Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Rorshach Realism Redux....

Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute has an interesting piece in today's Opinion Journal. He argues that:

Those who are skeptical of injecting issues of freedom, democracy and human rights into the conduct of foreign policy call themselves "realists," and they accuse their opposite numbers--the so-called idealists--of an almost juvenile enthusiasm. But a sober reading of the historical evidence shows that President Bush and his fellow idealists are more realistic than the "realists."

To begin with, the idealists are right about the possibility for freedom and democracy to spread across borders and cultures. In 1775 there were no democracies. Then came the American Revolution and raised the number to one. Some 230 years later there are 117, accounting for 61% of the world's governments.

This historic transformation in the norms of governance has not occurred at a steady pace. Rather, it has accelerated. Just over 30 years ago, the proportion of democracies was about half of what it is today. These years of rapid transition have been dubbed democracy's "third wave" by the political scientist Samuel Huntington. The wave metaphor, however, gives the impression of an inevitable ebb. But each of Mr. Huntington's first two waves left the world considerably more free and democratic than it had been before. And there is no telling how long a democracy wave will last. The first continued for 140-odd years; the second, for just about 15. The world could all go democratic before this "third wave" is spent.

Moreover, there is the factor of example and momentum: As the proportion of democracies rises, it will become harder for the remaining authoritarians to hold out. The skeptics ridicule President Bush for declaring his ultimate goal to be the end of tyranny. But today probably no more than 20% of the world's governments could rightly be called by that name, whereas once the proportion was vastly higher. Why shouldn't that 20% go the way of the others?

Some skeptics warn that democracy may not prove to be a cure-all for terrorism. Perhaps, but the record so far shows that democracies rarely produce wars or terrorism, and at a minimum we can predict confidently that we will have less of both as democracy spreads.

Others warn that to recklessly overthrow benign dictators will pave the way for less benign radicals. But there is no need to simply topple regimes: Our goal will surely be incremental change. And our key method should be to strengthen indigenous democrats through moral, political and material support, so they can be the agents of peaceful political transitions.

Still others make the reverse argument, saying that if we don't move single-mindedly for regime change then we are not sincere. But, democratization cannot be the only item on our diplomatic agenda. There will be other pressing issues like security and economics. The test of President Bush's
sincerity is not whether he pursues freedom to the exclusion of everything else, but whether he insists on including it consistently among our priorities.

A foreign policy that makes freedom a touchstone will of course entail some self-contradictions and hypocrisies and doubts about our sincerity. The same was true when President Carter elevated human rights to a new prominence. Nonetheless, in doing so he changed the world for the better and
advanced America's interests. It was embarrassing when President Carter fawned over the Shah of Iran and the Communist dictators of Poland, Romania and the USSR. But where are those men now, or the governments they headed?

Despite the skeptics, all historical evidence suggests that democracy can indeed spread further, that America can serve as an agent of its advancement, as it has done all over the world, and that democracy's spread will make the world safer. And for those who doubt that President Bush is earnest about his campaign for freedom, I refer them to Mullah Omar or Saddam Hussein.
Meanwhile, John O'Sullivan, the editor of The National Interest, has a very good piece in today's Chicago Sun-Times. His key points, to me at least, are:

Imagine, for instance, a revolution in Saudi Arabia. Rebels have seized key positions in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dahran, issued a manifesto establishing a Revolutionary Salvation Council, and promised to hold elections within six months. But our intelligence suggests that key figures on the Council are linked to anti-American terror networks.

Do we (a) intervene on their side in the hope of influencing the new regime? (b) intervene on the side of the present royal despots? Or (c) let events take their course? If we do (a), then we are true to our democratic rhetoric but we probably replace a pro-American despot with anti-American ones. Both the other options make us look hypocritical. And the third makes us look weak as well. It is almost needless to add that option (c) is the one Jimmy Carter actually chose when the Shah of Iran
was threatened with the Islamist revolution of 1979 that created the present terrorist state.

Or take a different kind of tragedy. Imagine a revolt of oppressed Sunni Muslims in Syria who cite the president's speech as their inspiration and appeal for American intervention. Reports arrive that they are being shot out of hand.

