Thursday, February 23, 2006

Let's Be Frank, Part 1.5

The Myths of Narcissus

Before I get started on the democracy vs. terrorism redux, I wanted to interject another topic of conversation into the mix sparked by Fukuyama's piece. Apart from the discussion of democracy's historical inevitability, and whether the primary vehicle of democratization is ideas or materialist factors, something else in Fukuyama's article caught my eye. It was an examination of the dynamics of the "unipolar" American moment, and how this new found hegenomy would affect perceptions of legitimacy in our actions vis a vis Iraq and elsewhere:

The Bush administration and its neoconservative supporters did not simply underestimate the difficulty of bringing about congenial political outcomes in places like Iraq; they also misunderstood the way the world would react to the use of American power....After the fall of the Soviet Union, various neoconservative authors like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol and Robert Kagan suggested that the United States would use its margin of power to exert a kind of "benevolent hegemony" over the rest of the world, fixing problems like rogue states with W.M.D., human rights abuses and terrorist threats as they came up. Writing before the Iraq war, Kristol and Kagan considered whether this posture would provoke resistance from the rest of the world, and concluded, "It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power."

It is hard to read these lines without irony in the wake of the global reaction to the Iraq war, which succeeded in uniting much of the world in a frenzy of anti-Americanism. The idea that the United States is a hegemon more benevolent than most is not an absurd one, but there were warning signs that things had changed in America's relationship to the world long before the start of the Iraq war. The structural imbalance in global power had grown enormous. America surpassed the rest of the world in every dimension of power by an unprecedented margin, with its defense spending nearly equal to that of the rest of the world combined. [...]

There were other reasons as well why the world did not accept American benevolent hegemony. In the first place, it was premised on American exceptionalism, the idea that America could use its power in instances where others could not because it was more virtuous than other countries. The doctrine of pre-emption against terrorist threats contained in the 2002 National Security Strategy was one that could not safely be generalized through the international system; America would be the first country to object if Russia, China, India or France declared a similar right of unilateral action. The United States was seeking to pass judgment on others while being unwilling to have its own conduct questioned in places like the International Criminal Court.
About a year ago, I penned a two part series that sought to delve into the interplay of legitimacy, unipolarity, the Bush doctrine and the changing landscape post-Cold War. As cited in that post, an article in Foreign Affairs by Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson, set forth the "pre-unipolar moment" basis for garnering legitimacy and the cooperation of the non-Warsaw Pact world in our foreign policy endeavors. According to the authors, our relationships were built on four pillars:

[1] Washington's long-held commitment to international law, [2] its acceptance of consensual decision-making, [3] its reputation for moderation, and [4] its identification with the preservation of peace.
As Fukuyama and others have pointed out, while the US has - not infrequently - deviated from some or all of those four pillars, the threat of the Soviets in the context of the Cold War afforded the US an open-ended and rather substantial benefit of the doubt. Without that overarching Soviet threat to provide us with our qualified carte blanche, however, the United States would have to re-commit to those four pillars in some shape or form.

Yet, as Fukuyama suggests, influential thinkers and policymakers in the Bush administration went in the exact opposite direction. They deliberately disregarded and undervalued those four pillars, instead insisting on weakening the UN and the larger doctrine of multilateralism - believing that our actions would be deemed "legitimate" and thus supported and accepted based on our "unusually high degree of morality" and other exceptionalist delusions. Unfortunately, the flippant jettisoning of pillars 1-4 as evidenced by the invasion of Iraq fed into a loop of deligitimization whereby our inherent "morality" was cast into serious doubt in the eyes of the world.

In little over four years (though there was some erosion during the Clinton years), we have gone from the proud owners of a blank-check benefit of the doubt, to a perhaps unfair level of distrust, cynicism and scrutiny. I don't suppose Abu Ghraib, extraordinary renditions, the suspension of the Geneva Conventions and the Bush administration's paradigm shattering embrace and excuse of torture did us any favors in this regard either. Adding insult to injury, the highly charged and often gratuitous rhetoric denigrating our allies, and the dismissive way we treated their (in retrospect well-founded) concerns, exacerbated the situation. Legitimacy is a two way street. Or better yet, a central hub with myriad spokes emanating from the center. The spokes must be treated with respect. Flaunting unipolarity is the fastest way to lose it.

