 1, 2004 03:17 PM

"Some Cubans love Fidel Castro. Are you a better judge of their situation than they?"
No. But it doesn't actually matter if they love Fidel or not. They're judgement on the situation doesn't matter in Cuba. And it should. Along with all of the other Cubans (except for Mark Cuban, of course). I suspect if a vote were to take place, Fidel would lose against a semi-qualified candidate fairly easily. Some Americans liked Nader. That didn't make him rightfully President.

Posted by: Daniel at November 1, 2004 03:28 PM

(Think before you submit comments, Daniel)
Also, I'd like to disagee with the initial analogy. The missions of Christianity are to enforce a certain way of thinking on a peoples. This is not so in democracy building endeavors. Those are to allow people to decide for themselves how they should be governed... big difference.

Posted by: Daniel at November 1, 2004 03:33 PM

Okay, I'm going to ask you to humor me here. Imagine you're a little boy. You live in a neighborhood with your family. Your parents are strict, making you come home directly after school to do your homework. The other kids in the neighborhood get to play until it is suppertime, and do their homework before bed.

The other parents think your parents are doing things wrong and need to change. So they get together and discuss what to do about your family. They decide to exclude your family from neighborhood gatherings. When that doesn't work, they show up one night and take your parents away. They give you brand new parents who let you play after school.

Well, what would you think of that? The only parents you've ever known are replaced by outsiders who tell you it's for your own good. That you'll like these new parents better once you get used to them.

Okay, that is a really over-simplistic analogy, but hopefully it will help you see things from a different perspective. Not everyone wants to be liberated. You're arguing that they'll like it once it happens, but that's not always true. I'm arguing that when they're ready, they'll take steps to make it happen on their own. After that, maybe we can help them out, but we're not the world's parent looking after its little children.

Posted by: Jennifer at November 1, 2004 03:46 PM

Irony abounds here...

Wasn't it the right-wingers who once said "America is not the world's policeman"???

Now, right-wingers have done an about-face and decided that we must "bring democracy to the MidEast".

There's a LOT of iron in that irony...

Posted by: Jack at November 1, 2004 04:06 PM

I would say two things - first, a government is not a parent. And we do, as a people, remove parents that are beating their children, providing them with unhealthy conditions, and other abusive tactics. I think that this is a good thing.

Second, saying that "not everyone wants to be liberated" is a lot like saying that some people like being slaves. Actually it's exactly like it. And I agree, yes, some people live better in a non-free society than they do in a free society. But, if we believe in the basic human rights of freedom and participation in government (and I do), then we have to allow the people to make the decision about their government - and not the tyrants. The subjects of tyrannical governments aren't always able to "make it happen on their own." To return to your analogy of the child, is it okay to let the parents continue abusing the child until he or she is old enough to fight back? Not really.

Posted by: Daniel at November 1, 2004 04:14 PM

The child was not abused in my analogy. The parents were simply doing things differently.

In cases of real abuse--like genocide--I say we should step in. But not on the grounds of converting people to democracy...on the grounds of human rights and human decency.

Posted by: Jennifer at November 1, 2004 04:27 PM

I guess we just have a different threshold of abuse. I happen to think that denying fundamental human rights is abuse. And I happen to think that participation in a democratic government is a fundamental human right.

Posted by: Daniel at November 1, 2004 05:04 PM

Well, in Iraq we had a pretty clear humanitarian case. If it wasn't labelled genocide at the time, it's just because the hundreds of thousands of murders were spread over three decades of brutality.

And Jen, I'm sure you know this, but to clarify: WMDs weren't the only reason given for invading Iraq (though this was certainly given prominence in the debate, such as it was), and President Bush did not call Iraq an immediate or "imminent" threat. (You're right that Bush was opposed to nation-building, of course. How things change...)

There's an equally clear moral case for the liberation of North Korea, where conditions are possibly worse than any other country. Of course, that situation is complicated by the thousands of artillery pieces pointed across the border at Seoul, and the fact that North Korea almost certainly has nuclear weapons.

