Patterico's Pontifications

6/5/2005

Promoting Democracy: What a Stupid Idea

Filed under: Dog Trainer,International — Patterico @ 4:07 pm



The lead news article in this morning’s L.A. Times is an undisguised criticism of President Bush’s policy of promoting democracy. If anyone is interested in learning why so many people revile this newspaper, just read this article. It is full of The Times‘s masterful techniques of slandering the conservative position through clever wording and the burying of important facts.

The article is titled Bush’s Foreign Policy Shifting. The sub-head reads: “Spreading democracy has become his top priority, at times trumping urgent issues. Some specialists dismiss his vision as unrealistic.” If that sub-head doesn’t make it clear enough, the first sentence of the article reinforces the point:

President Bush’s ambitious vision of global democratic reform has begun to dominate the administration’s foreign affairs agenda, in some cases pushing aside urgent international issues.

In other words, promoting democracy is not an urgent international issue. Gotcha.

There are two parts to the article. The first part of the article reflects the view trumpeted on the front page: that Bush is overemphasizing democracy in a misguided and fanciful distraction from the “real issues” facing the international community:

Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazief got a taste of this change during his weeklong visit to Washington last month. Egypt is an important player in the Middle East peace process and a vital, if quiet, ally in the struggle to create stability in Iraq. But Nazief repeatedly was put on the defensive by questions on one topic: Egypt’s plans for democratic reform.

Nazief said two pressing regional issues were largely left out of his May 18 visit with Bush: the unfolding crisis just to Egypt’s south in the Darfur region of Sudan, and Syria’s involvement in Lebanon.

Such “pressing regional issues” are treated as far more important than silly notions of democratization, which are portrayed as naive, pie-in-the-sky daydreaming:

Although few foreign policy specialists interviewed for this article questioned the president’s personal sincerity, some dismissed his plan as little more than fantasy. Others expressed doubt that the U.S. had the credibility to advance such ambitious reforms — especially in the Islamic world.

This analysis studiously ignores a recent surge of democratic sentiment — much of it in the Islamic world — in places like Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Georgia, Ukraine, Palestine, Egypt, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and even Cuba. It’s not working out perfectly everywhere, of course, but the pro-democracy spirit is definitely on the rise. No hint of this tidal wave of passion for self-governance appears on the front page. It is not until paragraph 28 — hidden away on Page A10 — that the article makes any reference to the recent explosion of democratic feeling around the globe:

In public speeches, Bush has reeled off the names of such countries as Ukraine, Georgia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan as proof of democracy’s inevitable triumph and warned authoritarian rulers that they must change.

Naturally, where democracy has succeeded, the success is immediately denigrated:

At one level, experts such as Moises Naim, editor of the Washington-based Foreign Policy magazine, acknowledge that Bush has been effective in presenting a series of recent displays of “people power” in countries such as Ukraine, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan as part of the inevitable march of history.

But he and others say the administration is merely “picking the low-hanging fruit.” They argue that the real test of Bush’s commitment to change will come in strategically important nations, such as Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, where the political stakes are far higher for the U.S.

I doubt that more than one person used the phrase “low-hanging fruit” — a phrase that clearly doesn’t apply to Iraq, Afghanistan, or Palestine in any event. Why are these countries not included in the analysis? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that doing so might undercut the theme of the latter part of the article: Bush is not doing enough to promote democracy. Sure, it’s the complete opposite of the theme of the first part of the article — but never mind that:

Some specialists also say the administration reacted more cautiously than many European countries to public uprisings against repressive governments in the Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan in March and Uzbekistan last month. One reason: They both house U.S. military bases that are crucial to supporting American forces in Afghanistan.

Administration officials dealing with the democracy issue stress that “prudence” is necessary in pushing nations to become more open politically, but they insist that the political will to move ahead is there because there is no other choice.

Remember that, on Page A1, the problem was that Bush was doing too much to promote democracy — and thereby ignoring other issues that are more “urgent” than spreading democracy. But on the back pages, when the article finally gets around to acknowledging the apparent success of Bush’s strategy, the problem is now that Bush hasn’t done enough — that Bush is, like Daddy 41, being too “prudent.”

It’s a classic Catch-22. Damned if you promote democracy; damned if you don’t. The editors are hoping you won’t notice the inconsistency. In fact, it would be best if you just didn’t turn to the back pages at all. And most readers won’t.

Look for a rash of letters to the editor over the next few days, criticizing Bush’s hopelessly naive policy of bringing democracy to the world. The letters will be written by people who don’t have a clue what’s going on in the world. In other words, by people whose main source of news is the Los Angeles Times.

UPDATE: Jason Van Steenwyk has a similar but more extensive take.

14 Responses to “Promoting Democracy: What a Stupid Idea”

  1. Thank God! I read the “rag” this morning and wanted to scream. A hat tip to Patterico for summarizing my fealings on the article.

    I kick myself everytime I break down and purchase the Los Angeles Times. I cancelled my subscription a few years ago but sometimes — when I have time on my hands — I buy it and live to regret it.

    I find it’s OK if I ignore the front page. If I could only drum that into my head…………

    Mike Schunk (ed9894)

  2. “In other words, promoting democracy is not an urgent international issue. Gotcha.”

