YOU DON'T OCCUPY LIBERATED ALLIES:

October 30, 2005

Occupational Hazards: a review of The Assassins Gate by George Packer (FAREED ZAKARIA, 10/30/05, NY Times Book Review)

Packer begins his absorbing account with the ideas that led the United States to war. A few neoconservatives, most prominently Paul Wolfowitz, had long believed that ousting Saddam Hussein would pave the way for a grand reordering of the Middle East, pushing it away from tyranny and anti-Americanism and toward modernity and democracy. Others, including Douglas Feith, explained that eliminating Hussein would be particularly good for Israel’s security. But the broadest reason to intervene in Iraq was that it was a bold use of American power that mixed force with idealism. Many neoconservatives were Reaganites who believed in an assertive, even aggressive, American posture in the world. For them the 1990’s – under Bush père and Clinton alike – had been years of retreat. “They were supremely confident,” Packer writes, “all they needed was a mission.”

But they wouldn’t have had one without 9/11. As one of the neoconservatives Packer interviewed correctly points out, “September 11 is the turning point. Not anything else.” After 9/11, Bush – and many Americans, including many liberals – were searching for a use of the nation’s power that mixed force with idealism and promised to reorder the Middle East. In Iraq they found it.

Packer collects his articles from The New Yorker but goes well beyond them. His book lacks a tight thesis or structure and as a result meanders at times, petering out in its final sections. But this is more than made up for by the sheer integrity and intelligence of its reporting, from Washington, New York, London and, of course, Iraq. Packer provides page after page of vivid description of the haphazard, poorly planned and almost criminally executed occupation of Iraq. In reading him we see the staggering gap between abstract ideas and concrete reality.

Hard as it is to believe, the Bush administration took on the largest foreign policy project in a generation with little planning or forethought. It occupied a foreign country of 25 million people in the heart of the Middle East pretty much on the fly. Packer, who was in favor of the war, reserves judgment and commentary in most of the book but finally cannot contain himself: “Swaddled in abstract ideas . . . indifferent to accountability,” those in positions of highest responsibility for Iraq “turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one,” he writes. “When things went wrong, they found other people to blame.”

Packer recounts the prewar discussions in the State Department’s “Future of Iraq Project,” which produced an enormous document outlining the political challenges in governing Iraq. He describes Drew Erdmann’s memo, written for Colin Powell, analyzing previous postwar reconstructions in the 20th century. Erdmann’s conclusion was that success depended on two factors, establishing security and having international support. These internal documents were mirrored by several important think-tank studies that all made similar points, specifically on the need for large-scale forces to maintain security. One would think that this Hobbesian message – that order is the first requisite of civilization – would appeal to conservatives. In fact all of this careful planning and thinking was ignored or dismissed.

Part of the problem was the brutal and debilitating struggle between the State Department and the Defense Department, producing an utterly dysfunctional policy process. The secretary of the Army, Thomas White, who was fired after the invasion, explained to Packer that with the Defense Department “the first issue was, we’ve got to control this thing – so everyone else was suspect.” The State Department was regarded as the enemy, so what chance was there of working with other countries? The larger problem was that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (and probably Dick Cheney) doggedly believed nation-building was a bad idea, the Clinton administration has done too much of it, and the American military should stop doing it. Rumsfeld explained this view in a couple of speeches and op-ed articles that were short on facts and long on polemics. But how to square this outlook with invading Iraq? Assume away the need for nation-building. Again, White explains: “We had the mind-set that this would be a relatively straightforward, manageable task, because this would be a war of liberation, and therefore reconstruction would be short-lived.” Rumsfeld’s spokesman, Larry Di Rita, went to Kuwait in April 2003 and told the American officials waiting there that the State Department had messed up Bosnia and Kosovo and that the Bush administration intended to hand over power to Iraqis and leave within three months.

That the main idea has worked out brilliantly is demonstrated from the polling places for the Iraqi constitution to Libya to Palestine to Lebanon to Syria to Pakistan, to the UN and so on and so forth. The one failure came in the form of mounting an Occupation rather than turning power over to an interim government acceptable to Ayatollah Sistani ASAP.

MORE:
‘The Right War?’ and ‘A Matter of Principle’: Everybody Is a Realist Now (JAMES TRAUB, 10/30/05, NY Times Book Review)

A decade ago, the question of humanitarian intervention, above all in Bosnia, split both left and right into antiwar “realists” and prowar moralists, or “Wilsonians.” What is clear from these two volumes is that 9/11 fused the two arguments into one, for enemies embodying a totalitarian and obscurantist culture had reached out to deal us a terrible blow. This Islamofascist culture was as dangerous to us as to its domestic victims. President Bush, who entered office as a realist vowing to put “interests” ahead of “values,” became the chief exponent of a revived Wilsonianism. “We support . . . democracy in the Middle East,” he said, “because it is a founding principle, and because it is in our interest.”

Debate on the war is now, in effect, organized around this view – whether it is valid, whether it can be applied to Iraq, whether the Bush administration has hopelessly botched the execution. “Democracy promotion” has cleaved opinion on both sides, as humanitarian intervention did before. On the right, the “paleos” dismiss the project as a dangerous pipe dream – a form of “democratic imperialism,” in Patrick Buchanan’s phrase. [….]

