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January 01, 2005

Comments

markschaan

Hi Gary,

I got to your site through Matt's. I must say you've struggled with a lot of the same issues I have, but I find that I've ended on a very different conclusion. Notably, I wondered for a long time about my pacifistic stance in the face of totalitarian regimes with no respect of human rights or any humanitarian ideals. It seemed to me that one would, at some point, have to abandon diplomacy for force.

What I can't agree with you on is that spreading liberal democracy is a) George Bush's agenda; or b) a compelling means by which to bring about world peace. The two points are actually connected. As a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision iterated, the roots of liberal democratic institutions such as constitutions, etc. are a living tree that need to be fundamentally rooted in order to grow and that they must be constantly evolve for real stability. With this, we can understand that liberal democratic institutions simply can't be imposed upon a people and that they must be nurtured over time by the collective force of the constituent peoples. A close examination of the liberal democratic institutions in Iraq suggest not ones with deep roots but instead shallow institutions with little overwhelming support from the constituent peoples. Liberal Democracy, as a living and evolving institution, will find difficulty with such short roots and little collective support.

But, more importantly, liberal democractic institutions are as much about intent as they are about their contents. The intent for establishing liberal democratic institutions and the process by which they are created is fundamental to their survival and to their future purposes. The means by which democracy has been established in Iraq, that is imposed from outside, and the less-than-democratic means by which institutions are being developed does not bode well for its future. In contrast to many of the former Communist states, notably Hungary, which intentionally developed liberal democratic institutions with its people, Iraq has largely ignored its constituent base in this important development stage.

This is all to say that the process by which the US is currently 'bringing freedom to the masses' is problematic for the long-term stability of liberal democratic institutions and potentially contrary to the overall aim of world peace and stability.

Secondly, your argument makes a fairly glaring assumption that liberal democracy runs parallel to material wealth or a lack of poverty. You say "When the rest of the world is on a roughly similar level of prosperity as today's liberal democracies are, there will be far less psychological need for movements such as Bin Laden's." Let's not pretend for a minute that democracies necessitate prosperity. In fact, the world's largest democracy, India, is rankled by poverty and sub-subsistence livelihoods for a startling proportion of the population. It is here that we agree in ends but not means. I too believe that if there was a more equitable level of prosperity in the world that there would be a greater chance of world peace. This is backed up by Rothstein's works on universalism and its ripple effects of greater generalised trust. However, I'm not convinced that this is achieved through the establishment (or, in this case, imposition) of liberal democracy alone but instead will only come about through a fundamental shift in Western policy.

So, in conclusion, I think that voting for Bush is not a vote for strong liberal democratic institutions with the chance of improving global stability as I fear his administration fundamentally misunderstands the nature and importance of liberal democratic institutions. Secondly, it is unlikely that we will be rid of terror with the import of liberal democracy alone but that there must be more serious attempts at global equality to ensure that inequality can not be manipulated to destroy or hack away at any attempts for global stability.

Jesse Helmer

Gary: (also arrived via Matt's blog) I really enjoyed reading this entry. I don't necessarily agree with your conclusions but I admire the process you undertook to reach them. Part of the reason that I don't necessarily agree is that I haven't really decided what I believe about liberal democracy, the future and international affairs.

Mark: Good points. Certainly, imposing liberal democratic institutions is very difficult and not the best way to create a liberal democracy. What is the alternative, however? What is a better way? In many cases, I suspect that it may be better to try and "fail" than to do nothing.

I used to believe strongly in the righteousness of liberal democracy, but I just finished reading LGen Romeo Dallaire's book about genocide in Rwanda and now I'm confused.

Gary Robinson

Mark says: "With this, we can understand that liberal democratic institutions simply can't be imposed upon a people and that they must be nurtured over time by the collective force of the constituent peoples. A close examination of the liberal democratic institutions in Iraq suggest not ones with deep roots but instead shallow institutions with little overwhelming support from the constituent peoples."

The above is an argument that I hear over and over again from well-meaning, intelligent people who have a liberal bent.

But, it contradicts the very simple, and extremely well-known, fact that after WWII, the victors successfully imposed democracy on Japan, which previously was not a democratic state. And in fact, while Germany had had a few decades of fledgling democracy under the Weimar Republic prior to Hitler's rise, it was a brief experiement, and by definition (since Hitler was able to rise), it was a failed one. If it had had "overwhelming support from the constituent people," Hitler could not have taken power.

Moreover, many intelligent, well-informed people thought that Germany's tribal history would preclude it from successfully embracing democracy. But I don't think many would now doubt that it has done so.

In other words the point Mark makes that is quoted above is, very simply, completely wrong, and well-proven to be so.

