Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Spreading Democracy - A Debate

The good folks at the Daily Demarche have invited bloggers from the Left and the Right to pair up for a series of cross-blog debates on the intimidatingly open-ended topic of "the future of global democracy and the role that the United States should play in the spread of democracy to oppressed or less developed nations" - as the issue was framed by the authors of the Daily Demarche. I've paired up with Marc Schulman of American Future - a thoughtful, reasonable, right of center voice and a mainstay in the TIA blogroll for many months (ed note: I am borrowing liberally from Marc's own introductory paragraphs since I believe he provided a succinct summary and our respective mission is essentially the same - but most importantly, he sanctioned such blatant thievery).

While I am certain we will disagree on the particulars, Marc and I believe that America does have a role in spreading democracy. As such, neither of us are isolationists, and we mostly reject the realist notion that the internal affairs of other nations are of no consequence to our country. Thus, our debate will likely center around issues such as these:

- In what circumstances should the US attempt to spread democracy?

-What means should the US employ in attempting to spread democracy?

-While attempting to spread democracy, what are the constraints that the US should abide by?

In our initial posts, Marc and I will stake out our positions on these (and other) issues. Subsequently, I'll respond to his post and he'll react to mine to the extent that there is any disagreement, additional comment or fine tuning necessary. Marc's first post can be
found here.

Someone's Been Eating My Porridge

The hunt for the terrorists is a technical matter, and we must hope that our military has enough virtue left from the Clinton ravages to do the job. But we should have no misgivings about our ability to destroy tyrannies. It is what we do best. It comes naturally to us, for we are the one truly revolutionary country in the world, as we have been for more than 200 years. Creative destruction is our middle name. We do it automatically, and that is precisely why the tyrants hate us, and are driven to attack us.
-Michael Ledeen

We need to sustain our game face, we must keep our fangs bared, we must remind them daily that we Americans are in a rage, and we will not rest until we have avenged our dead, we will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East, until every leader of every cell of the terror network is dead or locked securely away, and every last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline, for a dime a gallon, on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.[...]

Don't kid yourself. We can still blow this thing, big-time. Every few days we show alarming signs of being "reasonable," and "evenhanded," apparently because somebody forgot that that's what got us into this mess in the first place. We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless. No compromise with evil; we want total surrender. Once the ink's dry on the surrender documents, then we can start thinking about the best way to build theme parks in underground-tunnel networks.

Back at the beginning of our war, when I insisted that this was going to be a vast revolutionary war, and that we would transform the entire Middle East, few were inclined to agree. Now it is just barely over the horizon, but the tyrants, who are always looking as far ahead as they can, can already see it, and they are very frightened. The latest word from Tehran is that the mullahs are afraid that they will have the same destiny as the Taliban.

And why not? They even look the same. [emphasis added]

-Michael Ledeen (hat tip: praktike in both instances)

Considering today's political realities, with various geopolitical hotspots, crises and conflicts simmering and bubbling over, proclaiming that one supports the spread of democracy is a loaded statement to say the least. With almost every political faction and niche greedily carving up the rhetorical trappings of democracy promotion and trying to horde them for their own, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ascertain a consensus position on what exactly "spreading democracy" entails.

Given the borderline sadistic, and blatantly militaristic, waxings of Right wing ideologues like Michael Ledeen (as cited above), Norman "
World War IV" Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, David Frum, Richard Perle and others, who are beating their own bellicose drum of democracy it is understandable that many on the Left in America have become increasingly uncomfortable in the political skin that has been their traditional legacy: the championing of democracy, human rights, justice, the rule of law, an end to the tyranny of the few, and powerful, and respect and dignity for all persons.

With these lingering misgivings in mind, allow me to state emphatically that I support the promotion of democracy, or perhaps more accurately, the empowerment of people to create a more dignified, responsive and just political life through a democratic system of government.