The debate inside the left is of course a very different one, but also involves an absolutism that will not take account of individual cases. The absolutism, in this case, is an abhorrence of American power – an abhorrence greatly magnified by hatred for George W. Bush and all his works. The journalist Ian Buruma, though not a supporter of the war, has accused the fashionable left of practicing a form of moral racism, in which the brutalities of the West provoke outrage but the far greater crimes of third-world monsters like Saddam Hussein are passed over in silence. A magisterial nonchalance marches under the banner of moral superiority. Apropos the novelist Julian Barnes’s comment that the war wasn’t worth the loss of a single life, Norman Geras, a British political theorist, mordantly observes, “Not one, eh? So much for the victims of the rape rooms and the industrial shredders.” But of course to admit otherwise would be to credit the Americans, and even the Bush administration, with moral insight and the capacity for good. How much more satisfying to revel in the administration’s richly deserved comeuppance!

A Matter of Principle” will be sobering reading to many American liberals, especially those who took comfort in the near-universal European opposition to the war. Among the most powerful essays in the volume are those by French or German scholars taking their own countrymen to task. With the threat of the cold war over, writes Richard Herzinger, an editor of Die Zeit, the old cry of “Never again!” had lost its meaning of never again submission in favor of never again war – as if force itself were the great peril, and thus America, the most forceful nation, the chief enemy of peace. This is what Robert Kagan means when he describes the Kantian paradise Europeans have sought to take refuge in. They, no less than the Americans, and perhaps more, fit 9/11 into the world as they already understood it, and as they wished it to be.

Do we truly know what is required in order to defend democratic principles in the face of attack from those who consider themselves divinely inspired? (I am referring, of course, to Islamic fundamentalists, not the Bush administration.) “A Matter of Principle” includes a backbone-stiffening contribution from Adam Michnik, a political philosopher, a founder of Solidarity in Poland and an authentic hero of the democratic left. Asked whether it isn’t “paradoxical” to advocate violence as a means to advance human rights, Michnik snaps, “I can’t remember any text of mine where I said one should fight Hitler without violence; I’m not an idiot. . . . In the state of Saddam, the opposition could find a place only in cemeteries.”


HOW CAN WE NOT ROOT?:

March 13, 2005

Revisiting Iraq, and Rooting For Bush (Stuart Taylor Jr., 03-12-2005, National Journal)

I was guardedly in favor of invading Iraq, because I believed our president’s confident claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and his collaboration with Al Qaeda.

As time passed, I came to fear that the invasion had probably been a disastrous mistake — perhaps the worst by any president in my lifetime.

That was after the WMD and the supposed Qaeda alliance turned out to be intelligence-agency fantasies grossly exaggerated by President Bush and his aides. And after the occupation turned into a blood-soaked disaster. And after many Iraqis who had initially greeted us as liberators switched to wanting us out, or dead. And after the Abu Ghraib photos. And after anti-Americanism soared to unprecedented levels around the world. And after experts confidently assured me that Iraq was doomed to civil war and chaos and would become a haven for terrorists.

I descended into dismay about Bush and his top people. I was driven deeper into it by administration claims of war-on-terrorism presidential powers that can only be called tyrannical: to seize anyone in the world, anywhere in the world; to imprison and interrogate the suspect indefinitely, incommunicado, with no semblance of due process; even (if the president chooses) to torture him. Not to mention Bush’s feckless failure to prevent North Korea from going nuclear, the Guantanamo abuses, the disdain for diplomacy, the irresponsible approach to global warming, the fiscal recklessness, the shifting of tax burdens from the rich to future generations, the swaggering refusal to ever admit error, the smirk, and more.

Now, though, I am rooting for Bush to go down in history as a great president. […]

How can we not root for Bush to win this campaign for Arab democracy, even if his chances still seem no better than even? And while celebrations are premature, shouldn’t we sometime Bush-bashers — and even the full-time Bush-haters — be prepared to give great credit to him and his neocons, if and when it becomes clear that they have engineered a historic breakthrough?

Mr. Taylor is one of that sadly mere handful of folks who make up the Decent Left, those capable of looking past personalities and ideologies to what is best for the country and the world and, more imprtantly, recognizing that sometimes it’s the other side that knows best.

MORE:
Who else could we add to this list (allowing considerable leeway)?:

GENERALLY:

Robert Samuelson

AS REGARDS THE EXTENSION OF LIBERTY GLOBALLY (in other words, not in domestic affairs):

Michael Walzer
Michael Ignatieff
Paul Berman
Christopher Hitchens

Who else?


WAKING WITH THE COYOTE UGLY, BUT TRYING TO KEEP YOUR LEFT ARM:

September 24, 2004


LEFTISM AND OLD LACE:

July 11, 2004

The Left’s Man in the New Iraq (Paul Berman, July 7, 2004, LA Times)

The war in Iraq has always been a war against fascism, a liberation war for democratic freedom — even a left-wing war. Or so I have always thought. All over the world there are people who consider themselves liberals or left-wingers who think the same and who have backed the war in one fashion or another, even while criticizing President Bush’s way of conducting it.