Mark goes on: "You say "When the rest of the world is on a roughly similar level of prosperity as today's liberal democracies are, there will be far less psychological need for movements such as Bin Laden's." Let's not pretend for a minute that democracies necessitate prosperity. In fact, the world's largest democracy, India, is rankled by poverty and sub-subsistence livelihoods for a startling proportion of the population."

Clearly, I didn't mean that embracing democracy would instantaneously change a huge area full of poverty into one as prosperous as the U.S. That would be insanely stupid to assert.

But at least in a liberal democracy, people can work together to solve the problems while avoiding two opposite dangers: on one extreme, the area would be a mass of warring tribes with little means to work together to solve common problems; and at the other extreme, we'd have a totalitarian state where human rights are trampled (but the trains may run on time).

Liberal democracy is the best compromise the world has yet found between those extremes.

And I do think the evidence is there that over a long period of time, things will equalize economically. Right now, the U.S. citizenry is extremely concerned about "outsourcing" where good U.S. jobs are being sent to India. Of course that's happening; as Mark points out, there is less money in India, things are cheaper, so workers can be had more cheaply. But it's the case that outsourcing raises the amount of money in India by a little bit, enabling the creation of infrastructure that will enable the creation of still more Indian wealth.

This is a natural process, seen in physics and other sciences, where differences across a porous boundary tend to equalize. It would folly to believe, just because it takes a long time, or just because it didn't happen in periods of our technological development when the borders were much less porous, that it won't happen.

As long as jobs can be shifted to where people are paid less, financial resources will shift in that direction, bringing the overall situation more toward equality. And the ability to do that kind of shifting will only continue to increase over time, due to technology.

So, I see absolutely little reason to assume that the U.S. will always have more wealth than India. I think the preponderance of the evidence says that we'll all be moving more toward equality.

This is not absolute. It may be that differences in natural resources will still put some countries at a competitive disadvantage. But it will become less and less as wealth moves across borders, in the form of paying for human resources, which exist whether or not there is an abundance of natural resources.

markschaan

hi Gary,

I think we're at cross-purposes here. I am not arguing that liberal democracy can not be a force towards world peace. I am arguing that a) what is being developed in Iraq currently is not a liberal democracy; b) that the current US administration's policies towards the establishment of liberal democracies are both thwarted and ill-conceived and, in conjunction with their willingness to accept, tolerate and support other non-liberal governments does not set a standard by which we can see progress marching onward.

That democracy was 'imposed' on Japan is a reductionist version of history- equally so for Germany. To look at the liberal institutional development (never mind the bilateral agreements between oppositional forces and other allies in the rebuilding) of those two countries and to suggest that is at work in Iraq is to manipulate historical evidence for one's own purposes.

Finally, I would love to believe you that we're on a slow march towards world equality through the establishment of liberal democracies, but history here, is not on your side. Either the road to equality is so long that there is little for successive generations or there is a fundamental disconnect between the current economic practices of some liberal democracies and general world economic equality. Either way, it holds little hope as a sales pitch to swith to liberal democracy and end terrorism!

As for books, there are some interesting arguments around the cusp of this issue of liberalism and whether liberal democracies are actually liberal in practice and whether or not we can really be so trustworthy in franchising current models to other locales. I recommend my supervisor's book, In the Name of Liberalism: Illiberal Social Policy in Britain and America, Robert Reich's newest book Reason and much of the democratization literature in the former Communist block. For a good look at institutions, Bo Rothstein's "Just Institutions Matter" is brilliant.

Gary Robinson

Hi Mark:

I think we're getting to the point that this can't be discussed fruitfully be email any more. If we camped out in a room for a month, with a full library of the relevant literature, I think we could get somewhere.

But my original purpose, as stated in the original piece, was not to convince anybody, but rather state where I was at for the benefit of anyone who might care (such as the college friend who provided the spark to that writing).

It is rarely possible to convince anybody of these kinds of topics without writing multiple book-length treatises, and then, of course, the people have to be willing to read them. And even more basic, they actually have to be convincing! It's an enormous amount of work. We just can't go there now.

Particularly since I wrote the above partly as recreation while on vacation, and I'm now back at work, and will have very little time for this kind of thing, as important as I feel it is, for the foreseeable future.

I respect that you are seriously thinking about this stuff. I would really like to continue down this path with you -- seriously -- I just can't do it now. If you ever get to New England, let me know, maybe we can arrange a hookup for purposes of discussion. Seriously. :)

I will respond to just one point, to make my position clear.

