The real problem with Bush's "vision"

One thing that’s driving me nuts about the argument over democracy in the Middle East is the reluctance of the Go Bush! crowd to acknowledge that successfully implementing democracy in the Arab world doesn’t mean planting Little Americas. You’re not going to erase 1400 years of antagonism between the Muslim world and the Christian West just by letting Achmed get a finger inky in Baghdad. The cultural differences that have divided the two civilizations will remain.

Even if you do help Arabs establish democracies, you’re not establishing Westernized states. People in a democratized Syria, or Iraq, or Egypt (I’ll leave out Lebanon, because it’s something of a cultural DMZ these days between the West and the Muslim world) just won’t suddenly forget that they’ve spent the better part of the last century rededicating themselves to Islam and rejecting Western culture, in many cases violently. Too many people in the US are mixing up “democracy” with “universal Western civilization.” They’re not one and the same.

Also, if you want to be extra pragmatic… Is there any logic to the US spending hundreds of billions of dollars to build and strengthen Muslim societies who have been at odds with the West since the 700s? Once the tyrants have been booted out, the next step will certainly be to erase the regional borders drawn by Western powers at the start of the 20th century and unite the Arab world, too. So if this progress in the Middle East continues, we could be looking at one democratic, but still strongly Islamic and still diametrically opposed to the West, nuclear-armed Arab superstate coming into being in the Middle East within the next 25 years.

Would this be a good thing? And furthermore, isn’t this precisely what the Death to America! Islamists want? It seems very odd for the US to be practically bankrupting itself in order to put in place the first building blocks needed to build a new Islamic caliphate. Anyhow, to me, even if Bush’s vision is carried out in reality, I’m not sure the results are going to be very pleasant for anyone in the West.

That’s because I suspect the people in charge really don’t understand the concept of “foreign country.” Everyone wants to be just like the US; they’re just prevented by terrorists/filthy liberals/communists/tax policy or whatever.

The early obsession with converting Iraq into some sort of flat-tax corporate paradise is the best example of this; they really didn’t seem to understand that people would get very, very pissed off if you fire them enmasse and sell their factories to foreigners. Why, in the US it works out mostly ok; Iraq won’t mind either! Cue rebellion.

Also, if you want to be extra pragmatic… Is there any logic to the US spending hundreds of billions of dollars to build and strengthen Muslim societies who have been at odds with the West since the 700s? Once the tyrants have been booted out, the next step will certainly be to erase the regional borders drawn by Western powers at the start of the 20th century and unite the Arab world, too. So if this progress in the Middle East continues, we could be looking at one democratic, but still strongly Islamic and still diametrically opposed to the West, nuclear-armed Arab superstate coming into being in the Middle East within the next 25 years.

I don’t think it’ll be a superstate; the cultural differences & historical conflicts are strong enough I don’t really expect that to happen.

On "Arab democracies will be our friends’; yeah, I’m not so sure if that’s the case. The only country I can think of that’s done the industrial democracy thing without a massive bloody series of foreign wars is…uh…Argentina? They just fought civil wars.

I think your right. In fact even in the US we face the danger of people using their power to enact change that is harmful to others both within and without our borders. Therefore I recommend that we eliminate our powers of self-determination and political process post-haste. It’s for our own good. :)

Aue Contraire! (Probably wrong, I have no French)

I think Bush’s “vision” (and my understanding of the democratization of the ME) is simply that peoples that have self-determination will begin to see that they can change their lives, and their children’s lives, for the better, and that this is, usually, best achieved by peaceful means.

Yes, yes, I hear you howling, “How can that be when the US is an imperialistic aggressor?” Well, the US was not an aggressor in the ME until attacked by Islamic fascists on 9/11. (And before, of course.)

Would this be a good thing? And furthermore, isn’t this precisely what the Death to America! Islamists want? It seems very odd for the US to be practically bankrupting itself in order to put in place the first building blocks needed to build a new Islamic caliphate. Anyhow, to me, even if Bush’s vision is carried out in reality, I’m not sure the results are going to be very pleasant for anyone in the West.

This kills me. Aren’t liberals for the liberation of all peoples?

Yes, yes, I hear you howling, “How can that be when the US is an imperialistic aggressor?” Well, the US was not an aggressor in the ME until attacked by Islamic fascists on 9/11. (And before, of course.)

Yeah, but the problem is that you attacked a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. If it had been Bulgarians that had attacked the WTC, invading Italy would have made as much sense as invading Iraq did after 9/11. Maybe most Americans neither know nor care, but the rest of the world does, and especially the Middle East. That kind of counts when you are trying to convince us that the people of the Middle East are starting to feel warm and fuzzy towards Bush and his policies.

Imagine attacking China after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, changing its government to a democracy, and then claiming every protest, political movement and progress towards freedom was as a result of that invasion. Couple that with discounting every act of tyranny in the region as having nothing to do with the invasion, and you have the same level of silliness that we have with Iraq right now.

