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Kerry And Democracy

David Adesnik displays some interests in learning my thoughts on John Kerry and the question of democracy-promotion. Let it be done:

I've written both short and long versions of my critique of democracy-promotion à la Bush, so I won't rehash that here. Let me just reiterate that there's something fundamentally paradoxical about the neoconservative belief-nexus holding that we (a) must spread democracy everywhere, (b) need pay no attention to global public opinion, (c) must perpetually extent American hegemony, and (d) must unfetter the United States from the shackles of international law. This mish-mash of ideas finds itself in constant conflict and ultimately doesn't make any sense.

But the question was about John Kerry.

It's often said that Kerry lacks commitment to the idea of spreading democracy abroad. This is wrong. What he lacks is Ye Olde Messianic Verve on the subject, which to some people is the same thing. What he has is the rather dry consensus belief among Democratic Party national security folks that there are a number of steps we should be taking that will help build civil society in the "greater middle east" while equipping the United States with an array of carrots and sticks that can be used to influence Middle Eastern regimes to liberalize their policies.

I haven't written about this specifically, but Spencer Ackerman has in his Kerry and the war on terrorism piece. What I have written about is Rep. Jim Turner's ideas on the subject, ideas that were developed in consultation with more-or-less the same group of people who are working with Kerry. As the Turner piece says, I think these are good ideas. The problem, as I wrote at the conclusion of that piece, is that I don't think it's actually going to happen:

The reality is that there's no constituency for spending directed against terrorism. Tax cuts or expanded health coverage bring direct and obvious benefits to at least some segments of the electorate, and it's extremely hard to claim credit for the attacks your spending may or may not have prevented. Foreign aid, especially, is a tough sell: Why build schools in Beirut when the people of Brooklyn still have unmet needs? Given sufficient leadership, such things are possible (the Marshall Plan did, after all, pass at a time when the United States was not without problems of its own), but there's little sign that any major figure on the scene cares to exercise it.

Turner says "we need to regain that sense of urgency that we had after 9-11 "if we want to get the war on terrorism back on track. We had that sense of urgency once, and the president fumbled the ball. The opposition, meanwhile, didn't gain its nerve until the urgency had dissipated." Under the circumstances, perhaps the best we can hope for are leaders who won't do the same when that sense is renewed by another domestic attack.

I think that's probably right. Kerry and his team will have the right goals with regard to democracy-promotion, and understand the right tools to get the job done. What I seriously doubt they'll have is the wherewithal to pry to resources necessary out of the teeth of what's likely to be a Republican-dominated congress. In part, this failure will reflect a lack of commitment on Kerry's part and in part it will reflect GOP obstinacy. The resulting situation will be not unlike the state of play with regard to gay rights in a Kerry administration -- around the margins and as opportunities present themselves, he will work to improve the situation in whatever ways seem possible, but he's unlikely to stretch the boundaries of the possible. As on gay rights, the real responsibility here lies with those of us working in society rather than in the state to create the context in which political leaders will do the right thing. Insofar as Americans want gays and lesbians to enjoy equal rights (which they increasingly do), gays and lesbians tend to get them. Insofar as they don't, they don't. The true convictions of officeholders aren't the key variable. Insofar as Americans want to devote large quantities of resources to realistic programs to liberalize the world, it will get done, but I don't see the political pressure suddently materializing.

Perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised by Kerry. His work on BCCI and normalization of relations with Vietnam shows that Kerry, quite admirably, has a taste for putting in hard work on seemingly thankless causes. My strong, strong suspicion, however, is that his appetite for such work will be exhausted by coping with the deficit and Iraq and that there's not going to be a huge deal of dogged-work-energy left to be deployed on democratization.

So that's not a very hearty endorsement of Kerry on democracy grounds. But it's better than what Bush is offering, which actually makes things worse. What's more, Kerry has people associated with him who actually know a thing or two about the business of democratic transitions, civil society building, postconflict reconstruction, and other relevant matters. Bush has people associated with him who know a lot about moral clarity, game theory, and precision munitions. Thus, while I think there probably isn't a great deal of difference between what, in practice, either man will achieve in the years 2005-2008, Kerry's likely to do some good and there's at least a possibility that he'll do a great deal. Bush will give us four more years of more of the same.

October 27, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

John Flipper Kerry supports the Global Test and the United Nazi Nations. The United Nazi Nations is a collection of Third World totalitarian police-state dictatorships and monarchies, therefore John Kerry is fundamentally opposed to democracy.

