Sunday, June 12, 2005

Spreading Democracy - The Third Rebuttal

In Marc's second rebuttal, he concedes this point:

Eric Martin correctly observes that a basic premise of my thesis is that "the more seriously you take the threat of terrorism, the more likely you are to endorse military actions that, at least ostensibly, target terrorism."
Unfortunately he doesn't explain this relationship in any greater detail, nor did he address my hypothetical question (which is actually based on right-wing pundit Michael Savage's suggestion), which asked if someone who proposes nuking Mecca takes the terrorism threat more seriously than someone who would argue against such a move. How would Marc define the elusive concept of "targeting terrorism"? Would he use the metric of those regimes from which most terrorists are recruited?

Along these lines, if there are two counterterroism experts and one says that we should invade Syria, and the other says that is unwise, is the former the one who takes the threat more seriously? What if there was a third such pundit who goes even farther, suggesting a prolonged military campaign from Syria, to Saudi Arabia then to Egypt? Is this third pundit the one who takes the threat the most seriously of the three? Is there a true proportional relationship between perception of threat and bellicosity? Marc himself is comfortable with a wait and see approach with Saudi Arabia, but under his own analysis, does this mean that he doesn't take the threat of terrorism seriously?

The reasons I ask these questions are not rhetorical. I am truly curious because I think I take the threat of terrorism pretty seriously, but according to Marc's framework, I apparently am more blase than many others. But as a resident of lower Manhattan, I have seen up close the death and destruction, and live with the knowledge that my domicile is the most attractive target for any future attack. How then is it that I don't appreciate the threat?

Suffice to say that I reject the theory that there is some sort of proportional relationship between willingness to use military force and the degree to which a threat is perceived, appreciated and taken seriously. In my opinion, the person who takes the threat of terrorism most seriously is the person that seeks to promote the optimal strategy for defeating, containing and neutralizing the threats terrorism present. This should combine many aspects, tools and methods, but this approach will undoubtedly realize that using military force in some contexts would be counterproductive and that advocating such a route would be to actually fail to appreciate the threat of terrorism - not appreciate it more. It is far too simplistic, and indicative of a certain mindset, (which I discussed most recently
here, and previously here and here) to confuse willingness to use force with strength, violence with power and hawkishness with maturity.

The strength of a given policy is in the results, not the means employed. Starting a war is not a strong move per se, or one that "appreciates" a given threat if doing so will work to undermine the overarching goals that predated the conflict. Military force is not self-justifying. Sometimes war is necessary (Hitler wasn't going to respond otherwise), but sometimes war ends up sending negative shockwaves through entire regions - reverberating to the detriment of all parties involved (World War I). My favorite example in this arena is Ronald Reagan's commendable, and history altering, cooperation with Mikhail Gorbachev in the joint pursuit of glasnost and perestroika - the momentum of which ultimately resulted in the unraveling of the USSR. Remember, there were Right wing pundits at the time who vehemently criticized Reagan and then Bush for their "soft" stances on Communism. But it was precisely because these Presidents understood and appreciated the threat that Communism presented that they chose the "soft" route. Because it is what was called for in that setting. It is what worked.

As with other challenges, the threat of terrorism should be met with wise policy, clever strategy and flexible policymakers capable of adapting and adjusting. But if you start from the premise that the more you want to use the military, the more seriously you take the threat, you will end up with an insular group of hawks making policy, and that environment is not conducive to beneficial outcomes (ahem).

Next, Marc points out that his rationale for supporting the invasion of Iraq was not "grounded on its involvement in terrorism and, relatedly, its WMD programs," but instead the fear that inaction would be tantamount to the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s. My counterargument to this theory would be that Saddam had shown no Hitler-esque or megalomaniacal signs over the course of the previous decade-plus, his military capacity (especially WMDs) was severely weakened, and as such it did not appear that the world was appeasing an aggressive, well armed regime in a manner similar to Hitler's in the 1930s. But that topic is a bit tangential and could probably amount to an entire debate unto itself.