You say: "That democracy was 'imposed' on Japan is a reductionist version of history- equally so for Germany. To look at the liberal institutional development (never mind the bilateral agreements between oppositional forces and other allies in the rebuilding) of those two countries and to suggest that is at work in Iraq is to manipulate historical evidence for one's own purposes."

I think it's totally clear that the exact opposite is true. If we are successful in Iraq, then the next time someone starts to argue that it can't be done, and someone like me says, "Yes, it has been done; see Iraq for example"; the response will take exactly the form you lay out above. It will say that what was done in Iraq that hasn't (yet) been done in the case at hand, thereby "proving" that Iraq isn't a relevant case.

I say that not to continue this back-and-forth -- that just isn't possible for me now due to time considerations, and I don't believe it would be fruitful in any case. It takes one-to-one discussion, and a lot of time, to make real progress in changing one's view. I just mention it for the benefit of someone else who may be reading this thread.

I think some of the other points you make are valid. I should make it clear that I am not confident that what the Administration is trying to do in Iraq will succeed. I am hopeful it will succeed. I think the Administration has made a lot of mistakes; quite possibly enough to squelch any chance for success that the venture might have had at the outset.

Nevertheless I couldn't support Kerry, who I just don't see reason to believe has a clue about the deeper issues at stake here and the very grave dangers that lie ahead. There are others, such as Joe Lieberman, who I would have voted for over Bush (and then my lifelong record of never having voted Republican would have remained unbroken).

Gary Robinson

Oh and thanks for the book mentions. Let me reframe the deal though. The deal is that for me to actually READ such a book, a) you have to promise to read the Berman book, which I would happily buy for you, and b) you have to care enough to buy me the book you think I should read. :)

In response to the piece, my college friend has requested the Berman book (which is on its way) and in return is sending me a subscription to The Nation. :)

ALW

...also coming via Matt's blog!

Excellent post. I very much agree with your reasoning and your fair assessment of Bush.

Mark Schaan makes reasonable points - I agree that merely expanding liberal democracy was *not* the original motive for invasion, but I do believe Bush genuinely wants to see it happen. In other words, it was not the primary catalyst but now it *is* the primary objective. It's not unreasonable to think that post-9/11 many in Bush's inner circle took a much closer look at potential risks to America (and all of the West) and decided that Iraq was just too big a risk to ignore. I disagree with the assertion that democracy is being "imposed" by "ignoring the constituent base" of Iraqis. You can't impose freedom. You can only remove impediments to it. It's also hard to see how you can accuse the coalition of ignoring the constituent base. Should they have taken a survey? What would be a reasonable way to gauge support for democracy, without actually having a democracy? Would you argue that North Koreans don't want to be free based solely on the observation that they aren't out protesting for it? Most importantly, the most common manifestation of surveying what the constituent base wants is by having an election - which is precisely what is going to happen.

Lynne

As the friend who called Bush a "monster" (and holds to that view) I hardly dare involve myself in this discussion. EXCEPT to put forth that if comparing the need to go to war in Iraq with going to war against Hitler is to be considered a crucial intervention aimed at preventing further catastrophe, I wish to point out that intervention was already underway in the form of sanctions and weapons inspections that we have learned were effective in curtailing the ability of this particular dictator to carry out his intentions, whatever they were-and I have no doubt that they were very bad. And these methods of intervention were in place because of what has been learned - surely some things have been learned - about the horror of war in the 20th and 21st century. But nothing was learned by our President and his henchmen - their agenda did not allow it. And what we have now is a destroyed country, untold thousands of Iraqi people dead, well over 1000 U.S. military dead, thousands maimed, growing world-wide rage at our country, and a government working hard and fast to dismantle civil liberties, environmental progress made in the last 30 years, our social programs and of course our economy. I do not believe our government went to war for the reasons we have been "given". And I believe it is an unmitigated disaster we are stuck in for many years to come.

Gary Robinson

Hi Lynne! Welcome to your first blog commenting experience. :)

We can't get into a long back and forth here because they become huge time-sinks and never resolve anything. And I have no spare time now -- I'm back on the job. We should save real discussion until you visit us (or we visit you). ;)

But let me quickly respond to a couple points -- not because I think you'll be convinced but so that at least I will have stated my position.

You say: " I wish to point out that intervention was already underway in the form of sanctions and weapons inspections that we have learned were effective in curtailing the ability of this particular dictator to carry out his intentions"

I think there is not the slightest doubt that the only reason they were effective was because for years, Saddam was afraid we of what the inspection-imposing countries would do to him if he didn't obey. Toward the end, he was refusing the inspectors entry in places they wanted to go. He was saying "I don't think you'll really do anything if I don't obey. I think you don't have the will to do what you say you're going to do." If we proved him right, there is little or no reason to assume that inspections would have gone on working. Something that is only successful due to the threat of force is unlikely to be successful when the threat of force is no longer taken seriously.

