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April 06, 2005

More re: Arabs on Arab Democracy
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

The fulltext of the Arab Human Development Report referenced below is now published on the UNDP website.   The NYT report was indeed skewed, in that the references to the US and Israel hindering Arab democratic development are embedded in a thorough discussion of everything Arab governments are themselves doing wrong on that score.   But the point stands the U.S. is seen as anything but a hero in the region, and that democratization in the Mideast may well not herald more positive attitudes toward the U.S. or Israel.

Several commentators objected to my reference to the U.S. playing a role in fostering democracies around the world that feel a sense of affinity toward America.   I did not suggest that U.S. foreign policy in the 20th century was either uniformly benign, or centrally focused on democracy promotion.   

It was intermittent, inconsistent, and at insincere, but I believe that the U.S. did, during important times during the second half of the twentieth century, stand for and promote a brand of democracy that had broad appeal around the world.   We made a concrete difference in Japan, Italy, Germany,  South Korea, Panama, the Philippines and the countries of Eastern Europe.  We inspired dissidents and freedom fighters in dozens more places.  The record is very uneven in Latin and South America and Africa, and attitudes toward the U.S. in those regions reflect that.  Luckily we don't have to debate this country-by-country, 'cause that's already been done on someone else's blog.

But the split between glass half full versus half empty on this score is reflective of a deeper divide among liberals about whether the U.S. can trust its own hand.  Some think that any role in trying to promote democracy around the world inevitably bleeds into self-interested and ultimately harmful meddling in other countries' affairs.  Our checkered history and relatively small number of true success stories is proof of that we are better off sticking to our knitting.   This was behind the neo-isolationism of the left that manifested during the debates over Iraq.

Others believe that American power can and must be used as a force for positive political change around the world, and seize upon historic examples to support this view.  I am of this school.  American power is by no means the right instrument to accomplish every foreign policy goal.  But it is a powerful and useful instrument, if deployed correctly.   And it is sometimes the only available instrument.   Yes, the history of U.S. democratization efforts is at best mixed.  But -- given the resources we possess and the weakness of alternative instruments - - rather than downing our tools, we ought to be trying to hone them.


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We did some terrible things to win the Cold War, but our side winning the Cold War was a good thing.

Maybe we should direct aid and acknowledgement to places that were damaged by wars that we fought directly or indirectly. A post-Cold War Marshall Plan would certainly have helped in Afghanistan, along with some acknowledgement of their suffering.

Acknowledging the possibility of a mistake in removing Iran's democratically elected government to install the Shah seems fair. I would even say an apology was in order. Our problem is with the governing mullahs, not the people of Iran.

But fighting and winning the Cold War was right. Stalin killed more civilians than even Hitler. Their eventual economic decay does not mean that the threat was imagined, and we shouldn't pretend that everything would have turned out fine if we had done nothing.

Few people say that we should not have been engaged in the Cold War. But the costs were heavy: an unnecessary war (Vietnam), increase in gov't secrecy which makes democratic accountability problematic if not impossible, and the rise of the military-industrial complex that General Eisenhower warned us against. (The latest example of this is our giving F-16's to Pakistan, probably the most dangerous nuclear proliferator in the world). Absent an existential threat like the Soviet Union, are the costs worth it?

BTW, here's the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on our nation building record:

--"The record of past U.S. experience in democratic nation building is daunting. The low rate of success is a sobering reminder that these are among the most difficult foreign policy ventures for the United States. Of the sixteen such efforts during the past century, democracy was sustained in only four cases ten years after the departure of U.S. forces. Two of these followed the total defeat and surrender of Japan and Germany after World War II, and two were tiny Grenada and Panama."--

Rand did a study suggesting that for the successful occupation of a country the size of Iraq, at least 300,000 troops are needed, and 500,000 are preferable. Given that our military is currently unable to meet half that requirement, you should be honest and say that a nation building foreign policy necessitates a draft.

But the split between glass half full versus half empty on this score is reflective of a deeper divide among liberals about whether the U.S. can trust its own hand. Some think that any role in trying to promote democracy around the world inevitably bleeds into self-interested and ultimately harmful meddling in other countries' affairs.

