Monday, April 04, 2005

Democracy-promotion advice

Matt ends a post on the Pope like this:

His work in the Soviet Empire, along with more recent developments in Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, and with luck Egypt and Kyrgsztan seem to me to clearly demonstrate that violent overthrow of regimes by external military forces is by no means necessary to the efficacious promotion of freedom.

This is something that I would've loved to see more mention of in news analysis of Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, and with luck Egypt and Kyrgyzstan. The advancement of democracy rarely requires the invasive overthrow of dictators, and it remains to be seen how much it helps. Even if Iraq stays democratic, there's no way that spending hundreds of billions of dollars (and all those lives, and much of our credibility, and our relationships with allies) on that project was the most cost-effective way to promote democracy. Big foreign-aid packages tied to democracy-promotion, funds for liberal education in the Moslem world, and soft-power-increasing global antipoverty programs would take us way further.

Crazy people on the right will probably claim that Bush's invasion of Iraq advanced the dialectical progress of Absolute Spirit so that Freedom could march into these other lands. But will non-crazy people believe that, or are they smart enough to notice that there's really no good mechanism for connecting these and that foreigners don't even think we're serious about democracy-promotion anyway? I really don't know.


Blue said...

Mmmm, so much of "democracy promotion" in the mideast seems to be rolling a die a lot, and then arguing under what circumstances 6's came up, and how to get more 6's that way.

The mideastern countries are chaotic, highly active political environments. As such, you get a lot of steps forward, and a lot of steps backward. This is the perfect place for an opportunistic politician to claim credit for a lot of good things that happen - be it George W. Bush or Jimmy Carter. And they're still gonna get screwed because people will be smart enough to see all the bad things that keep happening as well.

I have much more trust in a mideast policy - be it warlike or ultra-world-institution-loving - that can simply have some consistent or predictable results (be they rolling more 6's, or just rolling less 1's).

Anonymous said...

the problem is that even most sane people who are observing the middle east don't have enough information to make an informed decision about it. i don't mean this in an elitist way, but i'd say that all three of us (and probably a good many of the people reading this blog) have studied gov't and logic and the middle east a fair bit more than the average person, statistically speaking.

i know that when i'm looking at a field i don't understand terribly well or haven't studied, if someone tells me there's a connection which I can't see, and they seem reasonably well-versed in the field, then i'm inclined to trust that they understand things better than me and have more information than i do.

There are many semi-nebulous ways in which to think about the effects of foreign policy which could lead one to conclude, ok, yes, the bush administration has had a positive effect on increasing democracy in the middle east, both in iraq+afghanistan and elsewhere.

I don't think it's a matter of sane verses not sane so much as that if you don't really know much about the subject, then you can't necessarily separate the sane from insane opinions...

Neil Sinhababu said...

I've heard some people try to explain how democracy in Iraq would spread to other countries, and their explanations never make sense. Some of them seem to think that there's a big pro-democracy effect when a dictatorship gets a democratic neighbor. I don't know of historical examples for this anywhere, and democracies can sit next to dictatorships for a long time in the world (the Koreas, China/Taiwan or China/India, Costa Rica/Nicaragua).

I just can't get a sense for why Ukrainians would be any more motivated to defeat Yanukovich because of the Iraq situation.

Blue said...

It's also incredibly contradictory, as Juan Cole recently pointed out. We explaint he iraq-endeavor as trying to spread democracy and eventually end all the dictatorships that are harming us.

Who do we need to succeed in iraq? It's neighbors. For troops, for money, for cooperating on borders, for boundary corssing ethnic-groups, etc. If there was any reason to believe democracy in iraq threatens the conservative mullahs, wouldn't they uh, do everything they can to stop it?

Anonymous said...

i'm not arguing that their arguments make sense, just that if you don't really know anything about how these things work, then you're more likely to ascribe magical powers to the spread of "democracy" in the same way that if you don't know how rain works, you're more likely to ascribe magical powers to it, too.

i mean, hell, how many americans do you think can actually give you an accurate accounting for how the rain gets in the sky in the first place?