And what we have now is a destroyed country, untold thousands of Iraqi people dead, well over 1000 U.S. military dead

The best estimate I've seen is approx 40,000 dead although it could be as much as 100,000. It is horrible.

But, horrible as it is, we have to see the larger context of horribleness. Multiple hundreds of thousands were killed by Saddam's security apparatus (some say 1 to 2 million), and between 500,000 and a million or more were killed in the Iran-Iraq wars which Saddam institigated. Do those deaths not count? Is there any reason to think Saddam wouldn't have kept killing if he remained in power? Do only deaths caused by the U.S. matter? Are the far greater number of deaths that we have quite possibly averted by removing the madman who, in his pride, caused them in the past, irrelevant?

And that doesn't even count the greater numbers of people who were merely taken from their families and tortured.

I don't think those people are irrelevant. I think that to be truly compassionate, they have to be considered too.

But that's just looking at Iraq. As I said in my original piece, I think the strategic reasons for the war go way beyond Iraq. The broader strategy is, as far as I can presently tell, our best current hope for saving tens or hundreds of millions of lives in the next half century or century. That's why I talked about Churchill.

He would have been condemned in exactly the same way as you are condemning Bush if he had had the means to do what was necessary, in 1937, to save the 40 million people who were killed in WWII.

There can really be no doubt about that at all.

But, he couldn't and didn't do what needed to be done in 1937.

I don't want that mistake to happen again. I really, really don't want it to happen again. I have kids that are going to be growing up in the world we're making now.

If the right thing had been done in 1937, it would have been as bad as Iraq is now. For everything you say about the situation now, most people would have been saying the same things about that situation then.

And I agree. They are mostly true, and would have been true then.

The problem is that the alternative has the real potential to be hundreds or even thousands of times worse. There is no good here, only hugely varying degrees of horrible.

If the underlying democracy-spreading strategy is right, and Bush hasn't blown it my not having the political courage to commit the necessary resources to keep the peace, then I think that there is no doubt but that the Iraq war will have been worth it.

If the strategy is wrong, but Iraq does become a successful democratic country, then the current tragedies it will be mitigated to an unknown degree by the lives saved and tortures avoid by no longer having a mad, ruthless dictator running the show. If Bush did blow it by not committing the necessary resources, it will not have been worth it, it will have been a pure bad.

I am not confident that the democracy-spreading strategy is right -- it's merely the one and only strategy that has given me real hope that my kids might live in a world that isn't as bad or worse than WWII (with the difference that much more of the pain will be likely to occur on our home soil, in our cities and towns). And I'm not confident that Bush hasn't blown it.

I am hopeful that the elections will be successful and that things will start to stabilize in 2005, and Iraq will, over the next couple decades, emerge as a successful Islamically-oriented democracy.

Time will tell.

Gary

There is one problem that makes your entire argument moot. Spreading democracy in the way Bush intends is only possible if he actually wins the wars that he embarks on. However, in every area that he touches, Bush has proven himself to be thoroughly incompetent and war seems no different.

Nothing that goes wrong, whether massive continuing intelligence failures, undermanned/under armored/over stretched military or hemorrhaging finances is ever Bush’s fault, nor is it anyone’s fault. What official has he ever sacked? Gave Tenant a medal for the being asleep at the wheel multiple times. Bush was raised in cronyism and that is his method of operation – something you’ll find in places like Russia where I visit a lot on business. Cronyism is one of the fundamental reasons third world societies such as those in the Middle East fail to thrive. The cronies are not subject to negative feedback (except the whim of the boss) and thus feed on and gain by inefficiency and waste. Bush is bringing that home and planting it in the heart of our Government. Why do you think the Repubs are, ahem, loosening up a few ethic rules?…purely procedural no doubt.

Spread democracy hell, lets hope Bush doesn’t end up killing it where it really maters – here.

Gary Robinson

Gary Bradsk: I agree with most, if not all, of what you say. That's why I came darn close to voting for Kerry. But in the end, I couldn't vote for someone who I really didn't think had a clue, because I think such a person is even less likely to succeed than someone who gets it but who is a screw-up.

I wish the Dems had had the intelligence to nominate Joe Lieberman instead of Kerry. The only thing Kerry has going for him over Lieberman, in my view, is that he has a superficially more authoritative-seeming manner of presenting himself.

The Dems have really got to get it together next time.

milica b

Lots of trying to figure out something that is complex and much beyond just voting for Bush or not.

I want my free prize.

Thanks,
:)

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