For myself the problem is less about "trusting our own hand" as it is about trusting those in leadership positions who claim the moral high ground. How can we truly know when we are acting out of some higher principle rather than naked self interest? Hitler's soldiers marched East under the "noble banner" of bringing peace to the earth- and I'm sure that most of them believed this. The Crusaders spread their terror to make way for their messiah. We trampled the people of Latin America and Africa to guard them from the specter of Communism.

Anyway, Machievelli said it best when he wrote:
Therefore, a prince doesn't need to have all the qualities mentioned earlier, but it is necessary that he appear to have them. I'll even add to this: having good qualities and always practicing them is harmful, while appearing to practice them is useful. It's good to appear to be pious, faithful, humane, honest, and religious, and it's good to be all those things; but as long as one keeps in mind that when the need arises you can and will change into the opposite. It needs to be understood that a prince, and especially a prince recently installed, cannot observe all those qualities which make men good, and it is often necessary in order to preserve the state to act contrary to faity, contrary to mercy, contrary to humaneness, and contrary to religion. And therefore he needs a spririt disposed to follow wherever the winds of fortune and the variability of affairs leads him. As I said above, it's necessary that he not depart from right but that he follow evil.

A prince must take great care never to let anything come from his mouth that is not full of the above-mentioned five qualities, and he must appear to all who see and hear him to be completely pious, completely faithful, completely honest, completely humane, and completely religious. And nothing is more important than to appear to have that last quality. Men judge more by their eyes than by their hands, because everyone can see but few can feel. Everyone can see how you appear, few can feel what you are, and these few will not dare to oppose the opinion of the multitude when it is defended by the majesty of the state. In actions of all men, especially princes, where there is no recourse to justice, the end is all that counts. A prince should only be concerned with conquering or maintaining a state, for the means will always be judged to be honorable and praiseworthy by each and every person, because the masses always follow appearances and the outcomes of affairs, and the world is nothing other than the masses. The few do not find a place wherever the masses are supported

The Prince- The Way Princes Should Keep Their Word


The best way America can be a positive force for political change around the world is by example,and lately we are becoming a worse and worse example. Around the world our elections are seen as less and less legitimate,our leaders less honest,our media more controled and our freedoms eroded. Instead of leading the world into the post petro-energy future we are seen as greedily leading the scramble to control all the oil that's left. We create resentment around the world by supporting repressive dictatorships that play ball with us.

As for the cold war,I don't understand how anyone could believe there was a "winner". It was a huge drain on the resources of the world. It created the massive stockpiles of WMDs that will threaten our children for gererations (nuclear,chemical and biological). It put us through the paranoia of McCarthyism. The Soveit Union collapsed from the inside,not because of our military power(our outside threat may have delayed the collapse), but perhaps because of our example of being a more free and open society with a less corrupt government and freer media.

Regarding Arabs and Arab democracy, I think it would useful to look at nation-building in Palestine.

Whether the final outcome is a two-state solution or not, there is much to gain by addressing the Palestinians' needs for basic necessities and functioning government institutions.

We would be viewed less skeptically by the "Arab street" if we were seen to be helping the Palestinians, and it is more constructive than the somewhat-anti-Israel stance that some liberals are drifting towards.

Bush's heavy-handedness would probably create resentment and backlash, but as a liberal platform it makes practical sense.

Development assistance and democracy promotion are probably better terms than "nation-building" in the West Bank and Gaza (what I wrote above).

The terms are less charged in regards to a two-state solution, and the argument for democracy promotion has already been made and articulated by Bush. All of the benefits of democracy in Iraq would probably larger from a prosperous, democratic Palestine, whether alone or as part of Israel.

Although we already have USAID in the West Bank and Gaza, and Cal points out above that the US isn't great at nation-building, Arafat's death has provided opportunities that were absent before.

Additionally, the UN is active in Palestine and decent at nation building (see this Economist story and this Rand paper High-profile US support for UN works in Palestine would accomplish multiple purposes.

Although we already have USAID in the West Bank and Gaza, and Cal points out above that the US isn't great at nation-building, Arafat's death has provided opportunities that were absent before.

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