Is There a Doctrine in the Haass? (Michael Young, 11/11/05, Tech Central Station)

Haass and Scowcroft worry that democratization leads to instability, and for realists that is far worse than leaving predictable despots in peace and in place. The Bush administration has done itself few favors by botching postwar stabilization in Iraq, and critics charge that democracy there has failed to reverse this. However, in harking back to a time when democracy was not an American priority in the Middle East, Haass and Scowcroft sound almost as outdated as if they had prescribed containment to cure the region’s woes. The democratic genie is already out of the bottle, and any serious foreign policy strategy must take that into consideration.

Even Haass himself, in writing that integration must advance political freedoms and change the behavior of rogue states, concedes more of state sovereignty than realists like: the U.S. should push for change where it can, he insists, including democratization, but not if this dents national security interests. The question is how do you define such interests in the Middle East? For the Bush administration, democracy, by reducing Arab frustration and limiting America’s truck with thugs, is vital because it helps erode the impetus for anti-American terrorism; for the realists, stability, access to oil, and reliable alliances are preferable, though democracy might lose out.

Yet thanks to the Bush administration, democracy is now a living, breathing part of the Middle East’s dynamics; there is no going back to the region presided over by Scowcroft and President George H.W. Bush; a time when Saddam Hussein was allowed to survive politically after his forces were removed from Kuwait; when Shiites and Kurds were left to be slaughtered by the Baathist regime, for fear that Saddam’s ouster might somehow generate instability; when Lebanon was offered to Syria in exchange for Hafiz al-Assad’s agreement to participate in the Gulf war coalition. […]

The problem with the realist foreign policy critique is that, by tending to be mechanistic, it is often blind to the more intangible impulses the U.S. generates through its actions. Haass may be right in regarding the blanket implementation of democracy as an unneeded problem in relations with certain countries. But he is wrong in assuming that the U.S. is still at a stage, particularly in the Middle East, where it can forecast how the peoples of the region will address such issues as liberty and democracy. Neither the Iraqis, nor for that matter the Lebanese, embraced these values in the past year for the sake of the Bush administration; they did so because the U.S. offered them a chance to advance their own self-interest that was too good to miss.

That is why any future U.S. administration, in failing to make democracy a cornerstone of its doctrine, risks being left behind by a region far less timid than those like Haass perceive.

In his brilliant book, The Shield of Achilles, Phillip Bobbitt notes that one of the reasons that traditional sovereignty, of which realists are so enamored, is a dead letter is because:

Any set of rules that forbids the use of American force in virtually all contexts in which the United States is likely to find itself moved by moral considerations in the current era will forfeit its claim on our moral sense.

The same must be said of our grand strategy, which George W. Bush rightly recognizes must be based on the promotion of liberty abroad in order to comport with our national character. On the other hand, there will always be those who insist we should only intervene when our own national security is at risk, which is why presidents have ended up having to make accompanyingly false cases for war in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, etc.

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