John Kerry opposes democracy in Iraq.

But let's not get too caught up on democracy anyway since this is a Republic.

James Madison: Federalist No.55.

Nothing can be more fallacious than to found our political calculations on arithmetical principles. Sixty or seventy men may be more properly trusted with a given degree of power than six or seven. But it does not follow that six or seven hundred would be proportionably a better depositary. And if we carry on the supposition to six or seven thousand, the whole reasoning ought to be reversed. The truth is, that in all cases a certain number at least seems to be necessary to secure the benefits of free consultation and discussion, and to guard against too easy a combination for improper purposes; as, on the other hand, the number ought at most to be kept within a certain limit, in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude. In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Oct 27, 2004 1:42:42 AM

Can we get this guy his own blog? Move over, Giblets! Modern Crusader is in town!

Posted by: neil | Oct 27, 2004 2:45:21 AM

All apologies. I did not realize that he does, in fact, have his own blog. It's not funny any more.

Posted by: neil | Oct 27, 2004 2:46:43 AM

Check out my other site.

This one has pictures of me:

http://www.jessicadaniels.com/titlepage.htm

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Oct 27, 2004 3:14:42 AM

Worry not too much about him. Whatever his actual opinions and intentions, Modern Crusader works as a more effective opposition against rightwing causes than most.

Posted by: G. Svenson | Oct 27, 2004 3:19:43 AM

"Worry not too much about him."

I'm not a him right now sweetie. During the daytime I may be a he, but as soon as I get home I like to dress up. Stockings, garters, the works. I've got a wedding dress that looks just like Pat Nixon's.

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Oct 27, 2004 3:32:47 AM

That's not me posting as me that's Matt.

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Oct 27, 2004 3:46:19 AM

This mish-mash of ideas finds itself in constant conflict[...]

Unless you understand "democracy" as "western-aligned market-based non-islamic government", and then suddenly a-b-c-d all click together! It's also probably what Adesnik means, so all this stuff about building schools in Beirut will probably be scoffed at.
I think you should make the kerry critics etch out a definition of "democracy" before launching in this type of exercise because, since the cold war, this word has taken some very distorted and loaded meanings. How many of those critics would accept an islamist Iraqi government if it was voted in? Just look at Modern Nutter.

Posted by: Mat | Oct 27, 2004 3:58:45 AM

Let me just reiterate that there's something fundamentally paradoxical about the neoconservative belief-nexus holding that we (a) must spread democracy everywhere, (b) need pay no attention to global public opinion, (c) must perpetually extent American hegemony, and (d) must unfetter the United States from the shackles of international law.

I can't sleep, so I'll amuse myself by ignoring the freak show in the previous comments and showing some of the ways that these 4 things come into conflict.

(a)democracy-spreading conflicts with (c)hegemony-extension because sometimes the people who are being given democracy will want a government that impedes your hegemony. Also, you get situations where hegemony-extension requires you to back up anti-democratic dictators.

(b)ignoring public opinion conflicts with (c)hegemony-extension because allies are helpful in extending your hegemony, and allies usually have opinions. Ignore their opinions and they won't help you. This explains why (c) and (d) are incompatible -- blowing off international law is a way to show disregard for public opinon. This harms your hegemony-extension.

Now we can see how (a)democracy-spreading is in some tension with (b)opinion-ignoring and (d)blowing-off-law. Once you lose allies by ignoring their opinions and blowing off international law, you don't get their help in spreading democracy. This situation has a name, and it is "Iraq".

Posted by: Ethical Werewolf | Oct 27, 2004 7:09:12 AM

I'm not a him right now sweetie. During the daytime I may be a he, but as soon as I get home I like to dress up. Stockings, garters, the works. I've got a wedding dress that looks just like Pat Nixon's.

And a face just like Richard's.

Posted by: Nick Simmonds | Oct 27, 2004 7:47:28 AM

This is Matt posting as Modern Crusader posting as Matt posting as Modern Crusader...

It's all about me.

Posted by: me | Oct 27, 2004 8:25:58 AM

“What he has is the rather dry consensus belief among Democratic Party national security folks that there are a number of steps we should be taking that will help build civil society in the ‘greater middle east’ while equipping the United States with an array of carrots and sticks that can be used to influence Middle Eastern regimes to liberalize their policies”

“Kerry has people associated with him who actually know a thing or two about the business of democratic transitions, civil society building, postconflict reconstruction, and other relevant matters.”