In coming to this position, I rely on a few philosophical foundations - a very rudimentary summary of which follows. First, I believe that humans require a sovereign of some sort. In the absence of some organizing principle and force, the state of anarchy that follows leads to a chaotic application of force to achieve various competing goals, with those groups most willing to rely on brute strength exerting their will on others. Rather than adopt a Hobbesian pessimism or a Lockeian optimism, I think that human beings are fundamentally good...and bad. That is, depending on the cumulative effect of genetic predispositions, incentives and environmental stimuli, human beings will behave in ways that cut across the spectrum of good and evil so no one answer, philosophy, religion or system can adequately respond to all human exigencies. On top of that, power corrupts even the most noble of spirits, and when power is concentrated in the hands of a few, oppression inevitably follows.

As such, some external restraint, or government, is necessary. To date, and through the evolution of the political process, liberal democracy has emerged as the optimal form in terms of preserving the rule of law, human rights, justice, dignity and personal liberty through the clever diffusion of political power to various epicenters and institutions, the creation of effective checks and balances and the establishment of controlling documents enshrining human rights and a system of laws to enforce these precepts without arbitrary whim. Liberal democracy is not perfect by a long shot and, contra-Fukuyama's
End Of History thesis, the process of political and economic evolution is probably far from over, but in terms of political systems thus devised, I defy the reader to name one better.

The fear in making such a conclusory statement from my vantage point in a liberal democracy is that the I may come across as hopelessly politically ethnocentric - so buttressed by my own cultural bias as to arrogantly assume I know best. These concerns are real, and many a disaster has been wrought at the hands of those with an excess of certainty who thought they had discovered "
the way," but this circumspection should not deter us from embracing the general premise. This skepticism must, however, inform the decisions we make when adopting strategies to enable other people to realize their own political autonomy, freedom and representation. It is the difference between imposing these views in a bloody, high death toll campaign and exerting pressure and influence to allow others to express these sentiments for themselves.

Paving The Road With Good Intentions

Now that I sound like a card carrying, American Enterprise Institute endowed, neo-conservative, let me take it one step beyond: Michael Ledeen was right when he said that toppling tyrannies is what we do best - or at least very very well. Our unrivaled military might, the quality of our soldiers and the expertise of our military leaders have secured for the United States the ability to take down almost any governing regime in the world should the necessity arise. Unfortunately, too many people, like Ledeen, focus on this might and assume that the mastery of this half of the equation is enough to make up for our inability to adequately address the second half: nation building. After all, it's more exhilaratinging to spend time doting on this military prowess and planning near-certain battlefield exploits than it is to trudge through the mundane tedium and endless labyrinth of the war's aftermath - especially when the creation of democracy is the goal.

This isn't necessarily a weakness that is unique to the United States, however. Trying to create, establish or enable democracies requires patience, a generous allotment of time measured in decades, careful planning with the ability to cede control when necessary, cultural sensitivity (and knowledge), enormous amounts of money, cooperation from allies, neighbors and the indigenous population, a dash of salt, the kitchen sink and a whole lot of luck. More often than not, the emergence of successful and lasting democracies must be preceded by, or at least arise concomitantly with, strong institutional undergirdings like moderately healthy economic institutions and a decent distribution of wealth, a free press, an independent judiciary, an informed public, a vibrant civil society, etc. Absent these factors, and even when these conditions are present, democratic transformation is a violent, unpredictable and often temporary phenomenon.
Nadezhda, as usual, adds to the discussion:

It's one thing for Bush/Cheney to appropriate the liberation=freedom=democracy theme for political purposes. They and the neocons seem, however, to have bought their own propaganda. Do they truly fail to grasp that major liberalization in the economic sphere and democratization in the political sphere are revolutions -- with all the turmoil and violence (socially and economically if not physically) that comes with revolutions. These liberalizing events are not orderly, sequential transfers of power from one group to another who then operate, going forward, under a new, coherent set of "rules of the road".

