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Town Square Test

Watch Bush flunk. The trouble with the hypocritical approach to democracy-promotion is not, I think, that if we want to advance liberty anywhere we must advance liberty everywhere. Obviously, when you look at a place like China (or even Russia) our practical capacity to effect change for the better is quite limited, and we have an interest in securing Chinese (and even Russian) cooperation on a variety of important issues. You need to strike some kind of balance. The real problem with the Bush approach arises in the very small number of cases -- like Jordan and Egypt -- where we really do at least appear to have an enormous capacity to influence things thanks to our financial support of un-loved regimes. Now it may be the case that if push were to come to shove it would turn out that we do not, in fact, have all that much influence. Hussein and Mubarak might prefer to take their chances as autocrats without US support than to maintain the support but risk losing power internally. But if that's the case, it would be worth our while to force that choice on them and not wind up getting blamed for their misdeeds.

UPDATE: King Hussein, of course, is dead, and thus not taking any chances. His heir King Abdullah is who I should have referred to.

January 27, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

It's a tough problem. Right now, Jordan's and Egypt's co-operation are important for Iraq and Isreal/Palestine respectively. It would be perfectly understandable for the Jordanian and Egyptian government to put conditions on their present co-operation -- namely that the US won't turn around and put the screws on them as soon as Iraq is stable.

What does that leave? The cuckoo's egg option -- planting fledgling democracy in the neighborhood and hoping that the citizens in the non-democratic countries will find it intolerable that they don't have the freedom that they see nearby.

Posted by: mw | Jan 27, 2005 4:01:37 PM

MLWeaver wrote:

The cuckoo's egg option -- planting fledgling democracy in the neighborhood and hoping that the citizens in the non-democratic countries will find it intolerable that they don't have the freedom that they see nearby

This is an astonishingly stupid comment -- did you rwead the linked abu-aardvark post? The Jordanian gvt arrested an anti-American protestor. The US gvt could easily demand that Egypt and Jordan permit anti-American statements in the 'town-square'.

As for the cuckoo's egg, the arrested Jordanian already finds it intolerable that he does not have the freedoms he sees elsewhere (nearby or not) -- Iraqi democracy won't change anything.

But suppose your cuckoo's egg argument does work, and democracy in Iraq ("nearby") in fact increases anti-Hashemite sentiment in Jordan, and results in a Jordanian gvt that permits a greater amount of anti-American media (perhaps a more anti-American version of Al-Jazeera, or something like Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV) -- would George W. Bush think this a good outcome?

Posted by: Ikram | Jan 27, 2005 4:24:52 PM

More on Ali Hattar? God, this lie was debunked, like, hours ago.

But this is more typical Matthew: if Bush doesn't democratize every single country in the entire world simultaneously and immediately, he is a hypocrite.

It really is an asinine suggestion.

Posted by: Al | Jan 27, 2005 4:40:55 PM

sorry that's not a "debunking", Al. Hatter did make a political speech, and he was jailed for it. that's a "town hall test" failure.

Posted by: cleek | Jan 27, 2005 4:44:14 PM

Did you actually read Matt's post, AI? He said that we can only do what we can do, so it wouldn't be hypocritical to not invade, say, China, but we at least shouldn't be actively supporting tyrants. Since supporting the Egyptian government is actually a government policy, and not a mere inaction (and has been through many administrations), I think it should be on the burden of proof of those who advocate continuing that policy to say why we should continue it, not on those who find it inconsistent with our grand talk of freedom.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Jan 27, 2005 4:48:02 PM

Al, nothing at the site you linked suggests anything other than that this guy spoke his mind in the town square and got arrested and jailed, under a law prohibiting certain kinds of political speech, in a country in which we have immense direct influence. So how is that a debunking, exactly? (Hint: "MSM"-bashing doesn't count).

Posted by: froh | Jan 27, 2005 4:55:27 PM

Al -- the post you link to confirms Abu Aardvark and MattY's account, except that it is unclear whether Hattar was arrested for critizing the USA or the Hashemites. The content of his political speech is not relevant for George W. Bush's 'town square' test.

Even the National Review would agree that GWB is being hypocritical, as they argue in an editorial today that the pledges to support freedom contained in GWBs inaugural address should only apply to countries in the Middle east, like Jordan.

