Sunday, June 17, 2007

# Posted 12:03 PM by Taylor Owen  

SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT...: The moment the democratically elected government is undemocratically reconfigured is the right time for aid to be re-instated? hmmm, now what lesson does this send to those for whom this aid is rightly intended?

Tangentially, can we please put the absolutist democracy promotion rhetoric to rest. Yes, democracy is good, but for a whole host of good and bad reasons, its promotion alone does not make a cohesive foreign policy narrative. My guess, post-bush, is that democracy will slip off the top-tier list of guiding principles for US foreign policy. There are simply too many counter-factuals for it to be instructive in and of itself.

ps. just to be clear, I'm not making a judgment on the reinstating of aid, or on any policy that rewards undemocratic behavior, or on democracy being a good thing (ok, I am on this, I DO think its a pretty good thing). Rather, I am making a judgment on those who claim that in certain cases the promotion of democracy is an absolute, and in other cases it is well, a little more flexible. Democracy can have good and bad implications, depending wholly on how free people choose to act. Foreign policy must therefore be based on more than simply its "promotion". It is not a particularly useful meta-narrative.

(12) opinions -- Add your opinion

Taylor old fruit,

I thought the 'meta-narrative' of the US, EU and others with regard to Gaza after the 2006 elections was that it would provide aid once Gaza acknowledged Israel's right to exist.

Given Gaza's proximity to Israel, and the fact that the elected party was complicit in rocket attacks from that region, and the possibility of aid money being misused, wasn't it a reasonable concern to be worried about funding an organisation that was still doctrinally and actually committed to destroying Israel?
Patrick, does 'old' refer to 'low-lying?'? If so, toucher...

re. reasonability. I agree, it most definitely was. The problem lies in the conflict with this reality, and the absolutism with which many use the democracy promotion narrative. That govn't was freely and fairly elected. If democratically elected governments can be either good or bad, depending on the decisions they make, then democracy promotion as a meta-theme for foreign policy is either inconsistant/selective/hypocritical, or not particularly useful. It requires so many qualifiers to be coherent that we might as well start talking about these, rather than the fact that they are all attributed to situations in which democracy is present. Particularly when people are suffering.
It ought to be perfectly clear that the WORST possible thing the U.S. can do is call for an authoritarian state to hold elections and then, when the outcome is not to its liking, to call on the state to overturn the results.

This is exactly what happened in Algeria and is now happening again in Gaza.
Do keep up the fantastic work , sir.

Please also kindly list this rather interesting blog on your site too ; as it now seems that highly embattled British Doctors have really had enough of outrageous political shilly shallying - and have since (very gladly) exchanged their stethoscopes for Wifi-activated Laptops.

Their blog address is http://abolishthegmc.blogspot.com

Many thanks.
I don't think it was the regarding of democracy as always a good thing that caused this mess, rather the belief that you can have one election that will magically transform a society. Democracy takes time, and also it need breathing space.
One can prolly trace back the roots of the inability of democracy to flower in the occupied territories from Arafat's administration, which was only nominally democratic.

IMHO we could have avoided having this situation if we had accepted an Hamas government back when the only sticking point was it's refusing to acknowledge Israel's right to exist. Was it really worth all this just to get that concession?

I mean Iran's been claiming for years now that it's gonna destroy Israel and nobody's had a cow about that, not really. Well, OK, maybe a bit of grumbling here and there.

So why can't Hamas do the same.

Just because their elected government wants to destroy Israel, the Palestinians have to suffer?...Geez, what stunning hypocrisy.

In fact, pretty soon---we're practically there---it'll be de rigeur for all decent nations to declare that Israel must be destroyed. (Except maybe for a few rogue ones like the US and Micronesia.)
Didn't David try to argue this point when Hamas was first elected? And Taylor, you make the same mistake now that he made then.

There is nothing incompatible about promoting democracy as the preferrable method of selecting a government while at the same time granting or withholding aid according to your nation's interests.

The ideal of democracy promotion does not require us to give money to every democratic state. Nor does it require us to withhold money from every non-democratic state.
Timothy, that's about right. My position also entails the belief that the US should not work to overthrow fairly elected governments, even Hamas.

But what happens when there is a serious outbreak of violence between an elected government and its elected opposition? Speaking more broadly, at what point does authoritarian behavior render an elected government illegitimate and undemocratic?

(The answer to this question has applications US foreign policy across the globe. In addition to Hamas, we face pseduo democratic adversaries in Iran and Venezuela.)

Regardless, Taylor makes a good point that it seems incongruous to restore aid to the Palestinian government immediately after it was reconfigured undemocratically. Unfortunately, I haven't followed the situation closely enough to judge if supporting Fatah is reasonable, or if we're just blindly reaching out to any non-Hamas stakeholder. As the BBC article points out, the UN, EU and Russia also support the restoration of aid. So this isn't just a rash decision by the Bush administration.

Finally, is democracy promotion a useful meta-narrative? Since discussions of meta-narratives tend to become weighed down by jargon, let's just ask if democracy promotion makes sense as the core principle of US foreign policy.

I still say yes. There will always be a tension, as Taylor notes, between core principles and and specific policies. But when Presidents stop talking about core principles because they are afraid of the inevitable inconsistencies, the usual result is to abandon the core principles.
" If democratically elected governments can be either good or bad, depending on the decisions they make, then democracy promotion as a meta-theme for foreign policy is either inconsistant/selective/hypocritical, or not particularly useful"

For democratically elected, substiture "environmentally responsible" or "supportive of arms control" or whatever.

Obviously democracy promotion is important, and obviously its not the ONLY thing that matters in international relations. Show me one place where someone important (like Wolfie, or Rice, or whomever, and not some blogger) said it was the only thing that mattered.

Can we actually discuss Gaza substantively here, or is scoring points about Bush and teh eevil neocons the only thing open to discussion?
" then democracy promotion as a meta-theme for foreign policy is either inconsistant/selective/hypocritical, or not particularly useful"

selective, in a good way, and neither hypocritical nor useless. Democracy promotion is a good idea, and its important. Its MORE problematic in the muslim world than elsewhere. Pushing it in Palestine in 2005 was a risk, though its still not clear (20-20 hindsight apart) that it wasnt a wise risk, given legitimacy issues facing Abbas in 2005.

At this point, Abbas is probably going to call a new election in the West Bank. Are you going to oppose that cause it fits in with the schemes of the nasty neocons?

Just as you cant be absolutist about arms control, or the environment, or state soveriegnty and aggression, you cant be absolutist about democracy. When has anyone important like Rice or Wolfie or Hadly said otherwise?
There's an obvious distinction between "democratic" and "democratically elected". Does anybody seriously believe that the democratically elected government of the Gaza Strip (or of Russia, or of Venezuela, or of Zimbabwe, or...) is democratic in any sense other than its having won a couple of elections of questionable fairness? Specifically, does anyone seriously believe that any of these governments would be willing to risk defeat in a fully free and fair election, let alone yield peacefully to a future electoral victor?
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