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Incapable of Democracy? Wrong

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There has been all kinds of blather from the left and right that Arab countries cannot sustain democracy. This is smug, lazy, and even racist or at least “culturalist,” thinking. George Will pooh-pooh’ed it in the Washington Post last month:

    Bush and Blair and many people called neoconservatives believe that moral objectives in politics are universally applicable imperatives. If so, then either national cultures do not significantly differ, or they do not matter or they are infinitely malleable under the touch of enlightened reformers. But all three propositions are false and antithetical to all that conservatism teaches about the importance of cultural inertia and historical circumstances.

    ….Does Blair believe that our attachment to freedom is not the product of complex and protracted acculturation by institutions and social mores that have evolved over centuries that prepared the social ground for seeds of democracy? When Blair says freedom as we understand it and democracy and the rule of law as we administer them are “the universal values of the human spirit,” he is not speaking as America’s Founders spoke of “self-evident” truths. They meant truths obvious to all minds unclouded by superstition and other ignorance.

Well certainly, the reason there is not one democracy of the 22 Arab states (and only two rated “free” democracies by Freedom House, of the 25 predominantly Muslim countries) is that a sufficient number of people are still convinced (and it is in their autocratic ruler’s interests to maintain the belief, even in “secular” Baathist Iraq) that Allah will save them from the ravages of secular democracy and preserve their authoritarian Islamic governmental systems.

This is exactly why victory in Iraq and the fostering of a democratic system there is of critical importance for the region: Saddam invoked Allah in his efforts to rally his people against the American-led invasion regardless of his “actual” beliefs. Allah was rather starkly shown to not give a shit about defending the Iraqi system, nor the clearly Islamist Taliban government in Afghanistan, nor al Quaeda in any direct confrontation with Western democracies. The more people realize that Allah will not save them “against” democracy, the more quickly democracy can take hold in the region, religion and government can be separated, and the safer we will be.

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About Eric Olsen

  • mike

    Since democracy is contrary to the core principles of American foreign policy–the maintenance of stable investment climates for U.S. multinationals and the strategic control of world resources like oil–it is ridiculous to argue that “we” are bringing democracy to anyone.

    As with Fox’s suit against Al Franken, the notion is literally being laughed out of the court of public opinion.

    Democracy begins at home, where it is decaying. If we want to spread democracy at home, let’s use the same tactics on ourselves that we’re using in Iraq–bombing cities and killing civilians under the guise of liberation. We’ll see how that goes over.

  • Eric Olsen

    Mike, while we wildly differ on many basic issues, at least you usually make sense within your own framework. This is just nonsense.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Eric, don’t you get it? Democracy is decaying at home whenever things don’t go your way. So all those nasty right-wingers were wrong to lambaste President Clinton, but it’s perfectly legitimate to blast President Bush, because he’s single-handedly doing what hasn’t been done in 200 years – killing democracy!

    Also, Mike has become so blinded by money that he doesn’t even allow for the possibility that people might make choices based on their ideas of peace and stability unrelated to economic gain. That’s why so many fantasized about an imaginary oil pipeline in Afghanistan – because surely money must be the only reason we would topple the Taliban, right?

    Hey! Maybe that’s where the WMDs are! Inside that secret oil pipeline in Afghanistan!

  • cjones

    I think the ideology of a democracy is dissimilar the ideology of a theocracy on which all Muslim nations are based. They ideally take their interpretation of law and foreign policy from the Quraan. Realistically though this ideal scenario is usurped by dictators and or zealots who justify their encroachment of the peoples rights through their unbalanced beliefs.

  • mike

    I’m still laughing about this idea that the U.S. “spreads democracy.” Stop. You’re killing me. I’m laughing so hard my side hurts.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Mike, I’m not offering the customary invitation to move to France nor do I mean this confrontationally, but am genuinely curious, what keeps you in America?

  • Eric Olsen

    You can be as cynical as you want and it doesn’t change anything: participatory democracy, rule of law, private property, separation of church and state in other countries is to our benefit – why wouldn’t we be spreading democracy? Our record is NOT spotless, but in the vast majority of cases, we have left countries more democratic than they were before we “influenced” them one way or another. I would say for now iran is an example to the contrary, but it’s just a matter of time there also.

  • mike

    What keeps me in the country? As Chomsky said in his famous debate with Bill Bennett on CNN (you can google it, and it’ll come up for downloading), it’s the freest country in the world. I agree with Chomsky, and that’s why I live here.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    I’d rather not, but thanks for the honest answer.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Joe, I’m glad you asked without acrimony, and bravo to Mike for the straight invective-free answer. I am generally unhappy whenever I hear someone ask more confrontationally, “Well, why don’t you just leave, then?” It seems to be the defense of someone who has run out of answers and doesn’t want to admit it.

    While I’m on the other side of this issue (sort of, see my next comment) from Mike, I will still defend his right to argue and complain as much as he wants to about America’s actions. Not just because it’s a free country and he can do what he wants, but because I believe that it is important to be challenged on the issues.

    Discussions in which I absolutely will not participate involve those who argue that the principles of freedom upon which America was founded are not good ones. As far as I’m concerned, that’s worth booting someone to the border over. However, it is those who argue the most loudly and passionately about America’s policies and leadership that often are the most ardent supporters of American principles.

    As I posted once, long ago, I argue because I care. :)

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    As to the actual issue at hand, I have long argued that American policies abroad should serve one purpose: to improve the lives of Americans. If it would truly improve the lives of Americans to establish a totalitarian regime in Iraq, then I would see no problem with the American government acting to do so. It would be the job of the UN or some other organization to try to convince us not to. That’s because most systems work best when everybody works in their own interest, with certain checks and balances.

    However, we’ve never acted to establish a totalitarian regime (that I can recall, at least), though we’ve acted many times to help prop up one tyrant in favor of another, or other similarly disappointing things. In all cases, I would suggest that while it may have met our short-term or medium-range goals, it has been a long-term mistake.

    I suggest, and I believe that Mike would agree, that American interests are best served by spreading American principles of freedom wherever we go as much as possible. There is an effort underway to do just that in Iraq so far, and I’m disappointed that we didn’t clearly establish that principle in Afghanistan, but merely paid lip service to it.

    The point remains that forcing any system on people who don’t want it will be seen as a bad thing, even if the system we are trying to impose involves government by the people for the people and democratic representation. Something is severely broken right now in most (all?) Arab countries, and introducing free elections overnight is not going to produce a happy outcome for anybody. The Taliban were originally invited into Afghanistan on purposes, remember.