Posted by: Ikram | Jan 27, 2005 4:58:37 PM

Yeah, I did, Julian. Matthew is apparently saying that Bush is a hypocrite because he is not explicitly coming to the aid of a person who claims the Jordanian government is committing genocide against its own people.

Now, in the best of all possible worlds, Hattar would have the same free speech protections in Jordan that he would here, and he would be permitted to blame his government for some unspecified genocide. But Matthew is right that we should be wise in our choices about where to apply our influence. And, it is overwhlemingly obvious to me that the Hattar case would not one of those wise uses.

Posted by: Al | Jan 27, 2005 5:04:56 PM

Matthew, the trouble with the hypocritical approach to just about anything is that it is a hypocritical approach. It is not the US policy to promote "freedom" throughout the world and it has never been that. And, I suspect it never will be that. We set policy according to what those in the administration think is in the best interest of our country. That alone is the criteria. Bush's speech was pure bull shit - the only thing he is really adept at spreading.

Posted by: Vaughn Hopkins | Jan 27, 2005 5:36:24 PM

Al wrote

But Matthew is right that we should be wise in our choices about where to apply our influence.

You're misrepresenting Saint Matthew and the National Review. Both agree (for different reasons) that the US should not support liberty in Russia or China. Both also agree (for largely the same reasons) that the SU should support liberty in the Arab world.

No is arguing (other than Al) that the US should selectively support liberty only for Arabs who express pro-American opinions. That's because neither Matt, the NRO, or GWB beleive that liberty to express only approved opinions is real liberty.

One could argue that the US needs to keep its powder dry and use its precious limited influence on Jordan only for the most admirable cases (a "Rosa parks" strategy). But given that the US has almost unlimited influence in Jordan, that's not a sensible argument.

(There are a few other sensible arguments on how GWB can support liberty while tacitly opposing in it certain cases and still not be a hypocrite -- but Al hasn'T made them, so I won't rebut them).

Posted by: Ikram | Jan 27, 2005 5:41:48 PM

Matt’s post is fairly reasonable but for some of you commenters, Talk about reaching. Your ivory tower approach to solving the problems of this world tries to condemn the President for saying "I don't know the facts of the situation you describe.” This was a set up question for the reporter to try and get the President to say something so that the reporter could then scream “HYPOCRISY” on the evening news. I believe the President, in his address last week, said every case/country will be different and that the US will stand with you when you stand for your freedom. He never said we are going to invade you and force you to stand up for yourselves. And, it is not good policy to debate individual cases with the press.
Freedom is on the march. Will there be setbacks? Yes there will. Do investors abandon the market when the DOW has a bad day? No absolutely not. Do we abandon the push and pressure on governments regarding human rights and individual liberties because of one or even many incidents? No we do not but we also do not tell ABC/CBS/FOX and National Review for that matter everything we are doing and saying to governments, third parties and special envoys

Posted by: dan from cos | Jan 27, 2005 5:48:29 PM

Hussein ? you mean Abdullah I think. Hussein was his father...

Posted by: Suresh | Jan 27, 2005 5:55:21 PM

Freedom is on the march. Will there be setbacks? Yes there will. Do investors abandon the market when the DOW has a bad day? No absolutely not.

You know who you remind me of?

Posted by: Dan | Jan 27, 2005 5:56:06 PM

One could argue that the US needs to keep its powder dry and use its precious limited influence on Jordan only for the most admirable cases (a "Rosa parks" strategy).

That is exactly my argument. If the ACLU only had the resources to pursue one of two cases: either defending Nazis' rights to march on Skokie or defending an interracial couple's right to marry, would it be hypocritical to choose the interracial couple?

Our influence IS limited. Let's use it where it can do us the most good.

Posted by: Al | Jan 27, 2005 6:01:24 PM

Let the wonker promote freedom in this country--probably best done if he places himself in home detention (Crawford) and burns at the stake the rest of his wierd cult.

Posted by: Dr Wu -I'm just an ordinary guy | Jan 27, 2005 6:07:11 PM

Al:

Our influence IS limited. Let's use it where it can do us the most good.

So let me understand you: Our influence is limited, so the President shouldn't open his mouth and offend a friendly despot. But when Saudis attack us 9/11 and their leaders hide in Pakistan, we have plenty of influence, and troops, to pursue our old ally, Saddam, in Iraq, leaving the cesspool of Wahhabism in Saudi to fester.

