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17 July 2008

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mo

Why can't those apples look more like us oranges? That is what I hear when I hear people talk about democracy in the ME.

"Who stills the roaring of the seas, The roaring of their waves, And the tumult of the peoples"

You cannot force the 200 years of Western political development on a region in under a decade; Especially when that region has been and continues to be buffered in a sea of tumult caused by being the victim of two highly consequential Western experiments, namely Sykes-Picot and Israel.

Until the Arab world has some conclusion to these two experiments any talk of a peaceful, democratic ME is futile.

Look at what seperates the Republicans to the Democrats, Labour to the Conservatives or in fact any big parties in a stable democracy. A few tax point differences; A slightly different social agenda? Mainstream Political parties in stable democracies share as much if not more than they differ.

Then look at the Arab world. Look at what seperates the Lebanese March 14th and the opposition. Look at what seperates Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood, Maliki and Sadr or the Wahabi's and, well, everyone else.

And thats just the political. We also have to include the many varied religious differences and interpretations of a people that do not want a "seperation of church and state".

The differences are so huge that unless there is consentual government there is conflict. Either rulers have to rule as dictators or they have to share power.

The Arab world has far too much to resolve, too many dictators to get rid off, too many people in power whose interest lies purely in their personal wealth with absolutely no consideration for their people.

Furthermore, without a resolution of the Israel experiment, one way or another, there cannot be proper democracy in the ME for the simple fact that in both Lebanon and Palestine, the West have proved that to them democracy is only right if the right party wins, ie one that is Israel friendly. The problem is that given the option, no Arab country would vote in an Israel-friendly government, especially not now, not after Hizballah.

condfusedponderer
Anyone who thinks that Jacobin neoconism is in retreat is deceived. The Iraq war situation has been ameliorated (from the American point of view)
I agree. Just listen nowadays to Bill Kristol - to him the surge is working, which he reads as Iraq being under control, so that the argument that the prospect that, in case the US attacks Iran, Iraq will blow up, is no longer a deterrent.

As underlined by their way in bureaucratic infighting one key characteristic of the neo-cons is their utter relentlessness. They play to the last round, and we are not there yet, and if they don't get their wary under Bush they'll try lobby for it under Obama or McCain. One ought to keep in mind that they transcend party lines. For illustration, Richard Perle - hard core neo-con ideologue that he is - is a registered Democrat.

I do not think that Fukuyama is right when he sees western style democratic capitalist states as the end of history. I know a liberal American who abhors Bush's war in Iraq but who fervently subscribes to the view that, with a grain of salt, can be described as that in every Arab there is a little American who wants out. I regularly clash with him on that point when I say that there are quite a lot of people who'd rather die fighting than be like Americans (or Westerners in general). He feels genuinely uncomfortable with that.

So anybody who thinks that with a speculative president Obama the US will become less zealous should think again. Maybe they become less militant, but just as zealous as far as an ideologicalalistic foreign policy is concerned. That is an American thing, and nothing Republican. If one looks back it has been the D's whose 'idealistic' approach has brought the US into trouble. Just think of Walt Whitman Rostow and Vietnam.
German rapprochement with the commies just began to bear fruits when Carter came along with his human rights rhetoric. In this respect Bush is the aberration. He is the first R president to have empowered hawkish liberals like the neo-cons into senior positions. Generally it has been the hard-nosed pragmatists who Europe went along with best. And it has been them who made the tough calls the idealists couldn't get themselves to, like holding their noses and going to China.

Matthew

Another problem is that we conflate "democracy" with neo-liberal economics. Apparently, the Iraqis have not figured out how political progess and allowing Western oil companies to own equity stakes in Iraqi oil fields are "necessary" intertwined.

arbogast

I have just finished reading the last half dozen posts.

What is striking is what a complete and dangerous failure the Bush Administration has been.

