I could be reading Shakespeare right now.
I had the dubious pleasure of reading Paul Wolfowitz’s analysis of current foreign policy in the current issue of, well, Foreign Policy. (Link.) I know it came out six weeks ago, but seriously, the gall and idiocy and revision of history that this man is intent on portraying is shocking and abhorrent to me. Some thoughts in response. Warning: long. Warning: Wolfowitz is as hawkish and frustrating now as he was eight years ago.
Unquestionably, what makes realism seem so plausible today is skepticism about the war in Iraq and the belief that it was part of a crusade to “impose” democracy by force. I believe, to the contrary, that the purpose of the war was to remove a threat to national and international security. Whether the Iraq war was right or wrong, it was not about imposing democracy, and the decision to establish a representative government afterward was the most realistic option, compared with the alternatives of installing another dictator or prolonging the U.S. occupation. In Afghanistan, the same choice was made for the same reasons after the Taliban fell, and many realists not only supported that decision, but argued for putting even more effort into “nation-building.” This is not the place to reargue the Iraq war. So let’s stipulate that the issue here is not whether to use military force to promote changes in the nature of states; it’s about whether — and how — to promote such changes peacefully.
First of all, way to be unclear about whether that threat was Saddam Hussein or his mythical arsenal. I should think it’s pretty clear that Wolfowitz has had a hard-on for ousting Hussein from power since the Gulf War, and that Wolfowitz genuinely believes removing him from power was a valid reason for invading the Iraqi nation. Second of all, “the most realistic option” was to propagate a democratic system so fragile that international forces remain on the ground seven years post-invasion to secure an election? Excuse me if I am not convinced by this reasoning. I agree with Wolfowitz that the reason for the invasion was not to promote a democracy; no one in the administration gave a flying expletive for what happened after the Republican Guard was taken down and Saddam Hussein was captured. No, Wolfowitz, nation-building was not the goal. The goal was far more thuggish than that, and to gloss over such reasoning by claiming “this is not the place to reargue the Iraq war” undermines your very thesis, for without the pretext of nation-building there is nothing but schoolyard power plays to explain your pretext for war and invasion seven years ago.
Third of effing all, CAN WE PLEASE STOP COMPARING AFGHANISTAN TO IRAQ. It is a FALSE COMPARISON and you, sir, should know better.
U.S. foreign policy does indeed have multiple goals that must be balanced, but promoting reform is often one of them. Brutal regimes will not behave better if the United States speaks nicely about them. In fact, the perception of U.S. weakness in supporting its friends is a great disadvantage when negotiating with regimes like those in North Korea and Iran that are quick to perceive vulnerability. These states will negotiate — if they do — when they see it in their interest, not because the United States soft-pedals its differences. And eliciting this cooperation requires leverage. For example, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program not because the Bush administration spoke nicely to him, but because he feared American will. Sometimes, the pressure for change that comes from a country’s own people or elites might be the United States’ best source of leverage on such regimes.
You know, “American exceptionalism” is not an excuse for undermining the governments of other countries. The sanctity of “American interests” does not insulate this nation from behaving in accordance with the accepted civility of most of the world’s nations. The United States comes out looking far more like Iran and North Korea in terms of brutish regime when it chooses by will to enter other countries and topple their governments.
I do acknowledge that the lives of the citizens of those countries are often ones led in poverty, fear, and abuse by the regimes that rule them. But we did not enter Afghanistan to liberate its people. We did not invade Iraq to address human rights violations. To claim otherwise is blatantly lying, and to insinuate that a show of American power and strength is valid reasoning for martial foreign policy is foolish, short-sighted, and as brutal as the regimes Wolfowitz claims to abhor. Promoting reform does not mean capturing a nation’s leader on trumped-up crimes. Promoting reform does not mean making up an excuse to enter a nation against that nation’s wishes. And promoting reform sure as hell doesn’t mean assisting in the ousting of the leaders of a nation to institute a democracy from the outside.
I am not naive; the United States has done this and more by the will not only of its President but by the representatives of its people in Congress. But that does not make it right. And past history does not make the argument any more valid today; in truth, it makes the argument less valid. Should we not learn from our mistakes? Must we be doomed to repeat them again, and again?
It is not uncommon to hear realists today arguing that Muslims don’t really want U.S. support for democracy, especially after the Iraq war. And yet, when Obama announced, during his important speech at Cairo University, that he would address democracy, his audience applauded before he could say another word. His three short paragraphs on democracy were interrupted twice more by applause — and then by someone shouting, “Barack Obama, we love you!” to yet more applause. Although the president spoke of “controversy” surrounding the promotion of democracy, his Arab audience welcomed this allegedly controversial subject with enthusiasm.
