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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Political reform? It's a joke

Matt Duss worries that the 'Palestinian Authority' is becoming a 'security state.'
One of the key problems of the U.S.'s approach to dealing with the Middle East, particularly with the Palestinians, has been to focus on persons at the expense of politics and institutions. Rather than cultivating and supporting democratic habits and procedures, U.S. policymakers have tended to identify individual leaders who could deliver various goods, usually broadly defined as "stability" or "progress," ignoring the longer-term implications of how exactly those goods were delivered.

There's a fairly strong consensus that this has been a mistake. Indeed, one of the great and least remarked-upon ironies of the post-9/11 era is the fact that the George W. Bush administration latched upon a critique of U.S. foreign policy that had theretofore been mainly the province of "leftist" academics and liberal pundits: that America's interest in stability in Middle East had led it, for decades, to support a series of authoritarian regimes who promised to keep the relative peace if we didn't bother them too much about democracy or human rights, and that the terror visited on America that fall morning was a consequence.

This idea was clearly expressed by Republican presidential candidate John McCain in a major foreign policy address in March 2008: "For decades in the greater Middle East, we had a strategy of relying on autocrats to provide order and stability," said McCain. "In the late 1970s that strategy began to unravel. The ensuing ferment in the Muslim world produced increasing instability."

Conservative strategist Bill Kristol offered a similar statement in 2005 at Tel Aviv University, at a symposium on the Bush foreign policy and neoconservatism. "We had made too many accommodations with dictators," Kristol said. "The reaction was, in many cases, leading to greater anti-Americanism, greater extremism, and greater terrorism."

Underpinning George W. Bush's "freedom agenda," this analysis -- which clearly suggests that past U.S. policy was, in part, responsible for 9/11 -- was spared classification as "America-hating," probably because, issuing from neoconservative mouths and pens, there was no one else around willing to cast such cheap aspersions. But also because, having identified the problem, the preferred neoconservative solution primarily involved America sallying forth to blow more stuff up. Much, much more stuff.

Regardless of whether Bush's "freedom agenda" was born of a genuinely progressive impulse, or just a fig leaf for the further entrenchment of U.S. power in the region, that agenda quickly collapsed, one of many casualties of the furies unleashed by the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

But just because the Bush administration latched onto this critique as a justification for its attempt to reorder the Middle East doesn't mean it was necessarily wrong. A focus on security at the expense of democracy does generate bad consequences, and acknowledgement of this fact, by anyone, however late coming, is a good thing.

So why are we doing it again in Palestine?
Read the whole thing. It's an interesting take. But mine is different.

In my view, what underlies the whole approach of looking for 'someone who can deliver' is the 'fierce moral urgency' of 'progress.' Democracy cannot be imposed on people who are accustomed to living under another system of government based on a timetable. The American Revolutionary War ended in 1781 but it took until 1789 for George Washington to become the first President. In between, hearts and minds had to be persuaded and consensus had to be reached. That was not done based on a timetable.

The only two instances in recent history where democracy was effectively imposed were post-World War II Germany and Japan. In both cases, democracy was imposed by a military occupation (following a complete military defeat) by outside powers that was unlimited in time, and which ended only when sufficiently stable democratic institutions were established so as to ensure that there would be no return to a Hitler or a Hirohito. President Obama's withdrawal of US troops from Iraq has all but ensured that the German and Japanese experience will not be repeated there. An authoritarian government in Iraq is now, unfortunately, not far off down the road.

Ironically, with all the 'Palestinian' protests against the 'occupation,' occupation by Israel or other outside powers that is unlimited in time may be the only hope for ever imposing democracy on a nascent 'Palestinian' state. And no, I don't expect that to happen.


At 1:55 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Yup. Israel is just not suited to being an imperial power and the kind of coercion needed to transform Palestinians' habits would be more than Israeli or world opinion tolerate would tolerate. Its not the 19th Century any more and there are limits to what Israel is allowed - and can do. At best Israel can manage the conflict with two belligerent Palestinian regimes like the US managed a long-running conflict during the Cold War with a hostile Soviet Union. Change among the Palestinians in all likelihood, will take a lifetime to secure.

And that's not fast enough to justify the urgency of validating Obama's premature Nobel Peace Prize.

What could go wrong indeed


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