Yet still, with this justification for the Iraq campaign in mind, I admit to still being somewhat puzzled by Marc's overall theory, what I will call the "Schulman Doctrine," and how it applies to facts on the ground. If you remember from Marc's initial post, the Schulman Doctrine has a two-tiered analysis. First, the willingness to use force is a function of how seriously a given person perceives the threat of terrorism. But since there are certain logistical restraints (too many targets, not enough resources), we should give priority to establishing democratic regimes "in those countries from which terrorists who view America as their enemy are most heavily recruited."

So far, so good. But how should the Schulman Doctrine guide our policy? According to Marc, it wasn't needed to justify the invasion of Iraq, and wouldn't really fit well if so required. So, what then? Should we invade Saudi Arabia and Egypt - the two countries from which most terrorists (or at least the crucial leadership) are spawned? Apparently not according to Marc's stance vis a vis Saudi Arabia. Indonesia then? Maybe a Patton-esque campaign across North Africa? I'm not sure, but if the premise is that those who take the threat seriously will use force, and the targets should be countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, should we be preparing for those invasions once the military assets are available? If possible, I would like to hear from Marc how the Schulman Doctrine should inform current policy choices and interventions in various arenas because absent this, it sounds like it lacks any real purpose or focus. If the Schulman Doctrine results in an endorsement of the status quo, is that not inconsistent with his description of threat assessment and other of his arguments such as in this paragraph below:

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.
Marc goes on to note:

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."
Strong language, and a commendable sentiment, but again, how does it translate? So far, the Bush administration has shown few signs of withdrawing support from the authoritarian regimes that are the most problematic in terms of producing terrorists - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, various North African nations, etc. Does Marc criticize this approach? If not, why?

The get tough/no more support rhetoric has been plentiful from Bush and his cabinet, but the policy end has only seemed to have been set in motion vis a vis Iraq, most recently Syria and in other areas of the globe like Venezuela. But as mentioned previously, Iraq had relatively nothing to do with the terrorists that threaten US interests in terms of Iraqi citizens joining terrorist groups or support from the Hussein regime, ditto Chavez in Venezuela. Even Syria, though problematic, is not the same fount as Egypt or Saudi Arabia. In other places, like Uzbekistan and Pakistan, the administration has actually increased support for brutal dictators like Islam Karimov - whose regime has shown the gruesome penchant for boiling political dissidents alive in giant cauldrons (here is photographic evidence of Karimov's barbarity, but WARNING, this is
very graphic). Any democracy-meter that places Islam Karimov on a more elevated level than Hugo Chavez is dysfunctional beyond repair (and I am no fan of Chavez). Someone should tell one of Bush's favorite authors Natan Sharansky about it though (via praktike).

The incongruity in message and policy is not lost on the denizens of the "Arab Street" - those whose enmity Marc is, not unreasonably, concerned with. But how does Marc view this lack of consistency, and how should we better align the policies with the virtues extolled in State of the Union addresses and other media events? Below are some examples of such a lack of continuity from a
prior post on the subject. First, Marc "Abu Aardvark" Lynch, who was cited in that post:

Most Arabs are deeply cynical about American intentions, and they can't help but notice when "useful" Arab countries get a pass. Tunisia invites Ariel Sharon to come visit, and the Bush administration has not a word to say when a human rights activist is sent to jail for publishing an article on the internet describing torture in the Tunisian prisons. Heck, the administration doesn't even seem to consider it a problem that the regional office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative is based in a country which the State Department describes as having an extremely poor human rights record, where "members of the security forces tortured and physically abused prisoners and detainees... [and] arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals."

Nor did the Bush administration have a word to say about Jordan, where King Abdullah's regime spent much of the last year getting more and more repressive. It got bad enough that Abdullah finally sacked his prime minister and appointed a new "reformist" PM a month ago, but - amazingly - no Bush official has yet said a single word in public about it....Wesley Clark, who wants more behind the scenes work and less chest-thumping, might actually like this. I don't, because it's such an easy target for the very large number of Arabs who think that the US democracy talk is a bunch of hypocritical hot air - a weapon to use against our enemies, but not for our friends. Places like Tunisia and Jordan really hurt America's image as a credible democracy promoter among Arabs, who pay attention to such things.