Well, the US was not an aggressor in the ME until attacked by Islamic fascists on 9/11.

What does Iraq have to do with Islamic fascists?

Man, you people get so tangled up trying to justify this administration’s blunders that you can’t even get your story straight…

-Tom

Natan Sharansky’s “The Case for Democracy” is an absolute must read on this point.

Title & blurb sure doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything. Care to elaborate?

Yeah, the inspiring way that Natan blames Arabs for all of Israel’s flaws is especially illuminating. As is his condescending, paternalistic view on solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue by patting the nice little Arabs on the head and letting them have the odd meaningless election if they place nice and don’t blow up sandwich shops in Tel Aviv.

But seriously, this is yet another childish, ridiculously arrogant book that completely misses the point. It promotes a truly dangerous illusion that spreading democracy in the Arab world will magically solve 1400 years of hot and cold war between Muslim and Christian, and create a Westernized utopia where everyone drinks Coke, eats Big Macs, and watches American Idol. Bringing free elections to the Middle East isn’t going to erase the region’s culture, folks. Or the fact that the vast majority of Arabs have increasingly rejected greater ties with the West and Western ideals over the past 80-100 years, and turned back to traditional Islam.

I mean, come fucking on. Has the lesson of how the US got burned in Afghanistan in the 1980s really been lost on so many Americans? Don’t confuse being used for being welcomed and appreciated, people.

I think the idea is that you promote some better quality of life for the average citizen in the middle east then you’ve got a much smaller pool of disaffected for various fanatical movements to draw from. I think stability, even an organized anti-US stability, is preferable to the kind of chaos that leads to things like Al-Queda.

Brett, you’re guilty of two sweeping errors here. First off, you’re hysterically confusing “modernization” with “imposed Westernization.” The former is a verifiable global trend; the latter is a bugaboo.

Huge Islamic democracies are functioning (quite well, I might add) in Turkey and Indonesia. An immense Muslim population is integrated very nicely into India’s democracy. No one could argue that these three populations are “Western,” though perhaps Turkey is taking steps that way. But thanks in no small part to their franchise in governments accountable to their ballots, all of these Muslim populations are inoculated against bin Ladenism. (Indeed, each has now been hit by radical Islamists from outside, to great outrage.)

As thousands of graves will attest, the threat from radical Islam is not a “Western” problem, but a problem that threatens Asian islanders in Bali, black Africans in Kenya, and schoolchildren in Russia. In other words, western civilization is threatened, eastern civilization is threatened, and all points in between are threatened. The world does not demand “Western” societies in the Middle East, nor the renunciation of Islam by the Middle East. We’ll settle for governments that are responsive to the welfare of their peoples, so as to drain the swamp in which radical Islam thrives.

The goal, therefore, is not “Little Americas,” but what we might unambitiously call “responsible self-government” in the Middle East.

Your second mistake: Dismissing the evidence that Arabs do have an interest in modern politics and open societies. These are not “western” values. These are institutions that have improved life in cultures as disparate as East Asia, India, Eastern Europe, South Africa, and South America – not to mention Islamic Indonesia and Turkey.

For what it’s worth, there is plenty of evidence that Arabs are interested in all of the things you dismissively say they are not. Far from rejecting the west, according to a recent Zogby/CSIS joint report, “large percentages of Arabs surveyed still have relatively positive feelings about (American) science, democracy, education, movies, television, and products…(and would like to) have help from Americans in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict or improving their employment, education, and health care…”

Additionally, “Large numbers of Arabs surveyed would like to visit the United States and know Americans…”

U.S.-Arab relations may well be at a historical low point, but Arabs are nevertheless expressing a desire to join the modern world, and our most profound mistake right now would be to dismiss them as uninterested or incapable of doing so.

Here’s your real problem with Bush’s vision: it wasn’t done by a Democrat.

Seriously… the Clinton Administration wanted to oust Saddam. What if they had finally gotten around to it… what would have been done in the aftermath? I can’t imagine he wouldn’t have tried to institute a democracy. Would you be more supportive then? Clinton spreading freedom around the world!

If you had said the implementation was flawed, I’d agree. But to say it was the wrong thing to do is short-sighted and, frankly, just your Bush-hate talking.

U.S.-Arab relations may well be at a historical low point, but Arabs are nevertheless expressing a desire to join the modern world, and our most profound mistake right now would be to dismiss them as uninterested or incapable of doing so.

“Join the modern world” and “stick it to the west for meddling in their region and lives” aren’t contradictory, you know.

What a load of warmed over crap. How many times do we have to point out that the Clinton administration was committed to doing this without an invasion before this nonsense stops? See the method and the suffering that comes from that method makes a difference. Not realizing that is beyond short-sighted, it’s blindness.

