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June 18, 2007


Good post. I'd put it differently: I think that we should try to promote democracy, at least when we have a marginally competent administration, but that we should recognize that actually promoting democracy (i.e., taking those actions that have, on balance, the best chance of making democratic reforms possible) does not necessarily involve, and is sometimes flatly inconsistent with, saying that that's our goal.

I am about to say something that is hugely open to misconstruction, but here goes: I think that one can learn a lot about foreign policy, especially how to conduct US foreign policy, by thinking about dealing with adolescents. Here come the caveats: this is not because I think people in other countries are not adults, or anything. It really isn't. It's because of this: other countries are forced to live with us, a bigger more powerful, and (importantly) richer country the way teenagers have to live under the same roof as parents, even though a lot of the time they must just wish we would go away and leave them alone. Annoyingly, we often go around treating other countries as though they just have to listen to us, but we never have to listen to them.

This means, I think, that a lot of dynamics sometimes found in parent/teen relationships also exist in US/other country foreign policy, with the difference that while parents have some claim to be entitled to boss their kids around, we have no such claim on other countries, absent a treaty or some other explicit agreement, and yet we often act as though we do, which must be incredibly annoying. In any case, I think that there are a lot of the same issues about independence, self-esteem, self-respect, and so forth.

In particular, there's this similarity: in both cases, telling the other party that you think s/he should do X is not always a good way of getting him or her to do X. In fact, it can be the single thing most likely to ensure that s/he will never in a million years do X, that s/he will regard the very idea of doing X as irredeemably poisoned or as a horrible capitulation wholly inconsistent with his or her self-respect, etc.

Sometimes I just want to shake this administration, in particular, and say: jeez, if you really want (for instance) Iran to become democratic, don't you see that the single most counterproductive thing you could do, other than conquering and enslaving the entire population of Iran, is to go on about it and funnel money to pro-democracy groups, etc.? Possibly the only good result of the Iranian revolution was that it made it possible to imagine that the Iranians would be able to figure out for themselves what they thought of religious rule, religious freedom, etc., without having to be reacting against us, and Bush went and threw that away.

It's enough to make a girl scream.

And now we're announcing that we're going to cut off Hamas and given the earth to Fatah as a sort of demonstration. That would make sense if Palestinians were rats in a Skinner box and could be conditioned by reward and punishment alone. Rats wouldn't notice the problem with that. People normally do.


(Sorry about the rant.)

Can we stop calling it "Democracy Promotion" and call it by its original name --- "Nation Building?"

The whole reason it was renamed in the first place was to make people forget their historical lessons.

precisely right -- you can do things without saying exactly why you're doing them

the teenager thing is interesting and I think it works in another way. individual countries can't really be controlled. you tend to think of the eastern bloc, etc., as being soviet minions but one good thing about Westad's book (and even Gaddis) is that he shows just how much trouble both we and the USSR had controlling our allies. See eg China.

Thus, the idea is that intervening doesn't necessarily cause the countries to "behave." if we left iraq, people say iran would dominate. in truth, iraq would probably become a big pain in the ass for iran, just like china was to russia. at the same time, if we stay, we can't get them to act the way we want either.

that's sort of "lead by example" part of the argument.

Just read the editorial. Gag me with a spoon.

Whenever I read sentences like: "It is time to stop blaming Bush for our inability to articulate a true alternative strategy for expanding democracy and human rights." -- I think: "what do you mean, "we", paleface?"

Dang you people stay up late. My excuse is that I'm at work.

I don't agree.

First, the underlying logic of a lot of human rights & liberal reforms is that a government is, at some level, morally illegitimate without them. This doesn't prevent us from dealing with undemocratic, human rights-violating regimes as sovereign states, diplomatic partners & even close allies. We've done it for years...if the war in Iraq hurt our relationship with Saudi Arabia & Jordan it's not because we hurt their feelings by implying that democracies are preferable; it's because the invasion was a catastrof**k (to plagiarize the Daily Show) that destabilized the region.

Second, human rights, liberalism, and democracy, are all intertwined, and a lot of the hallmarks of an undemocratic regime--outlawing opposition parties, lack of universal suffrage, lack of free elections, imprisoning dissidents--are defined as human rights violations by:
1) the U.S. state department
2) the major human rights NGOs, such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch
3) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Third, this "yeah, democracy is pretty but I live in the real world & history shows us that democracy promotion leads to more harm than good" shtick is kind of annoying. Sure, there are a lot of examples where it's worked out badly, but:

(a) you should distinguish between sincere & fumbled attempts at democracy promotion and the United States' tendency to characterize all of its actions as 'democracy promotion' whether this is true or not. Yes, our Cold War interventions often worked out badly, but US support for the coups against Mossadegh & Allende wasn't a failed exercise in democracy promotion! And if we claimed it was, we were just lying.

(b) It's possible to recognize democracy promotion as a good goal & be realistic about what means are likely to work & what means are likely to make things worse. Supporting democracy-promotion doesn't necessarily imply support of military invasions to overthrow dictatorships, or a general policy of 'regime change.'

Now, I do agree that:

--countries without elections but without a civil war, roving death squads dumping dozens of torture corpses all over the capital every single day are definitely preferable to countries that have elections, civil war, and death squads. That isn't a hard call.

--focusing on policy reforms that do not immediately threaten the existing government's hold on power is more likely to be successful

--calling for elections before liberalization can be actively harmful

--we need to be realistic about the fact that our support can be actively harmful for reformers' domestic legitimacy.

So maybe we're not actually that far apart. But I don't think recognizing those things means entirely abandoning democracy promotion.

Also, maybe I've lost historical perspective from reading too many recent accounts of torture in Egyptian prisons, but how has our engagement in Egypt made it more democratic & human rights respecting (as opposed to more U.S.- and Israel-friendly)? In China, the former record is so awful that I can certainly see an argument that engagement has improved things. But Mubarak? Maybe better than Nasser, but not to anywhere near the same degree as the difference between Mao & China's current rulers; and probably worse than Sadat.

I don't know all that much about Sadat's and Nasser's rule besides standard high school history class stuff, so I may lack perspective, but I'm wondering exactly what you mean.

Indeed, the administration’s greatest failures have come when it has tried to promote democracy (e.g., Iraq/Palestine)

When did the Bush administration try to promote democracy in Iraq or in Palestine?

The invasion/occupation of Iraq had nothing to do with any "promotion of democracy".

And I cannot think of any occasion when, given the opportunity to promote democracy in Palestine, the US took it.

Mostly agree, but I have to disagree that promoting democracy is not a priority. But then we'd get into a lot of semantic argument over about one's actual versus stated priorities and whether one can claim priorities without taking action consistent with said priorities, and whether (for example) Bush has done more to promote than sully the face of Western-style democracy. And the flipside: keeping one's strategy covert can be a good thing, but it tends to keep the troops and the electorate in a high state of uncertainty, as well as tending to foil oversight, etc.

So, I'll allow that in the realm of actions consistent with stated aims, thumb-fingered and ham-handed are mild criticisms of this administration, as well as quite a few of the other ones. Possibly we've achieved a local maximum of suck. We'll have to wait and see what The Simpsons have to say, probably.

Re: democracy promotion for its own sake, I've become slightly agnostic. I think democracy and freedom are values worth holding, but they're not things that can be given away as gifts. You can't give away distinctions.

And all this business about iconization of former presidents should just stop. I swear, if I hear one more person claim that they're a Ronald Reagan Republican or similarly kiss the historical toes of FDR, I'm going to hurl.

"No slave was ever freed, unless he freed himself."

It's good for the USA to avoid training other countries in methods to suppress their own people. It's good for us not to sell or give away the technology to do that.

Mostly governments fall when the majority of their people aren't willing to put up with them any more, and when no more-powerful nation props them up. And then they get replaced by -- something or other. When Marcos fell there wasn't much we could do about it. Likewise Batista. Likewise Duvalier. In each case we could have put in a lot of troops to support the dictator and it wouldn't have worked out well.