As more and more people recognize explicitly, the creation of new institutional structures or transformation of old ones is a much longer process -- generational turnover required at the least. But what much of the discussion about democratization seems to ignore is that institutional structures don't simply grow according to the original genetic code they are given at their initial creation. They arise in response to their environment (which at least at the start is a revolutionary one), are shaped by revolutionary outcomes, and in turn shape the environment to come.
Given how complex, difficult, tumultuous and fragile the process is, even under optimal conditions, there is little wonder that our track record for success has been relatively abysmal when we attempt to democracy-build at the barrel of a gun. As is my habit, I turn to Fukuyama:

America has been involved in approximately 18 nation-building projects between its conquest of the Philippines in 1899 and the current occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the overall record is not a pretty one. The cases of unambiguous success-Germany, Japan, and South Korea-were all ones in which U.S. forces came and then stayed indefinitely. In the first two cases, we were not nation-building at all, but only re-legitimizing societies that had very powerful states. In all of the other cases, the U.S. either left nothing behind in terms of self-sustaining institutions, or else made things worse by creating, as in the case of Nicaragua, a modern army and police but no lasting rule of law.
Now that the justifications for the invasion of Iraq have shifted from imminent threats, non-existent nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and illusory ties to Al Qaeda and other international jihadist organizations, many Bush supporters contend that the real reason for the invasion was to establish a democracy in Iraq that would serve as the first toppled domino in a pending chain reaction. With this in mind, Iraq offers a case study of why democracy promotion through military campaign is so difficult to effectuate.

Part of the problem lies with the particular condition of Iraq as a nation before the invasion: there was, contra Paul Wolfowitz' assurances to Congress, a real history of ethnic animosity in Iraq arising from decades under which the Shiite and Kurdish populations suffered the often brutal and murderous repression of Saddam Hussein's predominately Sunni Baath party. On top of that, as Wolfowitz acknowledged in an interview recounted in the most recent edition of
The Atlantic, "the institutions [were] rotten to the core." Trying to build instant institutions out of a vacuum, and instill in a people the notions of mutual respect, restraint and respect for minority rights overnight within the context of decades of pent up rage, as was required in Iraq and would be in most democracy building projects that result from invasion, makes an already difficult endeavor seem nearly impossible - or at least monumentally costly.

Factor into this the fact that any military campaign results in collateral damage and the death and disfigurement of thousands of members of the local population (in the present case over 100,000 dead and counting and many times that number injured. Keep in mind, these tragedies are felt by relatives and friends greatly magnifying the number effected), and that occupation and counterinsurgency are intrinsically brutal, alienating, and violent, and it is easy to see that the indigenous population rarely supports such a mission wholeheartedly for a long duration of time. Suffice to say, there has been a considerable crisis in legitimacy for the occupation forces all along. To quote publius:

This is why the idea of legitimacy is so important. It's not some hippie idea that we espouse because we love flowers and freedom. Legitimacy is important because it promotes stability, prevents chaos, and keeps people from getting killed. Remember that the goal of a political or legal system is to get people to give up violence. But people won't do this if they see the system as illegitimate or unresponsive to their needs. If people don't have an investment or some say-so in the workings of government, it is impossible for that government to channel and defuse the desire for force. The disaffected will reject it and pursue force outside of the system.
The Iraq campaign suffered from a two-fold lack of legitimacy: there was no support from international law or any major international organization such as NATO or the UN (not to mention the overwhelming opposition of public opinion throughout the globe), and on top of that, the US occupation in Iraq itself is viewed with mistrust, suspicion and forced tolerance from our ostensible allies (the Shiites and Kurds) and open hostility and violence from the Sunni population that felt isolated from the process (and revanchist in their aspirations). As such, stability and peace have been hard to come by.

Nevertheless, some would be democracy-philes on the Right were quick to seize on the elections this January as a sign that democracy had taken root. I would counsel such pollyanna's to take measure of Nadezhda's warnings above, and to realize the folly of equating one election (or even many) with such a mutlifaceted creature as liberal democracy. Note Paul Wolfowitz's response to a question on the subject:

"Was the election an expression of a desire for democracy," I asked, "or was it primarily tribal - the Shiites finally getting the chance to assert their majority status?"

