Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Spreading Democracy - The Fifth Rebuttal

In his fourth rebuttal, Marc better explains his concept of threat assessment, vis a vis terrorism, and how it correlates to the willingness to use military force. He concedes that there are exceptions to this relationship, and that as such, it is possible to take the threat seriously but consider certain military endeavors misguided and/or counterproductive. With these qualifications in mind, I think we are pretty close to agreement on this - or at least we occupy parallel positions equidistant to the center.

He also chides me for only telling half of the Reagan story in terms of Reagan's willingness to travel the "soft" power route with Gorbachev in his second term. I assure the reader that there was no devious purpose to omitting that half of the story, nor was I seeking to bolster my case. In fact, by leaving out this portion of the narrative, I weakened my case. In that respect, I welcome the opportunity to clarify my position.

In speaking of this analogy in a
prior post, I actually focused on Reagan's shift in strategies as a lesson in how to better take advantage of previously established hard-nosed bona fides. In that post, I was answering Norman Podhoretz's exhortation that Bush stay the course in what Podhoretz calls "World War IV" - which, among other strategies, involves a series of military invasions throughout the Muslim world. Podhoretz attempted to assure the reader that Bush would not mimic Reagan's change of gears:

In backing up this thesis, Luttwak notes that Ronald Reagan became less rather than more hawkish in his second term...while the Bush Doctrine was certainly inspired and influenced by Ronald Reagan, Bush will just as certainly travel a different road from the one Reagan took in his second term.
Here is what I wrote in response:

That is a very interesting statement. Consider, for a moment, what Reagan was able to achieve by taking the moderate "road" in his second term. It was nothing short of a tectonic watershed moment in history. Brilliant really. He played willing partner to Gorbachev's dance of glasnost and perestroika. Relations between the US and the USSR thawed as never before, paving the way for the eventual collapse of the Iron Curtain, and an era of American unipolarity. But Podhoretz assures us that Bush will not follow Reagan's lead. And this is supposed to comfort us somehow?

Clearly the situations are not completely analogous, but Reagan's approach provides a valuable lesson. Reagan staked out strong positions, made clear his forceful intentions, and then, when the opportunity was right, he played the moderate. Bush should do the same. After leading us into Iraq and Afghanistan, and establishing his hawkish bona fides, it would suit Bush now to cultivate the soft power options that have been neglected and overlooked thus far. Not with the jihadists mind you. They are not going to produce a Gorbachev-like figure. But there are other avenues and leaders through which Bush can seek to influence the Middle East, and improve the United States' relationship with the Muslim world. It is a perfect time to do as Reagan did.
Next, Marc brings the discussion back to Iran, and what foreign policy options we should pursue in relation to that nation's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Again, I think this is an interesting topic, and discussing it with Marc is more than worthwhile, but I think it is ultimately tangential to the original purpose of the debate. Neither of us truly disagrees on the democracy promotion strategies to be taken with Iran. Neither of us supports an all out invasion followed by democratic regime change. Marc does favor air strikes on the Iranian nuclear facilities that we can locate and reach, should a certain series of events unfold, whereas I do not - but this option is not really connected to democracy promotion. Marc considers Iranian nuclear weapons to be a threat worthy of disregarding the counter-threats related to the blowback, that he acknowledges would likely result in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Marc's is by no stretch of the imagination an unreasonable position, even though we ultimately disagree. The predicament is simply not an easy call one way or the other.

I do disagree with Marc that our invasion of Iraq has somehow increased our leverage on Iraq and better prepared us to act. The proximity of US troops is one factor to consider, but in terms of air strikes, proximity is not as crucial. In addition, another way to interpret the situation, contra-Marc's map, would be to say that the United States military conveniently eliminated two of Iran's hostile neighbors (the Taliban and especially Saddam) and replaced them with regimes that will ultimately be much friendlier to Tehran and easier for Iran to influence. Further, the proximity of our interests in this instance might actually be a weakness not a strength. Our project in Iraq makes us uniquely vulnerable to Iran in a region of the world where Iran's otherwise limited influence and ability to strike at us are at their apex.

