Wednesday, August 23, 2006

# Posted 5:14 PM by Taylor Owen  

“AGAINST DEMOCRACY” DOES NOT A CHARACTERIZATION MAKE: While I am in theory sympathetic to the use of the core principles present in most stable democracies (such as the rule of law, free press, protection of human rights, universal suffrage, etc) as a desired goal for potential middle eastern reform, I am highly suspicious of it being used as an unqualified meta-narrative in and of itself. The following statement by Bush exemplifies this concern:

What's very interesting about the violence in Lebanon and the violence in Iraq and the violence in Gaza is this: These are all groups of terrorists who are trying to stop the advance of democracy.

This is both empirically wrong and strategically dangerous. Surely the first step in resolving these three conflicts is to at the very least be honest about the motives and history of their actors. While certain insurgents in Iraq are undoubtedly ‘against democracy’, in so far as Al Qaeda elements are in part fighting against the creation of a democratic state, both Hamas and Hezbollah have widespread public support, represented in free and fair Democratic elections. Admitting this does not mean supporting them in any way, advocating their tactics, or endorsing their rhetoric, worldview or strategic aims. It simply means being honest about the nature of the actors in what is an increasingly perilous regional escalation. Not recognizing the fact that the these groups have democratic legitimacy, not to mention popular support, ignores a major complicating element of the regional dynamic. I do not see the strategic utility in this false simplification.

There is another problem with this characterization. While one could certainly argue that despite being elected Hamas and Hezbollah remain against some of the principles often found in democratic societies (such as those listed above), a far more simplistic, voting based, litmus test, however, is frequently applied to Iraq.

I understand the need for simplistic overarching foreign policy frameworks, the Democrats are certainly in need of one, but if this means the increasingly absurd insistence that all nefarious actors are simply against the “advance of democracy”, I will side with a slightly more nuanced, if less politically expedient, worldview.

(11) opinions -- Add your opinion

I think you're right in that each group has some unique characteristics and any lumping of them has limitations.

However, no matter how supportive they may be of democracy when democracy gives them what they want, I will be much more impressed when they embrace a democracy that doesn't give them what they want.
It is my distinct impression that the major contending parties in the Middle East do not invest a great deal of moral and physical energy in the question of the success or failure of political systems. Rather they are concerned above all with the relative power of specific groups of people, groups whose main source of identity is tribal, ethnic, national or sectarian. Commitment or lack of commitment to some abstract programmatic agenda for the organization of power within a state is a secondary matter. My sense is that what commitment there is in the Middle East to types of political systems, considered in the abstract, tends to be ephemeral and opportunistic, and is not often a matter of deep ideological commitment.

Even groups that appear to have an ideological agenda that includes the establishment of some sort of political system tend to characterize that system in very vague and allusive ways. Jihadists of the Salafist variety speak of a political community organized on the model of the most ancient Islamic communities, but there is not a lot of detail and there is much internal confusion and disagreement about what that means. The Salafists main commitment is to advancing the cause of the Muslim ummah, and also to the triumph of the Sunni traditions of Islamic thought.

Sunnis in Iraq seek to prevent the further consolidation of a regime that is dominated by Shiite power. Whether that domination is achieved through force of arms, or through a majoritarian seizure of power via elections, is largely beside the matter for them.

Similarly, whether Hizbollah chooses to endorse democracy and adapt the techniques of democratic politics in Lebanon, as they have in recent years, is entirely determined by the extent to which they see those techniques advancing the power of Hizbollah.

Hamas seeks above all to check, and then reverse the fortunes of the Jewish state in Palestine. Whether that state is a democracy or something else is entirely incidental to their aims.

One can say the same thing about Israel. Its resistance to the Hamas-lead Palestinian community and to Hizbollah is based on its perception that those entities mean it harm. We can identify all sorts of ways in which the Palestinian community is less than ideally democratic. But if that community were a thriving democracy, and was still dedicated to weakening Israel, can anyone honestly suppose Israel would be any less opposed to it?
Hold on a minute, "electing" Hamas or Hezbollah isn't like electing the Democrats or Republicans. H&H, as I understand it, stifle dissent, prevent the emergence of other political parties, control the media, and keep their populations in fear of their lives through physical intimidation (in the case of the Palestineans, also through their control of UN handouts). They do not necessarily represent the will of their people, just the will of the guys with the guns! Even those "mass demonstrations" we see on TV are probably staged for the benefit of the cameras, and if you don't show up when ordered and chant loudly about the great satan, there may be consequences for you and your family.

While I can agree that the democratization argument is a bit simplistic, I have a real problem with giving Hamas and Hezbollah the label "democratically elected."

