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Beyond Hawks and Doves

Back when I was on Kudlow and Company ten days ago or whatever, Jeff Jarvis said something about how he was "scared of" Howard Dean's foreign policy and I was asked to respond. I said something about how I think the next few years are going to see the emergence of some new foreign policy issues on which neither I nor anyone else really knows what Dean's views are. It being television, I naturally enough didn't have a chance to explain what I mean, but it's worth spelling out.

One notable element about the recent mild reforms in Egypt is that the Muslim Brotherhood, thought by many to be Egypt's most powerful opposition grouping, won't be allowed to compete. One very big question facing us in the next few years is what to we think about things like that. I think it's a bad thing. I wouldn't support the Muslim Brotherhood, or the United Iraqi Alliance, or any other Islamist political party. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it's very important that Islamist political parties -- including anti-American ones, and including ones whose policy views I find generally abhorrant -- be allowed to compete for power in the Muslim world. To me, in fact, it would be the opportunity for such groups to gain power through the political process that is the big reason to think political reform could help combat terrorism.

I'm not going to defend that view at the moment.

Rather, I'd just like to note that it's a view I adhere to. It's a view that a lot of other people on the left adhere to. It's also a view that a lot of people on the right (Reuel Marc Gerecht and Eli Lake to name a couple) adhere to. And it's a view that a lot of people on the left think is wrong. A lot of people on the right think it's wrong, too. And most people -- on the right, on the left, and in the middle -- haven't thought about it at all. What does Howard Dean think about this? I don't know. What does George Bush think? I don't know. Peter Beinart? Don't know. Rich Lowry? Don't know. But it's a very important question.

All of which is just to say that there's a lot on the table besides whether you're a hawk or a dove. This isn't really even a question of whether you're an idealist or a realist. Democracy -- the free choice of governments -- is an ideal. But so is liberalism. Defining the national interest is a complicated empirical problem. My hope would be that with the next presidential election a long way off, we can have a public debate about some of these questions that goes beyond a simple one-dimensional spectrum of left to right.

February 27, 2005 | Permalink


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Tracked on Feb 28, 2005 5:01:39 PM


I want to suspend Godwin's rule for a minute, though I don't think I'm about to violate it.

As I understand it, Germany has allowed Nazis to run candidates, but when they got over 5%, enough for seats in Parliament, the decision was made to exclude them.

This is a question for Germans to answer, given its history. But what of a political movement that has not yet nearly destroyed the world? Give nihilistic jihadism a chance?

Posted by: Peter | Feb 27, 2005 10:42:32 PM

"My hope would be that with the next presidential election a long way off, we can have a public debate about some of these questions that goes beyond a simple one-dimensional spectrum of left to right."


expect to find politicians and journalists dressed up together as soldiers. marching drums in the background. expect to have commercial endorsements for star pundits and cameos in music videos. expect secretary of defense schwarzenegger. expect a congressional all-star celebrity battle. expect a municipal election hosted by geraldo rivera over a season-long reality tv program.

but don't expect a public debate.

Posted by: PartisanJ | Feb 27, 2005 10:52:31 PM

Given the example Peter gave about Germany, I agree that there should be some room for the country's particular context to influence the decision of whether to allow a party to run. But generalizing from the German experience is a dangerous thing. A very particular confluence of events and circumnstances allowed the Nazis to rise, and while that experience should give us all pause, it can't be generalized too broadly, either.

I also think it's helpful to allow some of the more conservative Islamist parties to run. It deprives them of the mantle of victimhood, and if they gain some power, if forces them to assume some responsibility instead of merely throwing rocks from the outside. Maybe the line can be drawn at parties that advocate the use of terrorism or have carried out such acts in the past, or some other explicit criteria. But simply banning parties because they advocate an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam or the implementation of Sharia would undermine the credibility of democratic reforms. One of the reasons (thought not the onlye one by any means) that extremism thrives in the MIddle East is political repression. Allowing some sort of escape valve for that pent-up anger, in the form of political participation by conservative Islamist parties, seems to me like a healthy thing.

Matthew, why do you even bother appearing on TV?

Posted by: Luis | Feb 27, 2005 11:13:35 PM

There are so many scenarios. There's the Turkish model, whereby the army guarantees the continuation of a secular democracy for the long term, even if that means overturning the popular will at one particular moment. That 'works' in Turkey'; in Algeria, that led to a still-ongoing civil war.

The most organised groups in these countries are always going to be radical in character. Does having to take charge of the sewers as a governing power moderate them? Possibly. Does the US have the collective will to give such potentially anti-democratic, yet populist forces the time to be shaped by power -- without interference? Well, we may find out in Iraq, for starters. And that's definitely something that Jeff fucking Jarvis hasn't considered.

Posted by: ahem | Feb 27, 2005 11:20:53 PM

All of which is just to say that there's a lot on the table besides whether you're a hawk or a dove. This isn't really even a question of whether you're an idealist or a realist. Democracy -- the free choice of governments -- is an ideal. But so is liberalism.