It got worse last week. The pictures of Bush kissing Crown Prince Abdullah and walking hand in hand with the Saudi leader reinforced this impression for Arabs. The op-ed pages of the Arab press have been filled to the brim the last week with pieces extolling (or damning) the return to normal American-Saudi relations. Whatever the Realist reasons for cozying up to the Saudis - oil prices, their newly helpful attitude on terrorism - it's got nothing to do with Arab democracy, and Arabs see that. Remember, they already don't trust this administration, so there's a big hurdle...and scenes like the Crawford love-fest raise it even higher.
Matt Yglesias penned an article that provided a comprehensive chronicling of the disconnect between the message of democracy and the policies we have tolerated without withdrawing support or offering condemnation. From that post, directly:

There are actually too many examples [from Yglesias] to excerpt, which in itself is a testament to the fact that our image as protector of reformists and democrats no matter their national location might not be as widely perceived as would be necessary to truly light the spark of regional change. In fact, there has been an inverse effect in some areas:

The administration's maximalist framing of the terrorism war, and the deals it has cut with unsavory leaders because of that decision, is having its most deleterious effect on reformers in those countries. While the aforementioned regimes are at least nominally aligned with the United States against violent jihadism, perverse incentives exist that all but guarantee that the dictators will fight terrorism in about the same way that Captain Renault cracked down on gambling at Rick's. A Musharaff or a Karimov is only able to pitch himself as worthy of U.S. support on the grounds that the alternative would be worse. If not me, the dictators say, the Islamists would take over. In certain times and places this may, in fact, be a correct assessment of the situation. But ready U.S. acceptance of such arguments gives autocrats every reason to ensure that their regime -- and the world -- is always threatened by Islamist violence. If, somehow, the problem were to go away, so would the U.S. support, and backward regimes would find themselves without the kind of money and muscle that only the United States can provide against their remaining domestic opponents.

As a result, these autocrats tend to demonstrate much more interest in cracking down on liberal opposition groups than on the Islamists we are supposedly supporting them against. A perfect example is provided by Musharaff's antics in Pakistan's recent parliamentary election. Candidates were required to possess a college degree in order to be eligible, obviously a violation of democratic principles. But if the goal was to hold back an Islamist tide, why were madrassa certificates accepted as a qualification equivalent to a college degree? The result was that many secular candidates were banned from running, while all the leaders of religious parties were in the clear. The upshot: Islamists, who have never performed well in Pakistan's sporadic elections, more than doubled their share of the vote over their previous high. This, in turn, lends superficial credibility in the future to arguments that continued U.S. support -- to the tune of $3 billion over five years -- for the military regime is the only alternative to an Islamist takeover. The regime's shenanigans aside, however, there remains little reason to believe that radicals would win a free and fair election.
In addition, I doubt that this penchant for double-speak is in any way ameliorated by the overly triumphalistic crowing about certain shallow and cosmetic changes.

Within Iraq's immediate neighborhood, moreover, there's been no sign of a democratic domino effect. The president and his defenders have tended to cherry-pick occasional signs of progress -- noting, for example, that Saudi Arabia has introduced "a plan for gradual introduction of elections." The pace of Saudi reform, however, is gradual in the extreme. The elections will be for municipal offices only and will not permit the formation of political parties. Most notably, only a minority of seats on the councils will be up for competitive election, leaving effective power -- even in the circumscribed sphere of local administration -- in the hands of officials appointed by the monarchy. Contrary trends could just as easily be cited.
In conclusion, I think that me and Marc share many of the same instincts in terms of the degree to which the US should continue employing the Muslim version of realpolitik. My questions to him relate to how the Schulman Doctrine interacts with these concerns, how it should inform our military decisions going forward and how well, or not, he thinks the Bush administration is doing in matching up the lofty rhetoric with actual policies.

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