« !?! | Main | Who Parses The Parsers? »

When Values Collide

For a variety of reasons, the West has a lot of influence over the course of events and institutions in Turkey and has had such influence for decades. As a result, it's a prime example of our ability to use our foreign policy muscle to advance our values. The problem is, though, that our values sometimes pull in different directions. We would like Turkey to be liberal, secular, democratic, pro-American, and treat its minority population well. But, of course, majoritarianism can sometimes cut against secularism, liberalism, pro-Americanism, and minority rights. In the Turkish case, secularism has often cut against liberalism as well, since the pro-American, secular, somewhat anti-democratic military advocates an illiberal Jacobin-style of secularism. And of course they're very hostile to minority rights. And Turkey's main minority population (the Kurds) are also the major pro-American group in next door Iraq. So it's all very complicated. Michael Rubin in The National Review Online makes it clear that he wants a secular, pro-American, pro-Israeli Turkey more than he wants a liberal or democratic one.

Which is fine, but it's typical of Rubin and his neoconservative fellow-travelers to not be clear about what he's saying. Now I'm not saying that Rubin hates democracy, either in Turkey or Iraq. Plainly, his first choice is to see democracies in both countries, such that democratically elected governments will pursue the secular policies at home and (especially) the pro-American, pro-Israeli, anti-Iranian policies abroad that he favors. But, of course, he may not get that choice. So in his writings on Iraq, and now with regard to Turkey, he thinks we should try and manipulate the course of events to ensure that factions favoring the policies he also favors will secure power. This is not a crazy point of view to have about American foreign policy, but it's plainly not all that different from the much-maligned realism of a Brzeszinski or a Kissinger, neither of whom were against spreading democracy as a matter of principle. Rather, both worried that democratic governments might pursue policies that were contrary to American geostrategic goals and that, in such cases, we would rather have friendly governments than democratic ones. The neoconservative view, as exemplified in their attitude toward Turkey (see Paul Wolfowitz's dig at the Army a couple of years ago for not forcing the democratically elected parliament into supporting the Iraq War) is essentially the same, except they plan to call what they're doing "democracy promotion."

Having talked to enough of these people, I don't think they're lying per se. Rather, they appear to genuinely not see that democratic governments in the Middle East are likely to be somewhat Islamist in domestic policy (just as US policy is mildly "Christianist" and was more so at an earlier stage of historical development, see, e.g., the prohibition era which was nothing but the direct application of Protestantism to public policy), fairly hostile to Israel (certainly more, not less hostile than your average democratically elected European government), and not especially interested in the longstanding US goal of preventing the emergence of a hegemonic power in the Persian Gulf. The trouble is that lying or not, the cognitive dissonance embedded in their approach has a corrosive effect on American credibility as a democracy-promoter and on America's narrowly-construed "interests."

August 7, 2004 | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8345160fd69e200d834306e7453ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference When Values Collide:

Comments

The problem, of course, is exactly what "Democracy" means to these people. I'm not convinced that it means what we think it means. I guess the real problem is that it's such a loaded term that it's basically useless.

Is it simply voting for the leaders. Or is it maintaining a system of minority rights. Or is it basically a pro-capitalist system. At different times, it can be described as all three.

Posted by: Karmakin | Aug 7, 2004 12:09:08 PM

Cue the movie quote: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Posted by: Haggai | Aug 7, 2004 12:12:52 PM

In all the "democracy promotion" blather, I don't think anyone has ever gotten a straight answer to the question "what will you do when a democratic Iraq democratically decides to disagree with us?" This always seemed especially pertinent to me, considering that these people had no qualms about demonizing European governments that disagreed with us with the overwhelming support of their people.

The answer seemed to be as always with the neocons, an overdose of wishful thinking, "we don't think that will happen." And I'll grant them that there are plenty of hypothetical questions that politicians and pundits can wave away, but for ones like this that seem extremely likely, we deserve to know how they're planning for them.

Posted by: Redshift | Aug 7, 2004 12:32:12 PM

I suppose that makes most of Europe's policy mildly "post-Christianist".

Re. "people had no qualms about demonizing European governments that disagreed with us with the overwhelming support of their people"

... which is why the whole "let's set up a Union of Democracies" argument that neocons sometimes bring out to soften the harshness of their criticism of the UN is going nowhere.

Posted by: Otto | Aug 7, 2004 12:58:29 PM

In newspeak 'democracy' is synonymous to 'US client state'.