    Its long term. In the short term we want to prevent islamofascism. For example, actual democracy in egypt or algeria would not be a good thing in the short term, but would be in the long term, once they’ve gotten exposed to enough liberalism and feminism to progress.

    actus (3be069)

  3. Somehow I remember that one of the main criticisms of the Reagan years was that we were too eager to tolerate, I believe Jean Kirkpatrick coined the phrase, “authoritarian” regimes as opposed to “totalitarian” regimes. I’m thinking particularly of Chile, Nicaraugua, perhaps South Africa, and others.

    Now that Bush is clearly intent on spreading democracy, suddenly we’ve rediscovered pragmatism. It’s just too complicated to see the potential for a democratic ME.

    No wonder even the Europeans are starting ask: “Was Bush right, after all?” when they see the events in Lybia, Lebanon and elsewhere.

    Harry Arthur (b318a5)

  4. I make some similar arguments at Countercolumn

    http://www.iraqnow.blogspot.com

    Jason Van Steenwyk (fb0fea)

  5. “Now that Bush is clearly intent on spreading democracy, suddenly we’ve rediscovered pragmatism. It’s just too complicated to see the potential for a democratic ME.”

    The line is also that we’re tolerating a lot of authoritarians in order to promote democracy in some places. And that pragmatically it may be easier (lest costly, less lives lost) to promote it in the authoritarian countries we have ties to than in the ones we don’t.

    actus (3be069)

  6. actus, I’d say that a little of both is probably in solution territory. My comment was directed primarily to the LAT “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” argument that goes something like Reagan bad because we were too pragmatic, Bush bad because we’re too idealistic. As with most things the answer is probably in the muddy middle somewhere. You are certainly correct in your assertion (with which I generally agree) that it’s likely better usually, to deal with Russia, China, et al, on some level of friendship than as an enemy. Perhaps we are dealing with two sides of the same coin? Carrot and stick vs carrot or stick?

    Harry Arthur (b318a5)

  7. Five-by-Five

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    The Big Picture (8da0de)

  8. I noticed a little goal-post moving too. Oh, some countries that we said could never become democratic are becoming democratic? But it doesn’t count unless it’s a strategically important country like Saudi Arabia. I predict that if Saudi becomes more democratic, it will suddenly not be one of the strategically important countries.

    Doc Rampage (47be8d)

  9. “Perhaps we are dealing with two sides of the same coin? Carrot and stick vs carrot or stick?”

    No. because to you pragmatism means tolerate dictators we are friends with to make on war on the ones we are not. To me pragmatism means don’t tolerate the dictators we are friends with. So its not a dichotomy of pragmatism and idealism.

    actus (cd484e)

  10. actus, so what do we do with the “dictators we are friends with” who we’re not going to be friends with any more once we no longer tolerate them? I’m not trying to be argumentative, just looking for your solution for Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc, and perhaps your thoughts on what we should have done previously with Chile, Iran, South Africa, Nicaraugua, etc.

    Again, I don’t have a problem with consistency, though I don’t believe I’d term your approach of non-tolerance “pragmatic”. It seems to me that pragmatism involves some level of trade-off from what we would normally consider an ideal.

    The real question to me is whether China would be considered a “friend” due to our extensive trade agreements and what we should do about their dictatorship. Likewise, Russia seems lately to be back-peddaling on democracy some. How should we react to their back-sliding under Mr Bush’s friend, Mr Putin? Or what should we do with Mr Musharaf in Pakistan? Do we have to consider the disposition of his nuclear weapons as part of the equation?

    Harry Arthur (b318a5)

  11. “Again, I don’t have a problem with consistency, though I don’t believe I’d term your approach of non-tolerance “pragmatic”. It seems to me that pragmatism involves some level of trade-off from what we would normally consider an ideal.”

    Its not ideal to lean on your friends.

    actus (3be069)

  12. actus, I’m missing your point I guess. I’m still looking for your thoughts on how we would apply your “non-tolerance” of authoritarian friends policy.

    If what you are suggesting is that we “lean” on them then I’d suggest that’s already happening, e.g., our relationship with Russia.

    The problem I have with your non-tolerance policy is that if applied uniformly it sometimes results in worse consequences than intended, e.g., the Shah of Iran being replaced by Islamofascist mullahs.

    I’m trying to understand this isn’t a both-and situation. I would submit that in Afghanistan and arguably in Iraq we and the people of those countries are years ahead of where we would be if we had left those regimes in place. Isn’t there room for some “nuance” in your world?

    Let me ask this one again: “…what should we do with Mr Musharaf in Pakistan? Do we have to consider the disposition of his nuclear weapons as part of the equation?” How hard do we lean on him?

    Finally, are you suggesting that there is no room for idealism in our foreign policy?

    Harry Arthur (40c0a6)

  13. “Again, I don’t have a problem with consistency, though I don’t believe I’d term your approach of non-tolerance “pragmatic”. It seems to me that pragmatism involves some level of trade-off from what we would normally consider an ideal.”

    Its not ideal to lean on your friends.

    Jim in Marbella (b79bb8)

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