So it is no surprise to see Fukuyama returning to themes of legitimacy and international order. As recent history has borne out, the belief in the seemingly limitless capacity of the US to act in any way it sees fit in the unipolar world was yet another casualty of the Iraq invasion. Legitimacy matters, the vigorous support of our closest allies matter, understanding and support from the broader populations of the world matter and we need to go about regaining our mantle of legitimacy for future actions if we want the cooperation, trust and support that is so vital to success. Fukuyama recognizes the problem:
Now that the neoconservative moment appears to have passed, the United States needs to reconceptualize its foreign policy in several fundamental ways....The United States needs to come up with something better than "coalitions of the willing" to legitimate its dealings with other countries. The world today lacks effective international institutions that can confer legitimacy on collective action; creating new organizations that will better balance the dual requirements of legitimacy and effectiveness will be the primary task for the coming generation. [...]

The conservative critique of the United Nations is all too cogent: while useful for certain peacekeeping and nation-building operations, the United Nations lacks both democratic legitimacy and effectiveness in dealing with serious security issues. The solution is not to strengthen a single global body, but rather to promote what has been emerging in any event, a "multi-multilateral world" of overlapping and occasionally competing international institutions that are organized on regional or functional lines. Kosovo in 1999 was a model: when the Russian veto prevented the Security Council from acting, the United States and its NATO allies simply shifted the venue to NATO, where the Russians could not block action. [emphasis mine]
There is a tension, however, between a "multi-multilateral world" and maintaining the perception of legitimacy that a multilateral organization can confer. Namely, if there are too many international institutions, the potency of their respective imprimaturs of legitimacy will be diluted. With a panoply of venues, it would begin to look like we were shopping around from group to group seeking approval until one bites. Further, unless the newly formed multilateral organizations are broad enough in terms of nations/regions represented, their ability to stamp an action with legitimacy will be limited by the narrowness of the respective organizations' scope and reach. That is not to say that there is no room for additions to the multilateral organization landscape, just that this shouldn't be a free for all process with dubious "front" organizations erected to rubber stamp our missions. In my previous effort, I sought to outline a guide to use in pursuit of legitimacy, and made a passing reference to potential new multilateral organizations:
Instead of relying solely on the UN, though, we should appeal to a cascading standard of legitimacy....we should seek to reform the United Nations and make it more responsive and efficacious, and look to it for the imprimatur of legitimacy whenever possible. Absent Security Council approval, we should court other smaller, but still inclusive, alliances for their support and perception of legitimacy. Even if we cannot find approval from smaller bodies like NATO (or other bodies of alliance that could be formed in the future), we could and should seek to make our case on the world stage, to the people themselves. As information and connectivity increase, it may become possible for the US to convince enough of the world of the wisdom of a certain action without the formal ratification of a given body. [emphasis added]
This Washington Post Op-Ed by Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay from 2004 takes a crack at a new and improved multilateral - more recently discussed by Daalder here. According to Daalder and Lindsay, the UN is in many ways anachronistic and ill-suited to meet the challenges of today:

With President Bush's go-it-alone policy foundering in Iraq, many of his critics are calling for a return of American foreign policy to a traditional multilateralism centered on the United Nations. Bush's critics are right to point out that the United States benefits when its actions enjoy U.N. blessing. Gaining such support can often be as important as demonstrating America's power and will to act. But they fail to acknowledge publicly what everyone admits privately: that as a pre-Cold War institution operating in a post-Cold War world, the United Nations is not up to the task of handling the most pressing security challenges.[...]

The deeper problem is that [proposed reforms of the U.N.] do not go to the heart of what ails the organization: It treats its members as sovereign equals regardless of the character of their governments. An Iraq that ignores resolutions demanding that it dismantle its weapons of mass destruction can chair the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. A Sudan that wages a genocidal civil war can be voted onto the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

The idea of sovereign equality reflected a conscious decision governments made 60 years ago that they would be better off if they repudiated the right to meddle in the internal affairs of others. That choice no longer makes sense. In an era of rapid globalization, internal developments in distant states affect our own well-being, even our security. That is what Sept. 11 taught us.

Today respect for state sovereignty should be conditional on how states behave at home, not just abroad. Sovereignty carries with it a responsibility to protect citizens against mass violence and a duty to prevent internal developments that threaten others. We need to build an international order that reflects how states organize themselves internally. The great dividing line is democracy. Democratic states pose far less of a threat to other countries and are often more capable than autocracies. That is why democratic nations should rally together to pursue their common interests.
The solution, according to the authors, is to create a new organization that could be broad enough in its reach to secure the perception of legitimacy, yet sufficiently exclusive so as to remain consistent with our world view.
We need an Alliance of Democratic States. This organization would unite nations with entrenched democratic traditions, such as the United States and Canada; the European Union countries; Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia; India and Israel; Botswana and Costa Rica. Membership would be open to countries where democracy is so rooted that reversion to autocratic rule is unthinkable.