According to Webster, 'client state' is a state that is economically, politically, or militarily dependent on another country. But in reality being a US client state means almost total subservience to the US interests.

Should a state try to break free, its leaders are immediately vilified, government is declared illegitimate and undemocratic; intimidation and violence follow. Most recent: Hugo Chavez, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Posted by: abb1 | Aug 7, 2004 1:04:24 PM

Is Michael Rubin the guy that portrays PeeWee Herman? Why do we care what that weirdo thinks about American foreign policy.

Bob

Posted by: Bob | Aug 7, 2004 1:12:01 PM

democracy means control of da guvernment bye r gwate leeder jorge w bushe. if jorge w bushe does know control da guvernment there is know democracy. if kerry controls da united states guvernment there is know democracy in da united states. gawd bwess da twupes and jorge w bushe.

Posted by: al (da reel wun) | Aug 7, 2004 1:34:31 PM

Bingo. The problem is with the theory that these guys have convinced themselves that the only reason Israel is hated is because everyone is so irrational and krazy because they don't live in a democracy.

In the real world, meanwhile, Nasser (while not elected) was by far the most popular Arab leader of the 20th century in part due to his soaring anti-Israeli rhetoric and actions, despite his various failures of governance.

BTW, it's fascinating when ME bloggers read these neoconservatives and began to push back. See http://kardox.blogspot.com for a good Kurdish "fisking" of Rubin's latest.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 7, 2004 1:37:33 PM

The assumption that a Muslim-majority democratic government would be unquestionably against Israel is as of yet an untested one. Dictators play the anti-Israel card as a way to misdirect popular rage away from their own regimes - it is not by any means clear that a putative "Islamic democracy" would do the same thing.

Assuming the worst of democratically-elected governments before they're even given a chance to prove themselves is the sort of thinking that leads to situations like Algeria (can anyone claim with a straight face that letting the Islamists win way back when would have produced even a tenth of the nightmare that exists there today?).

What's worse, would-be strongmen can use the "make nice with Israel" promise to garner American support for their tyrannies, just as Ahmed Chalabi did. I'd sooner trust in the ebb and flow of a democracy than rely on a dictator's honor. But that's just me.

Posted by: oodja | Aug 7, 2004 2:10:07 PM

I saw the Rubin article a few days ago (FYI Bob -- he's a bigwig at the AEI, and so his views not only matter, they are a window into the current neocon mindset).

I think you've hit the main point, Matthew. Here are a few subsidiary pts.

-- Rubin is pushing an anti-PKK line as part of 'the war on terror'. General US consensus, pushed by the 911 report, is moving towards a "war on Islamist terror". Anti-PKK operations would obviously not be a part of this.

-- But Rubin wants to be pro-Kurd and pro-Turkey at the same time. And not just pro-Turkey, but pro-secular-nationalist Turkey, the folks who are the most anti-Kurd, at the expense of the more Kurd friendly governing "Muslim democrat" AKP.

-- So to square the circle, he has to pretend that one can oppose the PKK, support the Turkish generals, and support Talabani and Barzani, all at once! Estupido.

-- And its very important to note that Rubin specifically absolves the eeevil State Department (always a strawman) and demonizes the National Security Council. The NSC hates America, and is undermining the war on terra. Why pick on the NSC? Because it is run by Robert Blackwill, who helped ditch Chalabi, put ex-CIA agent Allawi in power, and wreck a grand scheme or two.

I don't have a dog in the AEI-NSC fight. (There is also a China component to the fight -- see Insight Magazine). The Blackwill-era NSC is certainly far more competent than the Neocons ever were, but I have a sneaking feeling their 'ends' are a Mubarak-in-Iraq. Yeah, maybe the only viable option now, but it may lead to some future 911 where the hijackers are Iraqi instead of Egyptian.

Posted by: Ikram | Aug 7, 2004 2:19:57 PM

Ikram,

"but it may lead to some future 911 where the hijackers are Iraqi instead of Egyptian."

See, told you Iraq was a terror threat!

Did any of the pro-war people ever think that Iraq could become a bigger Lebanon? Would that help Israel, the US or even Iaqis?


OODJA,

"Dictators play the anti-Israel card as a way to misdirect popular rage away from their own regimes - it is not by any means clear that a putative "Islamic democracy" would do the same thing. "

How about Indonesians, what do they tend to think about the Isra-pali conflict? How about Indian Muslims, what's the concensus there? How about Muslims living in Western liberal democracies, what sorts of views do they tend to espouse concerning that conflict?