Castro talked about setting up democracy, and then didn't, and the majority of cubans didn't mind that much. We talk about his incredible system of secret police that looks for dissention and jails dissidents -- something like 2% of the public is on the payroll. But you can't put 2% of the public on the payroll for 20 years and keep it secret. Those people act as ward heelers, they *report dissatisfactions that can be fixed*. They are a rough substitute for representative government.

Before Batista fell Castro ran around in the mountains daring Batista to chase him. He was not important except as a symbol. When the public stopped cooperating with Batista, Batista ran away and Castro the symbol came down from the mountains and took over, and nobody was ready to stop him.

When the public stopped cooperating with Marcos he ran away too.

And all over eastern europe, people stopped cooperating with their governments when they thought the russian army wasn't going to come in and occupy them.

In each case, the armies and secret police that were supposed to stop a revolution weren't ready to stop it, because they weren't ready to keep cooperating themselves.

Sending weapons to dissident groups that don't have popular support isn't part of promoting democracy. It just promotes violence.

If we want to promote democracy, we need to recognise the times when people are ready to dump their governments, and find ways to encourage them to set up democracies instead of something else.

We might try that with "failed states" too. If enough people get the idea that a functioning democracy is better for them than living with squabbling warlords, they might do it. If enough warlords decide that they do better to vote among themselves (weighted by the number of armed followers they have) rather than fight, that's a great start. That's Runnymede right there.

You get democracy when people who're already sick of their government dump it, and *set up a democracy*. Trying to make them sick of their government when they aren't already is likely to backfire. Trying to get them to fight each other is not likely to result in a unified democracy. Supporting factions you like against factions you don't like is not likely to make things more democratic and is also likely to backfire.

When a democracy is overthrown by a military junta and the public doesn't object, that public is not committed to democracy. Unless they think a too-powerful outside force is backing the junta, and they can't win. If most of the public wanted democracy then most of the army would want it too, and most of the secret police, and the junta would announce they were setting up a democracy as soon as they could, and they'd do it. When you're in the army and you go home on leave and your grandmother really disapproves of what you're doing, it makes a difference. Not to say that no unified group of people ever oppresses somebody else.

"No slave was ever freed, unless he freed himself." we can't free other people, but we can work to inspire them to do representative government when they're ready for a change. I'm not sure what part the US government should have in that.

What Katherine said. I agree with much of what Publius wrote, but I think it is a bad idea to go along with mainstream dogma that the US government really is engaged in sincere attempts at democracy promotion when it isn't. What makes me despise the NYT is the way they treat American good intentions as axiomatic. It slants all their news coverage, including what has just happened in Gaza. The NYT Week in Review section almost invariably has an essay each Sunday bemoaning the fact that the world isn't always welcoming of our noble efforts to spread peace and freedom all over the place.

There must be a reason why people lie like this constantly--I think it's the price the NYT and other mainstream news organizations pay to be regarded as serious. Depart from the consensus and you are some wild-eyed lefty (or libertarian, as some of them are equally contemptuous of the good intentions dogma.) Stay within the consensus and you can criticize policies on tactical grounds.

Wait a minute Pub,

democracy promotion is bad?

Has it always been so or only most recently when it's been Frankenstein-ed together with neocon foreign policy goals?

Are you telling me it was a bad idea for liberals for example in the 1980s to press the Reagan administration to press undemocratic US allies (mostly in Latin America and the Pacific Rim) to move to a representative system? Liberals and moderate Republicans emphasized their dissatisfaction with Reagan's initial coziness with Marcos, Pinochet, PW Botha,Duvalier South Korea's dictator's etc. The now hated NYT and WaPo supported these demands. After sticking to Marcos for too long, the Reagan administration began to succumb to calls for promoting democracy among authoritarian allies around 1986ish. Democratization and representative processes were adopted in several right-wing allies of the United States subsequently. Then the same, now hated, "centrist" coalition pushed for similar representativeness in Poland and Hungary. No harm came from any of this. So, I think we had a very productive period of democracy promotion about 20 years ago, and a more sporadic, recent effort at democracy promotion where bad side effects outweighed the good.

Is this enough to condemn democracy promotion?

Or should we boil it down and say that we should just be cautious about promoting democracy which have been colonized by democracies in the past and therefore where popular suspicisions run deep?

I think we're getting entirely too reactionary against Bush policies root and branch, and against WaPo's annoying editorial pomposity.

Think about the world you want and how to get there.

I think also the fairly one-sided ideological tendency of the comments on this post (with the notable exception of "ugh") shows that the audience is selecting itself for ideological conformity.

So, I think we had a very productive period of democracy promotion about 20 years ago, and a more sporadic, recent effort at democracy promotion where bad side effects outweighed the good.

Though, the question is now, was the democracy promotion at that time an actual factor in what happened? I'm not sure, but it seems like this administration has put a kibosh on anything called democracy promotion, so it's not the conformity of the commentariat here, it's the effect of the those in power.

Jes: periodically, we have done things that look for all the world as though someone in the administration who has a very simplistic view of democracy promotion and is "for it", had grabbed the wheel. (My candidate: Bush.) E.g., the decision to support the Palestinian elections' going forward in Jan. 2006. Israel was against it, Abbas was against it, by all accounts we insisted. Then Hamas won.

Ah, I see what you mean.

But holding elections (or supporting holding elections) is not in and of itself enough to count as "democracy promotion" - lots of countries have elections and aren't democracies. (Saudi Arabia, for one.)

Democracy promotion, by me, is when you not only support the election (and obviously, support the electoral process) but also support the election results, unless there's really a sound reason to doubt that the results represent what the electorate voted for. If the people of a country voted in a government, and you want to be seen as a supporter/promoter of democracy, you have to accept the results of that election: that's the government the people want, that's the government you deal with.

I'm perfectly prepared to believe that there are people in the Bush administration who do not realize this, or who operate on wishful thinking "Plan A, step 1: the people we want to deal with will win! Then, step 2..."

But that's not promoting democracy by any reasonable definition.

Or should we boil it down and say that we should just be cautious about promoting democracy which have been colonized by democracies in the past and therefore where popular suspicisions run deep?
I think it's more than that, spockamok. It's about playing smart -- recognizing that 'promoting democracy' in a world of thoughtful adults means 'doing things that are most likely to result in more democracy.' In a lot of cases, we have intervened in ways that actively HURT 'democracy' in the target countries. This didn't come as a startling shock; it was predicted.

Being serious about a goal means doing the things that will actually help achieve that goal, not just the things that make us feel serious and hardcore about that goal.

this, on top of another bout of Euston reflux is enough to give me the agita. these pontificating self-sainted interventionists make my bile boil; when i hear the phrase "democracy promotion", i reach for my revolver.

Jes: agreed that nothing we have done in the way of "democracy promotion" was worthy of the name.

(The philosopher in me asks: nothing? is it possible you're forgetting some corner of the world? Well, maybe I am.)

Oops! That last comment was meant to be limited to the US since 2000. It was not meant to cover, say, the Marshall plan.

I tend to agree more with Katherine and Slarti on this one. The question is not, in and of itself, if democracy promotion is a good or bad thing. (Although for some people maybe that is the question.)

I think it is more of how the promotion takes place. For example, it really doesn't work well when done at the point of a gun. It really doesn't do well when it is forced onto a society where the culture is not ready for it.

Indeed, promoting democracy on a society from the outside is almost never going to succeed very well. Democracy from its very nature grows from the inside of a society. It can be given support, nurturing and to some degree direct assistance, but that is about the limit.

We promote democracy best when we are shining examples of what democracy can be like in the most positive ways, something that is not happening now.

And it is important to remember that another country's democracy may not be what we would most like to see and result in the election of a government we are not happy with. However, if we are sincere about spreading democracy then we are not only hypocritical but arrogant to the extreme by condemning and attempting to change those governments.

katherine - i don't think we're far apart at all. we pretty much agree on all the reforms we'd like to see and we'd like the ol' us of a to push. the question though is whether we should do this stuff under the banner of 'DEMOCRACY promotion.' I don't think so.

The word "democracy" implies a FORM OF GOVERNMENT. Thus, it means we're not pushing for human rights or liberal reforms, but actually pushing to change governments. That's what we have to get away from. We should push for reform where we can and clean up our own house, but we shouldn't be pushing to change governments.

