blogenlust
12.20.2004

Invasion v. Persuasion


Just read an interesting article by George Packer in The New Yorker entitled "Invasion vs. Persuasion." It's subject is how (not if) the United States should go about spreading freedom in the non-democratic world:
The best role for critics in the President’s second term will be not to scoff at the idea of spreading freedom but to take it seriously—to hold him to his own talk. The hard question isn’t whether America should try to enlarge the democratic order but how. It’s a question that the Administration seems to have thought about very little, yet it makes a big difference.
As examples, Packer contrasts the recent events in Ukraine with those in Iraq. Packer argues that events in Ukraine have been heavily influenced by the work of Western governments and NGOs over the last ten years. As a result, the political opposition was adequately funded and organized enough to successfully take on the corrupt government.
The popular uprising in Ukraine has now secured a new Presidential election, the previous vote having been discredited by huge fraud. There’s a quiet American story behind that achievement. For years, beginning in the nineteen-nineties, governmental and non-governmental organizations poured millions of dollars into Ukraine’s politics, building up the parties, training civil-society groups and journalists, establishing election monitors. These efforts helped strengthen the opposition against a corrupt government, but they were nonpartisan: technical support was given to all parties. [...] But in Ukraine the meddlers have done nothing worse than help guarantee a people’s right to choose a government freely. The effort succeeded for two reasons: there was a democratic movement already in place; and outside support did not come with a “Made in America” label, because the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also played an important part. “The thrust of the campaign is to oblige Ukraine to have a free and fair election,” Thomas Carothers, a democracy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says. “This is a human right. It’s not American. It’s not unilateralist.”
If our attempts to spread democratic reform to Ukraine can be characterized as subtle, then our excursion in Iraq is more like a bull in a china shop:
In Iraq, the United States has tried to stage-manage the political transition alone, and has seen every plan overtaken and nullified by events. Lacking legitimacy in the eyes of both Iraq and the rest of the world, defying international standards and declaring its own, the Administration has had to base its claim on good intentions. But in the war of perception between that claim and the daily stories of tortured prisoners and civilian deaths America is losing. According to Carothers, who has just co-edited the first technical book on democracy promotion in the Middle East, the Iraq model has set back the cause of Arab reformers. At this point, the Administration seems ready to hold an election and declare victory. Meanwhile, the insurgency looks increasingly like a civil war. An election, though politically necessary, might only worsen the conflict. Shiite politicians and clerics are organizing a unified ballot that will guarantee the majority Shiites a vast share of next month’s election spoils at the expense of the country’s alienated Sunnis. The elected parliament, which will write a constitution, isn’t likely to be truly representative, or to create a political consensus out of this violent polarization. More probably, the losers will opt out and the civil war will intensify.
At first I was reluctant to buy into Packer's thesis that we need to actively promote democracy in places where it is non-existant. Afterall, we've been so fucking successful in Iraq and Afghanistan it hurts. However, after thinking about it a bit, and learning about the NGO and Western governmental influences in Ukraine, I think he might be on to something. The Bush Administration has created this paradigm that dictates that things can only get done by flexing our military muscle. As a result, diplomacy and soft-power have been marginalized at a time when both are vital to our foreign policy. The problem, highlighted by recent events in Ukraine, is that reality doesn't fit into the Bush Administration's paradigm. That is to say, military force is rarely the best way to create democratic institutions in a country (and a region) that has few democratic experiences. Instead, history has shown that it is often efforts similar to those in Ukraine that are the most successful in creating long term democratic reforms. I think this is an important point for Democrats to take into consideration when it comes to articulating their own foreign policy, and also demonstrating why the Bush foreign policy has been unsuccessful and counterproductive. And speaking of a Democratic foreign policy... The current foreign policy debate in this country is dominated by Bush's "foreward strategy of freedom," and even Democrats would be hard-pressed to articulate their foreign policy (answer: ABB: Anything but Bush's...and we all know how well that worked last time). Even if our foreign policy doesn't change, this country would be much better off with a larger discussion on the topic. If the Democrats have any hopes of retaining a Congressional or national majority within the next generation, they'd better start speaking up and standing up for policies they believe in. It doesn't have to be exactly like Packer's thesis (although that would be a good start), it just has to be something.