Anecdotal: I was talking to a Canadian of Tunisian extraction the other day ( who was a big Bourguiba fan ( Bourguiba is like Ataturk )) and from him I learned that the media is controlled by Jews and that Jews did worse to the Palestinians than Hitler did to the Jews.

Salaam aleykum, shalom alecheim.

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Aug 7, 2004 4:25:23 PM

There's an "r" missing, see if you can find it.

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Aug 7, 2004 4:27:24 PM

turkey's faithful pro-israeli stance absolves it of any skeletons it might have in its rather ancient closet. b4 israel came into existence turkey had been a safe haven for jews for centuries and after the creation of israel, turkey has been pro-israel for sometime now.
otherwise we could hear more abt the armenian genocide and its brutal treatment of kurds (kurds can't broadcast in kurdish or teach kurdish in their schools).

Posted by: captainblak | Aug 7, 2004 5:11:09 PM

A stable, peaceful society where art, science, and busines can flourish is the purpose of government. Democracy may achieve this best.

The sine qua non of liberal democracies are
1. the passing of power to an opposition party through elections
2. protection of minority rights.
Both of these keep the peace; preventing coups in the former case, and preventing the tyranny of the majority that may provoke civil strife in the latter.

Democracy is not achieved overnight. Was the US a democracy before women got the vote in 1920? Not in the modern sense. But before democracy must come the liberalization that comes with secularism. Is there such a thing as a theocratic democracy? I don't think it would be stable.

Kemal Ataturk secularized Turkey before it became democratic under Ismet Inönü. However, I think the real test came when the Democratic Party prevailed in the 1950 elections, and the Turkish people could claim their will was sovereign in the modern sense. Power had passed to the opposition peacefully.

From a foreign policy perspective, the advantage of democracy is that people feel invested in the decisions of their government. Thus we don't have the dishonest disconnect where unsavory action on the world scene by a dictator are disavowed by the populace, a large portion of which, at least tacitly support the dictatorship, whatever we might like to think. In the long run, democracies would more likely make decisions in the interests of the whole country, not just one faction. This presumes that most people could care less about politics and political intrigue and just want peace.

A democratic Iraq will be MUCH less pro-American than neocons have led the American people to believe. But we can deal with that. With force as a last resort if needed. The way we deal with Communist China.

But Iraq is not ready yet. First must come a secular enlightenment. For this reason I urge Juan Cole to include Hume and Hobbes in his Americana project, before moving on to the Federalist Papers, etc.

Posted by: epistemology | Aug 7, 2004 5:21:49 PM

secular enlightenment? when was the last time that sharia was the law in iraq?

Posted by: captainblak | Aug 7, 2004 5:34:32 PM

captainblak:

You are joking, right? You consider Iraq an enlightened secular state? Guess I'll stay out of your neigborhood.

And who said anything about Sharia? France in 1200 didn't live under Sharia yet were hardly an enlightened secular state.

Iraq may be the most secular Arab state, but Bush has helped roll back the calendar. It seems women (and the treatment of women is the key difference between the Arab world and the West) are MORE closeted than under Saddam.

We are heading in the wrong direction in Iraq, as opposed to Afghanistan where women, at least temporarily, have more freedoms than before we arrived.

Posted by: epistemology | Aug 7, 2004 6:09:16 PM

"secular enlightenment? when was the last time that sharia was the law in iraq?"

Precisely. Baghdad Burning talks today about how badly she feels about the bombing of the Christian Churches, and its effect on her many Christian friends. Iraq is not Afghanistan, and there is no Taliban there.

I have spent several hours mulling this post, and have come up with nothing interesting to say. However, I speak anyway.

Epistemology may know more than I do, but I have been studying Islam for a little while, and it strikes me as a fully-developed, rational religious system with much intellectual rigor and extremely wide flexibility. It is the source of the much-vaunted "scientific method" of the West. Not coincidental with Islam, but internal to Koranic studies. And "situational interpretation" is a thousand years old in Islam. In other words, I see no intrinsic reason Islam cannot fully coexist with modernism and democracy.

This does not mean the above is the only possible interpretation. We have snake handlers and misogynists in Christianity and Judaism. The most conservative Muslims gained some dominance hundreds of years ago, and have been renewed recently, around the turn of the century.

We have a problem with a virulent branch of Islam, evangelistic, financed by Saudis. A democratic Iraq could be great, very secular, modern, perhaps opposed to out interests in some areas. But it will be under constant pressure from Wahhabists and other Islamic extremists. And so would a friendly dictator.

