Some of the response to this post has led me to believe that the topic would benefit from further discussion. And how perfect that just yesterday, when I was in Istanbul, I watched the BBC report on Bush's recent speech at the National Endowment for Democracy, where he gave a rare admission of the failure of previous American foreign policy and issued a call for the American promotion of democratic institutions in nations that are ruled by authoritarian, despotic and oppressive rulers.
Said Bush, "Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? ... I, for one, do not believe it."
I don't either, but go on:
"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty."
Now, I despise Dubya just as much, if not more, than most people I know, but let's look at what the man, er, his policy speechwriters, are saying here. He's declaring that our history of supporting corrupt regimes simply for selfish gains is over. It's become apparent that that strategy not only does not work, but is harmful to those who are held down by U.S. backed dictators (see Latin America for much of the past half century).
Let's go to the comments:
"The reason why people get so pissed off when we intervene is because in the past we have SUPPORTED dictators like Pinocet and upheld undemocratic regimes, such as the Apartheid government in South Africa. When we have intervened for strictly humanitarian reasons, it has gone disastorously (eg, Somolia). I'm just saying that interveneing aboad is always problematic for the United States and we should go to extreem lengths to make sure we are doing it for "democratic" reasons."
Like I just said, our days of supporting Pinochet and other such regimes (Saddam's Iraq) is over. Much of that can be traced to the Cold War chess game of influence (something that probably wasn't necessary anyway). U.S. policy during that time probably contributed to millions of deaths throughout the world. We aren't blameless, but we shouldn't let our shame prevent us from changing.
I disagree with the portion of this comment related to Somalia. I think Somalia failed because we weren't determined to actually finish the job. We went in undermanned, with a disjointed international force and paid the price in a place where we were way over our heads. U.S. policy was finally thinking how it should be, but our leaders were still wary of Vietnam-syndrome and failed to commit where commitment was needed.
What did we spawn in Somalia? First off the country is no better today, in fact it might be worse. Second, time after time Bin Laden and his followers used our timidity in the African anarchic state as an example of why minimal terrorist attacks could be effective. Seeing that all it would take to get America to pull out of Somalia would be one horrible day, especially after watching the American response to attacks in Lebanon in the early 1980's, al-Qaeda saw that even though America has the military might and that head to head warfare would lead to the network's quick demise, if they could just scare off the Americans with a few terrorist attacks they could control where American soldiers were based. It seemed that easy.
The comments continue:
"The liberal, western, Lockean view believes that government was developed in order to protect private property and individual rights, to bring humans out of their state of nature and into an organized society. Thus, an extension of this would be the belief that the government creates and develops the society it presides over."
OK, this is actually just inaccurate. While Hobbes believed in a need to escape the state of nature and organize society, Locke believed no such thing. He saw the state of nature in a much more positive way. He believed the state of nature was the state in which man is free and secure in his self. For Locke, man enters society with other men in order to advance his own well-being, but the achievement of his own aspirations actually benefits society as well. You can argue all you want whether this is how the world actually is, but that is what Locke espoused. (ed - Zigs, Modern Quest? Back me up?)
"Other areas of the world have diffent ideas about violence, war, social order, government, and family. Thatcher once said that "there are no societies, only individuals." This is a western view created by such philosophers as Locke, Hobbes, and Jefferson. Other parts of the world have completely different ideas."
First sentence, couldn't agree more. Cultures are indeed quite different, that's what makes the world so great. I'm well aware that elsewhere in the world many societies tend to be far more communal in nature and they value a conformist world view. Of course I'm generalizing, but yes, western culture is more individualistic. Is that a bad thing? Going with your view of things, I would be wrong to even dare answering that question.
But I will. I see the benefits and unique natures of both systems, communal and individualistic, and neither should be neglected. My question though is this: why must a communal culture necesssarily be in conflict with a principle such as democracy? It seems to me that an institution where each member of society is seen as equal and a positive force in the community is perfectly in line with a society that values the contributions each member makes to the group. A form of government in which one corrupt autocrat rules while the rest of the society are subjegated and repressed isn't in line with any form of positive community I know of.
"So, it might not be good to turn a head when genocide occurs in Cambodia, but we should be concious of other cultures."