Someone else brought up Pinochet, but that one is easy. Pinochet was the result of overthrowing a legitimate if left-leaning democracy -- that should clearly never be done

One problem with working with undemocratic regimes is how we deal with the democratic movements inside them. Working with the regime frequently translates in practice into regarding any internal criticism as subversion (Communism, islamofascism, etc.), and we wind up condemning people who are pushing for the same thing we say we want.

I get the feeling that this is one of those threads in which people who think they disagree really don't. I suggest we get past the limitations of words and mind-meld. Is 10:30 EDT good for everyone?

My last comment would have seemed more insightful if the thread were in the state I believed it to be in when I finished reading through the comments. Read, refresh, repeat.

I think it is more of how the promotion takes place. For example, it really doesn't work well when done at the point of a gun. It really doesn't do well when it is forced onto a society where the culture is not ready for it.

It also never works when you're doing it for profit.

publius--we should never push for a change in form? Why not?

I see a pretty big difference between ringing calls for a policy of 'regime change' and a policy of telling some military dictator, 'you know, you promised you were going to hold elections, & you really should'. Do you think we shouldn't say anything when a more democratic gov't is replaced by a coup?

I don't support invading countries & imposing punitive sanctions on the sole basis that they're not democracies, and there are limits to what you're going to achieve through non-coercive means, but what's wrong w/ being better friends with democratic countries than undemocratic ones, publicly supporting free & meaningful elections in the right context, etc.?

but that example is different -- that's a case of coup replacing a democracy,w hich we should oppose (which i noted above).

that said, if the coup happened years ago and we did nothing, we shouldn't necessarily start clamoring for it to be replaced (eg, Pakistan)

as for the last part, i think it's fine to provide mroe support to democracies. but i think i draw the line at calling for elections. sometimes, elections would be good, but i'm not convinced that elections are universally good things in all societies. maybe it's sounds snotty, but a lot of preconditions (rule of law, etc.) need to be in place prior to elections or else you get chaos and warfare. we shouldn't necessarily presume that the way we do things will work everywhere.

But you're not arguing we shouldn't always call for elections; you're apparently arguing that we should never do so & I just don't think you've justified that. If there's a coup in Turkey tomorrow, wouldn't our response involve either calling for the restoration of the democratic gov't or calling for elections? The immediate aftermath of a coup is of course an unusually logical time to push for elections but it's also possible that, e.g., some dictator promises to hold elections by such and such date & then backs out--why shouldn't we pressure him to live up to that? You're making a categorical statement that I can't see a basis for.

for example: was it a bad idea to support free elections w/ universal suffrage in South Africa in 1994? What about when a dictator dies, or there's a coup that replaces one military gov't with another (often on the ztated basis that the previous military gov't was not legitimate). What about in the aftermath of a war we fought for legitimate reasons of self-defense--Japan, Germany, Afghanistan?

Democracy promotion, by me, is when you not only support the election (and obviously, support the electoral process) but also support the election results, unless there's really a sound reason to doubt that the results represent what the electorate voted for.

sorry, but this simply doesn't fly: elections alone are worthless if you don't at least have a democratic constitution putting limits on executive power and guaranteeing basic civil rights and democratic institutions to make the balance of power work

Indeed, promoting democracy on a society from the outside is almost never going to succeed very well. Democracy from its very nature grows from the inside of a society. It can be given support, nurturing and to some degree direct assistance, but that is about the limit.

well, West-Germany and Japan are counterexamples: democracy was imposed from the outside, it didn't grow from the inside and it worked very well - so one would at least have to formulate an exception to this rule

hmm, tough good questions. i'm not dodging them,b ut i have to run right now and will address them later.

The old problem of confusing ends and means. Democracy promotion is not a bad end, but if the means chosen to promote democracy involve killing a bunch of people, mostly bystanders,, then we can't expect our attempt at "democracy promotion" to lead to much actual improvement in the world.

The most powerful tool we have for promoting democracy is our own example . . .


I think you significantly missed my point on Pinochet. It wasn't about his installation, it was about his stepping down, in the 1980s.
This was when the US was adopting a policy of disapproval of friendly dictators. The Reagan administration was compromising on its earlier preference for unrestrained backing of authoritarian allies, due to bipartisan congressional pressure and a desire to make the anticommunist portion of its human rights and pro-democratization policy more credible by displaying criticism of right and left wing authoritarians at the same time. Democratization and the electoral process also was central to ending Central American civil wars at the end of the Cold War.

Paul Wolfowitz, in his Reagan-era career as an East Asia hand was one of the people pushing for an opening in the South Korean political system. His point of view by the 90s was, "we advocated the end of authoritarianism in Asia, Latin America and Europe, why is Syria in the Middle East exceptional?"

As it turned out, what made Iraq exceptional at least was that its diversity made it more like a Yugoslavia than a Hungary, and its brand of nationalism was going to be hostile to American-caused change. What makes the Middle East exceptional is that its much easier for ruling elites to reach a modus vivendi with US foreign policy objectives and Israel's existence than it is for the general population. The general population by contrast has no consensus foreign policy position except to demand a 180 reversal of both any US inluence and Israel's existence. It sees compromise or bargaining with the west as surrender. Popular preferences in the Middle East demand something more like a Diktat to America, Israel and other parts of the west. Alot of observers felt this in their gut, but the neocons and neolibs went against the grain. They were proved wrong, bigtime. Still, to be fair to them, the use of dictators to bring stability didn't seem very effective either.

I honestly think democracy promotion is liable to backfire only in about one-half of the non-democratic world. It will backfire in the Muslim world (except Afghanistan to some degree) because of particular ways people they see their identity. It will backfire in Russia or in Russia's near abroad. Sub-Saharan Africa is a toss up, on the one hand, they may be more open to western influence, on the other hand, bitter memories of British and French colonialism and US Cold War activity remain. Pro-democratization won't hurt much in Latin America (though I would prefer that it be divorced from capitalism promotion and anti-drug coercion), Oceania or the Pacific Rim. Those regions just aren't as culturally defensive as the Middle East.

West-Germany and Japan are counterexamples: democracy was imposed from the outside, it didn't grow from the inside

Both countries had a tradition of parliament, elections, and the rule of law dating back at least to the 19th Century, and in both countres, there was pre-existing native support for democratic institutions.

This is relevant. Skorton talks about using the university system to project knowledge and capability base around the world.

2007 Cornell commencement address

Spockamok, I tend to doubt that Reagan had much to do with democracy in poland and hungary. They wanted democracy, and they already had the trappings of democracy, but they couldn't do what they wanted because they were dominated by the USSR. The fairly recent example of czechoslovakia showed what happened with a government the people liked. The russian army would come in and smash things, and it just wasn't worth it. They couldn't fight the russian army. When the russian army wasn't a threat then they did what they wanted. A homegrown nonrepresentative government would have been very unpopular.

You figure we could have installed another dictator in the philippines after they got rid of Marcos? You think maybe they got a democracy because Reagan told them to?

Reagan had a lot of influence in korea. The USA installed a dictatorship there back when most of the country had gotten run over twice and some of it three times, not long after the japanese occupation. They were ready to put up with any government that let them eat regularly. They knew that Reagan could wreck their economy, plus the KCIA had close american ties. They were going to keep their strongman as long as Reagan told them to. As soon as Reagan told them to put on more democratic trappings they were happy to comply. Some of the differences are real. Their human rights record has improved. If within the next few years the USA wants them to accept a new dictator, probably they will. It wasn't that long ago that a lot of people depended on getting a lucky break to avoid a lifetime of extreme poverty or early death, and most of them still regard economic security as more important than a say in government. I've been amused watching first-generation koreans in the USA. They tell their sons "I sacrificed so hard to get you these opportunities! You must excel!". And their sons say "Sure, whatever. I'll start studying after my team logs off Worlds Of Warcraft."

The places that Reagan was preventing democracy, it was good of him to stop. Beyond that, no big deal.

