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I Agree!

I'm not a big fan of David Brooks' New York Times columns, but I've heard him speak in public on several occassions and chatted with him once and in all of those instances he said lots of very insightful things. It's a bit odd. Now he sends Andrew Sullivan email:

Two great things have happened in Beirut recently. First the opposition came out on the streets for a series of peaceful rallies. Then on Tuesday Hizbollah came out with peaceful rallies. Many people are treating the latter as setbacks for democracy. But in reality, they are democracy. It's not only the people who we agree with who get to vote and mobilize. It's everybody. In the Arab world there are going to be plenty of anti-American parties. If these parties' first instinct is to try to rally public opinion and not unleash armies, that's great. This is in a country where people used to kill each other, over such things, remember. Now they are rallying. This is part of what Wolfowitz was working for.
I don't really know what Wolfowitz is or is not working for, but I think the rest of that is 100 percent correct, and displays a far, far, far more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the relevant issues than have his Lebanon columns. So why can't he write this stuff in his columns? This is what the American people -- and especially the American right -- needs to hear. Political reform isn't all happy-go-lucky "democracy, whiskey, sexy" we heart USA + Israel kind of stuff. But it's still worth hoping for and pushing for where we get the chance.

March 9, 2005 | Permalink

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» The March of Freedom from Hellblazer
So, today's pro-Syrian rally is at least double the number of the anti-Syrian rally that forced the resignation of the government last week. So what's up? How are we to count this? By the number of babes in the photos?... [Read More]

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» Democracy Freestyle! from Politics and War
Over the last weeks, an interesting back-and-forth kind of dialogue has developed over the situation in Syria. It's gone roughly like this: Good News: Democracy may, in fact, be on the march in Syria. Bush's strategy worked! Bad News: Pro-Syrian,... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 12, 2005 6:21:42 PM

Comments

dude, he totally stole that from the head heeb, though.

Posted by: praktike | Mar 9, 2005 1:26:47 PM

In the Arab world there are going to be plenty of anti-American parties. If these parties' first instinct is to try to rally public opinion and not unleash armies, that's great.

For a US government official to advance interests of opponents of the US government (such as the Hizbollah) is simply criminal, it's a garden variety case of treason.

Mr. Wolfowitz should quit his government position and go work for the Hizbollah.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 9, 2005 1:27:26 PM

Because of people like Wolfowitz and Brooks were appeasing Hitler, 6 million Jews died.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 9, 2005 1:43:11 PM

I don't agree at all.

I can equally point out, that one of the reasons the demonstrations were peaceful was that Syrian troops have imposed order for the past 10 years. The other reason is that the country got exhausted after a very bloody civil war.

Moreover, however lyrical Brookes may get about democracy in Lebanon, the reasons that started the civil war 30 years ago -mainly the unworkability of the political institutions who are also unable to respond to demographic changes- haven't gone away. They still need to be solved and there's no easy solution. Therefore, various degrees of violence, or even a civil war are not out of the cards in the future.

More importantly, the Bush doctrine and actions are irrelevant to that problem.

Last but not least, like the logic that said "if they are attacking us in the streets of Baghdad, it's better than fighting them in New York" it's just another example of a black is white sophistry that has been particularly prevalent on the conservative side these past few years.

Posted by: Nick Kaufman | Mar 9, 2005 1:44:02 PM

Brooks is a big yawn. As everybody knows, one of the fundmental problems in Lebanon is that the electoral system is rigged so that Christians get 50% of the seats in Parliament and Muslims get 50% of the seats in Parliament even though Christians are clearly a minority, and that is what is fundmentally anti-democratic about the Lebanon political system (not the Syria problem). Until that problem is solved, the demonstrations by both sides will continue without the underlying problem being solved. And there doesn't seem to be any way to solve the problem peacefully.

Posted by: Dan the Man | Mar 9, 2005 1:46:46 PM

actually, dan the man, that IS the peaceful solution.

Posted by: praktike | Mar 9, 2005 1:50:56 PM

Do the events of the last few days in Lebanon change the tone of things for the author of lead-off post? ( That'd be Matt, I believe.)

Posted by: Yusef Hydrogaster | Mar 9, 2005 1:52:08 PM

Such thoughts do not appear in his NYT columns because he, like Robert Novak, is more concerned with carrying water for the GOP than in presenting reasonable opinion pieces. The recent gloating by conservatives over developments in the Middle East is significant for the ignorance of the region (and democracy) it displays, and the extremes to which some will go to proclaim, "Bush was right." After a forest fire, new growth occurs. That fact does not vindicate the camper who carelessly discarded a lit cigarette to start the blaze, and whose ex post facto excuse was a desire to re-green the area.

Posted by: Bodini | Mar 9, 2005 2:32:23 PM

It wasnt a forest, it was a swamp.

Posted by: Nudnik | Mar 9, 2005 2:37:36 PM

My problem with Brooks is this statement, "If these parties' first instinct is to try to rally public opinion and not unleash armies, that's great." Brooks may have missed the part where the leader of Hezbollah proclaimed in front of these demonstrators that they can get more done by armed resistence than by political negotiations. Ahem.

