Monday, February 27, 2006


In a time of fast food, instant success and continual demands for instant gratification of all sorts, it is perhaps best to ponder on two editorials out today. The first comes from Michael Barone, who I have always found to be thoughtful, careful, and comprehensive in his analyses; and who speaks of Bush's grand national security strategy:
But there is much evidence that Bush has made good on the multilateral diplomacy that the strategy called for. He has let Britain, France and Germany carry on negotiations with Iran; urged China, the only country with real leverage, to use it against North Korea; and worked with France in supporting the "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon. And America is getting more cooperation from newly elected governments in Germany and Canada.

It may be argued that we aren't having much success stopping the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea. But the NSS didn't promise success everywhere, any more than it promised military action everywhere. It proposed instead to use American power where and when possible to further "the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity."

What Barone argues is that those who say Bush is deviating from his bold foreign policy strategy initiatives developed after 9/11, have not actually listened to what Bush has put forward as the various components of that strategy. It has always been much more than simply responding to immediate threats; acting militarily; or even unilaterally. Much focus (and anger) has been placed on those aspects, however, primarily because all represent ways to instantly gratify one's foreign policy aims.

But other policies and tactics have been set into motion at the same time; some of which may succeed or fail eventually, but which may not bear any fruit for several decades or more. In this latter category is the overall process of democratization of the Middle East, which critics are so sure is already a failure.

That brings us to the second article, an editorial in the WSJ:
In the matter of Middle East elections, the results of which we don't always like: Anyone out there have a better idea?

We ask amid some recent wringing of hands following elections for the Palestinian legislature, in which the terrorist group Hamas won an outright majority; elections in Iraq, where voters cast their ballots along sectarian lines, and a strong showing by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's parliamentary elections late last year.

"For some, the promotion of democracy promises an easy resolution to the many difficult problems we face," says Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde. "But I believe that great caution is warranted here." And from the man who once gave us the "end of history," we now have the demise of neoconservatism: "Promoting democracy and modernization in the Middle East," writes Francis Fukuyama in a new book, "is not a solution to the problem of jihadist terrorism; in all likelihood it will make the short-term problem worse."

The brilliant insight here is that democratic processes don't always lead to liberal outcomes. Actually, that's not an insight: The world has had fair warning on this score at least since Adolf Hitler came to power democratically in 1933. We can be thankful, however, that the experience of Nazism did not deter successive generations of Germans from persevering with the democratic experiment.

The article goes on to consider the arguments against the promotion of democracy in that portion of the world and points out:

Then there is the supposedly failed policy of the Bush Administration. In five years, it has brought four democratic governments to power in the Middle East: by force of arms in Afghanistan and Iraq, and through highly assertive diplomacy in Lebanon and Palestine. Mr. Fukuyama tells us that "by definition, outsiders can't 'impose' democracy on a country that doesn't want it."

Leaving aside the niggling examples of Japan and Germany, exactly how are we to know that country X does not want democracy, except democratically? Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese have all made their democratic preferences plain in successive recent elections. And with the arguable exception of the Palestinians (arguable because Fatah was as undemocratic as Hamas), they have voted to establish considerably more liberal regimes than what existed previously.

This is not to say democracy is a cure-all. It is also not to say that the peril these democracies face, from terrorist insurrection or ethnic or religious feuding, isn't grave. Nor, finally, is it to say that the "Hitler scenario" can be excluded in a democratizing Middle East; that possibility is always present, especially among nascent democracies.

Which brings us back to the desire for some sort of "instant" success in bringing forth peaceful democracies in a portion of the world not well-known for either peace or choice.

From the beginning (was it only 5 years ago?) the Democrats and the left have been hysterically screaming about quagmires and civil wars with their usual generalized defeatism; and more recently we have heard the growing uneasiness on the part of Republicans and neocons that the Bush policies are moving too slowly.

Both the excessive hysteria and the niggling uneasiness come from the same psychological source -- a need to have everything resolved by the 2006 elections; or at the latest by the 2008 elections. The Democrats would like Bush's policies to unambiguously fail; while the Republicans are hoping for unambiguous success.

Too bad both desires will be frustrated.

The kind of major shift in US foreign policy that Bush has initiated may actually take decades to play out; and the repercussions of what has happened in the last 5 years may ripple for half a century or more. That is to say, there will be no instant gratification and no instant and universal successful outcome or failure --i.e., the kind that can win votes and influence money flow in time for the 2006 elections; nor probably for the 2008 ones either.

We are new parents who uneasily hold the tiny crying infant in our large bumbling hands. As we look at this small creature we have created, we have many thoughts and fears.

We might anxiously wonder what the future will bring for him and for us? Will this child grow up to be a doctor? Or a mass murderer? We have no way of knowing at the moment, and can only commit ourselves to providing the nurture and care necessary for optimal personality development.

Initially, the task is messy and rather smelly; but at some point, that small infant will be fully capable of making his own decisions and going forward on his own. For a human infant, that happy day generally occurs somewhere in the teen years.

I have no idea how long it takes for a liberal democracy; but expecting it to mature in 3-5 years requires a excessive degree of fantasy and self-delusion.

Personally, I think we have done all that it is possible to do for the last few years to give the Middle East a chance to grow in freedom and prosperity. We don't have to be perfect parents in this. Winnicutt's concept of the "good enough" parent is applicable here. We are only human, after all. It is simply not possible to sieze every opportunity and optimize every intervention. We have also done quite a bit to ensure the best possible hope for our own future and the continuation of values and freedoms we hold dear. And, we have done amazingly well no matter what the skeptics say.

Life will certainly be interesting in the next 25 years as we watch what has been set into motion and as we deal with other more immediate treats and situations that arise.

And, if we refrain from the reflex need for instant gratification and the demand that everything be exactly as we wish it right now, this very minute--many of us may live to see a positive transformation in a part of the world that now breeds an implaccable enemy of freedom, individuality and humanity.

Does anyone out there have a better idea?

UPDATE: Roger Simon talks about the politics of the last 30 seconds.

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