Friday, June 10, 2005

Spreading Democracy - The Second Rebuttal

Now that the back and forth is in full swing, it's time for me to take a stab at Marc's first rebuttal found here.

As with my first rebuttal, the first thing I would like to do is preempt some of Marc's clever framing of the debate - and by clever, I mean that as a compliment from one rhetorician to another. Marc says about my initial post:

I view the issue through the lens of 9/11, terrorism and national security....I know that his lens is very different from mine: there's no linkage between spreading democracy and 9/11, terrorism and national security in his post [emphasis added].
I would have to disagree pretty strongly with Marc's characterization of my initial post. In that piece, I discussed, at various times, the following factors, causes, effects and ramifications from imposing democracy through invasion:

-Enormous financial costs, contributing greatly to fiscal insecurity and risk.

-A significant drain on our military assets (as an aside, and unmentioned in my first post, the military has
recently lowered standards in terms of drug abuse, misconduct, obesity and a slew of other offenses that used to mean expulsion in order to offset recruitment and retention shortfalls brought about by a certain exercise in democracy promotion). Interestingly enough, Marc chides me in another section of the post about offering no military options to deal with Iran, but what he doesn't address is that our military doesn't really have many options unless they want to abandon Iraq, and even then, Iran could make Iraq look like a....cakewalk.

-The potential to create situations such as civil wars that destabilize entire regions, and in the present context the region in question happens to be the Middle East which is the source of so much of the world's oil.
I think you really have to stretch logic to contend that the above listed factors are not "national security" issues. As far as links to terrorism and 9/11, in Marc's defense, I really took up that conversation in my first rebuttal and not the initial post. But, due to the enormity of the topic, I had to leave out some aspects of the discussion, and even then my post was probably too long for the blog format (as I'm sure many readers would attest).

Next Marc takes me to task for what he deems is my "blanket dismissal of using military force" which he considers unwise. In his own words:

In the future, there may be situations in which all other avenues to defusing a serious threat may turn out to be dead ends. If the choice is between using force and doing nothing, would Eric always choose the latter?
The answer to his question is an emphatic "no." I have never counseled against using military force in any and every situation. I was unequivocally in favor of using force in Afghanistan. Similarly, I was in favor of the campaigns in Kosovo and Bosnia, and would have supported intervention in Rwanda and would be amenable to a similar type move in Darfur today. In terms of halting genocide, a better case could have been made for invading Iraq in 1982 and/or 1988 - the dates of Saddam's most treacherous crackdowns and ethnic cleansings. Similarly, during the Shiite uprising that followed on the heels of Gulf War I. As brutal as he was, Saddam was not engaged in mass murder of that scale on a regular basis.

Again, in Marc's defense, perhaps my syntax in the paragraphs he cited was imprecise. So in the interest of accuracy, allow me to clarify. My position is that there should be a presumption against using military force to spread democracy in and of itself because it is risky, has a poor chance of success, costly, drains our military's capacity, can incite extremism, can create failed states and chaos which are breeding grounds for terrorism, and, at least in the case of Iraq, can provide terrorists and aspiring terrorists with a central node for recruitment, indoctrination, learning skills and tactics, networking and, unfortunately, more.

When the risks outweigh that considerable presumption, then those risks should be neutralized, and we should do our best to reconstruct the society in question according to more humane standards - deferring to local custom, culture, expertise and input. I think Afghanistan passed this test, but Iraq failed it - for the reasons I laid out in my rebuttal and more.

As for Marc's discussion of Iran, my position is that launching an invasion of Iran right now, with the intent of nation building and neutralizing their nuclear capacity, would be a disastrous turn of events for many reasons. First, I would recommend this article in
the Atlantic which I have cited before, but hat tip to reader Cal for providing a link that doesn't require a subscription. I would only add that we would be foolish to underestimate the difficulty of a two front war and the impact that invading Iran (the world's most populous Shiite nation) would have on the majority Shiite population in Iraq. Right now they are our tentative allies. If they turn on us, Iraq will be lost - or at least our ability to affect its trajectory.

That being said, force should never be taken off the table, and the situation will change so our policies must adapt. Without the credible threat of force, other diplomacy is weakened. I am not opposed to any military confrontation with Iran ever, but with Iraq still raging, such a move now would be extremely dangerous. By the way, Iran is well aware of this.

Next Marc makes a claim about my position on legitimacy that, although he says is outside the terms of this debate, I would like to address briefly. Marc says that I discuss, vis a vis Iraq:

...what for him is the war's illegitimacy...

The first point I would make is that it matters little what Marc or I think of the legitimacy of the Iraq war. Legitimacy matters only in as much as our actions are perceived as legitimate by the target population (Iraqis) and those people whose support and assistance we would prefer to have (allies, tentative allies and potential allies). Nevertheless, I do not belong in the cult of legitimacy. I just think that the Bush administration has, unfortunately, been swayed by certain ideologues who are hostile to any suggestion that legitimacy is worth anything at all. Contra the most strident neocon position, legitimacy is not nothing - it greases the wheels of many of our foreign policy goals and assures the cooperation and support for so many costly and time consuming efforts that we are currently engaged in, and will arise in the future. Here is the first part of the John Lewis Gaddis quote I cited in my first rebuttal, which represents a view that I hold:

The American claim of a broadly conceived right to pre-empt danger is not going to disappear, because no other nation or international organization will be prepared anytime soon to assume that responsibility. But the need to legitimize that strategy is not going to go away, either; otherwise, the friction it generates will ultimately defeat it, even if its enemies do not. What this means is that the second Bush administration will have to try again to gain multilateral support for the pre-emptive use of U.S. military power.

Doing so will not involve giving anyone else a veto over what the United States does to ensure its security and to advance its interests. It will, however, require persuading as large a group of states as possible that these actions will also enhance, or at least not degrade, their own interests. The United States did that regularly--and highly successfully--during World War II and the Cold War. It also obtained international consent for the use of predominantly American military force in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in Bosnia in 1995, in Kosovo in 1999, and in Afghanistan in 2001. Iraq has been the exception, not the rule, and there are lessons to be learned from the anomaly.
Gaddis goes on to suggest an alteration in the tone and rhetoric emanating from the White House and its supporters - the outright hostility to, and insult of, allies, institutions and sensibilities - would be the first step in repairing the damage. I discuss these issues at length in these two posts (here and here) if the reader is interested in following the story further. Here is the summary of my suggestions for trying to secure legitimacy in the post-Cold War era (please note, I am not, I repeat not, saying that we require UN approval for every action).

Thus there is something of a new test forming. On the one hand, appeal to international law and the United Nations and, importantly, do so from a vantage point of respect for the institutions and an ideological position of appreciation for the importance of such multilateral organizations. Do not proceed with brash and inflammatory rhetoric which is prone to create distrust and entrenched opposition.

If those efforts are not met with success, continue to lobby, while at the same time consulting with smaller organizations such as NATO (or some future incarnation thereof), and the whole while address the world community in general. If all three corners are counseling against our actions, there might be a good reason why. It would be wise to reconsider, or at the very least, agree to delay the decision for further vetting. This extra deliberation could be used to better make our case, or consider alternatives.

While there could be exceptions to these modified pillars in the potential case of extreme and imminent threats that somehow fail to alarm our allies, I think these fundamentals provide a strong overarching principle to guide us going forward. They better guard our own interests than a strict obedience to international law would, but at the same time defer more to our allies and international bodies, and give weight to their counsel, so as to foster trust, support and an air of legitimacy which are all so vital for our current mission and so many other goals.
Next I will respond to Marc's second rebuttal which can be found here.

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