I have to admit that quite a few other people take a different view and look on the war as a strictly right-wing adventure — a war for oil, or for imperialism, or for Republican interests. We liberal and left-wing supporters of the war have had a pretty hard time of it as a result.

But 10 days ago in Iraq, the left-wing hawks achieved a genuinely impressive success. A new government took office in Baghdad, led by a prime minister, Iyad Allawi. But directly beneath him is a deputy prime minister who has been selected with the approval of not just the United States government, as you may have been led to believe, but quite a few disparate political factions around the country.

The new deputy prime minister is Barham Salih, a Kurd. Salih is, by all accounts, hugely popular in the Kurdish provinces — the kind of person who, in a truly democratic Iraq, would rise to a lofty position of power. But something else: He is one of the heroes of the democratic left in the Middle East. […]

I can understand why many left-wingers and liberals all over the world have not responded to these speeches. It is because when they open their ears to the Iraq debate, they hear the off-putting voice of George W. Bush and do not hear the voices of the democratic left in Iraq.

But let us listen. This is a war for democracy, not for oil. An anti-fascist war. It is a war that, for the moment at least, has brought to power, as deputy prime minister, a genuinely admirable figure in the struggle for liberty in the Middle East. That man asks for our solidarity. He deserves to have it.

One of the lunatic relatives in the great play/film Arsenic and Old Lace is convinced that he’s Teddy Roosevelt and so, in addition to digging a “Panama Canal” in the basement, is prone to sounding “Charge!” and racing up the front staircase, as if assaulting San Juan Hill. Being deranged, he can be excused for not noticing that no one ever follows his lead.

Paul Berman, on the other hand, is not crazy, in fact he’s quite thoughtful and serious and he’s written some of the best arguments in favor of liberating Iraq of anyone on the Left, Right or Center. But they’ve taken on an increasingly wheedling and pleading tone as he sounds the charge time after time and no one on the Left follows. In the wake of his fellow Leftists misery at the liberation of Afghanistan, Michael Walzer asked the poignant question Can there be a Decent Left? The answer, as Mr. Berman, Danny Postel, George Packer and others have hinted at, but can not face, is: no.

MORE:
-POST: FORCING THE CONTRADICTIONS FILES (via Kevin Whited): Will the Opposition Lead? (PAUL BERMAN, 4/15/04, NY Times)
-POST: HE OUGHTA GO WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS HIS NAME: A Friendly Drink in a Time of War (Paul Berman, Winter 2004, Dissent)
-POST: THE MODERNITY OF BARBARISM: BOOKNOTES: Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman (C-SPAN, June 22, 2003, 8 & 11pm)
-POST: TYRANNY>LIBERAL REVOLUTION>TYRANNY: The twilight of tyrants: And the promise of liberal revolution (Paul Berman, 4/13/2003, Boston Globe)
-POST: THE AGONY OF PAUL BERMAN
-POST: THE CLASH: The Philosopher of Islamic Terror (PAUL BERMAN, March 23, 2003, NY Times Magazine)

-POST: WILL THE LAST DECENT PERSON TO QUIT THE LEFT PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHTS:The left has lost the plot: By defending sovereignty in the name of anti-imperialism, opponents of war undermine their claim to champion the oppressed (John Lloyd, April 11, 2003, The Guardian)


A REPUBLICAN WORLD, BUT LIBERAL:

February 29, 2004

A DEMOCRATIC WORLD: Can liberals take foreign policy back from the Republicans? (GEORGE PACKER, 2004-02-09, The New Yorker)

The Democratic Party hasn’t always been stymied by foreign policy. A half century ago, the Party’s ideas were ascendant, transforming America’s international role in the postwar years as dramatically as President Bush has since September 11th. In 1945, the United States had more relative power and prestige than it has today. Instead of seizing the occasion to strip the country of constraints and dominate the world, the ruling Democrats, most of whom were New Dealers, realized that the global fight against Communism required partners. The postwar Democratic leadership under President Truman helped bring into being institutions and alliances—the United Nations, nato, the World Bank—through which the country’s goals could be met. These goals were as much economic and political as military. The thinking behind Truman’s speech in March, 1947, asking Congress for economic as well as military aid to Greece and Turkey against Communist insurgents, and the speech by his Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, a few months later, calling for a massive reconstruction package for a devastated Europe was the same: containing and ultimately defeating totalitarianism required an investment in countries where conditions made Communism a threat. It also required the participation of Americans at every level of society. Anti-Communist liberals in the labor movement and the Democratic Party funded social-democratic parties in Western Europe as alternatives to Communism; politicians and intellectuals organized themselves in associations like Americans for Democratic Action and around magazines like Encounter to fight the war of ideas. These liberals understood that the new war could not afford to be rigidly doctrinaire; it required a practical effort to understand realities in Europe and elsewhere, in order to know what would be necessary to prevent Communism from winning over individuals and countries. It had to be wise as well as tough. Above all, it needed the help of other democracies—there had to be alliances, reciprocity. This is what was meant by liberal internationalism.

