Monday, November 27, 2006

Democracy Win or Lose

In his November 19th column, Mark Steyn makes the case for the Bush push for democracy in Iraq--even if it fails.

1. Just because it's right for the US to promote and support democracy wherever it sprouts.

However, I support the Bush Doctrine on two grounds -- first, for "utopian" reasons: If the Middle East becomes a region of free states, it will have been the right thing to do and the option most consistent with American values (unlike the stability fetishists' preference for sticking with Mubarak, the House of Saud and the other thugs and autocrats).
[emphasis mine]

2. Because it is the only ideology that has a chance to stand against the totalitarian islamism now being imposed on the Middle East.

But, second, it also makes sense from a cynical realpolitik perspective: Promoting liberty and democracy, even if they ultimately fail, is still a good way of messing with the thugs' heads. It's one of the few real points of pressure America and its allies can bring to bear against rogue nations, and in the case of Iran, the one with the clearest shot at being effective. In other words, even if it ultimately flops, seriously promoting liberty and democracy could cause all kinds of headaches for the mullahs, Assad, Mubarak and the rest of the gang. However it turns out, it's the "realist" option.
[emphasis mine]

But, why, oh why, does the President state the case so poorly? Not with the eloquence of Prime Minister Tony Blair nor with the clear-headed analysis of Mark Steyn. Is the problem that President Bush is basing his calculations on a false assumption? While we do hold it as self-evident that

all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . . .

The salient point is that they are "endowed by their Creator" with rights. Which is different than saying that those rights are the highest value for the individual. Steyn points to the problem in how President Bush explains the issue.

The president doesn't frame it like that, alas. Instead, he says stuff like: "Freedom is the desire of every human heart." Really? It's unclear whether that's the case in Gaza and the Sunni Triangle. But it's absolutely certain that it's not the case in Berlin and Paris, Stockholm and London, Toronto and New Orleans. The story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government "security," large numbers of people vote to dump freedom -- the freedom to make your own decisions about health care, education, property rights, seat belts and a ton of other stuff. I would welcome the president using "Freedom is the desire of every human heart" in Chicago and Dallas, and, if it catches on there, then applying it to Ramadi and Tikrit.
[emphasis mine]

If you assume that people will rush for freedom even against great odds, you will make policy choices differently than if you assume that there has to be some real chance of success for people to risk their lives to choose freedom and democracy over authoritarian government.

Perhaps this false assumption that the deck is overwhelmingly stacked in favor of democracy is why every so often it comes out that we are handicapping ourselves to play fair even when the other side never plays fair.

When the other side doesn't play fair, you have to toughen the response.

We have recognized this in our laws in dealing with organized crime and drug cartels.

We recognized this in World War II. The rate of taking prisoners-of-war was much higher in the European theater than in the Pacific theater because the enemy's rules of engagement was decidedly different in each theater. German prisoners-of-war didn't try to kill medics and those who tried to help them. Japanese prisoners-of-war did.

Along with Mark Steyn, I believe the current policy is the best one on the table. But, the implementation of it needs to be re-worked to conform with the realities of dealing with a brutal enemy that values neither freedom nor human life.


Mike's America said...

It's clear that President Bush's communication strategy on Iraq is weak. Not sure whether it's the message, the tactics used to communicate it or the ability of the lamestream media to simply ignore what he is saying.

I'll venture to say that if Clinton was President using the same words and the same policy the media reaction would be different.

The media has all but concluded that we have lost in Iraq and now the only thing to do is figure out how to leave.

terrance said...

You make good points, Mike.

Of course you are right on how the media treats everything President Bush says.

And there have been a lot of successes--like Iraqis voting under threat of death and finally forming a government. Considering their past, they have done a lot better than we did in staving off a full blown civil war. And we didn't have outside agitators coming in.

Still, I think Mark Steyn is right that the argument needs to be framed practically as well as idealistically.

The argument that we're fighting terrorists in Iraq so we won't have to fight them in the US has been the best practical argument made. But, it needs to be shored up with other practical arguments. And more said about the progress that is being made.