“But there's not going to be a huge deal of dogged-work-energy left to be deployed on democratization.”

In short: Kerry and his people are smart and sophisticated; but Kerry won’t do anything. I agree with the 2nd part. Not that that’s necessarily bad. At least he won’t go charging in to some country with half the troops we need.

And when he’s not doing anything he’ll do it in pompous declamations delivered in sonorous tones. I’ve already learned to do a really good imitation of Kerry. Just listen along and repeat after him. It’s great fun. What a gas bag.

Posted by: ostap | Oct 27, 2004 8:57:33 AM

A contrarian view: the reason Kerry has stuck to "I would have voted for the resolution anyway" is because he's thinking ahead to a time when he will need that authorization himself, even though it's not the best campaign statement.

In other words, Kerry is thinking ahead about deploying troops (somewhere) himself. I don't mean somewhere specific, I mean that he expects to project force.

Evidence that contradicts the CW about him.

Posted by: abc | Oct 27, 2004 10:01:27 AM

Thinking that the problem of terrorism is a lack of public input into the government in the Middle East is deep, deep, denial.

The last thing in hell the U.S. should want is popular representation for these people. You may as well forget about oil and the Suez Canal.

Posted by: absynthe | Oct 27, 2004 10:34:38 AM

Democracy is overrated, anyway.

Posted by: Republican Poll Challenger | Oct 27, 2004 11:10:32 AM

Public opinion in the middle east is warped by decades of government media control being used to deflect well justified anger at corrupt government into hatred of outsiders, and especially, jews. An effort to give their people outside enemies, so they wouldn't turn on the people who are REALLY oppressing them.

I'm afraid that even if that changed today, the effects would linger for many years. They've been simmered in poison for too long, it's a part of their culture now.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Oct 27, 2004 11:15:17 AM

abc:
Oh, come now. The CW of the Republican spinmeisters, maybe. But had you listened to what John Kerry actually says instead of what opponents claim he will do, you would remember that he has said countless times that he would not hesitate to use force in the national interest to remove a threat. So to whose "conventional wisdom" does does that run counter?

Posted by: Curtis Love | Oct 27, 2004 11:53:58 AM

Matthew,

Let me express a contrarian point of view. We should consider the possiblity that the following statement by Turner, which you cite, is part of the problem:

"We need to regain that sense of urgency that we had after 9-11 if we want to get the war on terrorism back on track. We had that sense of urgency once, and the president fumbled the ball. The opposition, meanwhile, didn't gain its nerve until the urgency had dissipated."

Is this really true? Why exactly is it that we need to regain a sense of urgency? There haven't been any terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11. Isn't it perhaps the case that the best tactic, one which Bush has employed and Kerry will continue, is simply to continue to use intelligence to locate the most dedicated, well-financed and well-organized jihadists, the ones with truly global reach, and to kill them in covert special operations? Meanwhile we can leave all of the other angry young men to fulminate away in their cafes, and rage on their websites against the American machine, as historical forces already underway take their natural course.

I don't think I am complacent. I very well realize there could be other attacks here in America. But what I doubt is that the best means of dealing with these is to engage in some democracy-spreading crusade in the Middle East - whether a Bush-style military crusade or a Kerry-style propaganda and liberal civil society crusade.

One thing that seems clear is that those individuals or projects in the Middle East that the United States associates itself with publicly are automatically stigmatized among broad sections of the public, precisely by virtue of that association. So then lesson I draw is we need to back off, decrease the size of the US footprint in the Middle East and let the people of that region struggle amongst themselves for a way forward. By continually injecting ourselves into the mess, we only provide the contestants with a basis for finding a common enemy.

We should take prudent steps to prevent Middle East political, economic and ideological conflicts from spilling over to our own shores, and neutralize the really committed zealots who attempt to bring the conflict here, but we can't end those conflicts with an act of American will. Our attempts to do so only tend to make matters worse.

Not every problem we face is something we can fix with the proper and well-placed application of American know-how. We are not the omnipotent universal hegemon of neoconservative fantasies, one that can guide the world in the path of our own choosing, so long as we achieve a Triumph of the Will and agree on the path. We have only about 5% of the world's population, and thus to a great extent we are subject to forces that are outside our control. Our greatest efforts should be to defend our own shores and people against the effects of those forces that might be harmful to us, rather than seeking to bend the world to our will.

