Saturday, January 08, 2005

Idealism, Realism, & What Do We Do Now?

Over at Chronicles Dr. Emile has posted a very intelligent response to my critique of his view as conservative. Here is a excerpt but the whole post is worth reading:

My defense of the left is that it is actually acting far more grown up about terrorism than the liberal hawks are. The liberal arguments in favor of the Iraq campaign put forward by Berman, Hitchens, and Beinart are not wrong-hearted, they're wrong-headed. It simply won't work. You don't democratize a region in this manner, overnight or otherwise. There is a realism and soberness at work on the left that is actually very healthy. Furthermore, one could argue that the left's skepticism about Iraq represents a refutation of its own past fellow travelling with Stalinism, Trotskiism, and other systems of thought, including neoconservativism, which advocate violent revolution and radical destabilizing change as the necessary means to a brighter future. Perhaps by living through the disastrous flirtation with revolutionarism, the left in America learned something that the right never did about the limits of violence as a pursuance of politics by other means. Perhaps this makes the left in America more patriotic than is realized.

In this case, it is the neocons who are now the true revolutionaries - sort of pseudo-Trotskiists who want it all NOW NOW NOW, and it is the left that has embraced skepticism and realism about the limits of the use of force.

I agree, as I argued earlier, with Dr. Emile that this is a long-term process and that to assume democratization would happen overnight is naïve. As Thomas Friedman argued, (maybe slightly naively but he has a point):

This is not to say that the "liberation" of Iraq's people is impossible. But unlike in Eastern Europe - where a democratic majority was already present and crying to get out, and all we needed to do was remove the wall - in Iraq we first need to create that democratic majority.

That is what these elections are about and why they are so crucial. We don't want the kind of civil war that we have in Iraq now. That is a war of Sunni and Islamist militants against the U.S. and its Iraqi allies, many of whom do not seem comfortable fighting with, and seemingly for, the U.S. America cannot win that war. That is a civil war in which the murderous insurgents appear to be on the side of ending the U.S. "occupation of Iraq" and the U.S. and its allies appear to be about sustaining that

The civil war we want is a democratically elected Iraqi government against the Baathist and Islamist militants. It needs to be clear that these so-called insurgents are not fighting to liberate Iraq from America, but rather to reassert the tyranny of a Sunni-Baathist minority over the majority there. The insurgents are clearly desperate that they not be cast as fighting a democratically elected Iraqi government - which is why they are desperately trying to scuttle the elections. After all, if all they wanted was their fair share of the pie, and nothing more, they would be taking part in the elections.

We cannot liberate Iraq, and never could. Only Iraqis can liberate themselves, by first forging a social contract for sharing power and then having the will to go out and defend that compact against the minorities who will try to resist it. Elections are necessary for that process to unfold, but not sufficient. There has to be the will - Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds - to forge that equitable social contract and then fight for it.

The Bushies were probably blinded by their idealistic zeal and assumed (or at least presented to the public this view) that by simply removing Saddam democracy would take root. A fatal mistake. Unfortunately, we are stuck with it. And it is my view that at this point it matters less why we went into Iraq, but is Iraq salvageable? Because to fail would be much worse. And it is also my view that some on the Left care more about bringing down Bush than trying to doing something positive for Iraq (as characterized by much of the presidential campaigning).

I would also add that I am not sure many on the Left are really comfortable with this discovery of foreign policy realism. Just witness AK's recent post at Chronicles:

The Bushies PRIMARY means of fighting the "War on Terror" is through long-standing allegiances with tyrannies possessing police apparatuses capable of crushing Islamic insurgencies, notably: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. The pivotal question Morgan and other Liberal Hawks avoid, while giving nothing but "low marks" to the Bushies, is how this hypocrisy affects America's alleged fostering of democracy in the Middle East.

It seems that a realistic go-slow approach would mean dealing with such regimes, which AK seems uncomfortable doing. I agree that these governments in the long-term need to change, but I am not sure Liberal Hawks or the Bushies thought this would all happen at once. Nobody argued that the day after Saddam fell then Saudi Arabia would also become more democratic. In the end our main goal probably is to protect ourselves and others from Islamic-fascism. A long-term approach would clearly involve encouraging reform in these countries (something that seems to be happening slowly) as well as using what resources we have in locating and destroying the terrorists and their cells. As Dr. Emile commented, this is a very complicated project, but what one we must be engaged in.

Finally, Dr Emile commented:

What I advocate is total war with those who attack America (bin Ladenists, jihad internationale, those planning attacks on civilian targets in Europe, etc., who are not the "core" of the Islamic world).

Dr. Emile, unlike some, takes the threat of terrorism seriously, but just as it is easy to say, “I am for democratization”, it is easy to say, “I am against terrorism.” The challenge is how you accomplish both.

There are no easy answers, but I think to accomplish this we need both idealism (a belief that a pluralistic, democratic society is a worthy goal) and a heavy dose of realism. However, I do think that the real threat of terrorism also requires an approach that encourages changes sooner that later. Did we after 9/11 and do we now have time to wait?

Unfortunately the Bush administration has failed on this front as well. While totally focusing on Iraq, I think they failed to mount an aggressive, yet nonviolent, diplomatic campaign to promote democracy elsewhere in the Muslim world. Instead of having the discussions we are having now about Iran, they should have been going on two years ago. Could we have been putting more pressure on the Saudis, Egypt, and Pakistan to reform? Could we have done more to promote, and learn from, such Muslim democracy as Malaysia?

But these questions are now irrelevant. The question is, what do we do now? How do we stabilize Iraq and help foster a democracy there? How do we encourage reform in Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, while at the same time protecting ourselves against current terrorist’s threats?


At 1:05 PM, Blogger Dr. Emile Bessels said...

I appreciate this thoughtful response. Obviously I am overestimating the "grown up ness" of the left as a whole to make a point - many on the left simply don't care about anything but relentless anti-Americanism, just as many on the right fully subscribe to a philosophy of ass-kicking under a thin veneer of democratizing rhetoric. I still suspect we will find many things to disagree about; what we don't disagree about is the necessity of really fighting terrorism and really promoting democracy.

How? Taking opportunities where governments are left with no other options - the response to the tsumani and Darfur are paramount - is better than forcing the issue with militarism as in Iraq. In fact, one of reasons why I argue the war in Iraq was careless is that is prevents the USA from undertaking any action against Sudan in Darfur, and bankrupts the credibility of the USA in dealing with Iran and N Korea.


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