"Well, that is not undemocratic," Wolfowitz said.
No, it's not undemocratic per se, but it very likely will end up being such without the proper institutional protections and without the embrace of the concept of respect for minority rights that should accompany any functioning democracy that exists within ethnically diverse societies. It is possible that Iraq will develop these institutional foundations, as well as a nationalistic spirit that can supersede the pull of sectarian and ethnic identification - thus avoiding a protracted civil war and political uncertainty. For this to occur, however, the United States must continue to dedicate tremendous sums of money and a large portion of our military assets over several years, more likely to be measured in decades than months - the latter being the metric of time preferred by Vice President Cheney when making rose-tinted, pre-war predictions about American commitment in the theater.

And I haven't even mentioned the reckless neglect of comprehensive post-war planning that so greatly hindered an already daunting task. Again Nadezhda:

This misunderstanding of "nature vs nurture" and the timing mismatch between letting the genie out of the bottle and building reliable, predictable, orderly institutions, seems to have been at the heart of much of the CPA bungling. Some of them indeed recognized that institutions take time to build -- hence their plans for a 4-5 year CPA control period with gradual handover of authority to Iraqis as they became "ready" to manage specific functions. But Bremer and the CPA were slow to realize they wouldn't have the luxury of time. Rather than create an orderly transformation, they added to disorder by getting rid of the old regime's arrangements and starting down a path of planned sequences of eventually having a good set of "rules of the road" and modern, efficient ministries, legal and political institutions. And when it became clear their days as official controllers were numbered, their priorities were on leaving behind a set of immutable rules and marginalizing/destroying the "anti-order" revolutionary forces. They were creating more vacuums rather than encouraging the Iraqis in favor of establishing an orderly system to start filing vacuums that were already created by the overthrow of the regime and the CPA's activities for a year.
Bang For The Buck

The lessons to be drawn from both the successful nation building exercises (Japan, Germany) and those of less tangible success, is that accomplishing such a Herculean task as establishing a credible, functioning democracy through a post-invasion nation building effort requires decades of hard work, commitment and a ton of money. But as Nadezhda pointed out in the paragraph above, the luxury of time is not always with an occupying force, especially in a region of the world where there is an inherent hostility to our presence, nor is the luxury of time always afforded by the American electorate who might lose patience with so many revenue draining, troop exhausting, long term projects. As such, nation building in the aftermath of military expedition is not a cost effective or realistic policy to embrace from a military, economic or political point of view.

Nevertheless, the usual suspects on the Right are clamoring for such actions in Syria, Iran and, depending on the ideologue, many other points in between. Further, as Fukuyama and others have pointed out, Japan and Germany had pre-existing institutions that needed rehabilitation more than creation ex nihilo, and as such were easier to transform than the countries currently in the crosshairs of the crusading democrats - making those analogies even less applicable. As if that wasn't enough, the current unilateralist posturing of the Bush administration has left us with few cooperative allies when so many are needed for our current commitments, let alone any future endeavors. Put in stronger terms, I don't think our plummeting worldwide image could withstand the blow that would result from the public outcry over yet another pre-emptive invasion - no matter how it were justified.

So then, absent military action, what can aspiring democracy proponents turn to? The only plausible solutions reside in the somewhat nebulous world of soft power and the assorted carrots and sticks of diplomacy. The good news is, these strategies have enjoyed greater success than the militaristic approach. As Michael Lind points out:

The record is clear--most of the democratic transitions that have taken place in the world in the past two centuries have had nothing to do with foreign military intervention or military pressure, while most US military interventions abroad have left dictatorship, not democracy, in their wake....The Soviet bloc democratized itself from within in the 1990s, even though the United States did not bomb Moscow, impose a martial-law governor on the Poles or imprison former Hungarian Communist officials without charges in barbed-wire camps. In Latin America, Mexico became a multiparty democracy instead of a one-party dictatorship without US Marines posing for photos in the presidential mansion in Mexico City, and it was not necessary for American soldiers to kill tens of thousands of Argentines, Chileans and Brazilians for democracy to take root in those countries.

