Monday, September 27, 2004

Some dictators are more equal than others

The New Republic points out that the Bush administration believes that promoting democracy is integral to winning the war on terror--unless you are Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan, etc. This may be available only to subscribers--I'll give you a taste:

That basic contradiction--that this administration promotes democracy least where the war on terrorism matters most--runs throughout Bush's foreign policy. Consider U.S. behavior toward two of the countries closest to terrorism's frontline: Uzbekistan and Pakistan. Uzbekistan's secular dictator, Islam Karimov, nicely illustrates the Bush administration's argument that repression fuels terrorism. His regime jails, and often tortures, anyone who seems excessively religious--and thus, Uzbekistan's once largely peaceful Islamist movement is turning violent. It would seem like exactly the kind of place the United States would be pushing democracy hard. Instead, in March 2002, the Bush administration signed a "strategic partnership" with Uzbekistan that has paved the way for hundreds of millions in U.S. aid. That money is supposed to be conditioned on human rights improvements. But, as The American Prospect's Matthew Yglesias recently pointed out, the United States has waived those requirements for the last two years. The reason? Uzbekistan, which provides a base for American troops operating in neighboring Afghanistan, is too important to the war on terrorism. As Democratic Representative Gary Ackerman recently put it, Karimov "has learned that all he really needs to do is provide us with assistance in the global war on terrorism and that the rest is really not that important."


Blogger Goose3five said...

Good point, but people don't seem to care about the overt flipiddy floppidyness of our Commander in Thief. Remember, he says what he means and means what he says...

9:08 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

You're right--it doesn't fit the script the media has written for this campaign.

2:08 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:10 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait a minute. If the central thesis is that "this administration promotes democracy least where the war on terrorism matters most," then perhaps the thesis is wrong.

Let's assume, first, that Afghanistan under the Taliban was a state sponsor of terrorism, hosting several thousand armed terrorists who sought, beyong diplomatic or economic means, to alter global politics through violence.

Would one not say, in 2001, that Afghanistan was the premier state to be invaded? Would it also not follow that democratic elections should be held there three years later under the protective wing of the U.S. military?

Now, let's turn to another state sponsor of terrorism, Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein, the Baathist regime sought to influence regional and global politics through the violence of transnational terrorist networks. He supported the Al Aqsa Brigade, Islamic Jihad, etc., in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon.

He offered safe harbor to Abu Nidal and other murderers who had targeted Israel and the west for decades.

He supported and safeguarded from Kurdish attack Ansar Al Al-Islam, a Jihadist group with clear connections to Al Qaeda (ties that have only become more obvious during the occupation) that has sought to attack not only U.S. and Iraqi targets, but tried to destabilize Jordan and has been linked to bombings in Turkey.

Am I the only one who doesn't notice a trend here? Elections follow in nations that we invade and are former state sponsors of global terrorism. This is the model the Bush administration has chosen, like it or not, but it's a model he's made good on.

Are you proposing now that we invade Saudi Arabia, Russia and Pakistan?

Or are you instead asking that the U.S. employ its "soft power" to prod Saudi Arabia, Russia and Pakistan toward more democratic institutions?

First, let's assume that Russia is a bit more democratic than the Kingdom of Saud, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, even with the proposed "reforms" on personal liberties requested of the Duma by the Putin regime.

Second, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that these states make strange bedfellows, culturally, when lumped together. I will conjecture that Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic noted for its pollution, drunkeness and poverty, is a tad different than, oh say, Saudi Arabia, a quasi-theocratic desert kingdom ruled by the same family since WWI, or Pakistan, a nuclear-armed military oligarchy.

How do we affect these nations in the most benevolent way? What policies should be adopt, beyond the invasion model (I'm going to assume Potts and Goose won't approve of seizing Islamabad or Moscow next)?

Perhaps one starts by former alliances, as repugnant as they are, against Jihadist states or transnational terrorist groups in the larger civil war being fought in the Middle East and Asia between secular societies and, for lack of a better term, "Islamic fundamentalists."

In the meantime, how does the U.S. go about changing these societies through "soft power"? Military exchanges are one way (see Thailand, a longterm policy that worked), of course, as are closer economic ties (the open China policy, for example).