Remember, the Nazis had pieces of flair, that they made the Jews where.

Posted by: Adrock | Mar 9, 2005 2:40:26 PM

One complication: President Lahoud just announced that he will reappoint PM Karami. That's right. Everybody was all aglitter in hope when the Cedarites took down an Arab Prime Minister. Now a week later he is being appointed again.

Dan the man is absolutely right about the National Pact. But first there must be a new census. There hasn't been one since 1932 and the Shi'ites are the plurality. Either do a new census or get rid of the ethnic-based National Pact that got Lebanon into trouble before.

Posted by: Elrod | Mar 9, 2005 2:47:50 PM

One complication: President Lahoud just announced that he will reappoint PM Karami.

Meet the new boss, literally the same as the old boss.

Posted by: cmdicely | Mar 9, 2005 3:47:07 PM

Re: As everybody knows, one of the fundmental problems in Lebanon is that the electoral system is rigged so that Christians get 50% of the seats in Parliament and Muslims get 50% of the seats in Parliament even though Christians are clearly a minority, and that is what is fundmentally anti-democratic about the Lebanon political system

Over-representation of minorities is a common solution to the problem of tyranny-by-majority and it is not necessarily anti-democratic. Democracy after all does not just mean “majority rule” it also means “human rights”, inclduing the rights of a minority. We need to remember that US Senate overrepresents sparsely populated states, and that an unelected Supreme Court has the power to nullfy down the actiosn of all other governmentral entities. Few of us, I think, would be happy to life under a purely majoritarian state.

Posted by: JonF | Mar 9, 2005 3:50:54 PM

JonF-
Do you really think it's a mistake to conflate democracy and majoritarianism? Actually, the question is whether or not it's a conflation at all. In practice, it tends to be true that Democracy means "human rights," but it doesn't mean that in theory. I take it that the human rights stuff is part of the meaning of the qualifier of "liberal" before democracy when people use the term "liberal democracy." You seem to be defining "illiberal democracy" out of existence.

Posted by: washerdreyer | Mar 9, 2005 5:24:01 PM

Matt:

Of course everything in Lebanon is not fixed because of the demonstrations. But Syria has occupied Lebanon for twenty years and had no intention of leaving, making Lebanon a psuedo state that was in reality part of a greater Syria.The fact that everyone gives Syria credit for keeping the peace ignores the fact that they contributed to getting the civil war started.

The UN passed a resolution asking Syria to leave Lebanon and like most UN resolutions Syria used it as toilet paper and the UN put it in with the other ignored resolutions trash can.I give most of the credit to the Lenabese people who saw one of their beloved leaders blown up and decided they had enough of being under the thumb of Syria. But it helps that France and the US are putting pressure on the Syrians. It signals to the Lebanese that they are not being ignored by the world. It also keeps Syria from crushing the dissent.

Soon after the bombing the L.A.Times printed a op-ed that was titled "Syria- The Devil We Know" It basically took the Pat Buchannon world view that it was better to let Lebannon be held under Syrian rule for the sake of stability. If you are going to adopt Pat's look at foreign policy then don't whine about civil rights, or minority rule nations such as Syria where the Allawites hold there iron fisted rule. If we are going to hold the real politic version of foreign policy then don't protest when american companies cut deals with fascist governments.

Posted by: kevinP | Mar 9, 2005 7:39:52 PM

These are pretty heady days for the White House and its fellow travelers. In Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Ukraine, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia, movements for popular, democratic change seem to rule the day. The wisdom, rightness and prescience of the Bush Doctrine, they say, have been vindicated.

In triumphant and self-congratulatory tones, the President and his allies are taking credit for the sweeping reform throughout the Middle East. President Bush proclaimed, “Freedom is on the march.” The National Review’s Rich Lowry crowed “Bush has put the United States in the right position to encourage and take advantage of democratic irruptions in the region.” And in Time, while “history has yet to yield a verdict on the final outcome”, Charles Krauthammer was not so cautious: “three cheers for the Bush Doctrine.”

It’s too bad there’s no such thing.

For conservatives, the Bush Doctrine is the Rorschach Test as foreign policy paradigm; apparently, it is whatever you see in it. Unfortunately, what the Bush Doctrine has become in the popular imagination is not what how it started life, and certainly not anything that its neoconservative champions would recognize as their own...

For the full article, see:

"The Myth of the Bush Doctrine"

Posted by: Jon | Mar 9, 2005 10:28:08 PM

KevinP, you appear to be wildly misreading the post you're responding to. Matt didn't express anything which would imply the Buchanane-esque views you attribute to him at all.

Posted by: washerdreyer | Mar 9, 2005 11:10:04 PM

"Over-representation of minorities is a common solution to the problem of tyranny-by-majority and it is not necessarily anti-democratic."

Which doesn't change the fact that the Muslims probably won't agree to the pverrepresentation and that the civil war will probably restart unless the Christians give in.

"The fact that everyone gives Syria credit for keeping the peace ignores the fact that they contributed to getting the civil war started."