That a large audience in the heart of the Arab world is so eager to hear the U.S. president champion democracy is an important fact that any realistic foreign policy must consider. The Obama administration’s temptation to distance itself from its predecessor’s policies is understandable, but this shouldn’t mean abandoning the promotion of democratic reform.
Oh, fuck you, Wolfowitz. To claim that the reaction to Obama’s speech in Egypt, whose relationship to the West is at least as strong as its relationship to the Muslim world, is a purposeful obfuscation of the event. Egypt is one of a handful of representative governments in the Arab world, first of all, and while the Bush administration was very public about its dubious view of Egypt’s democracy it is in fact a republic. The fact that Obama received such a strong reaction to the subject of his speech spoke more to the Maṣreyyīn populace’s desire for more transparency and a refinement of their own democratic process than any high-minded pan-Arabic call for democracy across two dozen nations.
The best word for these two paragraphs is “appropriation,” an action which Mr Wolfowitz is very talented at doing.
“Promoting Democracy Is Dangerously Destabilizing.”
Not necessarily. Elections, even flawed ones, can be positive catalysts for change in autocratic states, as we saw in the Marcos case and during the recent events in Iran. It is true that elections are no panacea: The Bush administration was frustrated when terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah gained power through the ballot box. Elections alone don’t automatically produce the institutions needed to protect liberty and foster tolerance. But if there is risk in promoting democratic reform, there is also risk in doing nothing, which hurts America’s reputation as people see the United States acquiescing in their oppression.
RECENT EVENTS IN IRAN, AGAIN, DID NOT SERVE AS A CATALYST FOR CHANGE. And Iranians were not wroth at the re-election of Ahmadinejad per se; to borrow Hooman Majd’s argument, they were pissed off that their haq had been screwed around with. And furthermore, the election never addressed the true base of power in Iran, namely the Ayatollahs; so whatever the sweet hell he’s talking about with regards to Iran has no basis in reality.
And OF FLIPPING COURSE the Bush administration was pissed when political groups they considered terrorists ascended to power, but you know what we call that? DEMOCRACY, ASSHOLE. Jesus christ, can we get some definition of terms up in here? [Sorry for the allcaps. Sometimes there is no other way to convey one’s intense feeling on the inter-tubes.]
“As people see the United States acquiescing in their oppression.” Oh, please. See above as to why the United States should not simply saunter into a country and oust a government it doesn’t like; and any such action sure as hell has nothing to do with the United States Government’s concern about the human rights of the citizens of other nations. Not to be cynical, but when 13% of the United States own citizenry live in poverty, human rights is not a grave concern for this nation.
The goal should not be revolution, but rather evolutionary change. That’s the best chance for true long-term stability. Most of all, when opportunities for genuine reform open up, as is happening now not only in Iraq and Lebanon but also in Morocco and elsewhere, the United States should give reformers all the support that it can. Of course, the United States will depend on some Arab autocrats to help promote a peaceful settlement of Arab-Israeli issues — issues that constitute another, perhaps even greater, source of anti-Americanism. But the role those leaders play in any peace process will turn on hard calculations of their own self-interest, not the stance the United States takes toward reform.
Does support mean arming reformists or revolutionaries so they can send their country into civil war? Does it mean occupying a country until it pushes out a president despite massive election fraud and personal threats to its citizens? Does it mean using brute strength to depose a nation’s leader? Gee, I wonder what “opportunities for genuine reform” and “support” actually mean! Let’s dance around the words a little more.
And excuse me if I’m being willfully obtuse, but if the author chooses to criticize other nations’ self-interest yet privilege the self-interest of the United States, doesn’t that seem grossly hypocritical? Or are we just supposed to assume that American self-interest is, really and truly, the only self-interest that matters?
“Paul Wolfowitz Is a Utopian.”
No, I’m just being realistic. I’ve been called many things, and utopian is hardly the worst. Ironically, while “utopia” is Greek for “nowhere,” almost everywhere you look today you find people who share a belief in democracy.
Pardon my hysterical laughter. Utopian, noun: an idealistic (but usually impractical) social reformer. Oh, honey, it’s not the impracticalness that concerns me. It’s the blind zealotry, the absence of any understanding of the United States in relation to the rest of the world, the privileging of the United States over all other nations, and the “reform” that amounts to brutal, martial thuggishness in search of ill-defined, unpredictable, awful goals.
I don’t know what world Wolfowitz believes he in living in, but this glimpse at his worldview terrifies the crap out of me.