You know, I actually support your desire for more democracy in the Middle East (only opposing the methods by which this is achieved), so I’m kind of reluctant to point out your mistakes here, but it touches on wider aspects. Far from being innoculated against “bin Ladenism” and having attacks carried out by outsiders, the recent suicide bomb attacks in Istanbul resulted in the rounding up of 64 suspects, all of them from the same Turkish Islamist group. The Bali bombing in Indonesia was also the work of local Indonesian Islamists. They are far from innoculated against extremism.

India has had even more problems with extremists, and not just Islamic ones. It even has its own brand of extremism “Hindu Nationalism” growing rapidly and dishing out plenty of terror of its own. One of the worst acts of mass murder carried out in recent times was not, as most Americans would believe, by Muslims against Christians, but by Hindus against Muslims. After a train crash was falsely blamed on Pakistani militants the Hindu population of Gujurat turned on its large Muslim minority and tore them apart, leaving thousands dead, and many more badly beaten or raped. This all happened while the “democratic” police force stood by and watched, and in some reports joined in. Most chilling of all is the evidence that the attack wasn’t spontaneous, but planned well in advance.

Democracy alone isn’t a cure-all for extremism, it has to be coupled with actual freedoms for all members of that society. It requires a belief in justice and a respect for your fellow man, and simply installing a democratic system does not create this on its own.

You know, I actually support your desire for more democracy in the Middle East (only opposing the methods by which this is achieved), so I’m kind of reluctant to point out your mistakes here, but it touches on wider aspects. Far from being innoculated against “bin Ladenism” and having attacks carried out by outsiders, the recent suicide bomb attacks in Istanbul resulted in the rounding up of 64 suspects, all of them from the same Turkish Islamist group. The Bali bombing in Indonesia was also the work of local Indonesian Islamists. They are far from innoculated against extremism.

India has had even more problems with extremists, and not just Islamic ones. It even has its own brand of extremism “Hindu Nationalism” growing rapidly and dishing out plenty of terror of its own. One of the worst acts of mass murder carried out in recent times was not, as most Americans would believe, by Muslims against Christians, but by Hindus against Muslims. After a train crash was falsely blamed on Pakistani militants the Hindu population of Gujurat turned on its large Muslim minority and tore them apart, leaving thousands dead, and many more badly beaten or raped. This all happened while the “democratic” police force stood by and watched, and in some reports joined in. Most chilling of all is the evidence that the attack wasn’t spontaneous, but planned well in advance.

Democracy alone isn’t a cure-all for extremism, it has to be coupled with actual freedoms for all members of that society. It requires a belief in justice and a respect for your fellow man, and simply installing a democratic system does not create this on its own.

I saw Natan on Meet The Press not too long ago. He seems like a wise and compassionate old gent until you start pointing out that the “occupied territories” are called that for a reason. Then suddenly he’s in denial about Arabs being treated as second class citizens and speaks about the need for Israel to defend itself. So much for universal democracy and freedom. Actually, it wasn’t me, it was Pat Buchanan of all people pointing out the inconsistencies.

But the more I’m listening to Rice, especially about Lebanon, I’m starting to suspect the idea isn’t that democracy will magically make things get better but, rather, get the guys out of the shops making bombs and devious plans and give them the power they think they want - only to find out they’re spending all day dealing with complaints about water and sewage just to retain enough support to get elected the next time.

I don’t know if that’s any less nutty but it’s a new spin given the Hezbollah situation in Lebanon. Maybe it’s exposing an aspect of what they’d assume would happen all along in the region. Of course the Islamicists will take over but if they take over in the context of real democracy they’ll be too busy trying to get elected to cause trouble anywhere else. And, in a round about way, this is basically what Natan’s talking about when he says that democracies are basically nonviolent.

Of course, I’d like him to meet this guy named George.

Actually they already met. Bush invited him over after reading his book

Yeah, they’ve been hanging around together quite a lot. Some call him Bush’s “guru”. I would think quoting Sharansky in support of any argument you had would be a lot like quoting Bush himself.

“If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy read Natan Sharansky’s book, The Case for Democracy,” George W. Bush

I agree - which is why he’s doing everything mostly right and, unlike Reagan and the Cold War, it’ll be much harder for the left to deny Bush credit for reforming the Middle East (although judging from the thread on Lebanon, that won’t stop people from trying).

You either didn’t read it or were the one who missed the point - it is not, in any way, condescending or paternalistic - quite the contrary, since it argues against the condescending, paternalistic (and rascist) Realpolitic that we should back dictators and tyranny for pragmatic reasons because Arab nations don’t really want or are incapable of freedom or basic rights - Sharansky’s position is that all people are equally capable, deserving, and desirous of such things.

Yet somehow you interpret that as a real “dangerous illusion” espousing big Macs. Whatever. I highly recommend it – frankly, even if you’re not a Bush fan, you should read it, at least to better understand his motivations and perspective, so you don’t embarrass yourself by bleating “halliburtan” at your protest rallies.