2002 September 21 Saturday
On the UN, Democracy, and Dangerous Regimes

Over on Winds Of Change Joe Katzman does a good job of finding interesting discussions happening between blogs (or even within one blog with just one guy talking as he did with my own posts on deterrence vs preemption) and collecting up a bunch of links you can click open and read once a series of posts has neared completion. It makes it easy to come in after the fact and more quickly follow an exchange without having to wait for each next post.

Well, Joe traces a debate about democracy, terrorism, and culture between Oxblog and Michiel Visser. I personally find more merit in of Michiel's arguments. However, I'd like to start out quibbling with some of Michiel's arguments:

Michiel states: "Unless the four 'terror states' ( per Michael Ledeen) of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are dealt with, the West cannot be safe." My quibble here is that label of "terror states" is really an incomplete statement of the problem. It is important to state the three different reasons why states cause problems for us because each reason is cause for an effective response on our part. First of all, some states are a threat as a side effect of their policies and actions. A state like Saudi Arabia does not support terrorism against the US in order to accomplish its objectives against us. The Saudis may teach their kids things (like, say, hate the unbelievers) that lead to a much greater chance that their kids will become terrorists. The Saudis actively export the hostile Wahhabi version of Islam. The Saudis may (as has been credibly claimed) pay terrorist organizations large amounts of protection money that then gets used for attacks against the US. But the intent on the part of the top Saudi leaders is not actually to cause attacks against the US. The Saudi rulers have even let their private citizens donate to organzations hostile to the US and the West. But there are other things they do not do that other states do that create threats to us. The second reason states become a source of threats to us: States that hate us fund and train and provide support for terrorists who hate us. Iran is currently the top state that does this though they are not alone. Finally, the third cause of threats is that some states hostile to us are working to develop Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). So while Ledeen or Michiel may list Saudi Arabia and I agree its a very big problem for us it differs in important ways from those other states listed. Also, if we consider development of WMD as a reason for concern then Libya and North Korea become important to consider as well. Some states end up being a threat to us for a combination of the above reasons.

Another quibble with Michiel: He states: "To bring about liberal democracy in the Middle East is both necessary and incredibly difficult. Anyone who suggests otherwise is deeply mistaken." Well, I agree that bringing liberal democracy to the Middle East would be incredibly difficult. I would even go so far as to say that if liberal democracy comes to the Middle East it won't be any time soon. To have a functioning liberal democracy requires a change in attitudes and a development of a civil society that takes at least decades to achieve. Turkey is quite instructive in this regard and still hasn't firmly made the transition. However, where I disagree with Michiel is as to the necessity of bringing liberal democracy to the Muslim countries in the Middle East. There are many regimes in the Middle East that are not liberal democracies, that are not even illiberal democracies, that are not a threat to the US or to the West as a whole (lost any sleep lately worrying about Bahrain?). The same is true of some regimes in other parts of the world. Lack of liberal democracy does not automatically make a regime a threat. We are lucky that this is the case since establishment of liberal democracies (and by liberal I think its implied secular as well) is so hard to do.

I'd like to quibble with some of David Adesnik's arguments on Oxblog. Adesnik states: "The real question is whether states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt can move straight toward democracy without first experiencing a fundamentalist interlude which discredits the brutality of radical Islam." Well, David, simple question for you: In what ways would a fundamentalist regime in Saudi Arabia differ from the current regime? Think they'd make women wear veils in public? Oh, wait they already do that. Think they'd ban women as drivers? Oops, again that's already been done. Or how about chopping off hands and other aspects of Sharia Law enforcement? Darn, they've already been doing that for a long time. How about making most of higher education into Islamic theology studies? Oh wait, been there, doing that already. Its going to be tough for fundamentalist replacements of the Princes of Saud to find some new novel ways to rule the people in a more fundamentalist fashion. This is the irony of the "rule by fundamentalists will make the people sick of Islam" argument. Yes, it seems to be working with Iranian culture (not that we have a way to poll the Iranian masses to discover how widely secular desires are spreading). But in Saudi culture the schools teaching that non-believers are inferior and not to be trusted seem to be rather successful in transmitting those ideas while at the same time a rather strict enforcement of rules of behavior is pursued. Could there be a cultural difference that explains the different response of the people in Saudi Arabia and Iran?

