The Nudnik File

Nudnik - n. U.S. colloq. Esp. in Jewish usage: a pestering, nagging, or irritating person

Monday, January 24, 2005

              The "Realist" View
In Today's Washington Post, Richard Haas offers the old school "realist" view in arguing that the promotion of freedom is not, of itself a true policy. It is the "don't rock the boat" argument.
The idea, stated forcefully by President Bush in his second inaugural, that the United States would henceforth support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture "with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world" is by any yardstick an important declaration. A foreign policy doctrine, however, it is not.
While admitting that democracy in countries that presently breed terrorism may be helpful in our GWOT, he contends that democracy can be am unpredictable and messy thing.
To begin with, democracies are not always peaceful. Immature democracies - those that hold elections but lack many of the checks and balances characteristic of a true democracy - are particularly vulnerable to being hijacked by popular passions.
But any country moving from a dictatorship to a democracy will have to go through the stage of being an "immature democracy". Does Haas then mean that we should discourage that? That because they will not be a "perfect" democracy from the beginning, we should discourage democratization? Undoubtedly many of the attempts at democratization will proceed in fits and starts, but movement towards a representative form of government is certainly better than the stability of tyranny. At one point, even the US was an "immature" democracy. Should that experiment not have been attempted because of the instability that existed for the first 100 years of our republic? One has to start somewhere.

Haas then goes on to say that we shouldn't push for democracy because it is difficult and costly.
It is also difficult to spread democracy. It is one thing to oust a regime, quite another to put something better in its place. Prolonged occupation of the sort the United States carried out in Japan and West Germany after World War II is the only surefire way to build democratic institutions and instill democratic culture. But as Iraq demonstrates, the rise of modern nationalism and modern methods of resistance means that such opportunities will be rare, costly and uncertain to succeed, despite an investment of billions of dollars and thousands of lives.
Yes, creating something where nothing existed is often costly and difficult, but it does not mean that it should not be done.

Finally, Haas gets to the bedrock of the realpolitik school of foreign policy - "he may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch".
We may prefer that China, Russia, Pakistan and Palestine also be democratic, but a preference is something markedly less than a vital interest. The United States simply cannot afford to allow promoting democracy to trump cooperation on what is truly essential.
As President Bush said in his speech in London a little while ago, our policy of supporting dictators and tyrants because it seemed expedient has failed. Haas's view of the world is very pessimistic - spreading democracy is going to fail anyways, so why not continue doing what we have been doing (never mind that that policy brought us 9/11 and the spread of Islamic radicalism). Haas is wrong that Bush's vision is an idealistic one without a basis in vital national interest. In fact, what the Bush speech was all about was tying the ideology (spreading democracy and defeating tyranny) to the realism of doing this for our own good, not just for the sake of others.
|| Nudnik 11:56 PM
Listed on BlogShares