Or maybe we must realize that the U.S. can't change every country into something we want. Maybe this form of hubris isn't harbored by the Bush administration, despite editorials to the opposite, except for countries that pose direct military threats to us or our allies.

If I accept that limitation, then the next countries to look at for regime change are N. Korea, Syria now, and Iran probably later.

It's an ugly world, but priorities are priorities.

2:34 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

It sounds an awful lot like you are promoting the kind of pragmatic foreign policy we had during the Cold War, the kind that Bush and the neocons--at least in rhetoric, if not in fact--now say is outdated and ill-suited toward the war on terror. I see no attempts of any kind, either through hard or soft power, to push the nations mentioned in the article toward democracy.

2:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, the first goal with these regimes is to enlist them on the side of the west in a global war (and an ongoing civil war with Islam itself) against Jihadist terror networks. Soft power applications to change the regimes should follow, and I'm not sure I agree that there has been no progress on that Wilsonian front.

I believe Bush has abandoned the Kissinger/Skowcroft line of thought that says we can play paddy-cake with repressive governments in order to preserve the status quo (the status quo in the Cold War was good because, although repugnant, it was assumed that it was a lesser evil than Soviet-style Communism).

You ask to see tangible progress in these nations three years after 9/11. Well, if that's your standard, then any administration would be in trouble. Somehow, you want the White House to fundamentally revamp the political and social orientation of such divers nations as Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia. I'm assuming you believe this is a fundamental job for the U.S. to do, or what was the point of offering it up?

I would suggest, however, that you have your priorities wrong. The first order of business should be (1) changing the political culture of (in) former state sponsors of terror that we now control militarily (Afghanistan, Iraq); then, (2) using gains in those arenas to affect reforms in other nations that will benefit the security of the U.S. and our allies (coercing Libya to abandon an apparently well-developed WMD enterprise; the Saudis to crack down on the financing of terror; spooking the Syrians into backing down terror operations in Lebanon or further developing WMD, etc.).

I certainly see evidence of that. You want to turn this modest proposal on its head. You want the U.S., it seems, to coerce our allies in the larger civil war against Jihadist politics to reform politically. I would simply suggest that I sleep better at night knowing that U.S. troops are scaring the hell out of the Syrian powerbrokers than a thug in Uzbekistan who doesn't seek to blow us or our allies off the map.

Please remember that the previous administration didn't seek to change either our enemies or our friends unless our allies were completely overwhelmed (The Balkans, Cambodia), and usually failed tragically at even that (Rwanda, Algeria, Nepal, Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, the Caucuses).

I would humbly suggest that the Chenyan bloodbath predates Bush, as does the problem with Kashmir,an atomic N. Korea and Iran, civil wars in the former Soviet Republics and rising Sunni extremism.

What I like about the Bushies is that they at least realize that political and economic liberty for all the world's citizens can't be divorced from America's ultimate security. It's a left-wing idea, one that's shared by Christopher Hitchens and the editors of Dissent, among others.

Bush is a new convert to the notion, and we're only three years into the experiment. I'm not sure he's the best man to finish the job. So far, Kerry hasn't proved if he even grasps Bush's strategy, but he seems to envision America's ultimate security as a defensive struggle, characterized by a Kissingerian approach to preserving the status quo, attacking terror networks with international policing and bureaucratic fiat.

I happen to believe that this sort of fight will fail. While Bush is noisome in all other regards (environment, courts, civil liberties, name anything else here), he seems fairly dedicated to killing terrorists and deposing of threats to the security of America and our allies.

Yes, the occupation of Iraq was bungled. Yes, people should have been fired. Yes, the intelligence agencies were often worthless in the lead-up to 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, Bush should do more to appease our allies and strengthen our friends involved in this very real global battle against Islamist thugocracies.

Ironically, I personally believe Gore/Lieberman would've done a far better job on all of these fronts, just as I believe a Hillary Clinton/(name your VP here) would also.

But that's not my choice now. My choice on the most important issue before the American voters is whether Kerry would do anything of value in this war against Islamist terror. I don't think he will.

3:40 PM


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