Archive for the ‘Democracy Promotion’ category

American Indifference

April 18, 2007

Since Sunday night PBS has treated viewers to a stunning series of documentary films that examine big themes and ideas that define our post-9/11 world. Last night featured a documentary titled “The Case for War” and the premise was that we would go along with Richard Perle as he travelled from Washington to Kabul to Kosovo to London and back again, meeting with his critics and supporters every step along the way.

The film was fascinating, even though Perle was often disappointingly inarticulate (in the role of protagonist) and tone deaf in his responses to grieving mothers and intellectual foes (Pat Buchanan, Richard Holbrooke, Simon Jenkins, among others). Furthermore, his gravely monotone voice, seeming inability to smile, and penguin like appearance all make him a rather unattractive spokesman for his cause. These qualities feed the stereotyped characterization of him as the “Prince of Darkness” (which, if memory serves, is actually a nickname that has stuck to him by mistake. When Perle served as Reagan’s point man on nuclear negotiations with the Soviets he was a frequent presence in the halls of Congress. As it happens, a certain other white-haired, slightly obese, prickly conservative was also known to stalk these halls. Both men carry the nickname “Prince of Darkness,” but I think it originally belonged to Novak — but I digress…).

When I clicked-off my television last night I could only think that Perle had changed few minds over the course of the previous hour (the rather dismissive review from Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times suggests the same.) Chief among my complaints about the film is how the term “neoconservative” is used. Not a minute is spent defining the widely misunderstood word. Granted, to move down this road risks getting the producers stuck in a complex morass that might trigger many viewer’s eyes to roll back into their heads, or simply reach for their remotes, but in such a case I suspect they would have been better off not using the tricky term at all. It obfuscates more than it clarifies.

My other take-away brings me back to familiar stomping grounds. The utterly unpersuasive case Perle musters in the documentary reinforces what Niall Stange in the current issue of The New York Observer calls “The Tragic Death of Enlightened Interventionism.” Stange digs up some excerpts from a speech Tony Blair delivered a few weeks after 9/11.

“The starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of Northern Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan: They too are our cause,” Mr. Blair said. “This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.”

Was Blair’s rhetoric a bit grandiose? Sure. Is it depressing that this speech reads to many across the political spectrum as an easily dismissed parody of American (and British) foreign policy? Absolutely. (Just ask Joe Biden)

Kosovo and the Democratic Party

April 13, 2007


Peter Beinart has a pretty smart column in the new issue of the new (and much improved) TIME magazine about the future of Democratic Party foreign policy. (I offer this praise despite the unfortunate Prince reference that closes the piece). Beinart dials back the clock to 1999 and the non-UN sanctioned fight a US-UK NATO-led coalition waged against Slobodan Milosevic. It was around the success of this venture that Tony Blair articulated what he deemed his “doctrine of international community” – and what others termed “The Blair Doctrine.” Beinart describes it thus:

In a globalized world, bad things that happen in other countries spread more quickly to our shores. Genocides spawn refugees, who destabilize their neighbors. Corruption sparks financial meltdowns, which rock the world economy. Pandemics hopscotch across the globe. Blair’s answer was for Britain and the U.S., working through international institutions, to intervene more aggressively in the domestic affairs of other nations: to strengthen their financial and public-health systems, to push them toward capitalism and democracy, and in cases of extreme neglect and abuse, to take over the nation-building process by force.

Much of the Democratic Party foreign-policy elite (Holbrooke, Albright, Lake, etc.) more or less subscribe to this premise. The problem: a large part of the base of the Democratic Party does not. Beinart cites some compelling German Marshall Fund polling to prove his point that Democrats are turning inward. The heroes of the grassroots left are people like Virginia Senator James Webb who believes the U.S. should “send American forces into harm’s way only if the nation is directly threatened.”(It should be noted that others sketched some of the contours of this trend a year or so ago.)

Beinart basically punts when it comes to prescription. But his body of work suggests that he is pulling for the Blairite vision to prevail. All of this underscores the fundamental tension that sits at the heart of the Democratic Party: Will the radical excesses of the Bush era be confronted by the radical excesses of a left all too hasty to abandon anything that might be (inaccurately, most often) tarred as neoconservative? Or will it be met with a measured response that begins the work of resuscitating the legitimacy of the very liberal principles that have been soegregiously abused and debased by this president?

Rogue Aid

February 15, 2007

Rather lazy for a blogger to just cannibalize off the New York Times op-ed page but this piece by Foreign Policy editor (and interviewee of yours truly) Moisés Naím describes an emerging and disturbing trend in international relations so adeptly and succinctly, it’s worth all the gnawing on the Grey Lady’s bones. Filthy-Lucre Quote:

“In recent years, wealthy nondemocratic regimes have begun to undermine development policy through their own activist aid programs. Call it rogue aid. It is development assistance that is nondemocratic in origin and nontransparent in practice, and its effect is typically to stifle real progress while hurting ordinary citizens.”

Further cash-money quote:

“States like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have the cash and the will to reshape the world into a place very unlike the one where we want to live. By pushing their alternative development model, such states effectively price responsible aid programs out of the market exactly where they are needed most. In place of those programs, rogue donors offer to underwrite a world that is more corrupt, chaotic and authoritarian. That sort of aid is in no one’s interest, except the rogues.”