I think we also have to get past the habit of obsessive 9/11 nostalgia, which generates the calls for a renewed sense of "urgency". Many Americans, far from recalling 9/11 as a calamity, seem to view it as a sort of peak experience in their otherwise boring lives, and seek to recreate the intoxicating combination of excitement, fear, exigency, unity and patriotic enthusiasm they felt in the weeks following the attack. They want to see Senators hugging on the capitol steps; they want to see flags waving from car antennas; they want to see Bruce Springsteen and Ricky Skaggs joined arm-in-arm singing somber hymns and God Bless America in fields of sacramental candles, surrounded by photos of 9/11 victims; they want to see Rusty Wallace and Carson Kressley break bread together over beer and lattes; they want to see the fuehrer-in-chief standing on a heap of rubble bellowing through a megaphone, and trumpeting his messages of "we are all one" and "you are with us or against us" and "let us lay low the Muslims with our terrible swift sword" from sea to shining sea - and to Hawaii too.

Barring another massive attack, this is probably not going to happen, and its a good thing. We live in a democratic republic, not some mystical body of the American Volk. We are not all one. We are different and disagreeable. We don't all like each other. In fadct, some of us Americans even despise other Americans. That's life - we are simply fellow citizens in a republic, not spiritual brothers and sisters in a national cult. The great thing is that we have a very flawed political system that still allows us to do most of what is necessary to organize a common life together even though we don't all like each other.

Perhaps the best approach toward the Middle East is to resist the inspiring sermons and the crusading spirit, and the stupid and self-destructive national impulse toward perpetual meddlesomeness. We need stand back, and to allow the forces that are already at work in the Middle East to do their thing.

We can help with modest, unobtrusive pushes in the right direction, for example by tying trade incentives to steps toward political and economic reforms that would be widely popular in the region, and maybe slipping money under the table to media outfits and publishing outfits. And we can do more perhaps to open cultural exchanges. But we don't need to step with overpowering vigor in order to "make change happen". It is happening already. We just need patience and a long view.

In our own societies, liberalization was a result of the gradual acquisition of power by the merchant classes. To thrive economically over the long-term, beyond the age of easy money from abundant flowing oil, the stagnant societies of the Middle East need freer enterprise, freer speech and more diverse and distributed communication networks, practical non-fanatical laws, more scientists and engineers, fewer corrupt government institutions and the opportunity for meritocratic social advancement unconnected to family ties and paternalistic restrictions. These manifest needs are already producing the desired internal pressures and will continue to do so.

To the extent these needs are not accepted and change is successfully resisted by political leadership, to the same extent the societies will further stagnate and fall behind economically and they will be even less of a threat to us than they are now. If they are not resisted, the diffuse regional fusion of reactionary bitterness and revolutionary ardor will burn itself out as people turn toward practical politics and their own rising material prospects, and away from the consolations of passionate but ineffectual political and religious movements.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Oct 27, 2004 1:01:25 PM

The best way to promote democracy,or anything else, is by example.

Posted by: la | Oct 27, 2004 1:08:03 PM

The positions of Turner, which you quote approvingly, do not match the stump rhetoric of Kerry - bemoaning firehouses in Baghdad as they close in the U.S.

Of course, it's stump rhetoric, but what's lacking in Kerry is not, in your dismissive (and condescending) phrase "messianic zeal" but an actual appreciation that easing the political oppression in the Middle East is the necessary corrective to jihadism.

Posted by: Greg Scoblete | Oct 27, 2004 1:48:47 PM

>Given sufficient leadership, such things are possible (the Marshall Plan did, after all, pass at a time when the United States was not without problems of its own), but there's little sign that any major figure on the scene cares to exercise it.

Well, of course not. THis suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the Marshall Plan. It was passed in 1947-48 as a defensive reaction to a threat of Soviet expansion, into a region in which the US had an emotional, if not a strategic interest. The same cannot be said of Beirut.

Posted by: raj | Oct 27, 2004 2:30:26 PM

"To the extent these needs are not accepted and change is successfully resisted by political leadership, to the same extent the societies will further stagnate and fall behind economically and they will be even less of a threat to us than they are now."

I'm not sure this is the case. Repressive governments push discontent underground, where violent radicalism flourishes. Societies that are more open to dissent and political participation provide an avenue for discontent that marginalizes violent radicalism by relieving pressure.