Vietnam, of course, badly divided Democrats, turning some into Republicans and others into pacifists. And here is a remarkable fact: since the nineteen-sixties, the Democratic Party has had no foreign policy. […]

In treating the war on terrorism as a mere military struggle, the Administration’s mistake begins with the name itself. “Terrorism” is a method; the terror used by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka is not the enemy in this war. The enemy is an ideology—in the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer’s phrase, “Islamist totalitarianism”—that reaches from Karachi to London, from Riyadh to Brooklyn, and that uses terror to advance its ends. The Administration’s failure to grasp the political nature of the war has led to many crucial mistakes, most notably the Pentagon’s attitude that postwar problems in Afghanistan and Iraq would essentially take care of themselves, that we could have democracy on the cheap: once the dictators and terrorists were rooted out, the logic went, freedom would spontaneously grow in their place. As Lakhdar Brahimi, the former United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, recently told the Times, “There is now a very well-meaning and welcome Western interest in supporting democracy everywhere, but they want to do it like instant coffee.” Instead, in both countries the real struggle has just begun, and it will last a generation or more, with little international help in sight and victory not at all assured.

“They don’t get it, because they don’t believe this is an ideology,” Ivo H. Daalder, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution, said of the Administration. “They believe that this is a state-based threat—that if you get rid of evil people, who are in finite supply, you will have resolved the problem. And the proof of the pudding is a very simple statement that the President keeps repeating: ‘It’s better to kill them there than to have them kill us here.’ Which assumes there are a finite number.”

Remarkably, this narrow approach has met with no systematic criticism from the Democratic Party. Democratic leaders attack the Administration for its unilateralism, but, with a few exceptions, they have been unprepared to reckon with the nature and scale of the conflict; and this has to do with the Party’s own intellectual shortcomings. Certain mental traits that have spread among Democrats since the Vietnam War get in the way—not just the tendency toward isolationism and pacifism but a cultural relativism (going by the name of “multiculturalism”) that makes it difficult for them to mount a wholehearted defense of one political system against another, especially when the other has taken root among poorer and darker-skinned peoples. Like the Bush Administration, the Democrats have failed to grasp the political dimensions of the struggle. They, too, have cast it narrowly, as a matter of security (preferring the notion of police action to that of war). They’ve pushed the Administration only for greater effort on the margins, such as upgrading communications equipment for firemen and federalizing airport security. And the Iraq war let Democrats off the hook, allowing them to say what they wouldn’t do rather than what they would do.

Another approach remains available to the Democrats—one that draws on the Party’s own not so distant history. The parallels between the early years of the Cold War and our situation are inexact. The Islamist movement doesn’t have the same hold on Westerners that Communism had. It draws on cultures that remain alien to us; the history of colonialism and the fact of religious difference make it all the harder for the liberal democracies of the West to effect change in the Muslim world. Waving the banner of freedom and mustering the will to act aren’t enough. Anyone who believes that September 11th thrust us into a Manichaean conflict between good and evil should visit Iraq, where the simplicity of that formula lies half buried under all the crosscurrents of foreign occupation and social chaos and ethnic strife. Simply negotiating the transfer of sovereignty back to Iraqis has proved so vexing that an Administration that jealously guarded the occupation against any international control has turned to the battered and despised United Nations for help in dealing with Iraq’s unleashed political forces. Iraq and other battlegrounds require patience, self-criticism, and local knowledge, not just an apocalyptic moral summons.

Nonetheless, for Democrats and for Americans, the first step is to realize that the war on terrorism is actually a war for liberalism—a struggle to bring populations now living under tyrannies and failed states into the orbit of liberal democracy. In this light, it makes sense to think about the strategy and mind-set that the postwar generation brought to their task: the marriage of power and coöperation. Daalder said, “The fundamental challenge—just as the fundamental challenge in ’46 and ’47 and ’48 in France and Italy was to provide Italians and Frenchmen with a real constructive alternative to Communism, to defeat it politically—is to provide people in the Islamic world with an alternative that gives them hope in a period where they have only despair.” He pointed out that America now spends forty times more on defense than it does on foreign aid, and that half of this aid goes to Israel and Egypt. “This is like the new Cold War, and we’ve got to fight it as a generational fight in which we need to invest,” he said. […]

“Why does not democracy believe in itself with passion?” Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., asked in “The Vital Center,” his 1949 book about totalitarianism and America’s anxious postwar mood. “Why is freedom not a fighting faith?” The only hope (Schlesinger turned to Walt Whitman for the words—who else?) lay in “the exercise of Democracy.” The process of struggling for freedom, accepting conflict, tolerating uncertainty, joining community—this would allow democracy to survive and not die. What if we now find ourselves, at this stage of thickening maturity, in the middle of a new crisis that requires us to act like citizens of a democracy? It’s impossible to know how the public would respond to a political party that spoke about these things—because, so far, no party has.

You have to feel sorry for the folk of the Decent LeftMichael Walzer, Paul Berman, Mr. Packer, and a very few others–who find themselves in a state of denial over the fact that George W. Bush is pursuing the global democratic vision that they wish the Democrats would. And, bad enough that it’s Mr. Bush, even worse is that he’s so obviously succeeding.


HE OUGHTA GO WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS HIS NAME:

February 1, 2004

A Friendly Drink in a Time of War (Paul Berman, Winter 2004, Dissent)

A friend leaned across a bar and said, “You call the war in Iraq an antifascist war. You even call it a left-wing war-a war of liberation. That language of yours! And yet, on the left, not too many people agree with you.”

