Wednesday, August 09, 2006

“Democratic Peace” Theory and the Middle East

Keywords: democratic peace; war in Lebanon; Israel; right wing militarists; liberal; democratization; Timothy Garton Ash; Kissinger; Jacques Chirac; nonviolent democratic opposition movements; military aggression with democratization; Michael Ignatieff; Bush administration.

The “theory of democratic peace” is not just a theory, but also an empirical fact: Democratic countries do not go to war against other democratic countries. This is as strong an empirical fact as you’ll find in any of the social sciences. However, the present war in Lebanon is surely making a dent in that fact. Israel is making war against Hezbollah. And Hezbollah is well represented within the newly re-democratized state of Lebanon. Is Israel making war against Lebanon? If so, that’s a remarkable case against the “theory.”

One can certainly argue that point. True, both Israel and its highly supportive ally, the United States, claim that they are trying to help the Lebanese government gain control over a substantial chunk of territory in the southern region. But this is not the kind of “help” that Lebanon wants, so it’s at least dubious whether it constitutes help at all. When you’re bombing innocent citizens of a country, you’re not necessarily helping the state assert its authority.

Yet, oddly, it is the militaristic, right wing “realist” Israelis and Americans who most fervently support the imposition of democracy throughout the Middle East. This is, after all, the rationale behind the current Bush administration’s agenda in the Middle East and elsewhere – to spread democracy, on the theory that truly democratic societies will inevitably be allies of other free countries.

And I wouldn’t argue against that conclusion – though I am apparently a deviant person within the left side of the political spectrum these days. It has become embarrassingly apparent that the program of democratization is now a right-wing ideal, no longer held as the centerpiece of liberalism. I don’t want friends of this reactionary, militaristic kind. I want my genuine allies back. I want liberals to believe in democracy again. Please, pretty please.

That is why I am such an enthusiastic admirer of Timothy Garton Ash (see photo). In a Globe and Mail op ed piece on August 4, he argued this seemingly contradictory point: “A little democracy is a dangerous thing — so let’s have more of it.” Brilliant, Garton.

In making this point, he is running against the policies now being established in Europe by the likes of Jacques Chirac. It is also contrary to the older realist doctrines that prevailed in the Bush Sr. administration, as influenced especially by Henry Kissinger. Henry favored the promotion of America’s economic interests and the formation of alliances wherever, without regard to the dictatorial nature of those alliances. Bush Jr. is a different kettle of fish – and not one that I feel comfortable stewing in.

I’m with Garton Ash when he insists,
“In the long run, the growth of liberal democracies is the best hope for the wider Middle East. It’s the best hope of modernization, which the Arab world desperately needs; of addressing the root causes of Islamist terrorism, at least inasmuch as they lie in those countries rather than among Muslims living in the West; and of enabling Arabs, Israelis, Iranians, Kurds, and Turks to live side by side without war. But it will be a long march.”

Democracy leads initially through some serious dangers. You need to establish the state inside well-defined borders, with a rule of law, independent media, and strong civil liberties. Those elements sometimes need to precede competitive, multi-party elections, for otherwise you get the kind of crises that have emerged in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq. Ash adds:
“Full, liberal democracy contributes to peace; partial, half-baked democratization can increase the danger of war.”
He does not, in this paper at least, attempt to explain why liberals have been giving up on the ideal of democratization. I think the answer is that they simply don’t like violence. Not only does early democratization precipitate domestic conflict within a state, but also for the past several years it has been assumed that the only way it can be established at all is by military imposition from outside. A democratic foreign state helps overthrow a dictatorship and — voila! — you have a new democracy.

But this is the worst way to accomplish that goal. The association of military aggression with democratization is exactly the logic that must be broken. And the only way to challenge that equation is to suggest alternative ways of helping establish democracy: through assisting indigenous nonviolent democratic opposition movements to bring down dictators themselves. That has been the most effective method lately, but one that political observers seem to ignore. Michael Ignatieff, for example, represents this kind of thinking: a theorist who recognizes the importance of democratization and the protection of human rights, but without recognizing the genuine potential for accomplishing those goals nonviolently.

Even Garton Ash himself, who observed the history of Eastern Europe’s 1989 democratization process more closely than anyone else, has not mentioned nonviolent democracy movements in his article. We need to make the case for that approach if we are to succeed in breaking the power of the militarists in the Bush administration.


Blogger Rex said...

Even countries that claim to be 'democracies' rarely measure up to the ideal of rule "of the people, by the people & for the people"! Our best hope, I think, may be for us to adjust our thinking. Let's think of 'democracy' as an ideal that we will likely never fully reach. But any country that sets 'democracy' as its goal can be called a 'democracy'.
Because "the people" always includes us all, we have to give up the idea of ever achieving the full ideal democracy. If we have difficulty reaching consensus with even only one other person, I'd say world-wide consensus (on anything) is an unrealistic goal! But when we realize that we are all in the same boat, we will realize that somehow we have to keep on working toward agreeing on a general direction for our global society because our single boat can only go in one single direction (at a time)! So let's keep making efforts toward consensus on societal direction & I'll bet that wars will cease long before we ever reach it! The intent of our efforts will do more in bringing us all together: even though we may never be able to point to a consensus statement!

3:42 PM  
Blogger Metta Spencer said...

The Buddhists say that people who do bad deeds are just misunderstanding the nature of reality --- that they are only hurting themselves when they hurt others. But grasping that insight is not easy.

8:46 PM  

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