...[It] is likely that, if and when liberal democracy comes to the Muslim world in general and to the Arab world in particular, the gradual, largely bloodless transition will resemble those in Soviet Europe and Latin America and will not be the result of US military action or intimidation. The neocons--and the humanitarian hawks on the left--are simply wrong about how best to spread democracy.
The diplomatic/soft power approach enjoys the advantage of encouraging the growth of institutions, and popular will, conducive to the successful establishment of democracy before such a cataclysmic event as a sudden regime change imposed by an outside force. It is a more natural evolution, and as such, these institutions emerge organically with the "DNA" of the particular culture out of which it grows - not the oft harsh imposition of a foreign system on a native population. This creates a stronger skeletal structure to be fleshed out by a culture-specific form of liberal democracy.

Unfortunately, these approaches have been largely ignored by the Bush administration with the military and rebuilding campaigns in Iraq absorbing the lion's share of attention, resources and thought. The few diplomatic efforts made - the Al Hurrah television station and the politicization of the
Voice of America radio broadcasts for example - have been underfunded, poorly designed and almost completely ineffectual.

Thus, to correct these shortcomings, and more effectively address our goals, we should provide incentive and to the extent possible buttress those movements that struggle from within tyrannies to realize the spoils of liberal democracy. That being said, not all approaches along these lines are equal. There has recently been some intelligent criticism of the efforts to fund civil society programs in the Muslim world as a means to induce democratic change from the likes of
Marc "Abu Aardvark" Lynch, Dan Drezner and Steven Cook.

The criticisms fall into three main camps: First, the groups who receive this funding begin to cater their programs to the donors, often targeting issues that appeal more to foreign sensibilities than to the local populations. Thus, they have not been able to build strong consensus from the peoples they are supposed to be targeting. Second, the governments in the region have been able to manipulate the system through an alternating strategy of cooptation and repression. Where possible, the governments take these civil society NGOs under their wing (as well as the possibly destabilizing entrepreneurial class), which in turn neuters their criticisms and efficacy as agents of change. Alternatively, if a group grows too strident, powerful or independent, it is shut down swiftly. Third, the image of the United States (which has never been too well thought of in the region) has grown so poisonous that any group or organization associated with us instantly loses credibility with the local populations. We end up hurting the very people we are trying to help merely by virtue of our assistance. It's as if we would be better served by making a series of charitable donations under the "anonymous" designation.

Then of course, there is the problem of NGOs and civil society groups that are hostile to US interests, like Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Should we also fund these groups and would our attempt to isolate them fuel their image as the independent, authentic and attractive alternative to the ruling regime.

At this point I must interject this bit of advice because I would be remiss to omit it from the overall equation. As a backdrop to any and all democracy promotion policies, we must take pains to improve our image, legitimacy and credibility worldwide. Without such progress, we abandon one of the more potent democracy-inducing weapons in our arsenal: our own country as an advertisement of what liberal democracy can create. On the one hand, this might mean actually altering certain policies, and on the other it might mean toning down the gratuitously confrontational, dismissive, triumphalistic and unilateralist rhetoric that has been the mainstay of the Bush administration and its supporters over the past four years and before. At the very least, we shouldn't go out of our way to insult allies and international organizations by, say, appointing John Bolton to the ambassadorship of the UN. As I have argued
numerous times before, the legitimacy of our actions in they eyes of the world, or the lack thereof, will either provide great assistance to our grand designs or frustrate them continuously depending on which side of the coin is facing up. Bush ally John Lewis Gaddis offers some sage advice:
It is always a bad idea to confuse power with wisdom: muscles are not brains. It is never a good idea to insult potential allies, however outrageous their behavior may have been. Nor is it wise to regard consultation as the endorsement of a course already set. The Bush administration was hardly the first to commit these errors. It was the first, however, to commit so many so often in a situation in which help from friends could have been so useful.

Another lesson relates to language. The president and his advisers preferred flaunting U.S. power to explaining its purpose. To boast that one possesses and plans to maintain "strengths beyond challenge" may well be accurate, but it mixes arrogance with vagueness, an unsettling combination. Strengths for what purpose? Challenges from what source? Cold War presidents were careful to answer such questions. Bush, during his first term, too often left it to others to guess the answers. In his second, he will have to provide them.
Funding NGOs and civil society programs, coupled with improving our image and the perception of our legitimacy, are not magic bullets unto themselves, but they are an important piece of the puzzle.

