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Saturday, December 17, 2005

15 Minutes of Democracy

They're talking about Democracy in Iraq over on LDSLF, which is a subject I'm passionate about. I posted comments there but realize that I've written enough and wandered far enough from RTs post to warrant moving the ideas here:

I haven't read the books that RT and some of the commentors are quoting, but what’s the point in making the distinction between an unconditional likelihood of democracy arising and a highly conditional likelihood of it succeeding over time? Isn’t this similar to saying that all people would desire and even act upon getting democracy but few will actually realize it? ...I mean, what more is such a fleeting experience with democracy than a crushed popular uprising? A kind of grotesquely shared 15 minutes of fame?

Personally, I don't see value in a democracy that lacks longevity. It seems to me that the only type of democracy we should care about is the type that requires certain conditions...that we should then focus on fostering those conditions.

So yeah, I think the conversation should be about how best to achieve lasting democracy rather than how it gets used as a lame excuse for failed foreign policy...you know the argument: "aw, those folks just don't want it bad enough or they'd have made it happen with the opportunity that they were given". In my mind, that's a non-starter.

Hopeful Pessimism

Full credit to RT for his expressions of hopeful pessimism, which I share.

I am pessimistic because, contary to our attitude in Iraq, the healthiest democracies did not have this form of government imposed upon them, rather it slowly arose through tumultuous process, rich resources, relative isolation, and a coming of age. Even a nation like India, where it could be argued that such government was imposed, was not “liberated” in the style of our approach in Iraq…but occupied and subdued on an empirical time scale and without the primary purpose of liberation and democratization.

Even more fascinating, I think, is our patronizing and chauvinistic approach to the Arab world…which was a place of enlightenment and cultural dominance while Europe was in its darkest youth…and for which culture the whole of western civilization owes a great debt for its own eventual sparks of enlightenment; but instead has played a major role in speeding the downfall, subjugating and crippling, and manipulating for its own purposes. Pax Romana yields Pax Britannica yields Pax Americana yields Pax Syriana.

These brothers and sisters of ours may well regain their former glory, but it will likely be at the expense of the western world and due in part to our unwitting participation…even as we mask our true intentions with paternal rhetoric.

Time will tell.

Common Misconceptions

But what about Germany and Japan? I think there is a common misconception that democracy was imposed upon these two nations at the end of, and as a primary result of WWII…a misconception that is often perpetuated by those who would have us believe that democracy can be successfully and rightly imposed by force of arms.

Germany had a long-standing history of democratic process along the lines of an increasingly influential king’s parliament…its history is much more similar to England than Iraq; Hitler, for example, was elected by greater than 60% of the popular vote. So I’d say democracy was actually restored rather than imposed, and that after a relatively short period of run-away abuse of power in the Chancellory or executive…something that all democracies have to worry about.

As for Japan…this is arguably the closest we get to actually imposing democracy by force, yet to see it in those terms is to ignore a significant amount of history and circumstances. Tim Shorrock’s article A Skewed History of Asia points out the shortcomings in the use of Japan as the proto-imposed-democracy:

A more accurate analogy between postwar Asia and US policy today would be the United States installing friendly leaders in Baghdad willing to do US bidding in the Middle East, and subservient, pro-US governments providing the economic underpinning to the new US imperialism. Then, after decades of US-imposed “democracy,” the Iraqi people would rise up to forge their own future. That’s how long it took Asians to reject the idea that democracy grows out of the barrels of American guns.

In other words, the price in lives, time, money, and dumb luck is much too high (not to mention the premise that doing it by force cannot succeed) to make imposing democracy on the world for the sake of democracy a viable if sane policy. Simple observation confirms that we actually do the only thing that makes sense...we really just attempt to create a stable, subservient climate under the guise of "democracy."

Without Hypocrisy and Without Guile

Democracy is a gift that people have to give themselves…and the way we help is outlined in Section 121, not in The Prince.

I thought one of the most striking quotes for the film “Syriana” was this:

...a nation with 4% of the world’s population and 50% of the world’s military budget has lost its power to influence.
…or something like that… Of course we're talking about righteous influence here, not manipulation or force.

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