This blog does not usually concern itself with economic matters, but it is appropriate to point out also that employment in the United States has been a disaster during the Bush Administration. I know that the headlines talk about bailing out plutocrats while the price of gasoline skyrockets, but the real news is the the destroyed lives of the ever-increasing number of unemployed in the US.

And then, of course, a fact that cannot be laid at the door of the Bush Administration, but which its policies toward Guantanamo show are congruent, is our prison population, the largest per capita in the world. I guess you could say those individuals are employed.

One man can do a lot of harm, even if his only tools are ignorance and negligence.

Yohan

We've tried to load 10 pounds of meaning into a 1 pound word: democracy. Democracy does not mean capitalism, it does not mean western values, in reality it doesn't even mean pure democracy(no one wants to bring back the Athenian Assembly). Democracy certainly doesn't actually mean being reflexively pro-Israel.

Democracy--when meant as popular participation(in some fashion) in government, the rule of law, and relative equality under the law--is completely compatible with Arab and Muslim societies. In fact, in survey after survey, a significant majority of Muslims express admiration for these democratic aspects of American society.

The concept is not the problem, it's way in which it comes at the barrel of a gun and the way in which it is hypocritically ignored when it becomes inconvenient(as in the case of Hamas's electoral victory).

It is absolutely true that the best way for the US to support democratic change in the Middle East is to butt-out and stop supporting anti-democratic forces.

William R. Cumming

Could it be that the Iraqi population has figured out US public thinks Iraq a mistake, wants out, and by quieting down will accelerate that departure? Too bad the truth will be revealed to the Iraqis and US only after we have "departed." Radicalized Madrassas in the US actually funded by the Saudi's did in the past promote Sharia, also by Saudi supported Mullahs.

johnf

The large number of people in the world - probably a majority - who are not democrats tend to look at the US and Britain and think they voted for Bush and Blair not only once but even twice, so what is the use of democracy?

arbogast

Wow, the live traffic feed is really cool.

Arun

While the rule of law and liberty are closely linked, I think (my opinion only) that Muslim cultures think rule of law precedes (some version of) liberty; while we tend to think liberty precedes rule of law (a good exhibition is our performance in Iraq).

Also, oil revenues keep smoothing over the internal contradictions that lead to change; among the best things we could do to promote improvement in the Middle East is to free ourselves from oil.

Homer

PL: the Jacobin neocon crowd were of the opinion that traditional (dare I say classic) Middle Eastern and Islamic culture was of little or no value in humanist terms

What do you think this opinion was based upon?

Pompous ignorance?

Hubris?

It surely could not have been based upon their expertise in ME affairs in any period.

Strangely, Cheney (fore)saw much of what we now see in Iraq in 1994 (see below).

Why that view was set aside is puzzling and perhaps worthy of analysis.


Cheney '94: Invading Baghdad Would Create Quagmire C-SPAN

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BEsZMvrq-I


john in the boro

Pat's discussion brings to mind the thoughts of Thorstein Veblen on “Races and Peoples.” He writes: “A meticulous discrimination between the two concepts—of habit and heredity—is the beginning of wisdom in all inquiry into human behaviour; and confusion of the two is accountable for much of the polemical animus, and not a little recrimination, in recent and current writing on historical, political and economic matters. And, of course, the larger the burden of chauvinism carried by the discussion the more spectacular and sweeping has been its output of systematic blunders” (“The Portable Veblen,” p299). Nonetheless, the neocons remain a bipartisan force in U.S. foreign policy. Power is power. Yohan makes a good point: our actions do not entirely match our professed ideals at home or abroad. As a people we often have difficulty recognizing the incoherencies, others, to include the neocons, I suspect, have no difficulty at all.

gacetillero

By way of a parallel: I remember covering the Egyptian elections a few years back, when all the Western media was infatuated with Ayman Nour and the al-Ghad party.