What we are seeing currently in Iraq has little to do with Islam and a lot to do with simple politics. Pray for Sistani.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 7, 2004 6:23:05 PM

"and not especially interested in the longstanding US goal of preventing the emergence of a hegemonic power in the Persian Gulf."

This I very much disagree with. I can think of no major nation in the Gulf area, that if a democracy, would accept one of its neighbours becoming dominant militarily, politically, economically. One of the problems in Iraq right now is competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia/Jordan/Syria.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 7, 2004 6:48:26 PM

bob mcmanus:

We do have our snake handlers and misogynists and their religious right apologists, but, as they constantly, and correctly, point out: America has turned its back on them with our secular consumerists society.

And I understand that Islam kept the Greek tradition of rational inquiry alive for us during our Dark Ages. But the scientific method and situational interpretations are NOT equal to the radical epistemology and its implications developed under Hume and Hobbes. The extreme doubt that characterizes modern science cannot be accomodated under any religion. We accomodate it, for those who choose to remain religious and engaged in the social and intellectual life of their nation, by a compartmentalization: a wall between church and state, between church and science, and between church and business.

This allows the private practice of religion in a multi-cultural society. Arab cultures have yet to achieve this. Indeed they have retreated from a more tolerant past. As Juan Cole has pointed out: there are VERY few non-religious books sold in the Arab world. Best sellers rarely sell more than a couple thousand.

Recall that we gave black men the right to vote more than a half century before women. It is difficult to recall when women weren't treated as moral agents equal to men (though the anti-abortion movement is an echo of those days), but that is what the sexual slavery that is polygamy in the Arab world implies. When polygamy ends, so does this "war". I do NOT think that Islam, per se, is inimical to a liberal mind. I just think our Islamic friends are lagging behind, thus the friction.

Posted by: epistemology | Aug 7, 2004 7:07:29 PM


We have a problem with a virulent branch of Islam...


We should consider ourselves very lucky. They have a problem with a virulent branch of Judaism, virulent branch of Christianity, and, as if all that wasn't enough, a virulent branch of "democracy-promoting" liberals.

Posted by: abb1 | Aug 7, 2004 7:12:39 PM

What is the most democratic country in the world? It's Switzerland, isn't it?

Democracy at its most direct in Appenzell
...
One tradition Appenzell Inner Rhoden managed to hold on to until only 10 years ago was the centuries-old law forbidding women from voting. This only changed in 1991, when Switzerland's federal court intervened, forcing the canton to grant women the right to vote.
...

Hey, how come no one cared to bomb the shit out of these misogynistic bastards?

Posted by: abb1 | Aug 7, 2004 7:36:11 PM

Anecdotal: I was talking to a Canadian of Tunisian extraction the other day ( who was a big Bourguiba fan ( Bourguiba is like Ataturk )) and from him I learned that the media is controlled by Jews and that Jews did worse to the Palestinians than Hitler did to the Jews.

My father-in-law is a raging anti-Semite - does that make the American government hostile towards the state of Israel? Really, you can swing a cat here in the States and hit a Christian with the same opinion as your Tunisian friend. Or worse. Fact of the matter is that Tunisia has also sought a more conciliatory stance towards Israel, though the present unpleasantness has made such a course of action political poison on the domestic front.

As for Indonesia, it is not an "Islamic democracy" but a secular state with a Muslim majority (it may seem like hairsplitting, but the chances of a government like Indonesia's taking root in the ME seem slim to none, given the historical circumstances). For the record, though, Indonesia has no traditional beef with Israel though it tends to side with other Muslim nations when the chips are down. Is that the same as being virulently anti-Israeli? I think not.

How about Indonesians, what do they tend to think about the Isra-pali conflict? How about Indian Muslims, what's the concensus there? How about Muslims living in Western liberal democracies, what sorts of views do they tend to espouse concerning that conflict?

I'm confused. Who are the Muslims supposed to sympathize with in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? That's a no-brainer. The issue here is whether democratic Islamic governments are naturally anti-Israeli. Using the current conflict as your litmus test is like pouring gasoline into an oven to see if the pilot light is on.

An unfortunate consequence of the recent escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians is that it has allowed Arab dictators who rely on a knee-jerk anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist stance as a matter of course to tack said rage onto a legitimate grievance. Until a lasting peace is found in the Holy Land we will never know if Islamic democracies can do a better job coexisting with Israel than the present tyrannies of the Middle East.