This statement makes me wonder what South Africa is doing to you Zigs. Of course we need to be conscientious of the cultures we engage with, but not to the extent that we lose our moral compass. (I'm guessing you'll question if we should even have a "moral compass" but we'll just have to disagree on that.) Cultural relativity can only go so far. At some point we need to sit down and say, 'no, one ethnic group committing genocide on another isn't right.' We haven't done this yet (see our missed opportunity in Rwanda) but it should be the nature of a new American foreign policy.
Accepting the oppression of the Iraqi people by saying that we have no right to judge their culture is nothing short of irresponsible. People around the world crave freedom, be it freedom to be individuals or freedom to live as a part of a communal whole. Being a cog in a social wheel needn't mean being a slave to that society. Iraqi rape rooms and North Korean famines aren't society, they are simply wrong.
One last comment before I wrap this up:
"Many elements factor into the society of a certain group. Relgious beliefs, gender roles, economics and social stratification, and the government all interact together within a society."
I can now why I chose political science over sociology. The problem with your assessment, I think, is that you assume that all those elements actually are allowed to play a role in society. In a free democracy religious beliefs, gender roles, economics and social classes all play their own intricate part in the grand schemes of the social framework. However, how much can religious belief change in Iran? How about gender roles under the Taliban? How well is economics playing a role in Zimbabwe under Mugabe's rash land reforms?
Under tyranny segmented society fails to function. That's the point of it all. A dictator can't be effective if there are pesky things like gender roles or religious beliefs interfering in his monopoly on power. He's not called an autocrat for nothing.
OK, I think I'm done. I'm sure the comments will be lit up with rebuttals, and I look forward to a lively debate on the gaps and problems with cultural/moral relativism. Bring it.
**UPDATE**: So I wasn't done I guess. I just read through Bush's speech and found a section that I think throws some light on this debate.
"In the words of a recent report by Arab scholars, the global wave of democracy has, and I quote, "barely reached the Arab states. They continue this freedom deficit, undermines human development and is one of the most painful manifestations of lagging political development."
The freedom deficit they describe has terrible consequences for the people of the Middle East and for the world.
"In many Middle Eastern countries poverty is deep and it is spreading, women lack rights and are denied schooling, whole societies remain stagnant while the world moves ahead.
These are not the failures of a culture or a religion. These are the failures of political and economic doctrines."
"The EU Executive Commission’s survey of attitudes on Iraq and world peace showed that 59 percent of those polled saw Israel as a threat, putting it above Iran, North Korea and the United States, each of which polled 53 percent."
Europeans see the United States as a threat to world peace equal to two members of the "Axis of Evil." Hmm. Maybe we should work on changing those misperceptions.
The Israel-is-the-world's-largest-threat meme is almost to be expected from Europe these days. It has grown more and more resentful of any Israeli attempt to defend itself from Palestinian suicide attacks. For some reason Europe doesn't understand why a functioning, thriving democracy would want to defend its livelihood from those who threaten its security. But that's a topic that has already been covered.
Thomas Friedman's latest column grabbed my attention with its jarring title, "The End of the West?" In it Friedman once again points out how Germany and France are really the bad guys when it comes to Iraq and we should stop pretending that they aren't. He doesn't propose that we encourage "the end of the west," but he uses his examples well to show that when push comes to shove our real allies are the ones who are there when we need them.
We can argue all we want over the merits of going into Iraq in the first place. I'll put forth once again that I think it was the correct decision, though it was sold to the American people based on the wrong reasons.
I thought we should have gone in because of the horrific tales of oppression and genocide that were being perpetrated on the Iraqi people - a reason that became the administration's number one argument after the fact. Instead, in the lead-up to war, the administration warned of the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein to his own devices. They scared us with images of mushroom clouds over major American cities and told us how to duct tape our homes in the event of a chemical attack. If that wasn't a proclamation of an "imminent threat" I don't know what is.