As such, I say we can live with a nuclear Iran, although I would much prefer that we found a viable way to forestall that reality. As I wrote in the comments on this site yesterday, if push comes to shove, we could treat Iran like Pakistan - which happens to be a country with nuclear weapons, that actively shared materials, equipment and know-how with North Korea, Libya, and other notable rogue states (probably Iran in fact). On top of that, Pakistan actively aided Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

So, considering Pakistan's dubious actions, history and intentions, if we can live with Pakistan having nukes, perhaps we can make due with Iran having them. Iran's possession of nuclear weapons is no guarantee they'll use them. Far from it. From their perspective, the use of a nuclear weapon against the US, or any nation for that matter, will almost certainly spell their complete and total annihilation. They would disappear from the map and, save the diaspora, would cease to exist as a people on this Earth. Knowing that, they would be reluctant to provoke their total destruction. Nations states show restraint whereas transnational jihadists would not. But, ultimately, I digress.

Back to the debate at hand. Perhaps it's the lawyer in me, and for this I ask that Marc forgive me, but I'm not ready to let go of the Schulman Doctrine quite yet. My issue is that, despite some eloquent protestations to the contrary, it seems to be a well dressed endorsement of the status quo. This is a summary of Marc's thesis as I understand it, followed by supporting excerpts from his posts. I am not trying to be unfair in this, as I sincerely believe this to be where Marc is coming from - and in much of this we are in agreement:

1. Our security is enhanced through democratization (something we agree on, though perhaps to varying degrees):

The security of the United States – the safety of Americans – is more intimately related to the spread of democracy than ever before in our history. Gone are the days when some states with authoritarian governments were the threats to our safety and security.[...]

But I also view the spread of democracy as a means to an end: greater security, not just for our country, but for all countries that have been, or may become, the stages for terrorist atrocities.
2. Terrorism is today's biggest threat, terrorism is fostered by the repression of authoritarian regimes, thus we should target those authoritarian regimes that produce the terrorists intent on killing us (mostly in agreement, though to lessening degrees in the second and third parts):

Today, terrorism is the primary threat....While Hiz’bullah received, and continues to receive, financial support from Iran and elsewhere, its cadres are filled with people from a number of countries who voluntarily join the ranks. States may influence terrorist organizations, but they don't control them. No one is drafted into Hiz'bullah, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or any other such group.[...]

This, along with their countries of birth, lends credence to the argument that authoritarianism breeds terrorism, and the replacement of authoritarian by democratic regimes providing freedom and liberty is the most effective way to reduce the threats to our lives.[...]

Against this backdrop, the question of the circumstances in which the US should attempt to spread democracy answers itself. We should give priority to establishing democratic regimes in those countries from which terrorists who view America as their enemy are most heavily recruited. The authoritarian/totalitarian governments of North Korea, China, and Zimbabwe are repugnant, but these countries haven’t produced terrorists intent on killing us. It’s the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East that should be targeted for democratization.
3. Those that take this threat seriously are willing to use military force, and the failure to do so would give a free pass to these authoritarian regimes and we can't afford to support these regimes any longer because we know it doesn't work and such support breeds enmity in the target population (some level of agreement between us throughout, though probably at differing levels of each):

When forceful diplomacy can't be used to spread democracy, the choice is not between unilateral US military intervention and leaving the status quo in place. Instead, it's between unilateral US military intervention and an appeasement of authoritarians and totalitarians that grants them the time and freedom of action to further threaten American security and repress their people. [...]