Agree with rea, West Germany and Japan are not good examples of democracy being imposed from the outside. As rea points out, in both cases there was the seed for democracy, and particularly in Japan, the key was probably the emperor coming out in favor of a more democratic rule. LJ can probably speak more to Japan.

In Germany, there had already been a form of democracy in place.

I don't think either would have been successful if not for what was already there. It was not imposed so much as the situation put in place where it could succeed from its own home grown roots.

West-Germany and Japan are counterexamples: democracy was imposed from the outside, it didn't grow from the inside and it worked very well - so one would at least have to formulate an exception to this rule

I think one important difference is that we were already at war with them for other reasons. We had to do something with them after they'd been vanquished, and there are probably worse choices than democratic government.

sorry, but this simply doesn't fly: elections alone are worthless if you don't at least have a democratic constitution putting limits on executive power and guaranteeing basic civil rights and democratic institutions to make the balance of power work.

But democracy isn't an end in itself, it's a means to the end of good government.

The big virtues of democracy are:

1. Government that's reasonably responsive to its citizens.

2. A method to replace portions of the government that have become unresponsive, when the occasion arises.

3. A nonviolent method to replace leaders.

#3 is particularly important. Nondemocratic systems typically have trouble with it. Note the example of ancient israel. The people wanted a king and Samuel didn't want one, so he appointed as king a younger son from a family that wasn't particularly influential -- he claimed to choose based on height. After Saul and his son died fighting foreign invaders, a foreign power put in a mercenary as king. David had lots of sons, and whichever one looked like he was ahead in the competition to be the next king had a big target painted on his back. A couple got accused of attempting coups, one was accused of raping his sister, every front-runner wound up dead. When David died, one son claimed to be king because he had David's trumpet, another had David's mule, etc. Did one of them have some of David's concubines or was that one of the coups? Anyway, the one who won was the one who had the palace guard backing him. They sliced right through the reserve troops the others called up. After Solomon the kingdom got split up. Three civil wars in three generations. Not good.

Democracy does not solve the problems of multiple people who think of themselves as different cultures, living under one government. The USA has had one civil war in well over 200 years, a great record, and that one came when different cultures just couldn't agree. We might have another civil war over abortion if tempers rise enough -- there's no agreement and no workable compromise; one side has already started terrorist attacks. Democracy provides no solution.

Democracy is a method that aids good government. Elections are a method that aids democracy. The point isn't to have the form of democracy we have, the point is to have government with clear feedback from citizens, that's responsive to citizens, that provides methods to replace government apparatus that gets broken, that provides a workable alternative to violence when citizens seriously disagree.

by the way katherine, these would be excellent points to raise in a post by you. :)

i think my larger point is that i'm simply anti-theory. i don't believe there should be an all-encompassing theory used to justify actions.

as you say, sometimes DP seems like something we should do. but it's difficult to elevate those examples into a guiding theory. for instance, even if you're right re Pinochet, how do you propose we deal with China, Pakistan, etc. Should DP be an explicit goal in dealing with them? And what would the result be?

That's why we should get away from the theory, particularly this theory. If we want to act against the Afrikaners in SA, we should do so on the basis of their conduct in that individual setting -- not b/c we're doing "democracy promotion." Same with Chile. We need to disaggregate these examples from broader theory.

The implication is that we work for reforms in the name of human rights, etc., but we stop short of telling other nations how to internally constitute their government. That's not our business. And even if it is, it doesn't work when we try to do something about it. Tough as it may be in some situations, we take sovereignty seriously and work for reforms in that context.

If we have to deviate at times,f ine. But lets' justify it on the individual facts, not in the name of this theory

I don't have enough knowledge about Japan, even though it seems to me that developments were quite similar in both countries, but there is no doubt that in West-Germany democracy was imposed from the outside: while there were some outstanding German figures that helped shape postwar democracy, the vast majority of the population wasn't democratically minded at all and would have preferred the Kaiserreich or even a less insane Hitler regime - poll after poll was showing this. Yet, since Germany was utterly destroyed and the Germans had neither any moral nor political credibility left, the population focussed on rebuilding the economy and couldn't be bothered much with politics at all.

It would take another 20 years and another generation ('68) for the Germans to embrace democracy. In the meantime you had a functioning democracy with a constitution, free elections, a free press and functioning institutions but a population that was still authoritarian at heart and privately held skeptical to defiant attitudes towards democracy.

While the democratic framework was never seriously challenged, because the population was tired of politics and busy making money, the initiator and guarantor of democracy during this time was the US.

I'm sorry, but as a non-American I completely agree with Publius and find it vaguely irritating that there is so much (well-intentioned)opposition to what he says.

Why can't you guys just leave people alone?

How would like it if a more powerful country beat up on you continuously for flaws in your system? If the European Union suggested sanctions on the US for its archaic use of the Electoral college system? Or its continuing to execute people? What would you think if popular political figures in China loudly insisted on bombing/nuking the US for its failure to embrace communism? What would you think?
Nobody likes foreigners meddling in their affairs, even if they are well-intentioned.

The world is not yours. Leave it alone, providing it leaves you alone.

pub--I simply don't believe in sovereignty in the traditional "it's not our place to meddle in a regime's business by criticizing & exerting diplomatic pressure over its human rights record" sense. In the "don't go invading countries except in very restricted other circumstances" sure, but that's not the same thing.

You seem to see a stark difference between democracy promotion & other forms of human rights promotion because it involves the form of government. I'm not really sure where you're getting that from. Again, the ICCPR--one of the major human rights treaties--explicitly refers to political rights. So does the UN universal declaration for human rights....these clauses all concern the 'form of government':

"Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives"

"Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country."

"The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures"

(can't get clearer than that).

"Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association."

(so you can't ban opposition parties.)

"No one may be compelled to belong to an association."

(nor can you require membership in a state sponsored party)

"Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence."

"Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him."

"Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law."

(an independent judiciary is as much a matter of gov't structure as the requirement to hold elections.)

There are a bunch of other clauses that I could arguably list as well....

So the difference is NOT that it's okay to criticize a country's sovereign actions on matters of human rights but not on gov't structure. It can't be, because the ability to participate in meaningful elections, the ability to express political opinions & join or refuse to join political parties, and recourse to an independent judiciary, ARE human rights, according to:
--the Universal Declaration for Human Rights
--the ICCPR
--Amnesty International
--Human Rights Watch
--The U.S. State Department.

The other rationale seems to be that other countries will find it intrinsically more threatening to criticize them for gov't structure than other sorts of human rights violations, and therefore it will never work. I don't know that that's actually true. For one thing, it's usually pretty obvious whether a country is holding elections or not, whereas countries tend to actively deny that they are engaging in torture, disappearance, genocide, etc., and criticizing a country for the latter is making a *damaging factual accusation*.

There are also questions of exactly what remedy you're suggesting: if you were a brutal dictator, which statement would you see as a greater interference in your sovereignty:
"President-for-Life Jones should hold free elections next year."
"Presidednt-for-Life Jones should be arrested and tried before an international court for genocided & crimes against humanity"

There is also the question of context: sometimes the worst human rights violations occur when a state's trying to put down an armed rebellion--a gov't may believe that ending the crackdown would lead to it being overthrown. It's also possible for a repressive military leader to actually do okay when the country moves to free elections. And you can also call for something short of elections for President--you could call for electing the legislature & giving it some real power, for example.

JohnTh--do you feel that way when human rights NGOs issue reports about Darfur--"foreigners meddling in other's affairs" that are none of their business? What about if the rest of the EU were to tell Poland & Romania: "hey, it's not cool to let the CIA torture people in secret prisons on your soil"? Or are you objecting to specific actions by the U.S. gov't? If the latter, I probably agree with you about many if not most specifics, but I think these blanket statements are overstated, lacking in context, & kind of stupid.

jeez, I think we should try to promote *humanity* and let the democracy thing go for a while. If Iraq, Afghanistan, or Hamas' victory in Palestine is any example, and it is, democracy won't necessarily produce any kind of social situation that we (as a country) or we (as a people) should actually want to support. but I'd like to see us actually attempt to help people around the world instead of trying to impose a free market/nominal democratic model and then just jump back and hope the darn thing keeps spinning like a kids top.