Al apparently believes we should stand up for freedom everywhere, except when it wouldn't be expedient. No loss of influence, money, men, etc. in invading Iraq.

Posted by: epistemology | Jan 27, 2005 6:19:18 PM

Leave Al, alone. He is trolling. Let's be honest. There are two issues here. 1) Does the US have the ability and power to influence the governments of the world that are not "free", whatever that means? 2) Will the decision to use said power result in creating a more free society?

You can apply this to each situation.

1) China. We don't have the power to force them to do anything really. As such we can't make their society freer at this point.

2) Jordan and Egypt. We have financial power and political capital in both places. Can we effect change by exerting that power? I do not think so. For the reason that Matt stated: The gov't will face rebellion for appeasing our gov't and become weaker. Thus reducing our power and probably freedom.

It just ain't that easy. The point is that the President is not willing to use this power in any situation I can think of that will lead to a more free society.

Craig

Posted by: Craig Press | Jan 27, 2005 6:28:56 PM

Actually, Craig, i don't think Al is trolling, i think he is enabling.

The point, Al ol' buddy, isn't that we shouldn't be selective: the point is that george bush shouldn't give inaugural speeches in which he denies selectivity makes any sense and - with great "vision" - says that we will support liberty et al everywhere.

If Bush had merely delivered an intelligently constructed speech rooted in policy about freedom, liberty, the rule of law, markets, and how america should continue to regard these as priorities and use our influence to advance them since it's in our own self-interest, we wouldn't have to have this discussion.

But he didn't: he read a Michael Gerson values-a-thon that was disconnected with authentic reality (as no less a bush enabler than peggy noonan recognized) and now, as he has sown, so he shall reap (see, gerson ain't the only one who can throw around biblical allusions)....

Posted by: howard | Jan 27, 2005 7:53:42 PM

"This was a set up question for the reporter to try and get the President to say something so that the reporter could then scream “HYPOCRISY” on the evening news."

No. It's called journalism; it's about asking the tough questions, far too rare in Washington these days.


Posted by: sofia | Jan 27, 2005 8:39:12 PM

Freedom is on the march

Freedom does not march. it is neither a soldier nor a high school band member.

Posted by: cleek | Jan 27, 2005 8:49:56 PM

I'm not sure that the posting to which Al links could be fairly described as a "debunking". But it's certainly typical of the difference between the leftist and rightist weblogs.

Matt just regurgitates the conventional wisdom, using it largely for a partisan bitchslap while the CQ guy actually brings some useful information and perspective to the discussion.

Posted by: am | Jan 27, 2005 9:11:40 PM

But it's certainly typical of the difference between the leftist and rightist weblogs.

thank you! that was the funniest thing i've read all day (well, next to the fools trying to defend LGF over at ObWi). now i can retire for the evening with a smile on my face.

Posted by: cleek | Jan 27, 2005 10:46:45 PM

Limited resources to say "leave this guy alone?"

It costs us nothing.

Posted by: praktike | Jan 27, 2005 11:23:29 PM

"King Hussein, of course, is dead, and thus not taking any chances."

Indeed, but in a bizarre and vaguely perverse way it raises an interesting question. With all these self-professed mediums running about, is there anything in the constitution that prevents a dead man from running for president? I mean couldn't we hire like Psychic John Edward (no doubt a distant cousin of Rocker Tommy Lee) to channel FDR for us?

Posted by: Green Dem | Jan 28, 2005 4:01:38 AM

While I think it's right to be constrained at some level by an appreciation of what you can actually accomplish, I think MAtt had it right in his closing:


"Hussein and Mubarak might prefer to take their chances as autocrats without US support than to maintain the support but risk losing power internally. But if that's the case, it would be worth our while to force that choice on them and not wind up getting blamed for their misdeeds."

Even if we don't have a lot of leverage over a country, it's still in our interests to put what diplomatic pressure on them that we can. Part of our problem in the Middle East is exactly this hypocrisy--we talk about democracy and freedom and then happily cozy up to dictators and repressive governments when it's conveninet to do so. People there aren't stupid and notice this, and hence we have zero credibility for good intentions in cases (however rare) where we might actually have them.

Nobody hates us because we're free. But there's a decent chunk of people who hate us (at least in part) because they're not free, and we support the governments that keep them in chains.

Posted by: Doug Turnbull | Jan 28, 2005 8:42:56 AM

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