Will democracy promotion work? There's no way to prove that it will, and no way to prove that it won't. So it's a gamble. But the alternative is a sure thing. We know that supporting authoritarian governments in the Arab world didn't work, and that our support of such governments earned us the enduring enmity of the "Arab Street."
This sounds like a bold proclamation of some new grand strategy, but when this thesis is teased out, it amounts to very little in terms of a variation from the status quo - even though Marc seemed to provide such an impassioned plea to leave the old approach behind. Despite his statements on democracy as provider of security, authoritarianism as impetus to terrorism, force as a necessary component of democratization and prioritization of those regimes that spawn terrorists, I asked Marc if he would favor using military intervention (forced regime change) to topple any of the authoritarian regimes that should be given priority under his rubric (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia, various North African states), to which he replied no. He would potentially support air strikes, but not regime change, in Iran (a nation that supports Palestinian terrorists, but not the international jihadists intent on killing us) - even though he says Iran is the biggest state sponsor of terror (and I agree, though not all terrorism is the same level of threat to us). Then I asked Marc if, absent forced regime change, we should at least be altering our aid packages or general postures with respect to some of these authoritarian regimes that the Bush administration continues to coddle (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, etc.) to which he replied:

Do I like supporting brutal dictators? No, I don't, but my objection is within the context of these words from my initial post:

Above all, we should not heed the advice of those who argue that if we don’t try to spread democracy everywhere, we shouldn’t attempt to spread it anywhere.
Ours is not a perfect world. Sometimes, we must do business with a lesser evil in order to confront a greater evil. Today, the greater evil is the terrorism that threatens our lives.
Fair enough. If Marc's position is that we must do business with certain unsavory regimes in order to garner their cooperation in the GWOT, fine. But there are reasonable objections to this that fall outside the argument that says we should spread democracy everywhere or nowhere. This is saying that not only will we not try to spread democracy in some places worthy of our attention - places that should actually be our priority because of their relation to terrorism - but we will in turn support these brutally authoritarian regimes with financial, diplomatic and military assistance. Despite the apparent evolution in policy proposed by the Schulman Doctrine, there is already a name for that policy, and it's nothing new. That is just realpolitik 2.0 - the Muslim version, made to look pretty by the well chiseled rhetorical facade of freedom, liberty and democracy. The same lesser evil arguments were made during the Cold War to justify our support for dictators like Rios Montt, the Shah, Samoza, Duvalier, Marcos, Noriega, Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, etc. - often with a similarly attractive veneer. Same policy, but now terrorism has replaced Communism as the main threat - though the lack of real concern for democratic institutions remains fairly consistent (though to the Bush administration's credit, there does seem to be some higher level of regard for democracy - yet translating this into policy remains problematic).

If that is the position Marc wants to stake out (and it is not an unreasonable one by the way), then people might point out the disconnect between the actions that would result from such a policy on the one hand and the rhetoric employed in the quotes excerpted in Parts 1 and 3 above on the other. Not altogether unlike the lack of consistency between the Bush administration's lofty prose - waxing poetic about the virtues of democracy and its ability to ensure our safety - while continuing to support the same authoritarian regimes (as well as some new faces) that supposedly got us into so much trouble in the first place. I just don't see how you get from the position that supporting authoritarian regimes breeds terrorism as well as enmity on the Arab Street and our security demands action now because the alternative is appeasement, to let's keep supporting the same authoritarian regimes that are supposedly the source of all these problems.

Marc's obvious riposte, and one that he actually put forth, is what would I do in relation to these problems with supporting authoritarian regimes (Pakistan and Uzbekistan for example)? In terms of Pakistan, I think, in the end, that they are perhaps too instrumental to our efforts in Afghanistan, and as a nuclear power, a different set of rules applies. But I never declared that such relationships should cease. With Uzbekistan, I think we can take a stronger or more proactive approach, attaching aid to tangible reforms, and along the way offering attractive memberships in international organizations and financial clubs as a means of inducing change from within - ditto Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morrocco, Egypt, Tunisia, etc. But this position is less problematic given the framework for policy I advocated, whereas Marc is supposedly going beyond the slow moving and ineffective soft power approaches.
Although these approaches were mildly scorned by Marc, and more forcefully by some of his readers, I think they are really all that is left from the Schulman Doctrine after all the particulars are hashed out.

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