Monday, April 25, 2005

"Nobility alone is still not a winning strategy."

In The Claremont Institute: Freedom Fighter, Gerard Alexander reviews The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror by Natan Sharansky, the book that President Bush is said to have been much-inspired as he called for his neo-"Wilsonian" foreign policy of spreading freedom/democracy/liberty in the Middle East and the world. Like Alexander, I believe in this ideal, but Alexander reminds that freedom and democracy can't be started in a political vacuum. A stable state structure, especially security, must be in place to safeguard personal liberties. Stability provides an environment for a nation and its people to develop their own unique version of democracy. One informed by their own particular social, cultural and religious traditions and ideals. Alexander doubts that all societies or cultures are ready for democracy and asks: "If stable democracy requires these structures, how might they come about where they are currently absent? Can the U.S. do much to help?" Also, the political minority must be willing to abide majority rule without relying on revolution. To this, Alexander points to some examples:
Free speech is usually what economists call a "non-rival" good: one person's use of it does not diminish its availability to others. But democracy also involves reaching political decisions, and when one party or coalition controls government, others are necessarily excluded, at least temporarily. Many democracies have produced decisions (such as expropriation) that so profoundly threaten the core values and interests of the current minority that the latter will support coups which protect some of its values (property) at the expense of others (civil liberties). This is roughly what happened in Spain in 1936, in Chile in 1973, and in Haiti in 1991. In each case, sizable segments of the population supported non-democratic regimes that they saw as the lesser of two evils. In such contexts, stable democracy is unlikely unless these underlying conflicts are resolved. But how does such resolution happen? And what exactly should the U.S. do to help? The sobering fact is that social scientists really do not know.
Combined, it can be boiled down to this: the people must be willing to do the hard work, and accept the compromises necessary, to have a successful democratic state. Not all nations are ready or willing. Nonetheless, Alexander believes there is "good news."
The good news is that U.S. policy since 9/11 looks a lot like that. Elections have been urged peacefully on several regimes, but force has been used against only two, and the Bush Administration has worked successfully with many dictators in the war on terror. We are pushing at many limits, but are feeling our way. A dictator of Mexico once explained his complex choices by saying that his country was so far from God, and so close to the United States. America's margins of maneuver are greater than ever before, and much greater than Porfirio Diaz's ever were, but we, like him, remain closer to the ugly realities of political variety than to the cosmopolitan ideal of harmony. The journey toward the latter is the noble task that Americans now confront. But nobility alone is still not a winning strategy.

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