"[The Marshall Plan] was passed in 1947-48 as a defensive reaction to a threat of Soviet expansion, into a region in which the US had an emotional, if not a strategic interest."

I think this is incorrect. The US had a strategic interest in the balance of power in Europe which rationalized entering the war against Hitler. (Yes, I know Pearl Harbor and Hitler declared war etc.; I'm responding to the point about US strategic interests in Europe). After the war, that strategic interest was served by helping to stabilize Europe with the Marshall Plan.

Posted by: Handle | Oct 27, 2004 2:40:51 PM

Handle,

Yes, I agree that the stifled dissent stimulates violent radicalism. And obviously that radicalism does pose some problem for us, and requires the sorts of counterterrorism measures we have taken.

What I mainly object to is the notion, frequently expressed, that what we have to worry about is a phenomenon analogous to the growth of fascism and militarism the 30's in Europe and Japan, and that failure to strike in a major miltary way against the region, or launch an all-out ideological blitzkrieg of propaganda, amounts to a dangerous Chamberlain-like "appeasment".

Germany and Japan were economically thriving, heavily industrialized military powers, bent on expansion, and capable of launching major military assaults against our national defenses like the Pearl Harbor attack. The countries of the Middle East are divided, underdeveloped and weak, not heavily industrialized, with high unemployment, a dearth of scientific expertise, poor productivity, low investment and inefficient capital allocation. An al-Qaeda takeover of Saudi Arabia, for example, could not in the foreseeable future turn that country into a military juggernaut. There is simply no threat comparable to the sort of threat posed by Nazi Germany or the Empire of Japan.

Terrorism and "asymmetric warfare" are threats of course. But the global reach of terrorism can be countered by the consistent application of intelligence and covert, low-intensity techniques that do not require a quixotic commitment to a massive regional makeover.

The best way to avoid becoming the targets of terrorists is to avoid providing the instigators with the propaganda victories that flow from heavy-handed US interference and intrusions in the region. Let us work to decrease our increasingly ugly and omnipresent profile in the Middle East, and then leave the radicals to direct their rage against their own governments, where it belongs.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Oct 27, 2004 3:59:28 PM

Handle | October 27, 2004 02:40 PM

Me: "[The Marshall Plan] was passed in 1947-48 as a defensive reaction to a threat of Soviet expansion, into a region in which the US had an emotional, if not a strategic interest."

You: I think this is incorrect. The US had a strategic interest in the balance of power in Europe which rationalized entering the war against Hitler. (Yes, I know Pearl Harbor and Hitler declared war etc.; I'm responding to the point about US strategic interests in Europe). After the war, that strategic interest was served by helping to stabilize Europe with the Marshall Plan.

Not really. Before the end of WWII, the Allies had agreed to a post-war regime in which Germany would be required to pay some US$22Billion (if memory serves) in reparations, to be paid for by some dismantling of German industrial capability, which would be shipped to the victors. One part of the idea was to "pacify" Germany. Some of this was actually carried out after the end of the war, up to mid 1947. It wasn't until Soviet expansionism became clear that the western Allies, led by the US (the French balked, of course), determined that their defense against Soviet expansionism would be better served by terminating the reparations project and instituting what became known as the Marshall Plan.

From a US Dept State document on the Marshall Plan:

>In a June 5, 1947, speech to the graduating class at Harvard University, Secretary of State George C. Marshall issued a call for a comprehensive program to rebuild Europe. Fanned by the fear of Communist expansion and the rapid deterioration of European economies in the winter of 1946-1947, Congress passed the Economic Cooperation Act in March 1948 and approved funding that would eventually rise to over $12 billion for the rebuilding of Western Europe.

Moreover:

>The Marshall Plan generated a resurgence of European industrialization and brought extensive investment into the region. It was also a stimulant to the U.S. economy by establishing markets for American goods.

(emphasis added)

http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/time/cwr/16328.htm

The US didn't start the Marshall Plan solely out of altruistic tendencies. This doesn't mean that it wasn't a nice thing for the US to have done.

Posted by: raj | Oct 27, 2004 5:22:50 PM

By saying "helping" to stabilize Europe, I'm not saying the US had an altruistic motive for the MP. Rather, it was undertaken in the service of the US's strategic interest in a stable Europe. Which would/did serve as a bulwark against USSR attempts to extend influence in Europe.

Posted by: Handle | Oct 27, 2004 5:36:36 PM

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