Neo-Realism on the Left

February 6, 2007

I do not think most of us grasp just how dramatically the Iraq War has upended the traditional schools of thought when it comes to formulating American foreign policy. Occasionally I come across little bits of information – a poll, a quote, a conversation – that makes my jaw drop and my mind reel. I had one such moment yesterday while reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest Washington dispatch for The New Yorker.

In the piece, which focuses on the lonesome world of Joe Lieberman, Chris Dodd is quoted as saying:

“I’m in the Brent Scowcroft school, the world as it is.” Once, this would have been a surprising statement, particularly to Brent Scowcroft, who might be called a Republican fatalist. But Dodd said that the last four years had been “sobering” for him. “I’d love to see a democratic Middle East,” he said. “But you’ve got to be a coherent society before you can be a democracy.” In the absence of weapons of mass destruction, “If you came to the country and said, ‘This guy’s a bad guy, we want to invade his country,’ I could not justify the loss of three thousand Americans for this, as much as I disliked Saddam.”

Let us not gloss over the significance of this. Chris Dodd, liberal democrat and (admittedly quixotic) candidate for the Democratic  presidential nomination in 2008, is positioning himself as being in the “Brent Scowcroft school.” Jim Hoagland put it best a few months back in The Washington Post when it comes to analyzing the resurgence of realist thinking in Washington:

Only the incompetence and discord of the past three years could cause reasonable people to welcome back with applause policymakers who failed to anticipate and then opposed the breakup of the Soviet Union; who were not realistic enough to see, much less prevent, the Balkans from plunging into flames; and who ‘coddled dictators from Beijing to Baghdad,’ as the Democrats once accurately described the handiwork of Brent Scowcroft, Bob Gates and Jim Baker under Bush 41.

This upcoming election will be fascinating on a variety of levels (and we will have a lot of time to revel in our fascination) but I am most interested in seeing how far Democratic candidates have to retreat from an internationalist, pro-democratization foreign policy to win the support of the party base.

Weighty Matters

August 23, 2006

The king and absolute ruler of the smattering of titchy islands that make up the tiny nation of Tonga, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV – once listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most massive monarch at 462 pounds – lies on his (presumably sagging) death bed in a New Zealand hospital. Tonga’s citizens, who are required to crawl on hands and knees before their Jabba-like sovereign, are preparing for the 88-year old’s demise with the same trepidation as they would “if the Sun should fall.”

The heir to the throne of this gun-running and court-jester be-bilked country of impoverished fishermen and women is a charming, Oxford-educated (natch) fellow named Tupouto, who controls Tonga’s national beer company, its cellular phone company, its electricity company, and its cable television company, and once referred to his subjects as “squatters who would urinate in elevators” (not sure if he controls the elevator company).

Crown Prince Tupouto feasts on caviar and champagne, scrubbing up with water from his gold taps as he awaits his ascension to the apex of a feudal system that provides him absolute power and his people the opportunity to grovel. Strangely enough, Tongans are a mite miffed, with 10,000 of them streaming onto the streets last year to demand democracy, not to mention a reduction in the rate of bowing and scraping. Small-d supports the good people of Tonga in their struggle and wishes them well.

Owning Up to Our Own Taint

July 16, 2006

It has become an article of faith in certain circles that the United States must pursue a more robust policy of regime change in Tehran. Chastened by the difficulties in Iraq, the conventional line is that we must do more to support the reform elements battling against the Islamic government. This view was articulated today by Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe:

Our aim instead should be to empower Iran’s restive population, which is largely pro-Western and moderate. Give them as much support as possible, much as the Reagan administration did for Lech Walesa and Solidarity in Poland — and let them find the means to reclaim their government for themselves.

This is all well and fine, but I often get the sense that Jacoby and others of his ilk, have no sense of how deeply skeptical even Middle East liberals are of American intentions these days. As Fareed Zakaria has noted, in the Arab world today, “the easiest way to sideline a reform is to claim that it is pro-American.” I would venture to add that the legitimacy of any reform movement in Iran would be very much undermined by the disclosure that it is being funded by the United States.

I do not question the need to vigorously support the forces of decency and liberalism in the Arab world, but we must do so cognizant of our present taint.

Neoconservatives Hold Bush’s Feet to the Fire

July 12, 2006

A few days ago, I wrote briefly about the perception that the Bush administration is retreating from the bold democracy promotion agenda articulated most famously in his second inaugural address.

Max Boot has a column in the Los Angeles Times today that harps on some of the same points, but he focuses his ire on the Bush administration’s decision to coddle the regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. It is worth a read on its own merits, but also as evidence of a very interesting schism on the right that has slowly been building steam as the Iraq War continues to falter. The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 has been associated with neoconservatism more than any other party or creed in American political life. I have long argued that most people who have taken to using the term in recent years have little to no understanding of what neoconservatism in fact is. That being said, it will be fascinating to see how effectively neoconservative positions are represented within the Republican Party in the years to come.