Regardless of how he gained such attention (his wife was a Time magazine stringer, as I recall), what was memorable was that the Anglophone press decided that he was the man to 'save' Egypt and bring down Mubarak - largely because he fit their ideal of what the Egyptian opposition 'should' look like.

Then in the first round of the parliamentary elections the Muslim Brotherhood won so many seats that the state security forces stopped voters from entering polling stations in the subsequent rounds.

The Western media wasn't expecting that, and shut up sharpish.

Spider Rider

I would just like to add I have seen this argument before, in essence, the poor will always be poor.

The only thing I can really say is it takes hundreds of years for new systems of government to emerge, but the Dubai say, of 2008 is much different from the Dubai of 1960.

Why?

Well, oil.


So, will strong economic reforms help new systems of government emerge? We have international business now through the middle east, and Asia, without significant political and economic reforms on the parts of the current governments, they will collapse, the divide between rich and poor growing tremendously, leading to even more chaos. We have seen this historically, and we're really not in a position to throw up our hands, and say, "not our problem," not with our economy oil based, and competition from Russia, and China. (Dad also used to say he who controls the energy controls the world).

And this is another aspect, even though Russia, and China, have not openly declared war, certainly they are using the Middle East as an asymmetrical weapon against the US, given historical precedence. The situation with Britain should be a red flag to all, both diplomatically, and economically, especially with BP.

Are these reasonable assumptions? Do you disagree? And having said that, what should the US do? Support another regime similar to the Shah, or Saddam? Didn't work out to well for the US, did it? Have these changes been in the works since the 70's? Certainly, it is in no ones interests for the US to abandon oil, that simply will not happen. I understand US imperialism is not popular, but the US, at it's best, will provide some reform, some stability, worldwide, hopefully helping to create strong policy, win win, I cannot say the same of Putin, or China. When the chaos in YOUR backyard affects my country, deliberately, or not, well, neighbor, we have a problem, let's see what we can do to make it better for everyone.

So, with the enormity wealth in the middle east, and competition form Russia, and China, what should the US do? Allow China or Russia to implement it's form of government in the countries where it (now) owns the majority resource? Use the Middle East as a proxy weapon against the US, by gaining control of oil, and the oil companies? Are we already seeing this in Africa,and Iran? Again, is this a reasonable assumption, or are we all one happy business family? Should we ask Gordon Brown?

And what will the Middle Eastern governments do, go with the Chinese or Russian money, and corruption? What do they want, really? How do these world economics affect the stability of their governments? What about peak oil? And how will this affect the rest of the world, including the US? Theoretically, foreign control of oil could destroy the US economically, and militarily? Are we OK with that, too? No? Therefore, what should we do, as a nation dependent on say, Middle Eastern energy? Throw up our hands, and say "they'll never change?"

I apologize if I meant to imply democracy was a system to be imposed, I see a form of cooperative government as preferable to the current dictatorships, or the fascist systems we see now through much of Asia, and the Middle East.

What, with strong economic reforms, over time, can develop?

Is this a reasonable argument?

I believe it is, and I am not one to accept that divisions will always remain, no matter what.

How much has poverty played into the problems we see, in the Middle East?

What will emerge in 100, or two hundred years?

This is reasonable.

The memory of poverty creates social discipline, how can the Saudis see it is in their interest to build a social infrastrucure for their people, as opposed to a proxy army, in Iraq?

Without some order, we, the US, are doomed, too.

How do we get that order?

It's much more than military, isn't it, and I do not apologize for those trying to implement true progress on behalf of the people, not the corrupt.

And I believe in, and will, defend my country, but military action is the cause of the problems, not the solution.

(BTW, my position is not that of the neocons, they choose to profit from corruption, believing mindless force the solution).


The type of policy needed only comes from the minds of the great US diplomats, and envoys. This is hardly John Bolton, or Steven Hadley.

I see all these arguments made, but no one mentions our oil dependence, oil used as a weapon against us, and until this is a part of the discussion, we aren't really discussing the problem.

