Saturday, November 26, 2005

Forever To The Left

Alright, so trolling around the blogosphere I see a few more resources that might have been useful in my last post, "The Left I Fell In Love With".

Let's start with the commenter to my original post. I want to reiterate that the "blame America" syndrome is not something that affects most or even many Democrats. It remains tightly contained to a small segment of the fringe. At the same time, I will stand by my claim that too many Democrats seem to take small stock in our historical commitment to human rights and liberation. I don't take this from Republican cherry-picking--I read Democratic sites and while it doesn't rise to the level that it's caricatured as, some of it really seems to be shocking when one thinks about it. Consider the comment itself. (S)he says that "[c]riticizing Mr. Bush's unwarranted Iraq adventure does NOT imply endorsing Saddam Hussein - it is more often a "plague on both their houses" situation." Well, that's okay and not okay. I do wish for a plague on both their houses. But while I want Mr. Bush to have a sort of mild flu, I want Saddam Hussein to come down with a particularly virulent and painful form of Ebola. Bush has done some terrible things in office, but clearly he does not even approach the horror of a Saddam Hussein. And the next line--that the US government (including current administration officials) supported Hussein at the height of his genocidal rage. I've never understood why that is trotted out as an argument against an intervention--I'd argue that it imposes a greater obligation on the US to make up for its complacency with past evils. Maybe it shows that Donald Rumsfeld shouldn't lead the charge, but that's an argument that can be made easily just on present performance.

Finally, what is still missing from even the charitable interpretation of the "plague on both your houses" argument is the point I made in the original post: there isn't any coherent alternative plan besides an aggressive American foreign policy to solving these moral catastrophes. The closest thing I've heard from the anti-war left is "the sanctions were working--they could have kept Saddam contained." Well, perhaps. But all that means is that Saddam would be contained to his own borders, where he could continue to murder, rape, torture, and maim with impunity. Paired with the empirical fact that sanctions fell hardest on women and the poor, and what you get isn't a human rights argument--it's a security-based argument that gives us the moral cover to allow thousands to perish. Sure, sanctions would insure that Saddam wouldn't threaten us, but we're not the only people at risk here. I don't consider this to be an adequate liberal response.

I'd also like to point readers to two stellar articles that went up on The New Republic's website over Thanksgiving (TNR, incidentally, has been a major exception to the crypto-isolationist movement creeping through the left). The first, by Lawrence Kaplan, takes issue with the Democrat's newfound love for foreign policy Realism.
The complaint here isn't with the Bush team's execution of its project to export democracy. It is with the idea itself....What we have in [its] place is a crude and cheap version of realism, which, although ostensibly a method of analysis that eschews ideology, is rapidly becoming an ideology of its own. Unfortunately, its key tenets as laid out by the Gary Harts and Paul Krugmans of this world--non-interference, narrowly defined vital interests, a foreign policy scrubbed of idealism--provide no adequate response to the war of ideas in which we're presently engaged and will be long after the war in Iraq draws to a close. Nor do its proponents factor in the steep moral price bound to be exacted by trading in Woodrow Wilson for Brent Scowcroft. Is it really necessary to point out how deeply amoral U.S. foreign policy was during the Kissinger and Scowcroft years? If idealism has failed in Iraq, the solution lies in the realm of means, not in abandoning idealism...

The second article, by John Judis, warns that a rising tide of isolationism may be overtaking the country. Isolationism did not augur the US' finest moral moments (acquiescing to the Nazi's rise to power, ignoring the Rwandan genocide in 1994, etc.).

I want to also state that I think nobody is fulfilling this obligation--by criticizing the Left, I do not mean to exonerate the Right. The flip-side of this argument is that nobody is taking this obligation we have seriously. I really liked this Kevin Drum post (linking to Dahlia Lithwick) because it shows how the right is also betraying this fight under the guise of fighting it, using an example I hadn't thought of before.
[Lithwick] Had Padilla been charged and tried back in the summer of 2002, rather than touted as some Bond villain - the Prince of Radiological Dispersion - his case would have stood for a simple legal proposition: that if you are a terrorist, a supporter of terrorism, or a would-be terrorist, the government will hunt you down and punish you. Had the government waited, tested its facts, kept expectations low, then delivered a series of convictions of even small-time al-Qaida foot soldiers, we in this country would feel safer and we would doubtless be safer.

Instead Padilla, like Hamdi, was used as fodder for big speeches. They became the justification for Bush's position that some people are so evil that the law does not deter them, that new legal systems must be invented - new systems that bear a striking resemblance to those discredited around the time of Torquemada.