Posted by: oodja | Aug 7, 2004 8:16:24 PM

abb1 has an interesting point about Switzerland's belated enfranchisement of women. Of course they are a small, insular (still not member of UN nor EU) nation. They also treat women better than they are treated in the Middle East. It may also be partly due to the radical Protestantism that took hold with Calvin and Zwingli.

Posted by: epistemology | Aug 7, 2004 9:06:51 PM

Oodja,

"knee-jerk anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist"
If ME dictators can use that as the main rallier, it means it's quite popular among the population. If it's quite popular among the population, can't we expect a government elected by said population to act on that knee-jerk, anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist view? Don't democracies have a strange habit of implementing that which is most popular among the population, at least more so than other types of government?

"The assumption that a Muslim-majority democratic government would be unquestionably against Israel is as of yet an untested one."
Lots of things are as of yet untested assumptions. Like that entering the sun would be hot.

"The issue here is whether democratic Islamic governments are naturally anti-Israeli. Using the current conflict as your litmus test is like pouring gasoline into an oven to see if the pilot light is on."

I'm using the world we're most likely to be living in for the foreseable future as the basis for predicting how a Muslim democracy will react towards Israel.

I propose that whenever you state a Muslim-majority democracy may be less hostile/contain its hostility better towards Israel than a dictatorship, you use an asterisk stating:"Not valid if current conflict between Isra-Palis drags on." It'd work best if written in small fonts, like those infomercial catches.

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Aug 7, 2004 10:34:55 PM

If ME dictators can use that as the main rallier, it means it's quite popular among the population. If it's quite popular among the population, can't we expect a government elected by said population to act on that knee-jerk, anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist view? Don't democracies have a strange habit of implementing that which is most popular among the population, at least more so than other types of government?

Anti-Semitism isn't used right now as a rallier, but as a distraction. If your citizens have no say in your dictatorship, wouldn't you rather have them blaming anyone but you for their current plight?

That dynamic would change completely in a democracy. Instead of channeling feelings of powerlessness into rage against the Jews or the Americans, an empowered electorate could finally direct its ire towards more worthy recipients - i.e., the bastards in charge of their country. Sure, a political party in an Islamic democracy could probably get some mileage on an anti-Israeli ticket, but if it didn't deliver on the domestic front it would be right back out of power soon enough.

This is why we should favor democracies. Even when they don't agree with us, they're usually too preoccupied with looking out for Number One to worry about phantom enemies like the Elders of Zion. Sure, democracies can seriously go off the tracks every once in a while, but provided that a democracy itself does not falter in most cases the behavior is self-correcting over the long term - and the long term is what we should be concerned with.

There's also another factor that would come into play - if Israel were to make peace with its Arab neighbors it would have an army of cheap labor to rival the guestworkers currently flown in to fill in the gap left by Palestinians shut out of their former jobs. The two-way economic opportunity that would ensue for Israel and its neighbors would eventually skew towards more cooperation and better overall relations over time.

I'm using the world we're most likely to be living in for the foreseable future as the basis for predicting how a Muslim democracy will react towards Israel.

The current conflict won't last forever. But if you expect any kind of Muslim nation to treat Israel kindly so long as the war in the Holy Land rages, then prepare to be disappointed. That this should betray some sort of inherent inability of Islamic democracy to coexist with Israel, however, is extremely disingenuous.

When NATO bombed Serbia, the Greeks were violently opposed to the U.S.-lead action against fellow Orthodox Christians. Do we therefore assume that Orthodox democracies such as Greece are anti-Western by their very nature? Of course not. But there has been just such a conflation with Arab nations, as if their present sympathy for the Palestinians and current redirected anger towards Zionist conspiracies must therefore be equated with a permanent Hamas-like hatred for everything Israel stands for - now and forever.

I reject that. Arab nations have enjoyed varying levels of peace and cooperation with Israel in the past, and they will in the future, once the present madness subsides. When democracy finally comes to the ME, perhaps said peace and cooperation will be deeper and more lasting as well, and not just something that dies with the rare enlightened dictator who dares propose it. Given the choice, I would rather bet on occasionally anti-Semitic Islamic democracies than tyrannies who make nice with Israel on the world stage only to blame her for all the evils under the sun in order to keep their citizens perpetually mad at somebody else.

Every war has an end; we should be thinking about what comes next so as to avoid the next conflict.

Posted by: oodja | Aug 8, 2004 12:01:10 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.