It is integral to shifting world positions, and all I see are points argued in isolation, some belief the US is safe from economic treachery.

Cold War Zoomie

First thing to pop into my mind after reading the title of this post:

Norman Conquest of England

Granted, it was a case of Christians conquering Christians rather than Spanish missionaries "converting the heathen."

If outsiders can *manage* to maintain control long enough, over time they will *influence* long term changes by the mixing of cultures and blood. It's happened throughout history.

The ME and West seem particularly at odds culturally, so our Conquest would have to last decades and decades.

I don't recommend it.

Spider Rider

As an aside, General Wesley Clark made a statement that the US has had three ways of approaching problems in the middle east : the neocon way (bomb 'em all, show 'em we're macho,") the Jim Baker way ("something for you, something for me,") and then the intelligent way (sound policy formation, and diplomacy).

His web site gives more explanation, sites where he has given interviews, and expressed his views, providng a much more eloquent analysis than I could ever hope to deliver.

It's very enlightening.

On Eastern Europe:

"We opened up relations at many different levels. We let the people themselves make the decisions, and eventually they did. It wasn't just the Reagan Defense buildup of the 1980s. It was a culmination of five Presidential- Presidencies who worked to have a broad front of engagement with communism at the same time holding it in check. That same kind of policy has to be applied with Iran."

http://securingamerica.com/node/2603

Certainly a starting point for a new, EEFECTIVE, INTELLIGENT discussion on American foreign policy.

Walrus

Spider, you asked "Is this a reasonable argument?" I'm sorry, no it's not.

You asked if economic reform drives political change. I like to think it eventually does, over many generations, if a middle class is allowed to emerge that demands political power.

There are a number of countries, notably Russia, China and Saudi Arabia all of whom have made "Economic reform". The first is a Kleptocracy, the second a One Party State and the Third an Absolute Monarchy. There is no sign these are going to break out in democracy any time soon.

As for "Order", any old dictator can give you that which you seek. We support, even toady to, an absolute Monarchy in Saudi Arabia that has ruthlessly suppressed any democratic stirrings from it's subjects.

As for the question of oil, you are correct, there is and will continue to be, absent a global Influenza Pandemic that kills 80% of it's victims (as Bird Flu is doing in Indonesia)competition for scarce resources, including oil.

But that's not really the issue at all. The issue is that America is 5% of the worlds population, but consumes 50% of the worlds Gasoline production and 30+ percent of the worlds oil. This CANNOT and WILL NOT go on.

I would suggest that the best guide in international relations at the moment is the consistent application of the golden rule.

PeterE

I think of your "Jacobin crowd" as carrying on "la mission civilisatrice" of the French. Their motives are pure and have nothing to do with controlling oil, ensuring the dominance of Israel, or other unedifying objectives.

To keep us happy, the Jacobins should produce a Kipling. Someone to update "The White Man's Burden":

Take up the White Man's burden
Send forth the best ye breed
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

I think John Bolton has the right versifying stuff. Maybe he could be the neoconservative poet laureate.

kao_hsien_chih

Oh, more fallacious Eastern Europe-Middle East comparison. I could have sworn that there was a discussion about that before on this very blog.

Many so-called Eastern Europeans (Poles, Hungarians, Czechs) spent decades under the thumb of yet another alien culture: the Russians. Compared to that, opening up to the West offered a far better prospect. Where the culture was notably different, in Russia itself, the attitude towards the "West" is decidedly mixed, much more akin to the ME attitude towards the same.

I have nothing against "effective, intelligent" policy. It just so happens that so many people who bandy about that sort of language are really still intent on forcibly imposing our notions of "progress" on alien cultures--just that they think they know a better way. Personally, I think the whole idea is as flawed as alchemy: it is categorically impossible to change other peoples and their ways by sheer force of will, guns, money, whatever.