[Drum] Exactly. The corrosion of civil liberties highlighted by these cases is bad enough, but it's not the only problem they've caused. Every time a dramatic set of charges turns out to be baseless, it sends a very public message that the war against terrorism is just a sham, a campaign of partisan fearmongering being used as little more than a political club. This is the same message sent by the Bush administration's misuse of intelligence, the lack of WMD in Iraq, the politically motivated orange alerts, the strategically timed marketing campaigns, and the transparent political stunts played by congressional Republicans last week in response to John Murtha's speech.

The American public can hardly be expected to take terrorism seriously if it's obvious that the Bush administration itself views al-Qaeda as primarily a political opportunity rather than a real problem. Sooner or later, we're going to pay the price for this feckless and irresponsible approach.

That's the meta-point here. Democrats are rightfully upset that Bush was misleading in his pre-war run-up. That was a grave sin, and he should take his fair sure of flogging for it. But that cuts both ways, Bush deserves to be bashed for jeopardizing the credibility of a really important mission, but Democrats had the obligation to sign on to the program even if they disagreed with the methodology. If the Democrats even were opposing the Iraq war on the grounds that we should be instead intervening in Darfur or North Korea (seriously advocating it, not just as a talking point), then I'd consider that to be a legitimate point of disagreement. But attacking the project of democratization itself is simply not consonant with liberal ideals. The issues that face us today, whether it's terrorism or human rights (I think the two are inextricably tied), are too important to be tied up in political considerations. They need to be addressed full-frontal and in good faith. And if I seem to come down harder on liberals, that's because I have more faith in them to bring about real, lasting, compassionate, and effective solutions to the problems we're faced with.

16 comments:

jack said...

I think you're forgetting a significant portion of the "left"- the part that hates Saddam as much as anybody but also SAW THE QUAGMIRE COMING. The really obvious alternative, I guess, is don't do shit that doesn't work. (Ironically, military intervention in Darfur probably would have been a bit more successful.)


We also need to start talking about reforming the UN so that it
a. isn't corrupt
b. actually does something

Off the top of my head this means,

1. A functional ICC.
2. A commission on Human Rights that isn't a joke (Sudan is a member?)
3. No Kofi.

pacatrue said...

Hm. So it's a debate blog right? Sort of? Anyway, apologies as a newbie.

So I agree still with the overall point that the US should be involved in the world. Isolationism doesn't work. It's my biggest beef with anti-globalization forces. If the alternative to the current pattern of international trade is simply not trading with others, which is how the alternative is usually presented under the auspices of keeping jobs at home, then it's not a real alternative any more. If anti-globalization instead was a positive campaign of protecting indigenous languages and cultures, applying US environmental laws to US corps in other countries, finding ways to make sure that some portion of the money gained in international trade is going into the pockets of everyone, and the like, then I might be on board with that form of "anti-globalization." Isolationism bad. Well-designed, practical, liberal globalization good, or at least worth a look.

So, to go to the topic which you actually discussed, namely democratization and Iraq, the basic problem is that exporting democracy through military might almost always fails. The only exception I can think of is perhaps post-war Japan, and the differences there are obvious. So it is possible, but extremely unlikely to work. I have no problem with an aggressive campaign to increase public participation in government and enforce human rights, but the problem is that a foreign army imposing such items typically fails. The cruelties that Saddam inflicted on his own people don't increase the chances of military democratization working.

With that said, it is worth noting that what I want is for Bush' plan to work, for this to be an exception, and for somehow, miraculously, a foreign army to take out an indigenous regime and start a functioning democracy. I hope, but I doubt. And if the 5% chance of success comes about, does it mean all the dead soldiers and citizens were worth it? You need someone wiser than me to answer that.

David Schraub said...

Military exportation of democracy sometimes works, and sometimes doesn't. Examples of what most consider to be military success stories are Japan, Germany, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Failures include Somalia and Haiti. As a study by the RAND Corporation noted, what primarily distinguishes success from failure in military cases is not homogenuity of the population, or per capita income, or prior "culture" of democracy. The primary variable is the amount of time, resources, and effort the occupier and world community are willing to put in to the project. So for Jack to say that the left "saw the quagmire coming" misses the point. The quagmire wasn't inevitable, it was a direct product of administrative incompetence. The idea that military intervention is unlikely to work is simply a myth on an empirical level--I see no reason why Iraq, done right (as opposed to done Bush's way) would be an exception.

jack said...

First, I think its safe to say that even if resources and effort is the primary factor there are still other factors. You can't tell me the presence of Islamic radicals isn't going to be detrimental to any attempt at democratization. So just because they've identified these factors as explaining the success of democratization doesn't mean we can't still predict the outcome prior to attempting democratization by force based on pre-existing conditions.