One assumes we would not intervene on behalf of the Syrian despots. But which of the other two options above would we choose? Almost certainly we would choose to do nothing -- or to issue appeals for restraint which amounts to much the same thing. That at any rate is what we did when the Iraqi Shiites rose up against Saddam Hussein in 1991 in the hope that America would come to their assistance. As a result, the Shiites were slow to trust us in both the invasion of 2003 and in its political aftermath. What goes around comes around.

Neither America nor any other country, however idealistic, can be expected to intervene militarily against its own interests or when it has no real interests at stake. And it is immoral as well as unrealistic to encourage others to rebel by promises of intervention we cannot keep.

But that does not mean we cannot take lesser steps -- imposing trade penalties on regimes that jail and torture dissidents, offering a safe haven to despots who agree to go quietly, giving training and technical assistance to free media in authoritarian states that permit some freedoms -- to assist gradual movement toward greater freedom. Promoting democracy in those ways is eminently realist in a world of rapid change. Such a policy, however, must place equal weight on the promise of democracy and the qualification of gradualism. Indeed, the "senior administration official" realized something the president did not: In the grammar of international politics, the qualifications are the main point.
Now, first off, as I alluded to in the last piece, I think there are more distinctions than a simple realist-idealist dichotomy. Muravchik proves this for me with his call for democracy promotion in ways other than regime change -- in this way he and O'Sullivan are actually arguing similar themes, but with obvious differences in scale. O'Sullivan is spot on with his emphasis on qualifications. Not all democracies are built alike and similar governance does not guarantee similar interests. Finally, the "democratic peace hypothesis" still is operating based on "a relatively small-N sample size" -- in the lingo of academic political science. In other words, once everyone is able to live in a nation-state where they can vote for candidates in contested elections and where ethnic or religious minorities have some semblance of protected rights does not necessarily mean that war and warfare go away as arbiters of economic, cultural, and diplomatic differences.

UPDATE: See also Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria's excellent four-part analysis here.


Blogger J. said...

Michael - it is Michael, right - how can you seriously call that AEI article "interesting"? Do you support his allegation that there were zero democracies in 1775? So the United Kingdom, although it had a parliment and representation, was essentially a dictatorship?

Re: "but the record so far shows that democracies rarely produce wars or terrorism, and at a minimum we can predict confidently that we will have less of both as democracy spreads."

Does this exclude the Spanish-American War, the Mexican War, the invasion of Grenada, support for President Marcos and Pinochet, active support for insurgents in Nicaruagua and Afghanistan, etc etc?

Joshua Muravchik needs to stop waving the flag and obscuring facts to meet his own thesis that Bush's "democracy on the march" is somehow an extension of history. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, they all called for the global epansion of democratic ideals, but we didn't invade Hungary or East Germany to advance democracy, didn't invade Cuba (well at least with our own troops), didn't invade Nicaraugua or the Phillipines.

O'Sullivan is closer to the point, but the US govt behavior toward Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Burma, Uzbekistan, etc, etc, do not reflect his sense of reality either. Could it be that Bush's stance was just empty rhetoric designed to get his speech into the history books? Could it be that his actions belay his true intent?

Who's the realist and who's the idealist here? Methinks the wingnuts on the right are just annoyed that the "reality-based community" has one over on them.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Yes, Michael it is.

Umm, I spent a couple of minutes looking up all permutations of the word interesting, but didn't find any definition which implied endorsement. Muravchik's views are "interesting" because they seem to offer a different perspective than do other ideational realist perspectives. Also, I found it "interesting" that the Carter policy on human rights and damn the rest was the "right" policy. I find that amusing.

As for "reality-based community," is that Mark Burnett's production company? I am just spit-balling here but it seems to me that a lot of progress is made when ideas transcend or help to shape reality. Hence, to make a yet another false dichotomy about "reality-based" vice "fantasy-based" (?) communities is not helpful.

12:29 PM  
Blogger J. said...

Point taken, but I think many would find that if one stated something as "interesting" it is suspected that the person is tacitly endorsing it. Pardon my flames.

Re: "reality-based community," what can I say, that's what we call ourselves as the loyal opposition when the Bush administration says they are "making" their own realities through action.

And be careful with those spitballs, I believe it was Zell "Madman" Miller that noted that was a military weapon preferred by the left.

2:10 PM  

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