Monday, May 19, 2008

Freedom For All

An oldie but goodie from Fareed Zakaria:
This is the party's dilemma -- it wishes to spread liberty to people whom it doesn't really like.

That was back in 2004. It's still true.


schiller1979 said...

Yes, neo-con references to the United Nations are intended to conjure up images of plots by representative of developing countries (I don’t think it’s any longer appropriate to refer to the “Third World” after the Second World went out of existence in 1991), based in part at least on envy.

Does that mean that those who make those statements about the U.N. “don’t like” the people in the developing countries? We need to distinguish between those people and their governments. It’s the governments who act at the U.N. To the extent those governments are undemocratic, the general population is not responsible for, and may well not agree, with those actions. We may dislike those governments’ policies, but that doesn’t mean we dislike their populations.

I acknowledge that many people in other countries disagree with many actions of the U.S. government. But (and I’ll preface this statement by saying I’m an advocate of open immigration and don’t want to build a fence along the Mexican border) I’ll believe that they don’t like us, the moment that the large numbers of those countries’ people who express an urgent desire to emigrate to the U.S. stop doing so.

PG said...

But some of these governments that are somewhat antagonistic to U.S. interests are democratic, and to the degree they are undemocratic, frequently suppressing more popular political movements that would be even MORE antagonistic. Pretty much all Muslim-majority nations will oppose us with regard to Israel, and that's not just their awful tyrannical governments speaking -- that's the people. Even democratic nations where Muslims are a minority, such as India, have had rough histories with the U.S. in the UN forum. Ask a conservative who was an adult in the 1970s what he thought of India's ambassador to the UN at that time.

I find the "if they prefer the U.S. to living in their own nation, they must like the U.S." argument to be implausible for many immigrants. After all, many who seek political or religious asylum in the U.S. do so because they seek to create a Marxist or theocratic state in their homeland, and are oppressed by their government for doing so. They may appreciate that the U.S. is a refuge from such persecution, but that doesn't mean they like what are considered to be American values such as capitalism, a certain degree of sexual liberty, women's equality, etc. Or they might like one of those values, such as capitalism, while opposing the rest.

schiller1979 said...

My guess is that a rather small minority of those who want to emigrate to the U.S. have political motives for doing so. Many, if not most, are, I suspect, motivated by the economic opportunities provided by our favorable combination of economic freedom and rule of law. I’m prepared to listen to any evidence to the contrary, but that’s a very strong suspicion on my part. If that’s the case, then to say that they don’t like us, rather than that they may disagree (many probably don’t care) with aspects of American policy, seems at the very least to overstate the case.

Regarding those who do have political motives, and are strongly opposed to the U.S. government politically, I’ll acknowledge that their desire to emigrate to the U.S. can be a tactical move. But one of my problems with the argument in relation to those people is that the implication is that they dislike us and that they have legitimate reasons for doing so because our country is, in the words of that delightfully vague pollster’s question, on the wrong track. But if we provide sanctuary to such people, are we really all that evil?

I also acknowledge that many governments who oppose us at the UN are democratic. Some, of course, are not, and their people are probably more on our side regarding at least some of the attacks we make on those governments, such as when we advocate freedom for Myanmar. But in either case, whether or not their people are in synch with their governments in disagreeing with American policy, the notion that our disagreements with them show that we don’t like them is an oversimplification and a rather silly way of phrasing it.

PG said...

I may not have stated my comment clearly. People can appreciate the economic opportunities that living in America affords yet not like American culture; for a sample of this, secretly tape a bunch of immigrants discussing the U.S. amongst themselves. Such people, when they lived in their nations of origin, didn't get to enjoy U.S. capitalism -- indeed, may have been disadvantaged by our protectionism or demands through the World Bank/ IMF -- but did feel the brunt of our foreign policy and of American culture that they dislike. In other words, even holding one's set of preferences constant, there's more reason to dislike America when you live outside it, and for you to support your government's acting against the U.S. at the UN.

Certainly there is reason to disagree with some majority preferences in certain nations, as in the democratic preference in Afghanistan, even post-Taliban rule, to have a man who converts to Christianity executed for apostasy. What I found interesting from conservatives when that problem arose was the attitude of betrayal: we liberated you, and this is how you repay us?

That's quite different from a general and equal disapproval of religious intolerance regardless of where it occurs. It is putting the expectation that if we install democracy in a nation, of course that nation henceforth will express U.S. preferences. It just doesn't work that way, and so I think conservatives are doomed to disappointment, particularly due to their inclination to install democracy in nations where the culture is different from ours and where there may have been a longstanding hostility between us and them.

schiller1979 said...

What precisely it means to "like" a country is not too clear to me. But to say of the large numbers of people whose desire to emigrate to the U.S. is so strong that they are willing to risk their lives to do so, that they don't "like" the U.S. doesn't make sense to me. No one likes all aspects of American culture or public policy. I sure don't. But I'm certainly happy to have American citizenship. Does that mean I "like" ("love"?) the U.S. I suppose so.

The democracy question is difficult. If democratic governments abroad make policy choices the U.S. disagrees with, we need to live with that. I think that, in practice, we have tried to nudge the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan in the direction we would like them to go, but we can't (or at least can't be seen to) dictate policy to them.

The toughest question is when governments democratically choose to do things we consider to be in violation of universal standards of human rights. It was also a tough question here, when American governments democratically adopted fugitive slave laws, Jim Crow, sodomy laws, etc.