There is quite a bit of discussion about what the American aims and goals were in Japan in the postwar period. There's a term that often comes up when discussing this, 'reverse course'. The wikipedia entry misses one point, which is that the term is Japanese-English, coined by Japanese at what they felt was a turning back from the actual democracy that was being set up. There have been various revelations of the US funneling money into the LDP (which has had a virtually unbroken hold on power in the postwar period) as well as the rehabilitation of conservatives, some of whom were classified as A rank war criminals.

This is not to deny or affirm whether the US was actually doing democracy promotion in Japan in the postwar, just to show that it is not a simple yes or no question to be asked.

Katherine: In response to your last, I personally support the role of NGO's such as Amnesty and HRW in making the kind of statements that you are alluding to, and I'm not sure to what extent I'd want the US government involved in that at all.

With regard to EU and the Polish jails - that's different. Poland agreed to join a club, and they seem to have broken the rules of the club (human rights, democracy etc). They deserve heavy censure from the Commission and their fellow members, just as the US feds can deal with US states that neglect civil rights, for example. In the same vein I think the UN also has a role in censuring members he breach the Charter, providing that this censure can't be traced back to one specific band of foreigners

What I was objecting to is a) the continuous attempts by most US administrations of the last 50 years to set up/depose governments in numerous countries, but more specifically b) the underlying attitude embodied both in those actions and a large part of this thread, which is that the people/elites of the United States of America have the wisdom and the right to help decide what form the governments and politics of other nations should take. I am not convinced that they do. If that makes me what you would call stupid, then that's what I am. My original was simply a non-specific plea for this kind of discussions to try and think a bit more deeply about how that fundamental belief in the right to involve oneself in the affairs of other nations can appear to non-Americans

Hmph. I didn't actually call you stupid, I called the denunciation of all efforts of support for democracy and human rights, however benign, as "foreigners meddling" stupid. Which was probably not all that constructive but it wasn't a personal attack any more than your comments were.

Maybe I just resent being mistaken for a Bush supporter or the simple failure to make distinctions. I oppose a lot of the military interventions you did, but as far as "American elites", who do you think staffs human rights organizations? And HRW, for example, doesn't just denounce human rights violations itself; it also tells other national gov'ts to put pressure on other countries. See these posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, I could go on and on and on with these...

I'm not sure the "it's okay if they're violating your charter" distinction really washes. We have a bunch of relevant multilateral treaties...if a country breaches them, they're breaching an agreement with us. Which is part of why the U.S. gets crap from other gov'ts for not obeying the Convention Against Torture & the Geneva Conventions (though actually somewhat less crap than we deserve, since we're the biggest kids on the block). Countries have been most concerned with violations against their own nationals, but that's got it's disadvantages: if you're not from a rich western democracy, good luck.

This means, I think, that a lot of dynamics sometimes found in parent/teen relationships also exist in US/other country foreign policy

I remember back when Malaysia got its peninsula pierced, just to freak us out.

Coming too late to this thread, but I would take issue with the claim that democracy and human rights are inextricably intertwined. Though not uncontroversially, many historians argue that a lot of the big controversies in England from 1500-1800 were about the rights and freedom of the subject, under law, and not about who rules, or how the rulers were selected. Certainly England in 1780 was nothing close to a democracy as we would understand it (or for that matter as they would have, looking to Athens), but was a place where there were definite rights that compare quite favorably with illiberal regimes of the present (eg Iran or the old USSR). So we can push for rights first, govvernmental forms later--and I agree with Publius that this is a lot more useful, because less threatening.

And, to add to the title of the post, I'd add that WW's principles of national self-determination didn't work out well, either.

A valuable contribution in the debate about what a productive US foreign policy should look like.

Mr. Bush imagines that his words need never match his deeds. The examples of his Orwellian-named legislation and his photo-ops with groups whose funding he's cut are legion. The same is true of his foreign policy.

For starters, Mr. Bush demonstrates no regard for democracy here. Why would his words be deemed credible by those abroad whose vision is not refracted by our cultural prism? Mr. Bush's deeds demonstrate that unfettered authority is his most cherished goal - actions, and a dichotomy, that dictators in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe would find comforting. Impliedly (and expressly, via his secret prisons and torture) Mr. Bush promotes their methods and goals.

As used by Mr. Bush, "democracy" is like white toilet paper: it's the color everyone expects and no one questions what it's for. To everyone's surprise, Mr. Bush has cornered the market on the leftover rolls of that old English waxpaper, and he writes his secrets on it because, if caught, he can destroy them quickly.

Mr. Bush reads only body language; consequently, his views of people and ideas are superficial. The model his language about "democracy" is the millenial vision that Jesus will come again only when all the world is Christian ("democratic"). He thereby perpectuates the ignorance about the size and legitimate diversity of the world, facts that his medieval clerics could ever have imagined or accepted.

This essay's emphasis on "liberal values" rather than their democratic form is a valuable tool. Stalin, after all, held post-war elections in Poland and East Germany and his nominees won every time. It's not the form of their expression that counts, but their liberal content, the inclusiveness and tolerance that are essential for civil society. As a prosaic marketing example, McDonald's may serve beer in Germany or wine in France (which would deeply offend fundamentalists here), but their hamburgers are all the same, and they sell lots of them.

Dear Pub:

At the top of your piece you wrote:

"I’m tired of hearing about Woodrow Wilson’s idealism, and I’m really tired of hearing about Harry Truman."

I thought for sure you would "deconstruct" the myth of Wilson and Truman.

Among other things, the "progressive" Woodrow Wilson was probably the worse racist to occupy the White House in modern times. Wilson was a southern boy from my home state of Virginia and all of his dealings with what we'd call today "third world countries" like Haiti, Mexico, and Arabia was heavy-handed, hypocritical, and cruel. By encouraging both the Zionists and the Arab nationalists and betraying them both, Wilson helped set the stage for the mess in the Middle East right now.

Many historian regard Harry Truman as a "great" or "near great" president, but Truman was little bit like Lyndon Johnson in that he had a lot of personal insecurities and therefore, like LBJ, deferred to the judgment of some really awful people who were supposed to be so "smart." People will debate forever whether or not the dropping of the atomic bomb was necessary, but either way, Truman's decision to show what a "tough guy" he was means that -- to this day -- the United States has no moral standing to sermonize about weapons of mass destruction.

Joseph McCarthy and the Republican Right were, of course, the worst of the red-baiters, but Truman (just like JFK, LBJ, and Clinton), never dared take on the red-baiters directly -- wouldn't even defend George Marshall. Finally, the Korean War finally brought Mr. Truman's career to a premature end and all that rightwing crap about "Who lost China?" and "Who Lost Korea?" and "Who lost Vietnam?" reverberates to this day.

I know I am probably going to offend someone with this comment, but the main problem with the U.S. "promoting freedom and democracy" is the Myth of "American Exceptionalism" itself. U.S. leaders DO NOT have the character and wisdom to do this no matter how many U.S. intellectuals across the political spectrum would like to think so.

Coming too late to this thread, but I would take issue with the claim that democracy and human rights are inextricably intertwined.

In the long run, I think they very well may be; but I think the rule of law, including basic rights, has to come first, or in parallel -- it's probably one of those chicken/egg issues.

Without basic security and the rule of law, democracy is a joke, or a PR event like the Iraqi elections.

"Though not uncontroversially, many historians argue that a lot of the big controversies in England from 1500-1800 were about the rights and freedom of the subject, under law, and not about who rules, or how the rulers were selected. Certainly England in 1780 was nothing close to a democracy as we would understand it (or for that matter as they would have, looking to Athens), but was a place where there were definite rights that compare quite favorably with illiberal regimes of the present (eg Iran or the old USSR). So we can push for rights first, govvernmental forms later"

I don't buy it. Elections & voting & whether you have a king aren't the only issues of governmental form. The existence of "rights of the subject under law" implies courts with some degree of independence, and England's system of courts & juries & its common law tradition are very governmental forms. Whether President Musharraf has the power to suspend the Chief Justice of Pakistan for issuing writs of habeas corpus is both an issue of governmental form, and an issue of whether Pakistani citizens have any legal rights. etc. etc.