Is it really a liberal idealist position to exclude the muslim brotherhood from the political process? It seems to me that a liberal idealist would want to give everyone the right to participate in the political process. It is pragmatists, who want as liberal a state as possible in the near term, who would want to exclude some parties from political participation.

To me, in fact, it would be the opportunity for [extremist islamic groups] to gain power through the political process that is the big reason to think political reform could help combat terrorism.

Are you sure this is right? Didn't the Algerian government deligitmize radical islamists by excluding them from the political process while allowing moderate muslim groups to participate. I'm no expert on Algeria, but this seemed to have worked to undermine their popular support and deligitimize their acts of violence in the eyes of the Algerian people. Perhaps the same could happen in Egypt.

Posted by: WillieStyle | Feb 27, 2005 11:25:41 PM

Well, I read the Gerecht article, and I recognize the radical change that a democratic or republican ummah..well maybe I don't quite, for it seems authoritarianism and tribalism is as intrinsic to Islam as it is to Confucianism.

If on pragmatic foreign policy grounds, the really Islamist nations are at best a wash...Saudi Arabia very aggressive in proselytization, Iran less so, but still interested in its neighbors. Is the theory that a democratic Islamist nation will turn inward like the Taliban?

Or is the idea that the fundamentalist will fail at governance and discredit themselves? With the powers of a nation-state, they can do a lot of damage on the way out.

And in any case, gonna take a lot of justification to make me feel good about the 14-year old girl given to a harem and locked in purdah til she dies.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 27, 2005 11:32:43 PM

Fuck, the powers that be can't even tolerate a bit of mild socialism.

They'll NEVER tolerate any sort of outright anti-Western descent.

Posted by: Karmakin | Feb 27, 2005 11:32:45 PM

The fact that our host would be expected to have ESP about Dr. Dean's foreign policy is the most troubling part of this whole post.

WTF does the fundraiser in chief of polical party have to do with foreign policy except support that espoused by the elected representatives of his/her party. Why isn't anybody asking Jonah Goldberg about Ken Mehlman's foreign policy?

Aside from that, Matt makes a very good point.

Irish/British terror has subsided due in large part to democratic inclusion of the political elements of the IRA. It is certainly possible that Islamic extremists who actually have a bite at the political apple will curb violence. However i would not bet the farm on it. Caution is surely prudent.

Posted by: def | Feb 27, 2005 11:55:45 PM

Eeew, this blog is all the more greasy with the mention of Jeff Jarvis' name.

Posted by: jerry | Feb 28, 2005 12:16:56 AM

I think it's a good question, and I think it depends on the Islamist parties commitment to democracy.

If they are planning to do "one man, one vote, one time." then they have to be excluded. If they gain the apparatus of the state, they will turn it into a repressive theocracy with no further elections.

But if it's like the United Iraqi Alliance, or the Turkish Islamist party, committed to democracy, then let them have their temporary theocracy(depending on how big their majority is).

The main thing is that they have to be willing to go before the people again after a set period and ask to be reelected. That's non-negotiable.

It's a universal rule in democracy: all parties participating must be committed to the democratic process.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Feb 28, 2005 12:26:58 AM

Guess what? It isn't up to us to say.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Posted by: am | Feb 28, 2005 12:32:30 AM

Does Howard Dean have a foreign policy? If so, why? He doesn't need one as DNC chair.

Posted by: Deborah White | Feb 28, 2005 12:36:45 AM

If China's economy continues to grow under communism, it will call into question whether democracy is needed for a high standard of living...

Posted by: monkyboy | Feb 28, 2005 12:43:01 AM

When I suggested on another blog that Howard Dean is not the official mouthpiece of the Democratic Party, but is in charge of organizing the Democatic support in the states, I was booed off the blog! I suppose if I had also suggested that Dean's foreign policy and his domestic policy were irrelevant I would have been lynched. Dean's two major "enemies" are the Republicans and the Deaniacs, in my opinion.

Posted by: Vaughn Hopkins | Feb 28, 2005 12:47:15 AM

Matt Yglesias said: "My hope would be that with the next presidential election a long way off, we can have a public debate about some of these questions..."

Yeah, about that 2008 race being a long way off, tell it to the press. Yahoo news politics section currently has the following top stories:

"Governors Eye 2008 Race Amid Policy Talks"
"Schwarzenegger Shrugs Off Presidential Bid"
"Clinton: Hillary Would Be Great President"
"Biden: Clinton Hard to Beat in 2008 Race"

Posted by: Ricky Barnhart | Feb 28, 2005 2:34:55 AM

What would be wrong with this foreign policy: negotiate trade agreements while keeping your paws off foreigners' internal affairs and let international organizations worry about foreign democracy? IOW, do onto others as you would have them do onto you. I hope this is Dean fraction's favorite foreign policy.