I don't doubt something approaching "democracy" might be achievable everywhere: rulers who listen to what their subject want can govern better and a system of governance that systematically incorporates such two-way communication would no doubt be more stable. No telling what people in other cultures and civilizations might want from their rulers, though.

TomB

Spider Rider:

First of all you say that all you see here are "points argued in isolation," and then say that an "EEFECTIVE, INTELLIGENT discussion" [sic] of our foreign policy (unlike what you see here apparently) would start with "let[ting] the [foreign] people themselves make the decisions" that we should honor.

In the first place, with some obvious exceptions in the past, I don't see how, as you say, oil is being all that much used as a "weapon against us" as opposed to people merely charging us what they can for same. I.e., you seem to believe we are for some reason the center of the universe and we're surrounded by enemies who, as the neo-cons would have it, merely "hate us for what we are" as opposed to not liking our policies.

But even if one buys the view that the world is indeed in some odd thrall to just hating us for the fun of it, you then say we oughta let foreigners "make the decisions."

But if we're enemies to them doesn't that mean they've made the "decisions" you so wanted them to make? And doesn't that mean that at the very least we oughta get the hell out of their back yard?

Plus, to bring this down to a specific example, in another thread you just got done saying that it was not only in the U.S.'s vital national interests to support Israel despite what they have done and still are doing, but that it's our moral obligation to provide that support too, right?

Well, that's all fine and good as an opinion, but once again how do you square this with saying you believe we oughta just let foreigners "decide" things for us? Haven't the people of the arab/moslem world (and indeed the rest of the world too as evidenced by the zillions of U.N. resolutions on the point) made it pretty freaking clear what they think of how Israel has conducted itself and our unconditional support of same?

Tough to know which policy prescription you are advocating.

Cheers,

Spider Rider

Tom,

This isn't personal.

Why are you making it such?

Intersting.

Spider Rider

Kao,

We are speaking of a general method of approachment, one that hasn't really been tried in the middle east.

Russia is still operating on a cold war mentality, you are aware of what is occurring in Britain, correct? So why is a cold war analogy incorrect, particularly if it is influenceing Iran? Should we ignore Russia, in your opinion?


Diplomacy under the neocons is nonsense, and really, for all I have said, no one is acknowledging the US need for oil, integrated with future world strategic defense position, we are speaking of a seventies isolation, (which never really existed in the first place), maintaining an illusory, past tense US economic might which is failing. How do we plan for the future? Do we simply continue Cheney's policies, or withdraw? Where does that leave the US, should we instead adopt the current methods of information management outside the virtual, say, inferior information management, and adopt these to our real world analysis and strategy, pretending a little public isolation is enough to solve the problems? This seems to have failed. How do we work this when Russia is using Iran as a proxy, say?

Are we even able to indetify the problems?

Apparently not.

Are we really putting our best and brightest forward, in planning for the future?

No, we're not, we're putting pedantic garbage forward, incapable of problem solving, look at Obama, look at McCain, look at Washington, DC.

Anti semitism, and isolationism are simplistic reactions to fear, not diplomatic strategy, and not leadership.

A day at Spence, the girls school, in NY, for the children of the wealthy, this is the model for current US intellectual and diplomatic leadership.

Hardly the warriors.

lol.

If we cant keep up intellectually, we're left behind, no matter how much we whine, and attack, whoever we think we are.

And we fall.

Curious

I suspect everybody in the middle east knows what the game is about. And the talk about "culture" and "democracy" are just that , a neocon jibe.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/JG19Ag02.html

The Kremlin didn't show any anger, but coincidence or not, Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller suddenly arrived in Tehran on Monday and discussed with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad the setting up of an organization of gas-producing countries. No doubt, with the Russian foothold in Libya (which has estimated natural gas reserves of 1.47 trillion cubic meters), in coordination with Algeria (which currently supplies over 10% of Europe's gas supplies), Qatar (with proven natural gas reserves of 25.8 trillion cubic meters) and Iran (which has the world's second-largest reserves after Russia), the time for a "Gas OPEC" is approaching.