Let's Talk Turkey

Stephen Cook, in an article in Foreign Affairs, offers an intriguing suggestion for realigning our priorities in terms of strategy to effect change. Instead of continuing with the dysfunctional system of NGOs and civil society groups that have been watered down, outwardly directed and ineffectual, Cook suggests that we should switch to a system of carrots and sticks akin to what the EU offered Turkey in order to gain admission to the EU:

Perhaps the best example of a successful incentive-based approach is with Turkey, which has long sought to join the European Union. When Turkey petitioned the EU for membership, Brussels responded by setting clear political, economic, legal, and social standards for Ankara to meet first. The huge benefits offered by EU membership created a vast constituency for reform in Turkey. As a result, the Turkish parliament has been able to pass eight reform packages in the last three years. Turkey's Islamists have come to support the program, which they see as their best chance for securing formal political protections. The Islamists have cleverly recognized that, since the EU demands that its members institutionalize freedom of religion, Turkey, to become a candidate, will have to loosen government control on religious expression and Islamist political participation. Meanwhile, Turkey's long-dominant military has also signed on to the reform project. Although some of the changes demanded by Brussels will reduce the military's influence, Turkey's general staff has realized that it cannot oppose the project without looking like an enemy of modernization--something the inheritors of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's legacy cannot afford.
While the US cannot offer membership to the EU, we can offer, or use our influence to produce offers, for membership in other attractive international organizations and treaty groups. Such incentivized systems must be tailored on a country by country basis depending on the particular needs, goals and aspirations of the ruling regime:

To be realistic, there are limits to what incentive-based policies can achieve. Offering new military aid will be more effective with Egypt and Jordan than with Morocco or Saudi Arabia, for example. Saudi Arabia needs the money much less and has such a critical strategic position that it can better resist pressure from the United States. As for Morocco, it is one of the few Arab states that has a viable alternative to the United States as a patron: Europe...

In the multilateral arena, the United States could offer to sponsor Arab participation in clubs such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), NATO's Partnership for Peace, or a new Community of Democracies--if, that is, Arab states first agreed to conduct serious political liberalization and economic reform. With the WTO, for example, the United States, in concert with its European allies, could require potential Arab members to embrace specific reforms--beyond what the WTO already requires--in return for U.S. and European support for their candidacies.
The advantage of this approach, if adopted, is that it forces the ruling regime to create political space, an opening into which home-grown movements can emerge. Instead of NGOs looking to the West for funding, and making decisions from a top-down perch, they can turn their gaze inward, and free speech and press measures will allow for the natural birth of political movements, bottom up, from within. This will solve the American-stigma issue, and the problem of provoking rejectionist postures from people who resent being told what to do. We offer a framework for liberalization, and let the country in question craft the particulars - should they choose to do so. By improving on this "connectivity" as per Thomas Barnett, we can provide a network for peaceful engagement and mutual improvement. In addition to these type of incentive based models, we can begin to structure our foreign aid packages to provide more weight to the decisions taken to move toward real democratic change or not.

In summary, we should eschew the calls to impose democracy on others through the use of military force because the success rate for such ventures is low, and even when successful it is far too costly in terms of the drain on economic and military assets, coupled with the commitment of time required. And of course, imposing democracy in such a fashion inevitably results in death and injury to tens of thousands (though probably more) of the people you are intending to help - a part of the equation which undermines the moral arguments for attempting to create liberal democracy as a way of improving lives (death is not an improvement). Thus, we should continue to employ our diplomatic and soft power tools, while making a deliberate effort to repair our image and the perception that we act with legitimacy on the world stage. In order to accomplish these tasks, we should be open to creative suggestions and acknowledge that such is an imperfect process and one that contains its own daunting complexities and difficulties. But the alternative is clearly worse.

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