“Not true!” I said. “Apart from X, Y, and Z, whose left-wing names you know very well, what do you think of Adam Michnik in Poland? And doesn’t Vaclav Havel count for something in your eyes? These are among the heroes of our time. Anyway, who is fighting in Iraq right now? The coalition is led by a Texas right-winger, which is a pity; but, in the second rank, by the prime minister of Britain, who is a socialist, sort of; and, in the third rank, by the president of Poland-a Communist! An ex-Communist, anyway. One Texas right-winger and two Europeans who are more or less on the left. Anyway, these categories, right and left, are disintegrating by the minute. And who do you regard as the leader of the worldwide left? Jacques Chirac?-a conservative, I hate to tell you.”

My friend persisted.

“Still, most people don’t seem to agree with you. You do have to see that. And why do you suppose that is?”

That was an aggressive question. And I answered in kind.

“Why don’t people on the left see it my way? Except for the ones who do? I’ll give you six reasons. People on the left have been unable to see the antifascist nature of the war because . . . “-and my hand hovered over the bar, ready to thump six times, demonstrating the powerful force of my argument.

“The left doesn’t see because -” thump!-“George W. Bush is an unusually repulsive politician, except to his own followers, and people are blinded by the revulsion they feel. And, in their blindness, they cannot identify the main contours of reality right now. They peer at Iraq and see the smirking face of George W. Bush. They even feel a kind of schadenfreude or satisfaction at his errors and failures. This is a modern, television-age example of what used to be called ‘false consciousness.'” […]

Thump! “The left doesn’t see because a lot of people, in their good-hearted effort to respect cultural differences, have concluded that Arabs must for inscrutable reasons of their own like to live under grotesque dictatorships and are not really capable of anything else, or won’t be ready to do so for another five hundred years, and Arab liberals should be regarded as somehow inauthentic. Which is to say, a lot of people, swept along by their own high-minded principles of cultural tolerance, have ended up clinging to attitudes that can only be regarded as racist against Arabs.

“The old-fashioned left used to be universalist-used to think that everyone, all over the world, would some day want to live according to the same fundamental values, and ought to be helped to do so. They thought this was especially true for people in reasonably modern societies with universities, industries, and a sophisticated bureaucracy-societies like the one in Iraq. But no more! Today, people say, out of a spirit of egalitarian tolerance: Social democracy for Swedes! Tyranny for Arabs! And this is supposed to be a left-wing attitude? By the way, you don’t hear much from the left about the non-Arabs in countries like Iraq, do you? The left, the real left, used to be the champion of minority populations-of people like the Kurds. No more! The left, my friend, has abandoned the values of the left-except for a few of us, of course.”

Thump! “Another reason: A lot of people honestly believe that Israel’s problems with the Palestinians represent something more than a miserable dispute over borders and recognition-that Israel’s problems represent something huger, a uniquely diabolical aspect of Zionism, which explains the rage and humiliation felt by Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia. Which is to say, a lot of people have succumbed to anti-Semitic fantasies about the cosmic quality of Jewish crime and cannot get their minds to think about anything else.

“I mean, look at the discussions that go on even among people who call themselves the democratic left, the good left-a relentless harping on the sins of Israel, an obsessive harping, with very little said about the fascist-influenced movements that have caused hundreds of thousands and even millions of deaths in other parts of the Muslim world. The distortions are wild, if you stop to think about them. Look at some of our big, influential liberal magazines-one article after another about Israeli crimes and stupidities, and even a few statements in favor of abolishing Israel, and hardly anything about the sufferings of the Arabs in the rest of the world. And even less is said about the Arab liberals-our own comrades, who have been pretty much abandoned. What do you make of that, my friend? There’s a name for that, a systematic distortion-what we Marxists, when we were Marxists, used to call ideology.”

What’s most entertaining about all this is that, despite his protestations to the contrary, Mr. Berman shares the universalist democratic world view of which George W. Bush is the main proponent in the world today, and which is the very source of the repulsion that so many feel towards him (we’ll ignore his Zionism for now). Mr. Berman, like Michael Walzer, has spent an awful lot of effort since 9-11 arguing with the Left that the war on terror is their war too–apparently futilely.

Here, in an eloquent nutshell, is everything Mr. Berman is trying to convince his drinking buddy of, President Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and Middle East (Remarks by the President at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, 11/06/2003, United States Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C.)

Historians in the future will reflect on an extraordinary, undeniable fact: Over time, free nations grow stronger and dictatorships grow weaker. In the middle of the 20th century, some imagined that the central planning and social regimentation were a shortcut to national strength. In fact, the prosperity, and social vitality and technological progress of a people are directly determined by extent of their liberty. Freedom honors and unleashes human creativity — and creativity determines the strength and wealth of nations. Liberty is both the plan of Heaven for humanity, and the best hope for progress here on Earth.