The Iranian leader also suggested to Miller a market-sharing arrangement so that Russia and Iran could "collectively meet the demands of Europe, India and China in the gas sector". During the visit, an agreement was signed on the development of Iran's oil and gas fields by Russian companies; on Russian participation in the transfer of Iran's Caspian Sea crude oil to the Oman Sea; cooperation in the development of Iran's fabulous North Azadegan oil field; and, possible participation of Gazprom in the planned Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. Evidently, Moscow took a deliberate decision to press ahead with Iran in energy cooperation in the full glare of world publicity in complete disregard of US displeasure. Tehran loved it.


-------

I really think Pakistan is about to change its orbit soon. If they can hold it together. With the discovery of large deposit of gas and oil in Pakistan, they want some share of it too. Russia and Iran will help close the deal.

Duncan Kinder

Another point to consider is that the oil crisis is putting the United States' own cultural house in disarray.

Twentieth century American history is essentially the history of the automobile.

It is the suburbs, the interstate highway, the drive-in, the teen-age couple parking, the fun-fun-fun-fun 'til daddy takes the T-bird away, the commuter, the Chevy-Pontiac-Oldsmobile-Buick-Cadillac stepladder of social progress, the Big Mac, the Valley Girl, the shopping mall. What was good for General Motors was good for the United States.

All of this is now under assault, and it would take tame major retooling to assert any coherent substitute. All sorts of policies have been implicated. Affirmative action, for example, has basically been an effort to get minorities out into the suburbs where they, too, can fight crabgrass. Women's lib has in significant part been an effort to give suburban women something to do with their time.

Meanwhile, BMW is now telling us that it is used to dealing with high gasoline prices; so its luxury automobiles are a better deal.

It will be a while before Arabs open camel dealerships over here, but I'm a tad bit surprised that nobody has yet proposed the Arabian horse as a solution to our transit problems.

Billy Kristol can assert whatever he wants and doubtlessly will maintain his position til Alzheimer's sets in.

The bottom line is that - as our balance of payments demonstrates - the United States is in no position to export anything and - indeed - will probably be importing solutions from elsewhere. If the United States ever could have "democratized" the Middle East, it was 25-75 years ago. The topic is now academic.

Duncan Kinder

As a follow through to my prior post.

Consider the old tune, "Lazy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do," where the fellow proposes that they go off together in a bicycle built for two.

Unfortunately - and poorly remembered - in the second stanza, Daisy replies by telling the guy that he is a loser, that a bicycle is a crummy deal, and that he should shove off.

And that is where we now are.

kao_hsien_chih

Spider Rider,

You are putting words in my mouth. I'm not sure where you are getting what you seem to think I said.

The bottom line is we cannot dictate and impose our terms on others. When our bargaining position is undermined, others will start to resist, demur, obfuscate, and delay. It has nothing to do with "cold war mentality." The limits of what we can get are defined by what we bring to the table--and without the goods, no amount of "effective, intelligent diplomacy" can significantly improve our position. Things were different in 2001: we were in very strong bargaining position and an "effective, intelligent diplomacy" could have gotten us a great deal more. In 2008, we have rather little to offer, both material and otherwise, at the bargaining table. Just dumping the neocons and changing our "style" won't change that--at least not in short to medium term, provided that we can restore our bargaining position in some way. I don't suggest we withdraw totally into the shell: but we do need to acknowledge the limits of U.S. power and set our aims more modestly, within limits of what are achievable. I find it disturbing that this position is denounced as "isolationist" by some, who seemingly cannot recognize that because of the rotten condition we have gotten ourselves into, others aren't quite so eager to play nice with us. (Of course, the point of this thread was that, even when our bargaining position is strong, we still can't get everything, especially if our demands include fundamentally restructuring the way alien societies function at their core--and that point still stands.)

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