You can separate "rule of law" governmental forms from "elections" governmental forms, and there are human rights issues that are substantive rather than procedural: whether the government can ever torture someone; whether the government can ever execute someone; whether the government can ever jail someone for denouncing the president. But they're definitely intertwined.

You can, of course, prioritize other human rights issues over elections--either because you think they're even more fundamental or because you're more likely to succeed. It's often a good idea to do this & I haven't argued otherwise.

As someone who falls a lot closer to katherine on the scale here, the events of the past 5 years or so have really put a dent in my hopes for a liberalist interventionist philosophy. I don't think anyone can doubt Katherine's sincerity, but what bothers me is that the 'intention' of the US government is far too often waved around as proof of the validity of such an approach, which inevitably leads to 'breaking a few eggs to make an omelette'. Unfortunately, that 'intention' has been hijacked, and the goal seems not to make an omelette but to break as many eggs as possible. Tt is going to be at least a generation (and several renamings) before liberal intervention will be considered as a meaningful policy option, I fear.

Coming in late, and not much to say which hasn't already been said, other than:

Does this mean that WW is ruining this site?

JThomas, I find your projections about US ability to install a future Korean dictatorship extremely implausible. There's a rumor something like this was tried in Turkey and didn't work at all. Likewise, on the installation of dictators, in Korea the US's principal business was external defense. When they had dictators it wasn't so much because we had one dude who we wanted placed in as an alternative government, it was more along the lines of it requiring massive effort to get South Korea to not be a dictatorship, an effort that was never a priority for very long until the late 80s. human rights and pro-democratization intervention's main effect was to dissuade the ROKs from killing Kim Dae Jung.

On your other points, of course local factors were paramount. They've always been more important than US policy in various waves of democratization and anti-democratic coups (with some exceptions each time).

Maybe we need to get a common definition or assessment of how much the US controls things, and how much its actions matter when it is only a secondary factor. Funny thing is people tend not to be consistent on this. Either they make America responsible when things go bad and discount its influence when things go well, or they do the opposite.

What does Pub's post mean for the current day?

Oddly enough, I agree that with Iran or Syria for instance, we should not harp on form of government.

We should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the politics of these countries, our experience with it before was bad and leaves a natural legacy of suspicion.

Plus, when you ask a Middle East government to change its regime, its super high stakes, the typical fate of a leader before or after losing power is death. Much better to focus on behavior change than regime change.

For instance, we could be asking for an improved foreign policy, adherence to rule of law. And how about this idea, that would both enhance the rule of law and US interests - Let's beef up a middle east consensus that legislative or other constitutional approval must be granted before any military offensives can be undertaken. Wouldn't it be good if Hezbollah felt obliged to get a Lebanese parliament vote before running off and crossing the Israeli border? Wouldn't that requirement be an excuse they could use to constrain themselves without formally making any agreement with the Zionists?
In other regions, the stakes are lower. In Latin America, democratically deposed left-wing dictators like Daniel Ortega and democratically deposed right-wing dictators like Bolivia's Hugo Banzer, have each made political comebacks by democratic means. Democratization was all to the good of those countries' political systems.

To the surprise of many, the Apartheid regime and Soviet bloc regimes were replaced with the personal well-being of most of the rulers being fairly intact. In Central and Southeastern Europe, communist party members have made political comebacks all over the place.

This is something to mention to the Chinese, Burmese, Vietnamese or Cambodians if we ever have discussions on democracy with them. Ceding power to democratic process is not your death warrant, its a sign you have the balls to compete.

I'm of two minds about the separability of the rule of law, human rights and democracy. I think in the long-run its tricky to separate them. And, its a chicken and egg argument. Arguably, the US had more rule of law, then democracy than human rights. Human rights was enabled to a great degree by the combination. rule of law is unlikely to be respected without having a democratic basis.

What I think absolutely can and should be separated in US foreign policy discourse is democracy and capitalism. The US shouldn't be in the business, as it was under the Bushes and clinton, of braggins to other G8 members about the superiority of the US economic model, and should not be imposing regimes for macroeconomic restructuring that say, "congratulations, you've got a democratic government, now let's have the IMF tell you exactly how it's going tto be allowed to deal with bread and butter budgetary issues".

Respecting democratic outcomes is a genuine conundrum when you have groups like Hamas elected. There's two competing values at stake here, popular will, and the right of other populations not to be attacked, be it by a group that is popular or not popular. US policy managed to bring these contradictions to the fore very quickly and so by definition was incoherent, incompetent and inconsistent.

There are several reasons we should not formally push other countries to adopt specific democratic forms of govt. They boil down to something similar to why you don't talk about religion, politics or someone else's children at the dinner table. We don't have the authority, the responsibility or commitment to affect those changes. We can walk in someone else's shoes, to help us learn how to interact with them productively, but we can't be someone else.

What you would learn in few high school or college courses, for example, is an honest assessment of the self-serving nature of much of US foreign policy (or domestic US labor policy). The Spanish American War provides a good example. It was over pretty quickly, with little immediate bloodshed, because Spain had few resources and less will to hold onto the remnants of its empire in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

We claimed to have no imperial interests, and that we were promoting democracy. Mostly, we acquired naval bases in Cuba, Hawaii and the Philippines, and imposed the will of US-owned extraction industries in those territories. Sugar, beer, coffee, fruits and minerals.

We claimed to have "liberated" the Philippinos from Spanish imperial oppression. Well, sort of. It took more than a decade of civil war. It was so fierce, the US Army had to invent a new sidearm powerful enough to stop Philippino rebels: the 1911 model Colt .45.

We expanded education and improved the local infrastructure, but mostly for the benefit of US-owned businesses, not the local population. The stories in Cuba and Hawaii was similar. Our efforts were largely aimed at allowing US companies to own and control the local economies.

What we can do in the twenty-first century is reinforce liberal values. Even in that we are severely constrained because a lot of our interests conflict. Diplomats reconcile such things publicly, but dismiss them privately only by risking their credibiity and effectiveness.

Resolving those conflicts is now much harder. Globalization has made our country more interdependent and more vulnerable. The ability to negotiate and cooperate - which this administration dismisses with a sneer as effeminate - is even more important. George Bush has also severely depleted our resources, while countries such as China and India have increased theirs. China and Saudi Arabia, for example, are now our principal creditors; they fund Mr. Bush's astronomical deficit. The oil that we must buy from the Saudis and Venezuelans and others costs us double what it did when Mr. Bush took office.

We will have to work hard to re-establish our street cred after junior goes home to play. We can't do that if we're not seen to realistically assess the limits of our power and value the benefit of working with others.

Just a few more parting thoughts:

Strange as it may sound from one tending to take Katherine's side, I would agree with a good part Pub's title and argument, I would just narrow the focus. I think democracy promotion is too broad to condemn.

But, I would agree:

1. Wilsonianism, as promoted by the editorial page of WaPo, NYT and TNR, sucks.

2. Significant parts of Wilson's foreign policy sucked too.

3. The more this type of Wilsonianism dominates the foreign policy discourse of Democratic party politicians, the more things will suck.

The foreign policy alternative the US needs is not a liberal version of neoconservatism but instead unsentimental realism, a willingness to prioritize combined with hefty helpings of empathy and humility.

In use of its military, US foreign policy should be focused on self-defense or counter-offensives against active enemies.

I think that in the US political marketplace, foreign policy realism in underserved by both political parties. I think the general public would be responsive to basically restricting the military to operations related to the US's defensive interests (primarily versus Al-Qaeda) which downgrades honor and reputation based doctrines like "you break it, you own it". If there's no compelling national interest in owning the mess, and if there's no solution we can realistically impose, then I say run the eff out of the pottery barn, even if the mess is of our making. What will we lose? Our reputation? Who thinks well of us now who would be turned off by a bug-out? Anybody talking about the pottery barn rule should STFU because it is not about national interest but about sentimental mumbo jumbo like honor and reputation.