Although there is no reason to believe that the civil war won't go on as long as the political system does not represent the demographics.

Posted by: Glaivester | Mar 10, 2005 12:36:13 AM

" In practice, it tends to be true that Democracy means "human rights," but it doesn't mean that in theory."

Yes, it does.

Posted by: David Weman | Mar 10, 2005 3:57:24 AM

I don't think it does, either in theory or in practice. Democracy in a broad sense is just one of the mechanism to assure consent of the governed.

A democratically elected government could commit most egregious violations of human rights domestically and/or (more often) abroad; and if a majority of the governed consent - it'll work just fine, in theory and in practice. And it often does.

US democracy upheld slavery for a hundred years and racial segregation for the next hundred years, for chrissake. Not to mention what's now routinely called 'holocaust' of American Indians.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 10, 2005 5:06:13 AM

Oh, yes, and as a born-again monarchist, I should point out that constitutional monarchy has a much better record on human rights: consider Danish king Christian's courage in defending the Danish Jews against the Nazis.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 10, 2005 5:23:25 AM

The Hezbollah demonstrations are democracy only to the extent that the demonstrators are Lebanese, rather than imported Syrian muscle.

The Iraqi interim constitution is designed to offer protection to sizable minorities (actually, to let a Kurd/Sunni alliance stand off most government actions while not letting Kurds or Sunnis alone do so -- obviously this means it is somewhat tuned to the current ethnic mix). We will soon see the test by fire, both of whether this protection can make it into a permanent constitution and of whether it will be sufficient in practice.

If Christians in Lebanon gave up overrepresentation in exchange for some guarantees of individual rights, that would hardly be a disaster.

Posted by: sammler | Mar 10, 2005 8:38:58 AM

Lebanon will never have peace under the confessional system, period. The population mix will always change and nobody wants to conduct a census - none has been done since 1932. The confessional system is actually a disaster in theory too because it tends to favor local sectarian (and in Iraq's case ethnic) divisions over national unity. This is the greatest danger to Iraqi democracy as well. Instead of political parties that disagree on ideological matters, as they do everywhere else in the world, they are merely ethnic/sectarian representative blocs. That is no basis to form a democracy of national unity where the particular groups might be willing to sacrifice their parochial concerns for the good of the nation. A nation as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Posted by: Elrod | Mar 10, 2005 8:56:29 AM

Looking at the general case, it doesn't work in the long run to make special privileges for specific minorities.

Consider the USA, where we made special provision for small states because the small states didn't want to be controlled by large-state majorities. That was fine, then. *Now* we have rhode island with 2% of the senate. I don't particularly begrudge it to them and it hasn't caused big problems, but the original problem is completely outgrown and yet we still maintain it.

And at the same time we didn't make sufficient provision for slave states, so they kept desperately trying to keep to 50% in the senate and eventually we had a civil war over it. It could be argued that we shouldn't have paid attention to the desires of that particular minority, but the general principle applies -- we looked after small states but we didn't look after slave states; the former became irrelevant while the latter led to war.

If you try to take care of specific groups in your constitution then within a hundred years or so the situation will have changed. The groups you tried to protect won't be the ones who need protection.

What if we did something like this -- say we allowed up to four minorities who had permission to block legislation they couldn't stand. It takes 25% of the voters to join an official minority to get that privilege, and it keeps its veto right until its membership drops to less than 25%. That would protect large minorities -- minorities whose composition doesn't have to be prescribed ahead of time.

If 25% is too much, maybe make it 5 groups of 20%? Or three groups of 33%, I don't know where to draw the line.

Isn't something along those lines the way to do it? Usually you'd figure a minority can protect itself because it isn't always in the minority, it bargains its support on peripheral issues for support on its mostimportant things. It's perennial minorities that need to be protected. Like blacks in southern states, where it was widely considered unethical among lawmakers to trade for black votes. Minorities who can organise enough could be given a veto, and who gets it depends on how well they organise and not on who they are.

I can see bad results. Give conservationists a veto and manufacturers a veto and it would be hard to change laws that affect the environment. Sometimes it would have worse results than letting the majority rule.

But how can we protect minorities like christians and slave-owners on the issues where they *ought* to be protected, and not also protect them on the issues where the majority ought to rule?

Posted by: J Thomas | Mar 10, 2005 11:15:24 AM

Elrod,

IT's not confessional, it's consociational democracy.

Otherwise, I tend to agree with you with the important caveat, that the alternative of a majority democracy can be become a form of legalized dictatorship.

THe reason is that in ethnically divided societies, party preferences tend to falla across ethnic group lines and that's a big problem, because unlike regular party preferences. they tend to not change with the same frequency.

In general, a misunderstanding of how difficult and perhaps to a certain extent, unsolvable is the problem of ethnically divided societies is that fuels many of the popular misconceptios.

Ethnically divided societies have been the main source of tension in our world as well. From Northern Ireland, to Yugoslavia , to Iraq, to Lebanon, to Cyprus, people seem to watch crisis after crisis unfold without connecting the dots.

Posted by: Nick Kaufman | Mar 10, 2005 12:22:48 PM

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