The progress of liberty is a powerful trend. Yet, we also know that liberty, if not defended, can be lost. The success of freedom is not determined by some dialectic of history. By definition, the success of freedom rests upon the choices and the courage of free peoples, and upon their willingness to sacrifice. In the trenches of World War I, through a two-front war in the 1940s, the difficult battles of Korea and Vietnam, and in missions of rescue and liberation on nearly every continent, Americans have amply displayed our willingness to sacrifice for liberty.

The sacrifices of Americans have not always been recognized or appreciated, yet they have been worthwhile. Because we and our allies were steadfast, Germany and Japan are democratic nations that no longer threaten the world. A global nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union ended peacefully — as did the Soviet Union. The nations of Europe are moving towards unity, not dividing into armed camps and descending into genocide. Every nation has learned, or should have learned, an important lesson: Freedom is worth fighting for, dying for, and standing for — and the advance of freedom leads to peace. (Applause.)

And now we must apply that lesson in our own time. We’ve reached another great turning point — and the resolve we show will shape the next stage of the world democratic movement.

Our commitment to democracy is tested in countries like Cuba and Burma and North Korea and Zimbabwe — outposts of oppression in our world. The people in these nations live in captivity, and fear and silence. Yet, these regimes cannot hold back freedom forever — and, one day, from prison camps and prison cells, and from exile, the leaders of new democracies will arrive. (Applause.) Communism, and militarism and rule by the capricious and corrupt are the relics of a passing era. And we will stand with these oppressed peoples until the day of their freedom finally arrives. (Applause.)

Our commitment to democracy is tested in China. That nation now has a sliver, a fragment of liberty. Yet, China’s people will eventually want their liberty pure and whole. China has discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth. China’s leaders will also discover that freedom is indivisible — that social and religious freedom is also essential to national greatness and national dignity. Eventually, men and women who are allowed to control their own wealth will insist on controlling their own lives and their own country.

Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come. In many nations of the Middle East — countries of great strategic importance — democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free. (Applause.)

Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhospitable to the representative government. This “cultural condescension,” as Ronald Reagan termed it, has a long history. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a so-called Japan expert asserted that democracy in that former empire would “never work.” Another observer declared the prospects for democracy in post-Hitler Germany are, and I quote, “most uncertain at best” — he made that claim in 1957. Seventy-four years ago, The Sunday London Times declared nine-tenths of the population of India to be “illiterates not caring a fig for politics.” Yet when Indian democracy was imperiled in the 1970s, the Indian people showed their commitment to liberty in a national referendum that saved their form of government.

Time after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or that people, or this group, are “ready” for democracy — as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards of progress. In fact, the daily work of democracy itself is the path of progress. It teaches cooperation, the free exchange of ideas, and the peaceful resolution of differences. As men and women are showing, from Bangladesh to Botswana, to Mongolia, it is the practice of democracy that makes a nation ready for democracy, and every nation can start on this path.

It should be clear to all that Islam — the faith of one-fifth of humanity — is consistent with democratic rule. Democratic progress is found in many predominantly Muslim countries — in Turkey and Indonesia, and Senegal and Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone. Muslim men and women are good citizens of India and South Africa, of the nations of Western Europe, and of the United States of America.

More than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments. They succeed in democratic societies, not in spite of their faith, but because of it. A religion that demands individual moral accountability, and encourages the encounter of the individual with God, is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government.

Yet there’s a great challenge today in the Middle East. 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, of 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.

As the colonial era passed away, the Middle East saw the establishment of many military dictatorships. Some rulers adopted the dogmas of socialism, seized total control of political parties and the media and universities. They allied themselves with the Soviet bloc and with international terrorism. Dictators in Iraq and Syria promised the restoration of national honor, a return to ancient glories. They’ve left instead a legacy of torture, oppression, misery, and ruin.

Other men, and groups of men, have gained influence in the Middle East and beyond through an ideology of theocratic terror. Behind their language of religion is the ambition for absolute political power. Ruling cabals like the Taliban show their version of religious piety in public whippings of women, ruthless suppression of any difference or dissent, and support for terrorists who arm and train to murder the innocent. The Taliban promised religious purity and national pride. Instead, by systematically destroying a proud and working society, they left behind suffering and starvation.

Many Middle Eastern governments now understand that military dictatorship and theocratic rule are a straight, smooth highway to nowhere. But some governments still cling to the old habits of central control. There are governments that still fear and repress independent thought and creativity, and private enterprise — the human qualities that make for a — strong and successful societies. Even when these nations have vast natural resources, they do not respect or develop their greatest resources — the talent and energy of men and women working and living in freedom.

Instead of dwelling on past wrongs and blaming others, governments in the Middle East need to confront real problems, and serve the true interests of their nations. The good and capable people of the Middle East all deserve responsible leadership. For too long, many people in that region have been victims and subjects — they deserve to be active citizens.

Governments across the Middle East and North Africa are beginning to see the need for change. Morocco has a diverse new parliament; King Mohammed has urged it to extend the rights to women. Here is how His Majesty explained his reforms to parliament: “How can society achieve progress while women, who represent half the nation, see their rights violated and suffer as a result of injustice, violence, and marginalization, notwithstanding the dignity and justice granted to them by our glorious religion?” The King of Morocco is correct: The future of Muslim nations will be better for all with the full participation of women. (Applause.)