Adesnik talks about people who overthrow dictators and remain committed to democratic reform. He cites Chile as an example. Huh? Pinochet allowed the elections that drove him from power. Also, the use of the word "overthrows" isn't an accurate fit for some of the other countries mentioned. The US government has applied pressure in some cases (especially after the Cold War ended - and this was little noticed by the American public) to get military dictators among allies and in Latin America to step down and let elected leaders replace them.

The histories of revolutions as models to usher in democracies do not strike me as great historical examples to invoke. Few revolutions usher in democracies and not all of those democracies are sustained or develop into the more liberal, less corrupt, and more open and free variety. Also, in some regions of the world revolutions from below simply do not happen. Since the Shah was overthrown in Iran (with a far worse regime taking its place) can someone name a single mass movement revolutionary regime replacement in an Islamic country? Maybe in Yemen there was one since it was wracked with war for a long time. Certainly one can cite Pakistan as an example of where the military periodically takes power. But those Pakistani coups are not revolutions and instead are just periodic attempts by the military clear out some of the corruption. Pakistan is more like Turkey in the role that the military plays in attempting to prevent elected civilian leaders from ruining their nations - but with the important difference that the Turkish military is committed to a secular state and therefore acts to keep religious people out of the government. So what other Islamic country could be cited? There was a regime change in Indonesia that had some popular support. Whether that was a success that will lead to an evolution toward liberal democracy remains to be seen (I'm not optimistic).

Also, getting back to David Adesnik's examples, is Cambodia a country where democracy works well? How about the former Khmer Rouge leader Hun Sen who rose to become Prime Minster? (and I think Hun Sen is still in power) Is that a promising sign of a budding liberal democracy? Read this gushing nauseating description of Hun Sen's achievements and golfing prowess. The UN Human Development Report 2002 (warning: its in PDF format) gives Cambodia ratings for political rights and for civil liberties (lower is better) of 6 where 7 is the worst. For a press freedom score (again where lower is better) Cambodia scores 61 out of 100. See page 54 of the PDF. El Salvador scores better but still only manages a 37 out of 100 (again, lower is better) for press freedom. These are examples of successful transitions to democracy?

I find the UN's own document to be a serious indictment of the very UN member nations that the internationalist crowd thinks should be able to sit in judgement and decide whether the US should take out the Iraqi regime. The UN bureaucrats wouldn't want to admit this but this document undermines any claim for moral legitimacy of the UN as a decision-making institution. Why should its member states have influence or power over what free liberal democracies decide to do? How can such a membership list of governments be considered to have enough moral legitimacy to pass judgement on the actions of the United States of America?

This rather dismal view of the UN member states makes Adesnik's Good Cop/Bad Cop analogy for the UN and US seem backward. We really have the US as Good Cop, UN as Corrupt Judge, and Saddam Hussein as Outlaw Menace. In this scenario the Corrupt Judge wants the Outlaw Menace to be left to his own devices in his mountain cave complex as long as we can't prove he's about to come down and raid cities. An even better analogy is Orrin Judd's For I Must Kill Frank Miller Dead essay. Gary Cooper in High Noon is a great model for America.

Coercive Inspections: This idea strikes me as something cooked up by people who are too clever for their (or our) own good to avoid the most straightforward and certain solution to the problem of Saddam Hussein. Once again, I would urge anyone who hasn't done so to go read Brink Linsdsey on the futility of inspections against Iraq.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 September 21 07:13 PM  UN, International Institutions


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