But even if we except the premise that the effort, time and resources devoted to democratization are the most important factor that only supports the argument that WE NEVER HAD ENOUGH RESOURCES. Without a draft there just aren't enough troops to win a war against an urban insurgency (much less while fighting another war in Afghanistan). Since we knew we weren't going to have those troops before the war we could predict that US troops would be unable to maintain a peaceful occupation. Administrative incompetance certainly made a big problem worse but even the most perfect plan would have failed.

I'm still waiting for someone to show me "The Iraq Plan That Would Have Worked". Anybody want to enlighten me?

David Tomlin said...

Military exportation of democracy sometimes works, and sometimes doesn't. Examples of what most consider to be military success stories are Japan, Germany, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Bosnia seems to be a successful humanitarian intervention, but neither Bosnia nor Kosovo have been successful democratizations. The occupations are ongoing, so it may be too early to pronounce them failures.

Other than the former Axis countries (including Italy, which usually goes unmentioned for some reason) the only successful military democratizations I know of are Grenada (1983-84) and Panama (1989).

As a study by the RAND Corporation noted, what primarily distinguishes success from failure in military cases is not homogeneity of the population, or per capita income, or prior "culture" of democracy. The primary variable is the amount of time, resources, and effort the occupier and world community are willing to put in to the project.

Is it available on-line?

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace did a study that reached different conclusions, but unfortunately it no longer seems to be available at their website. The title is 'Lessons from the Past : The American Record in Nation-Building'.

I've also done a little research on my own.

Germany and Japan were required to pay 'occupation costs'. More than one analyst concluded that West Germany was a net loser. I suspect the same was true of Japan, though in that case I don't really know.

The U.S. occupied Haiti for a total of over 20 years, (1915-34, 1994-96, 2004-2005); Nicaragua about 20 years (1912-25, 1926-33); the Dominican Republic, about 10 years (1916-24, 1965-66); Cuba, about 7 years (1898-1902, 1906-1909). In all those cases the U.S. spent a lot of money building infrastructure.

The longest of the success stories, Japan, was about 7 years (1945-52).

The idea that military intervention is unlikely to work is simply a myth on an empirical level

I disagree, based on the Carnegie study and my own research.

David Tomlin said...

I'm still waiting for someone to show me "The Iraq Plan That Would Have Worked".

I can imagine a 'plan-that-would-have-had-a-chance'.
However, I doubt it would have been politically feasible.

The invasion/occupation was sold on two points.

1. It's vital to our security.

2. Anyway it won't cost very much.

Both were lies. I don't think it is remotely plausible that the top dogs believed either one.

If 1 had been widely and deeply sold, 2 wouldn't have been needed. In fact both together barely got a popular majority. Effective nation-building would have required dropping 2 and really selling 1, which seems unlikely. The higher the expected costs, the more scrutiny would have fallen on arguments that wouldn't bear scrutiny.

David Tomlin said...

Ironically, military intervention in Darfur probably would have been a bit more successful.

What would be the exit strategy?

jack said...

I mean, I don't exactly have access to Whitehouse intellegence reports. Maybe they seriously thought about Darfur and decided it wouldn't work. But I think a Darfur intervention would recieve more international support, have more reasonable goals, require less destruction of infastructure, and see weaker resistance. All of that would make political stability a more likely result than it was in Iraq.

David Tomlin said...

I don't exactly have access to Whitehouse intellegence reports.

I'm just asking for your opinion.

What would be the political goal? Darfur as an independent state? Could non-African powers guarantee it without a permanent garrison?

jack said...

The goal, I think, would be disarmament of the janjaweed, peaceful resettlement and a long term peacekeeping operation. In terms of a political arrangement Darfur could become a semi-autonamous region with required political representation in Khartoum. Some sort of restitution should be arranged to give Darfur the same access to industry and development in the rest of the country.

There isn't really a Darfur state for us to liberate, if we wanted a two state solution we'd have to build that one from the ground up.

David Tomlin said...

The goal, I think, would be disarmament of the janjaweed, peaceful resettlement and a long term peacekeeping operation.

It seems to me that this sort of thing is likely to happen sooner or later in most any 'developing country'. If every such episode requires a 'long term peacekeeping operation', that will eventually amount to re-colonization. I don't think the first colonial era worked out so well, that anyone should be enthusiastic about a repetition.

jack said...

First, I think "most any developing country" is probably overstating how often the problem will occur. Moreover, that number can be lowered by identifying likely locations of ethnic conflict and employing methods of prevention. But even without prevention, given a policy of intervention in cases of genocide, I don't envision US peacekeepers in more than a handful of countries in the foreseeable future. Plus, US intervention now would deter future criminals. If the US has a policy of invading Genocidal states, leaders will think twice. In general, the scope of the project I'd propose is unlikely to be all that large.