Back on Iraq: The whole Middle East is utterly disfunctional politically, and the autocrats and mullahs are determined to keep it that way. And part of the means they are using is focussing unrest into terrorism, and directing that terrorism outwards. (See Steven Den Beste or Wretchard of Belmont Club for discussions on the idea that much of Islamic terrorism is really a Saudi civil war exported to the world.)

So the long-term goal of Bush's War on Terror, the political as opposed to strategic goal, is to stabilise the Middle East by democratising it. Of course, that first requires destabilising it. That's why it was so important that the elections in Afghanistan went smoothly, and that the Iraq elections are likewise successful. That pinches Iran, for example, between two neutral-to-friendly democracies, which has to be very uncomfortable for the Mullahs. (And hence their ready support for the insurgents in Iraq. They know what Bush is trying to do, and they really don't want him to succeed.)

But there's a problem in all this. You can't impose democracy by force. You can depose a brutal tyranny - the Taliban, the Ba'athists - and then organise elections. What happens next is up to the people. If they vote for an Islamic regime, and that regime cancels further elections, what then? President Bush has said he would abide by such a decision, and painful as that is, I think it is essential to the process. After all, you can't say "vote for whoever you like, as long as we approve of them". (The new Iraqi Constitution seems to be well thought-out, but without a solid tradition of rule of law without brutality backing it, it's uncertain whether the constitution would be enough to hold off an Islamic takeover.)


If we have a monarchy, undemocratic, perhaps lacking in, say, freedom of speech (perhaps the papers aren't allowed to criticise the royal family under threat of imprisonment), but the people there are basically healthy and productive, untortured, unmurdered: Then we have no real moral case for thrusting democracy upon them however strongly we may believe that it is a better system.

But when you have a country littered with mass graves, entire villages wiped out with poison gas, torture rooms and government-sponsored rapists, that's a little different. In that case, it is our responsibility to take action.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at November 1, 2004 06:33 PM

Responding to what Jack said:

Wasn't it the right-wingers who once said "America is not the world's policeman"??? Now, right-wingers have done an about-face and decided that we must "bring democracy to the MidEast".

Nation-building, as a matter of course, is opposed by most conservatives for the very reasons that Jennifer outlines. It's almost always better to coax tyrants and their subjects to see the evil and poverty resulting from oppressive government, and to change it themselves, than to forcefully and chaotically change it with war. Unless there's a threat to US.

But, the middle east is not Bosnia, Kosovo, Cuba or Haiti. We're not there to liberate people simply for their own good, but, firstly, for OUR own good. That they get to live in a society structured according to their own choosing, not a tyrant's choosing, is a bonus -- even if they DO decide by majority that they want a theocracy.

As long as that theocracy doesn't harbor terrorists who want to kill us we'll get along just fine.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at November 1, 2004 07:52 PM

Jack you say that "There's a LOT of iron in that irony..." How much of that iron came from the World Trade center and the Pentagon? 9/11 changed the dynamics. No longer were we removed from what was happening in the Middle East. It is unfortunate but the only thing that they seem to respect is overwhelming strength and the will to use it. How many times have we heard about the "arab street" rising up against us? Yet it has been curiously quite since we went to Afghanistan & Iraq. The majority of the Iraqis have welcomed freedom. even our buddy Osama seems to have toned down his rhetoric since coming face to face with the might of the US.

Posted by: Pete at November 2, 2004 06:22 AM

Jen I believe that we should fight for those who can't fight for themselves. Everyone deserves the right to decide for themselves how they should lead their lives and not have it ditictated to them by a megalomaniac. You use the analogy of Cuba and I ask are the people of Cuba free to leave the island if they don't like the conditions? It is one thing to consciously choose to live under a certain government and another thing to be forced into it and denied the right to leave if you do not like it.

Posted by: Pete at November 2, 2004 06:31 AM