The Shia Lebanese do not suffer from too much democracy, but from too little. What they have is a sham. The last thing they need is to be told that they deserve their brutal leaders because they were fairly and freely elected!
Even if the elections are the will of the people, it's all a meaningless excersize unless there is a true rule of law.
After, especially in Palestine, the electorate has become insane afer generations of propoganda demonizing Israel and Jews, why would it be surprising that a party advocating the destruction of Israel and elimination of Jews in the ME could win an election.
To think that's a good thing is unbelieavable.
I agree with Taylor to the extent that some groups embrace free elections and do have a genuine popular following, despite their aggressive behaviour towards their electorate. And, that some Islamist groups who regard free elections as a Greek heresy are to be distinguished from those who accept elections and participate in them.

at the same time, I would agree with Bush's statement if he replaced the word 'democracy' with 'liberal society', ie. political movements that preach the destruction of another state and hand out copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or who promote the imposition of Islam on others, are hostile to core liberal values and freedoms.

also, competing in elections and doing well in opinion polls doesn't make a movement wholly democratic. if it disrespects fundamental human rights and the rule of law, it can represent the tyranny of the majority. Hugo Chavez might win a popular election by a landslide tomorrow, but that doesn't mean his democratic credentials are stellar.
Taylor, I believe the problem with Bush's phrasing comes from 2 sources. The first is that the freedoms of action needed to bring Iraq securely into the industrial world are on far more levels of action than just the freedom to form the type of political networks typical of democratic states. The second is that, while they are not totalitarian about it, like the Jihadists and the Baathists, many of Bush's supporters are not at all keen on the level of intellectual freedoms of action needed for industrial society around the world, being scriptural literalists themselves, as are the Jihadists. This is not to mention the problem with keeping people focused on his talking points if he speaks of all the levels of freedom of action needed for building an industrial world. Too many things in a speech aren't effective.

Thus, Bush lets all that slide, by concentrating on the single word, democracy. For Iraqis to participate in the wealth of industrial culture around the world, and (crucially for the US) to feel they have a stake in supporting industrial freedoms of action in the current world-wide struggle, the US does need to promote these other industrial freedoms.

Saying so, however, not only goes against the last 100 years of obscurantist thought on needed freedoms, but risks alienating yet another segment of Bush's political base here. Perfection in this is not possible for him. So, he cuts corners. They are not the corners you or I would cut, but they are what he hopes will maximize his effectiveness in WW IV in the rest of his term. I hope he's right on that, at least.

BTW, my "perfect" policy for WW IV would be to add to the current policies a radical support for intellectual freedoms, which are the Jihadists bete noir, by advancing the internet connectivity of the world through powerful broadband low-earth orbit comsats, commmunicating with all wi-fi equipped computers. Then subsidize the spread of those computers, and their use in spreading industrial freedoms around the world. This would put to use the time that the military can buy us through their actions, by cutting away at the base of the Jihadist leaders strength, the monopoly they have on their followers ideas in a www-non-connected Ummah.

Bush can't do that. Too many of his own voters are too leery of the world wide web themselves. In addition, the groups he'd need to contest the WWW with the Jihadists are too leery of Bush. Thus, the industrial world, divided against itself, takes a course that may make for a 30 years war, or longer, instead of a 10-15 year war. Perhaps the next President can begin to support intellectual freedoms more openly, without hacking away at other needed freedoms like market freedoms, and spiritual freedoms and physical freedoms of action.
"Hamas and Hezbollah have widespread public support, represented in free and fair Democratic elections."

Yes, but they advocate (and practice) the killing of those who disagree with them and the oppression and eradication "infidels." At one time the Klan enjoyed wide popular support in some regions, but I don't think that anyone would characterize it as democratic.
With regard to the Palestinians. Before OSLO the Palestians had a robust poliltical system. There were different groups al vying for the eye of the media and the Palestinian people. After Oslo it quickly became clear that you were either with Arafat or you were against him. If you joined with him you lived, if you did not you either left or you died. Who did that leave to oppose Hamas.
"While one could certainly argue that despite being elected Hamas and Hezbollah remain against some of the principles often found in democratic societies (such as those listed above), a far more simplistic, voting based, litmus test, however, is frequently applied to Iraq."

It is? You are saying that the Iraqi government doesn't exhibit more support for the rule of law, free press, protection of human rights, and universal suffrage than does Hezbollah and Hamas?

Let's face it, Bush was right. Iraq is an emerging democracy in that there are elections AND a free press, rule of law, etc. Hamasland and Hezbollahland don't exhibit those characteristics at all.

Democratization is central to our strategy in Iraq, where arguably all our significant opponents , AQ, baathist deadenders, and Sadrists, find a working democracy threatening. It is important, but somewhat less central to our strategy in Lebanon - where the revival of the Leb polity on a democratic basis is the key to eliminating Syrian and Iranian influence, BUT where the Shia, traditionally discriminated against support Hezb even while wanting more equality. Hezb thus wants a more democratic Leb constitution, but is fundamentally against the reconstruction of a viable, democratic Leb state, for the very same reasons its important to us. Hamas, while opposed to liberal democracy, certainly has an interest, for now, in majority rule in the Pal territories - as do we, also, since the lack of it was taking us down a dead end - which does not contradict that the results of the Pal election were negative for us.

Hard enough to reduce the above to a sound bite - harder still when you have the relationship to articulare, nuanced speech that the almighty has blessed Dubya with. So what?
If democratization is central to our strategy in Iraq, why did Bush reject early elections?
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