If you could give me a sure-fire way that Al-Qaeda-related elements in Iraq could be destroyed after a US withdrawal, I would say get out tomorrow, and let's not stick around to hold onto some kind of Wilsonian project. If, when placed in a zero-sum conflict with Iraq's political welfare, I'd say choose US self-defense interests first. Plus, we've got another place where a nation-building project is more solidly related to US self-defense..Afghanistan.

Bascially, I divide US interests into 2 categories, near-term self-defense and long-term world order. Basically, unlike the neocons and WaPo editors, I don't think we should have any world order agenda that is not multilateral. Those types of agendas are imperial, and the American people at the grassroots are not interested in them. Near-term self-defense interests may at times compel unilateral action or short-term partnerships of convenience, but the broader global security architecture and its regional components need to be a cooperative endeavour with other international actors. There is no point, no value, in the US unilaterally promoting a world order and ideological recipe for the world, or for any unilateral agenda other than self-defense and fair advocacy for our own citizens.

I'd also like to firmly renounce American exceptionalism, of which Wilsonianism is such a great part. On the one hand, the renunciation would mean the US would have to get used to leaving most people in most countries most of the time. On the other hand, it would mean we could pursue our own vital interests without having the satisfy the pretense that what we are pursuing must be good for everyone equally in the world. That pretense promotes impossible expectations and mires US foreign policy in accusations of inconsistency. Hardly any other nation in the world is questioned so much on the consistency of its policy. No one would think to ask Belgium about its consistency. But it inevitably comes from asserting leadership. That's part of why I want to resign from leadership. Most countries are expected primarily to advocate for themselves, not to be fair advocates or arbiters of the world order. i'd prefer if the US was like most countries.

Unfortunately, within the Democratic party, the unsentimental realist tradition is weak compared to the crusading internationalism of the Wilsonian center and the guilt-based anti-nationalist left. Neither form of idealism is really needed or wanted by the country right now.

A final word for liberal japonicus:

"As someone who falls a lot closer to katherine on the scale here, the events of the past 5 years or so have really put a dent in my hopes for a liberalist interventionist philosophy."

Indeed so, indeed so. Though we had previews of how this could go wrong even before. The Serbian ethnic cleansing in Bosnia was stopped in part by a US-backing of Croatia, which supported the Croatian ethnic cleansing of Serbs. The Koscovar Albanians, the clear underdogs in the 90's even if not subjected to genocide, took advantage of US support to conduct their own ethnic cleansing. Humanitarian intervention is unlikely to ever be morally "neat". If we ever, against all odds, decide to intervene military in Darfar, there's no neat way to do it. Some new and different atrocities would be made possible based on how our intervention changes the balance of power. Decide if it's worth it if you wish, but for god's sake don't be surprised by it. I would find that kind of surprise annoyingly naive.

That's why I generally shy away from use of military force for humanitarian reasons alone.

I agree with a good part of publius's post an argument; I just think it's a bit overstated & I'm really stubborn.

Outsourced -

You learned the version many learn in high school, college or, in my case, Unitarian Universalist Sunday school. But if you're a serious student of these matters it doesn't come out so black and white (with Uncle Sam wearing the black hat), there's a whole new layer of nuance that often makes US foreign policy look better again.

This is the maturation process in foreign policy analysis is generally this:

1st impression - America is out to help the world (grade school)

2nd impression - America is actually greedy and is motivated to protect its interests. I'm shocked, I'm shocked. (middle school, high school or college)

3rd impression - interests aren't a dirty word, everybody has them. Let's evaluate the various claims of necessity, and the various moral dilemmas and look at how every country's foreign policy fits into circumstances. (high school or college or grad study or self study)

I actually think that at least Katherine and Publius walked into this conversation with at least three levels of maturation.(Pub's long post about comparing the Cold War with current foreign policy illustrates this).

And actually I pretty much agree with everything you said in the last three paragaphs.

Spockamok, I sorta agree with your 3 level formulation, except for the condescending note where you rate people in this thread for levels of maturation.

What you don't get just yet is that there's a fourth level, where you realize that people at level 3 think they're better than everyone else.

More seriously, what I do find frustrating is that some people (not you) will talk about "interests" when it's a question of the US, but "evil" when it's a question of our enemies. That's your level 1 sophisticate pretending to be a level 3 and I think pseudo 3's may be more common than the real thing.

Yes, I admit myself up for that. :)

There's an upwardly infinite number of levels. Every now and then I change a foreign policy opinion based on an a sudden seeing of something from the other guy's point of view I guess the general rule I like to be consistent is that I don't like to put anybody in a no-win or no-face saving situation or try to compel someone to accept something completely at variance with their interests. That applies to how I think we should conduct ourselves towards actors we dislike to one degree or another (Iran, North Korea, Russia, China). If I sound like I'm some uber hawk or something its just because I like to apply the same charitable spirit to US and Israeli foreign policy too.

"There's an upwardly infinite number of levels. '

Darn. Thought I was at the pinnacle.

"If I sound like I'm some uber hawk or something its just because I like to apply the same charitable spirit to US and Israeli foreign policy too."

That's fine. The problem with most American discussions in the MSM, though, is that they are mostly conducted at either your level 1 or my pseudo-level 3.

I do respect non-hypocritical realists like yourself. The only thing that would make me uneasy is this word "interest". Whose interests are America's interests? I don't have an answer--I just think it's a relevant question.

Maybe we need to get a common definition or assessment of how much the US controls things, and how much its actions matter when it is only a secondary factor. Funny thing is people tend not to be consistent on this. Either they make America responsible when things go bad and discount its influence when things go well, or they do the opposite.

That isn't necessarily inconsistent. For example, we could have the power to do a lot of harm without having the power to do a lot of good.

Plus, when you ask a Middle East government to change its regime, its super high stakes, the typical fate of a leader before or after losing power is death. Much better to focus on behavior change than regime change.

Actually, I could imagine us working toward effective regime change in small countries or poor countries. What we do, is we go to the dictator and offer to buy his country from him. He gets a whole lot of money and a safe place to spend it. We get a new US territory. It worked for the louisiana territory and alaska. And every couple of years we let the citizens vote whether to become independent, or apply to become a US state, or keep the status quo. In the case of iraq I like to think this might have worked a whole lot better than what we did.

I'm of two minds about the separability of the rule of law, human rights and democracy. I think in the long-run its tricky to separate them. And, its a chicken and egg argument.

They are eminently separable. In england democracy started with rights for warlords, and then rights spread wider over centuries. This limited democracy was good for everybody. When lords had a dispute they could get a vote among the other lords to settle it, instead of fighting it out and seeing who contributed how many soldiers. The results approximated the likely result of fighting, but they didn't actually have to fight and the peasants didn't have to scramble to get out of the way.

That level of democracy would be a big improvement in afghanistan. Get a parliament that actually reflected the power relationships and they'll respect the votes. When people who don't actually have sufficient force behind them are passing the bills then the powerful losers are likely to want to ignore those results. They really have the power. But when the people who have guns behind them pass a bill the losers have to respect that. It wouldn't bother me if afghanistan had elections where you had to show up with a gun and show you could hit a target at 50 yards before you could vote. A caucus system wouldn't be all that bad for them. The man who has 50 gunmen voting for him decides which of the bigger guys to cast his 50 votes for. When you have 50 men who're ready to kill or die for you, you have *votes*. And a democratic system that reduces the violence puts you on the road to something even better.

People talk about societies that aren't ready for democracy. I expect those societies are ready for *some* sort of democracy. England was a feudal society when they started doing democracy. But it's like an ecological succession, some of them aren't ready for what we consider a mature democracy.

Democrats don't have a problem with promoting democracy, they have a problem with imposing democracy by force. This is just recognizing reality; because of Bush's (mis)deeds the United States can't impose democracy - or even provide support for revolutionary or peacekeeping forces - for one or two generations.

The most important tool for imposing democracy - creating democracies by any means that involves people dying - is *moral authority*. Only the purest knight of the Round Table can kill for peace. Anyone of lesser moral authority engenders only opposition and hatred. After Bush's outrageous assaults on Iraq, which were done in the name of "democracy promotion" (even though bogus), the US has no moral authority whatsoever. Any substantive intervention on our part will discredit the beneficiary far more than our assistance will help.