Second, the US would likely have a lot more assistance with Darfur since Darfur has negligible economic and political value intervention would be viewed less as a part of the nefarious scheming of imperialists and more as a beneficial stance of altruists. African troops would certainly play a very large role as peacekeepers and I don't see why other western nations wouldn't help as well. This would theoretically be true of future interventions as well. There are other features that would make Darfur easier than Iraq of course but I can't generalize about regions where Genocide will or might occur.

But even if you don't believe anything I've said so far your concern that an intervention to stop Genocide policy would amount to a disastrous re-colonization of the world isn't a reason to reject intervention in Darfur. Sure, maybe a universal policy of intervention is problematic but why does intervention in Darfur mean we have to intervene everywhere?

David Tomlin said...

US intervention now would deter future criminals.

I'm skeptical that this will be true in many cases. Leaders resort to such methods because they see a vital interest at stake. It's not obvious how often the risk of intervention would shift the balance of incentives decisively.

Interventions don't always succeed, either in securing the troubled areas or the persons of the 'criminals'. Saddam and Milosevic are facing trials, but bin Laden and Mullah Omar are still at large.

Milosevic isn't even at risk of the death penalty. Presumably this will be true whenever there is broad international participation.

African troops would certainly play a very large role as peacekeepers

Native auxiliaries have always played an important role in colonial wars.

and I don't see why other western nations wouldn't help as well.

So the new colonialism would be co-operative where the old was competitive.

There are other features that would make Darfur easier than Iraq . . .

You may be right, but there are points on the other side as well. Logistic access to the area would be more difficult, and the local population less effective in their own defense than the Kurds and Shi'ites in Iraq.

Sure, maybe a universal policy of intervention is problematic but why does intervention in Darfur mean we have to intervene everywhere?

Obviously it doesn't. No law of nature compels us to follow precedents. But that doesn't mean the potential for precedent-setting is altogether irrelevant. There are slippery slopes, both logical and psychological.

jack said...

Colonialism...

What exactly do you mean by colonialism here? The ways in which an intervention policy mirror colonialism aren't really the problematic aspects of colonialism. Instead of linking a policy of intervention to an unclear term with connotations of racism and genocide explain to me what results of a policy of intervention you find problematic.

It's not obvious how often the risk of intervention would shift the balance of incentives decisively.

Rulers, we can generalize, will be primarily concerned with
1. Not being killed or imprisoned
2. Maintaining power.
The second is an almost definite loss in the event of an intervention. The first a likely outcome- I'd be convinced.


Leaders resort to such methods because they see a vital interest at stake.

Huh? What about mass murder is necessary?

Native auxiliaries have always played an important role in colonial wars.

Yeah? So? African Union troops resemble native auxiliaries how? Cause they both have dark skin?


So the new colonialism would be co-operative where the old was competitive.

Yeah, its everyone against Sudan and Rwanda. So everyone is an imperialist? The only way this resembles imperialism is that countries are attempting to change and control events in another country. But all of the bad things ABOUT colonialism have nothing to do with intervention in and of itself.Resource exploitation, racism, imperial overstretch and genocide are all products of the political situations, racist mindsets, specific economic planning, or insideous intentions- things that don't apply. Stop equivocating.

You may be right, but there are points on the other side as well. Logistic access to the area would be more difficult, and the local population less effective in their own defense than the Kurds and Shi'ites in Iraq.

There is no obvious need for urban peacekeeping which, the military objective is easier, the forces we'd have to fight are weaker. And given that the enemy would be weaker access to the area would be made easier - ie we could be more direct about entering it.

No law of nature compels us to follow precedents. But that doesn't mean the potential for precedent-setting is altogether irrelevant. There are slippery slopes, both logical and psychological.

Our concern with being consistent doesn't justify sitting back and watching a genocide.

Besides, if the intervention were to fail no one would want to try it again anytime soon. Thus, precedent is created in direct proportion to the success of intervention. If you're right that intervention will usually be disastrous then we'll stop intervening. If I'm right we keep helping people. In either situation we avoid your colonialism scenario.

And remember two things.

1. There are only a few possible targets so all your concerns (whatever they are exactly) are minimized.
2. Theres a direct impact to intervention. We save lives. That outweighs any concern you've put forward so far.

David Tomlin said...

Jack wrote:

Resource exploitation, racism, imperial overstretch and genocide are all products of the political situations, racist mindsets, specific economic planning, or insidious intentions- things that don't apply. Stop equivocating.

Uncivil and unjust. The alleged equivocations are strawmen of your invention.

Thanks for an interesting discussion. I think it's time to let the matter rest.

jack said...

Indeed, mine is an innocent interpretation, if it is inaccurate then the position was poorly explained.