Thursday, November 18, 2004

# Posted 1:44 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

QUAGMIRE=DICTATOR: The logic is simple. If the American struggle to promote democracy in Iraq is futile, then the prudent thing to do is to install a stable but non-democratic government. John Kerry flirted with such a position on the campaign trail, but eventually decided to keep his opinions on the subject to himself and just say that he would "get the job done" in Iraq.

Now, a pair of professors from Dartmouth, Daryl Press and Benjamin Valentino, have begun to edge closer to the logic of dictatorship. After calling on the United States to "set our goals more realistically", the good professors suggest that the only available options are ethnic partition and the installation of a "secular strongman".

So much for thinking "realistically". As the authors themselves admit, partition is the first step toward civil war and perhaps genocide. But where does one find a reliably secular and pro-American (or at least anti-terrorist) strongman these days?

Not long ago, Robert Kagan persuasively argued that democracy is actually the most realistic option for Iraq. If you disagree, ask yourself how you would persuade the Shi'ites and Kurds to accept a Sunni dictator, or the Sunnis and Kurds to accept a Shi'ite dictator.

But isn't history on the realists' side? Our friends from Dartmouth think so. They write that,
The history of counterinsurgency warfare is a tale of failure. Since World War II, powerful armies have fought seven major counterinsurgency wars: France in Indochina from 1945 to 1954, the British in Malaya from 1948 to 1960, the French in Algeria in the 1950's, the United States in Vietnam, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Israel in the occupied territories and Russia in Chechnya. Of these seven, four were outright failures, two grind on with little hope of success, and only one - the British effort in Malaya - was a clear success.
The most important omission from this list is the joint US-Filipino effort to crush a communist insurgency in the Philippines in the early 1950s. As it turns out, I've read multiple books about the Filipino counterinsurgency effort during the past few days while working on my dissertation.

The first thing to be said about the war is that the United States and its allies won. Period. (That's not conservative propaganda. Even Kevin Drum agrees. Not to mention liberal journalists and scholars such as Stanley Karnow and H.W. Brands.)

But the much more interesting thing to note is how the United States and its Filipino allies won. They did it by promoting democracy. In the late 1940s, the extreme corruption of the elected Filipino President, Elpidio Quirino, antagonized rural peasants while undermining the armed forces' ability to perform in battle.

Rather than accepting Quirino as the only alternative to Communism, the United States demanded that Quirino appoint Ramon Magsaysay, a popular reformist, as Minister of Defense. Magsaysay immediately begun to purge the corrupt Filipino officer corps, restrict the use of violence against peasants and implement reforms to increase the government's popularity in the countryside. In addition, Magsaysay prevented Quirino from rigging the 1951 elections for the Filipino House and Senate.

By 1953, the Communists were on their last legs. In order to cement his victory, Magsaysay stepped down as Minister of Defense and ran against Quirino for President. He won by a landslide. Determined to ensure a victory by Magsaysay, the CIA provided extensive financial support to local election monitors in order to prevent fraud. The United States knew that its candidate was the people's candidate.

In the same year that Magsaysay became President, the CIA overthrew a democratic government in Iran. The next year, it overthrow a democratic (but pro-Communist) government in Guatemala. Compare the history of the Philippines, Iran and Guatemala since 1954, and it's not hard to see which strategy served America best.

So, you might say, what good is this one example when our friends from Dartmouth have seven historical examples to support their side of the debate? Well, ask yourselves this: In how many of those seven cases did the great powers involved seek to promote democracy as a means of defeating the insurgents. Answer: zero.

Or perhaps one. That one case -- the British in Malaysia -- also happens to be the only case in which a Western power defeated a Communist insurgency. The government installed by the British fell short of modern standards of democracy, although it was far and away the most progressive in Southeast Asia...except for the American-sponsored democracy in the Philippines.

Also consider the following statment from Valentino and Press:
Victory in Malaysia, it appears in retrospect, had less to do with British tactical innovations than with the weaknesses and isolation of the insurgents. The guerrillas were not ethnic Malays; they were recruited almost exclusively from an isolated group of Chinese refugees. The guerrillas never gained the support of a sizable share of the Malaysians. Nevertheless, it took the British 12 years to defeat them...
I think that the resemblance of the Malaysian Chinese to the Sunnis in Iraq is quite striking. Thanks to ethnic and religious differences, the Sunnis have absolutely no hope of winning the support of more than 20 or 25 percent of the population.

The bad news is that it may take another decade to defeat them. That decade will cost us the lives of hundreds and hundreds of American soliders, and many, many more Iraqi ones. But the bottom line is that supporting another dicatorship in Iraq will accomplish nothing, except perhaps antagonizing our current allies. In other words, being realistic in Iraq means being idealistic.
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