In Bahrain last year, citizens elected their own parliament for the first time in nearly three decades. Oman has extended the vote to all adult citizens; Qatar has a new constitution; Yemen has a multiparty political system; Kuwait has a directly elected national assembly; and Jordan held historic elections this summer. Recent surveys in Arab nations reveal broad support for political pluralism, the rule of law, and free speech. These are the stirrings of Middle Eastern democracy, and they carry the promise of greater change to come.

As changes come to the Middle Eastern region, those with power should ask themselves: Will they be remembered for resisting reform, or for leading it? In Iran, the demand for democracy is strong and broad, as we saw last month when thousands gathered to welcome home Shirin Ebadi, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The regime in Teheran must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people, or lose its last claim to legitimacy. (Applause.)

For the Palestinian people, the only path to independence and dignity and progress is the path of democracy. (Applause.) And the Palestinian leaders who block and undermine democratic reform, and feed hatred and encourage violence are not leaders at all. They’re the main obstacles to peace, and to the success of the Palestinian people.

The Saudi government is taking first steps toward reform, including a plan for gradual introduction of elections. By giving the Saudi people a greater role in their own society, the Saudi government can demonstrate true leadership in the region.

The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East. (Applause.) Champions of democracy in the region understand that democracy is not perfect, it is not the path to utopia, but it’s the only path to national success and dignity.

As we watch and encourage reforms in the region, we are mindful that modernization is not the same as Westernization. Representative governments in the Middle East will reflect their own cultures. They will not, and should not, look like us. Democratic nations may be constitutional monarchies, federal republics, or parliamentary systems. And working democracies always need time to develop — as did our own. We’ve taken a 200-year journey toward inclusion and justice — and this makes us patient and understanding as other nations are at different stages of this journey.

There are, however, essential principles common to every successful society, in every culture. Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military — so that governments respond to the will of the people, and not the will of an elite. Successful societies protect freedom with the consistent and impartial rule of law, instead of selecting applying — selectively applying the law to punish political opponents. Successful societies allow room for healthy civic institutions — for political parties and labor unions and independent newspapers and broadcast media. Successful societies guarantee religious liberty — the right to serve and honor God without fear of persecution. Successful societies privatize their economies, and secure the rights of property. They prohibit and punish official corruption, and invest in the health and education of their people. They recognize the rights of women. And instead of directing hatred and resentment against others, successful societies appeal to the hopes of their own people. (Applause.)

These vital principles are being applies in the nations of Afghanistan and Iraq. With the steady leadership of President Karzai, the people of Afghanistan are building a modern and peaceful government. Next month, 500 delegates will convene a national assembly in Kabul to approve a new Afghan constitution. The proposed draft would establish a bicameral parliament, set national elections next year, and recognize Afghanistan’s Muslim identity, while protecting the rights of all citizens. Afghanistan faces continuing economic and security challenges — it will face those challenges as a free and stable democracy. (Applause.)

In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council are also working together to build a democracy — and after three decades of tyranny, this work is not easy. The former dictator ruled by terror and treachery, and left deeply ingrained habits of fear and distrust. Remnants of his regime, joined by foreign terrorists, continue their battle against order and against civilization. Our coalition is responding to recent attacks with precision raids, guided by intelligence provided by the Iraqis, themselves. And we’re working closely with Iraqi citizens as they prepare a constitution, as they move toward free elections and take increasing responsibility for their own affairs. As in the defense of Greece in 1947, and later in the Berlin Airlift, the strength and will of free peoples are now being tested before a watching world. And we will meet this test. (Applause.)

Securing democracy in Iraq is the work of many hands. American and coalition forces are sacrificing for the peace of Iraq and for the security of free nations. Aid workers from many countries are facing danger to help the Iraqi people. The National Endowment for Democracy is promoting women’s rights, and training Iraqi journalists, and teaching the skills of political participation. Iraqis, themselves — police and borders guards and local officials — are joining in the work and they are sharing in the sacrifice.

This is a massive and difficult undertaking — it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed — and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran — that freedom can be the future of every nation. (Applause.) The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution. (Applause.)

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. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo. (Applause.)

Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace. (Applause.)

The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country. From the Fourteen Points to the Four Freedoms, to the Speech at Westminster, America has put our power at the service of principle. We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom — the freedom we prize — is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind. (Applause.)

Working for the spread of freedom can be hard. Yet, America has accomplished hard tasks before. Our nation is strong; we’re strong of heart. And we’re not alone. Freedom is finding allies in every country; freedom finds allies in every culture. And as we meet the terror and violence of the world, we can be certain the author of freedom is not indifferent to the fate of freedom.

With all the tests and all the challenges of our age, this is, above all, the age of liberty. Each of you at this Endowment is fully engaged in the great cause of liberty. And I thank you. May God bless your work. And may God continue to bless America.