Posted by: abb1 | Feb 28, 2005 3:14:40 AM

abb1, is Taiwan a Chinese internal problem? What standard do we use for Israel & Palestine? What do we do about an Afganistan-type situation (known, state-supported terrorist training camps, pre 9/11)?

Posted by: Mario | Feb 28, 2005 4:10:20 AM

Of course, there are no easy answers to this problem but there are a few principles that should guide any discussion. First, entry to the political process should have few barriers and fewer gatekeepers. The underlying premise of most democracy proponents is that once you bring heretofore radical or violent groups into a democratic process, the process itself tends to smooth down the edges and make them less radical and less violent. Second, the democratic process itself, not electoral outcomes, should be our concern. Ensuring to the extent possible that all participants play be the rules, have a level playing field, a transparent process, etc. is the goal of prodemocracy practitioners, not the create a process designed to elect candidate X or Y. Giving radical or violent groups a means to power that is peaceful, governed by fixed rules, and which they must endorse a the price of admission can have very surpriseing moderating effects.

Posted by: dmh | Feb 28, 2005 4:21:51 AM

you comply with the international law, applied impartially and equally, i.e.: Iraqi occupation of Kuwait is treated exactly the same way as Israeli occupation of Palestine, Sinai, Lebanon and the Golans; US terrorist traning camps are addressed in the same way as the Afghan ones are, etc. Law and order instead of hypocrisy, bullying and vigilantism.

Posted by: abb1 | Feb 28, 2005 4:33:07 AM


There has been a long-running civil war in Turkey because of the army's policies. I'm not sure that you can call that "working". It is only with the marginalization of the Turkish army and its control over the state that the civil war has died down.


Israel doesn't occupy the Sinai. Palestine is not a sovereign nation, and Jordan has relinquished all claim to the West Bank and signed a peace treaty with Israel, so in international law, there is not an equivalence between Kuwait and the West Bank.

Notice also that this position of yours seems to imply that people should have done little about apartheid South Africa or the Baltic states or Burma or Pol Pot in Cambodia, since these were all internal matters. Interestingly, if we recognized Taiwan as an independent sovereign country, then we could meddle there as much as we like, for example.

Posted by: Hektor Bim | Feb 28, 2005 9:01:43 AM

Fascinating data point on human behaviour: all the Radical Right has to do is say "on topic A, person X scares me" or "person Y isn't serious", and suddenly X and Y are scary and not serious respectively. And there seems to be nothing X and Y can then do to shake off those labels, no argument they can make that anyone will listen to, absolutely nothing they can say - once the Radicals utter the magic words.

Why is that? And why don't we have equivalent magic words we can use to paralyze key members of the Radical Right?


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Feb 28, 2005 9:55:39 AM

Why is that? And why don't we have equivalent magic words we can use to paralyze key members of the Radical Right?

Because people are not attracted to leftist positions out of a need for simplification.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Feb 28, 2005 10:03:27 AM

Back to Peter's point early on, I think one of the big differences between an "Islamist" and a "jihadist" is that the latter doesn't have an effective political process available to him.

Which I guess is another way of saying I agree with Yglesias.

I don't find Islamist parties much more disagreeable than the Christian Coalition, and I can't really imagine anyone's cutting them off at 5% if they formed their own party. Oh, but America has democracy deeply ingrained in its political culture. After the 2000 elections & four years of W., permit me to doubt.

Posted by: Anderson | Feb 28, 2005 10:54:43 AM

Besides, the selection of Hitler as chancellor & the Nazi plurality in the Reichstag wasn't what brough Germany down. It was the emergency-powers clause in the Weimar constitution and the utter lack of political resistance to Hitler. I rather doubt that Germany has anything to fear from a Nazi party today. It's probably more p.r. on the government's part: Nazi marchers on CNN, etc.

Posted by: Anderson | Feb 28, 2005 10:56:46 AM

The Muslim Brotherhood? According to the Washington Post, amongst its members:

Founders of Hamas

Founders of Al Quaeda

Khalid Sheik Mohammed, architect of Sep. 11.

Ayman Zawahiri, now Osama bin Laden's deputy.

Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 of plotting to blow up New York landmarks.

Youssef Nada, who has created a vast financial network that funds al Qaeda, Hamas and Algeria's Armed Islamic Group -- one of Nada's key aides has been a Holocaust revisionist from Switzerland, Ahmed Huber -- one of many neo-Nazis who helped the Ikhwan set up its financial structure.

From wikipedia: An important aspect of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology is the sanctioning of Jihad such as the 2004 fatwa issued by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi making it a religious obligation of Muslims to abduct and kill USA citizens in Iraq.

Many experts believe that the Muslim Brotherhood has direct or indirect ties to almost every modern islamist terrorist organization in the world.

So once they are a part of the political process, will you see an increase or decrease in state-sponsored terrorism?

Posted by: Utt | Feb 28, 2005 12:07:41 PM

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