In a hypothetical world, many Democrats would support various nation-building efforts. But it's moot. the US *can't*, until the world accepts us as moral again. If we turn aggressively against the Bush administration and send him and the other ringleaders to jail (very unlikely IMO) then perhaps we could have authority again in perhaps 20 years, once the world thinks the changes stick. If we do not loudly and meaningfully repudiate the Bush doctrines of torture, wars on false premises, and brutal disregard for nonAmerican civilians, the US is out of the democracy promotion until virtually everybody who remembers the Iraq War is dead - including us.

Spockamuck, most Americans never learn about our imperial foreign policies any more than they learn about the history that Howard Zinn relates. As for "levels" of "maturity", those assume a neatness, a linearity and a process of advancement not found in reality. Like assuming that Darwin's theory is about "progress" rather than local adaptation.

Claiming that full maturity is reached when accepting that everybody operates in their own self-interest simply parrots capitalist dogma. It's like claiming to have found negotiating nirvana in Getting to Yes without realizing that it offers no advice for what to do when people lie. Which I hear they do regularly.

This administration, for example, proudly limits itself to Gordon Gekko's "greed is good" (your second level, I guess) and not just in its foreign policy. They find that politically inconvenient to admit, so they lie about it, using propaganda drawn from your first level. Which helps them perpetuate their United Fruit Company version of "diplomacy" that generations of Latin Americans know so well.

"Mature" interest analysis is helpful only when it identifies the correct interests and the personalities promoting them.

In Iraq, for example, that suggests that democracy and WMD's were propaganda. Misidentifying those as US interests and responding to them would have been fruitless, as the UN discovered. Diplomatists faired better who identified our interests as trying to accumulate domestic power through foreign war, securing preferential US access to someone else's oil, and establishing permanent military bases in the heartland of the Middle East.

Most, like the French and Germans, would have concluded that those were not goals they shared or could affect, and which were, in any case, a function of domestic politics. Their interests were best served via quiet disengagement pending domestic changes in the US. A sentiment we cannot afford to share, since we are tasked with determining what those domestic changes will be.

Typepad's gone nuts, so I'll make it short and sweet.

Two points:

1. Promoting democracy is great.
2. You don't promote democracy by blowing stuff up, then installing a "democratic" regime of your choosing.

Yes, I know -- Germany and Japan after WWII. Show of hands -- who really thinks those are apt analogies for our current adventures?

And, of course, there's always the estimable John Thullen:

The world is not yours. Leave it alone, providing it leaves you alone.

Thanks -

The reason govts often lie about their foreign policy is not out of politeness or because everybody does it. It's not polite; and since everyone does it, diplomats know it and most of the lies no longer fool them. It just forces them to play an extended game of twenty questions back home.

No. Govts often lie about their foreign policy aims because they don't want their own people to know what they're doing and why. In a democracy, that might lead to No votes in Congress, or changes in which party controls Congress or the White House. Some of those policy disagreements would be about ethical issues; a lot more of them would be about simple economics.

Taxpayers foot the diplomatic bill. A bigger percent of tax revenues than formerly is now paid by individuals, with some big corporations paying little or no tax. But a lot of diplomatic effort is devoted to promoting the private interests of individual American companies. With globalization, fewer and fewer of those benefits directly or indirectly benefit US taxpayers. But they do benefit large US shareholders and company managers.

Consequently, Joe and Jill Taxpayer - who are having a hard time paying for the mortgage, healthcare and college - might be mighty unhappy to learn that they were paying X dollars a month to subsidize the earnings and profits of private companies, via promoting their overseas business. Especially, when those companies are closing down their local operations. Yea, real democracy's a bitch; that's why President Bush wants to promote it somewhere else.

Just reread your posts spockomock, and to me it does sound like you give the US more of a benefit of a doubt than is plausible in South Korea and other places. I think the danger of realism is that it probably gives people in government a very easy excuse for supporting dictatorships and murderous regimes, plus this whole notion of "interest" needs careful examination. Whose interests and doesn't the word usually privilege selfish considerations above anything else we might care about, as outsourced says? I think it's possible to be a well-intentioned realist, but the ones who've actually had power were not well-intentioned, IMO.

The whole debate between the self-proclaimed Wilsonian interventionists and the realists is, to my mind, usually conducted in bad faith. Wilson and his tribe weren't and aren't the noble humanitarians (as someone pointed out above). Realists in practice often turn out to be Henry Kissingers and Richard Nixons.

So I think we need to really embrace the criticisms of what you call level 2 (My gosh, America really does horrible things under both Democrats and Republicans) before we can even hope to have a serious conversation about foreign policy. That's not even close to happening. If it does, we can then recognize that nonetheless, the US does face genuine dangers and not everything is our fault and that even with genuinely good intentions (I mean those of Dennis Kucinich, not Woodrow Wilson), we will face tough choices. As a nation we have never been anywhere near that level of honest self-criticism and I think the temptation of the realists is to pretend that we are and now it's time to face the need for tough choices, which means we go back to business as usual.

But, Donald, America is exceptional. We can't imagine that we are cold, calculating pragmatists or that we don't have the greatest government in the world or that we use our government to make the world safer for our corporations or that people don't want our 'way of life' imposed on them. We won't even admit that the rule of law and protection of the rights of minorities and women is an ideal that we are far from accomplishing, seemingly further away than we were three decades ago.

Aside from the neocons who have made it clear that they will learn nothing that shows their dogmatism to be wrong, we are likely to draw many bad lessons from our failures in Iraq. I have no confidence that we will learn that we really are no different from any other country. We are not a bright shining light on the hill. We are not God's annointed. Nor are we just evil, cynical folks who throw our weight around whenever we want to. Nor do we have to retreat into neo-isolationism or amorally throw up our hands and offer criticism of no leaders.

We can support institutions, primarily international and NGO, that help strengthen the rule of law and protect the rights of minorities. We can return to making ourselves an example of how that should work. We can stop subsidizing corruption. We can stop saying nice things to bad people. We can make non-military efforts to weaken oppression. We can join multi-national forces in places like Darfur, as long as it is clear that we are only in a supporting role.

Democracy thrives in countries that have a reasonably well-balanced economy, protection of all citizens and a consistent rule of law. We can help countries strengthen those areas, but we can never do it for them.

"Aside from the neocons who have made it clear that they will learn nothing that shows their dogmatism to be wrong, we are likely to draw many bad lessons from our failures in Iraq."

That's true. In order to win elections politicians will say (and have said) that we gave the Iraqis freedom and they threw it away.

We are too good for this world. I know this because the NYT Week in Review section tells me so every Sunday.

Woodrow Wilson failed, disastrously, at promoting democracy, because of his racism, incompetence as a negotiator, and moral tone deafness. He first attempted to keep the United States out of World War I, got pulled into it, and then committed a huge number of errors at the Versailles conference, starting with opposing the independent participation of Canada and Australia (both countries had made considerably greater sacrifices in the war than the US), and failing to push for moderation in the treaty's treatment of Germany when Clemenceau and Lloyd George started to have second thoughts.

When we think of politics as a matter purely of ideas, we forget that such a thing as competence in government exists, and we do very wrong when we fail to demand it of our politicians.

On the larger subject of democracy promotion: by all means, the United States should do everything possible to promote democracy within the rule of law. Since legal structures which could mandate the use of force in "humanitarian interventions" do not exist (and neither the US, China, Russia, or India seems disposed to permit them), governments have to respect the sovereignty of other countries, even those with vicious governments. We have seen the alternative to the rule of law, and it simply does not work.

Fortunately, both the government and individuals within the United States have many options for promoting democracy and human rights which do not involve the use of violence.

It should be noted that democracy is not necessarily the final word in human governance. Just a cautionary observation, since I am late to this thread and it seems just about everything else has been discussed.

If we want it to be final, then we may want to do a better job at packaging it for others...

Walter Karp hated Woodrow Wilson too, and for similar reasons. From 1992, "The America That Was Free And Is Now Dead"


Oops the link to Walter Karp didn't work out right.

Try this.

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