Like NATO during the Cold War, the Alliance of Democratic States should become the focal point of American foreign policy. Unlike NATO, however, the alliance would not be formed to counter any country or be confined to a single region. Rather, its purpose would be to strengthen international cooperation to combat terrorism, curtail weapons proliferation, cure infectious diseases and curb global warming. And it would work vigorously to advance the values that its members see as fundamental to their security and well-being -- democratic government, respect for human rights, a market-based economy.
24 Carrots and Gold

I think the concept of the Alliance of Democratic States provides an excellent starting point. And there is a rather significant ancillary benefit to be derived from this organization if it were structured the right way.
Alliance membership would need to come with real benefits. Trade among its members should be free of tariffs and other trade barriers. Decision-making should be open, transparent and shared.

The alliance would be a powerful instrument for promoting democracy. Just as the prospect of joining NATO and the European Union remade the face of Europe, so too could the prospect of joining the Alliance of Democratic States help remake the world.
This is music to my ears. In a separate two part series I also wrote last year, I looked at an article by Steven Cook in Foreign Affairs - the main thesis of which was that our approach to encouraging liberalization/democratization in the Muslim world was fundamentally flawed. From Cook:
The United States had, in recent years, pursued three different approaches toward the Arab world: punishing its enemies with diplomatic isolation, sanctions, and invasion; bolstering civil society; and promoting economic development in friendly states. Assuming that these last two tactics would gently drive political liberalization, the United States funded good-governance programs in Egypt, promoted industrial zones in Jordan, and provided various forms of economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority and, more recently, Yemen.
According to Cook, belief in the efficacy of these last two strategies was premised on previous Cold War successes - where civil society organizations became popular mouthpieces of the people, separate from the ruling regimes and dedicated to liberalism. Yet in the Middle East, leaders have wised up. Instead of opposing these civil society groups, ruling regimes have coopted them through patronage, control and manipulation. In addition, not everyone is on the same page with respect to the goals of liberalism:
Civil society in Arab countries may provide critical social services, such as medical care, education, and legal representation, but many of the groups involved, such as those affiliated with radical Islamist movements, are decidedly undemocratic. Others have proven too willing to cooperate with local nondemocratic regimes: Egyptian human rights activists, for example, serve on the government-created Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, which has no power to compel the government to change its predatory practices and serves only as window dressing. Likewise, in Algeria, Syria, Tunisia, and other Arab countries, labor unions and business organizations enjoy government patronage in return for collaboration with the state.[...]

The reason that the promotion of civil society, economic development, and sanctions have not led to political reform in the Arab world is that none of them addresses the real obstacles to change in the region: flawed institutions. Institutions are the organizations, arrangements, laws, decrees, and regulations that constitute the political rules of the game in any given society. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Arab states boast such institutions in spades; the problem is not with their number but with their nature. In the Arab world, these institutions are designed to ensure the authoritarian character of the regimes.
Cook's solution to the conundrum tracks nicely with some of the benefits of Daalder and Lindsay's new Alliance of Democratic States:
The best way to do so would be to move away from negative pressures and toward more positive, incentive-based policies. In the abstract, such policies involve getting others to do what you want by promising them something valuable in return. In this case, the United States can use the prospect of increased aid or membership in international clubs and organizations as levers to encourage Arab progress toward the establishment of pluralism, the rule of law, power sharing, property rights, and free markets.

...this new way of doing business would give Egyptians a more dignified role in their relationship with the United States: Cairo would be encouraged to undertake reform, but the ultimate choice would be theirs. Moreover, putting subtle pressure on the Egyptian leadership to reform will bolster U.S. credibility with the Egyptian public and help assuage general Arab skepticism toward Washington--which has long talked about political progress in the region while doing painfully little to make it happen.
For my money (as a taxpayer), these types of arrangements have the most chance for success. We must change the cost-benefit analysis of the ruling regimes. If they determine that the advantages of actual, legitimate institutional reform outweigh the costs in terms of loosening the grip on power, then real progress will be made. Further, as Cook pointed out, it becomes less an issue of us dictating and micromanaging civil society programs (with cultural tensions and stung pride spoiling well-intentioned efforts), and more a decision on the part of the regime in question within the cultural context of the indigenous people. It's here if you want it, but this is what you have to do to get it (with some leeway granted for you to come up with your own particulars). Cook points to a recent example of success in this context:
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.
Maybe the Alliance of Democratic States can be set up to be an attractive enough club that those on the outside will undertake real reform to get a membership card. Either way, it sure beats the invasion model of democratic change, and Cook is right that the current non-violent approaches aren't exactly yielding stellar results either. Two of the overarching lessons we should learn from the Iraq invasion are: (1) the limitations of the invasion model of democratic change; and (2) the need for international cooperation and a perception of legitimacy for our foreign policy efforts. With the Alliance of Democratic States, we might be able to address both concerns simultaneously.

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