In the end though, what we have accomplished so far in Iraq is merely a good start. If we aim to take down brutal dictators - as the administration stresses as the real reason we took out Saddam - then there's a long list of nations awaiting our help. I believe we should do what we can, where we can for the good of those who suffer without freedom and democracy. Every person in the world is capable of democracy - to say otherwise is foolish. As the lone superpower we owe it to the world to confront those who seek to hold others down. We need to use our power effectively and do so in a way that shows our good will.
To accomplish these goals we will need allies. Right now America has unprecedented strength in comparison to every other nation. We spend more on our military than the rest of the world combined. Our economy is dominant in financial markets around the globe and anything that affects us affects the world even more. But our strength will only stretch so far. And it will stretch even less if we present it in a way that causes the rest of the world to push back.
After September 11 we had the world on our side. We went into Afghanistan with the world behind us. We were breaking up oppressive regimes and taking down the bad guys. Good was defeating evil.
But the good will we earned after September 11 was squandered. The Bush administration founded a new, dangerous "with us or against us" doctrine. It didn't have time for the nuances of diplomacy. It required blind allegiance to the American dominant plan. "Our way or the highway" was not a principle that the new European Union was used to hearing. It believed in shared sovereignty, drawn out discussion of all the options and always a deep consideration of the consequences of every possible action.
To the Neocons in America the EU process was mind-numbing. Nothing but talk, talk, talk. The Neocons wanted action, action, action - even if having no plan would lead to a disastrous outcome.
Friedman's column takes a look at what has caused these differences in American and European thought:
"Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, noted to me in Brussels the other day that for a generation Americans and Europeans shared the same date: 1945. A whole trans-Atlantic alliance flowed from that postwar shared commitment to democratic government, free markets and the necessity of deterring the Soviet Union. America saw the strength of Europe as part of its own front line and vice versa - and this bond "made the resolution of all other issues both necessary and possible," said Mr. Bildt.
"Today, however, we are motivated by different dates. "Our defining date is now 1989 and yours is 2001," said Mr. Bildt. Every European prime minister wakes up in the morning thinking about how to share sovereignty, as Europe takes advantage of the collapse of communism to consolidate economically, politically and militarily into one big family. And the U.S. president wakes up thinking about where the next terror attack might come from and how to respond - most likely alone. "While we talk of peace, they talk of security," says Mr. Bildt. "While we talk of sharing sovereignty, they talk about exercising sovereign power. When we talk about a region, they talk about the world. No longer united primarily by a common threat, we have also failed to develop a common vision for where we want to go on many of the global issues confronting us."
A large part of the reason Europe is so free to be so negligent in security matters is because since 1945 the United States has provided that security for them. This isn't to say Europe isn't living up to its promises though, for it is simply the legacy that the Cold War left us. But all too often Europe forgets how it survived the Cold War. It forgets that it wouldn't have the ability to be a union of peaceful nations with free economies if it wasn't for the nuclear blanket that the United States laid over Western Europe. Europe is strong, peaceful - and uppity - because we kept them safe from the Soviet arsenal. We let them play "government" while we made the world safe for them and others.
The former Swedish prime minister quoted above mentions 1989 and 2001 as turning points for how each side of the Atlantic has seen the world. I'm not sure that's entirely correct. In terms of who concerns itself with peace as a method to security and who concerns itself with security as a method to peace, nothing has changed. America still provides security for the world while diplomats in Brussels sip tea and politely discuss how to word their statement on human rights for the EU constitution.
We've changed quite a bit since our respective turning point years, but our fundamental objectives have not changed. Our world today will function better or worse based on how closely our two objectives can be reconciled. If Europe refuses to admit that America and America alone can effectively lead the way in world security matters then we will always have trouble coming to consensus. Likewise, if America seeks to run roughshod over European refinement of things best accomplished through diplomatic means then the world will continue to resent our acts of good will. Europe and America must work together. It is the only way to a peaceful and secure future.
The "long hard slog," yes, I know. But when should we expect the number of American troops being killed each day to decline? If you take a good look at the graph attached to this article, you'll see that since Bush declared major combat operations over on May 1 little has changed in the number of soldiers coming home in flag-drapped coffins.
If progress is really being made these numbers should be going down. Of course that would also require the word "progress" to suggest movement towards fewer attacks on coalition forces, not more, but that logic is apparently too much to comprehend for this administration.