WILL THE LAST DECENT PERSON TO QUIT THE LEFT PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHTS:

April 12, 2003

The left has lost the plot: By defending sovereignty in the name of anti-imperialism, opponents of war undermine their claim to champion the oppressed (John Lloyd, April 11, 2003, The Guardian)

(This is an edited extract of an article from this week’s New Statesman, explaining ex-editor John Lloyd’s reasons for resigning as a columnist.) […]

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, UN leaders have spread the message that their organisation could now enter into its own – as a protector of the downtrodden who, most often, are trodden on by their own rulers. This movement culminated, less than two years ago, in a Canadian-sponsored report, A Responsibility to Protect – a brilliant summation of the arguments for stripping tyrants of sovereign inviolability. Of the major government leaders, only Blair has embraced the report, as the logical extension of the ethical dimension in foreign policy that Labour promulgated when it came to office.

Most of the left refused to follow this line. For some, it has been enough to declare all ethical dimensions phoney, since states such as Britain continued to shake hands with tyrants. For others, state sovereignty seems a necessary protection against what they see as the largest threat to the world: US imperialism.

US imperialism, in this view of a now resurgent part of the left, is composed of a mixture of things: efforts to control energy resources, principally oil; the repression of the Palestinians to ensure the security of the US “client state” Israel; a US refusal to tolerate any power that counterbalances its own; a hatred of all cultures other than its own, and a determination to destroy such cultures to make the world passively receptive to American values and merchandise.

Will the end of the war and the effort to rebuild decent government in Iraq change the view of the left? It would seem unlikely: the anti-US reflex is too ingrained, the dislike of Blair too great.

Yet the left’s programme now should be to argue in favour of committing resources to those multilateral agencies that work, and to seek agreement from those forces everywhere in the world that are committed to democratic (or at least more responsive) government and to an observation of human and civil rights. The aim, as the US political scientist Michael Walzer has put it, should be a “strong international system, organised and designed to defeat aggression, to stop massacres and ethnic cleansing, to control weapons of mass destruction and to guarantee the physical security of all the world’s peoples”.

The issue of sovereignty would seem to be the key to the questuion of whether the Free World can act to liberate oppressed peoples. The once honorable Left and establishment Churches seem to have settled into a position that holds national sovereignty inviolable. This has the great advantage of discrediting all wars, but the enormous disadvantage of sanctioning all kinds of evil acts by regimes, apparently up to and including genocide. This turn of events, which has placed two segments of Western society that have long and proud traditions of resisting State authority on the side of homicidal totalitarian dictatorship is genuinely sad–in no case more so than that of the Pope–but for anyone who loves liberty must be a clarion call to treat doctrinairely “anti-war” clerical authorities and liberal activists as what they are become, enemies of human freedom.


THAT REALLY YOU, BILL?:

August 1, 2002

Let’s take him out : The threat to the world posed by Saddam Hussein’s rule of terror is too great to ignore any longer. There is only one solution military action (William Shawcross, August 1, 2002, Guardian)

The new archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has said that it would be immoral and illegal for the British to support an American war against Iraq without UN authority. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned against an attack on Iraq, saying it would open a “Pandora’s box” in the Middle East. The prospect of war against Iraq has provided a field day to anti-Americanism. I would argue that, on the contrary, the illegality is all on the side of Saddam Hussein. The real immorality and the greatest danger is to allow this evil man to remain indefinitely in power, scorning the UN and posing a growing threat to the world. Tony Blair is both brave and right to support American demands for a “regime change” in Iraq.

What’s shocking about this column is not the sentiment, but the sayer. William Shawcross after all is most famous as a left wing author of Sideshow : Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia, which essentially argued that pre-emptive strikes into Cambodia were war crimes. Even in his last book, Deliver Us From Evil, he was making the case for using humanitarian assistance to solve global conflicts, rather than force and, at one point in the Salman Rushdie affair, he implied that he thought paperback publication should be delayed because the book had upset people. For him to be arguing now for a pre-emptive war against Saddam is fairly remarkable.


NOT A SUICIDE PACT :

May 2, 2002

Al Qaeda Detainees: Don’t Prosecute, Don’t Release (Stuart Taylor Jr., April 29, 2002, National Journal)

At first blush, the idea of indefinite “preventive detention” of people convicted of no crime may seem harsh and un-American. Indeed, it has (and probably should have) no basis in domestic U.S. law, with narrow exceptions such as civil commitment of the dangerously mentally ill. Prolonged detention based solely on a suspected propensity to commit future crimes may well be unconstitutional.

But in the current wartime context, these moral objections and legal obstacles are not insuperable. As a legal matter, the president has broad power to decide what to do with terrorists and others captured overseas by the U.S. military. In addition, military prisoners held abroad do not have the same rights under U.S. law as civilian prisoners in the United States. And there are international-law precedents for detaining “unlawful combatants” and members of terrorist organizations until they are no longer dangerous, as well as for detaining prisoners of war until the war is over.

As a moral matter, preventive detention is the least-bad option for dealing with many captured Al Qaeda jihadists. It’s better than setting would-be mass murderers loose to prey on our people or prosecuting them without solid evidence implicating them individually either in war crimes or in specific terrorist conspiracies.

We’ve long believed Stuart Taylor–a liberal, with whom we frequently disagree–to be the best legal affairs columnist on the planet. Here he becomes one of the few Left or Libertarian pundits willing to acknowledge that what he advocates, and what we are now doing, may be both unconstitutional and justifiable. We eagerly await the counterarguments from those who think the President’s oath of office requires him to loose mass-murderers because of constitutional nicities.