Thursday, June 17, 2004

Is business as usual America's business? 

I've been a neo-con since the day I was born and will probably remain one till I die. Well, it's a slight exaggeration - when I was running around in nappies I had no idea who Kristol, Podhoretz and "Scoop" Jackson were, but I have considered myself to be a neo-con long before the media and the commentariat have two years ago suddenly discovered this dangerous Zionist/neo-imperialist conspiracy at the heart of American democracy.

From that point of view I recommend today's reading, Lawrence Kaplan's "Springtime for Realism" in the latest issue of "The New Republic." Lawrence was, and remains an enemy of the realist school of international relations. Not for him the Kissingerian and Scowcroftian passion (or should it be dispassion?) for power politics divorced from morality and value judgments. Stability doesn't trump democracy for Kaplan, and the pursuit of national interest, narrowly construed, leaves him cold. So it's interesting to watch Kaplan as he follows the neo-cons' apparent fall from grace in Washington and the new realist ascendancy taking place (hint: he doesn't like it and he thinks it's noy going to work). This is Kaplan's message for all those who think that America's business is business as usual:

"[T]he United States is entitled [to promote democracy]--on September 11, the aim of a democratic Middle East became a matter of our national well-being, even survival. And the United States is obligated [to promote democracy]--because either pressure for democracy in the Arab world will come from the United States or it will come from nowhere at all. For the source of America's entitlement, look no further than the region's 'friendly regimes.' Not only has repression fueled terrorist movements in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt; the very governments we prop up have sanctioned the worst elements as a way to deflect popular anger from their palace gates. The absence of civil society, the weakness of independent media outlets, the weakness of secular opposition parties--all these things underpin the truth that, as Bush said in a recent speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, 'as long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready to export.'

"This is more than conjecture. A recent study by Princeton's Alan Krueger and Czech scholar Jitka Maleckova analyzed data on terrorist attacks and measured it against the characteristics of the terrorists' countries of origin. The study found that 'the only variable that was consistently associated with the number of terrorists was the Freedom House index of political rights and civil liberties. Countries with more freedom were less likely to be the birthplace of international terrorists.' Unfortunately, according to the U.N.'s Arab Human Development Report, not a single Arab state offers such freedoms. One could plausibly have argued before September 11 that this was none of America's business. But, on that day, the Arab world's predicament became our own--thrusting the United States into a war of ideas to which realism has no adequate response."
Not surprisingly, I tend to agree with Kaplan, not just about the Middle East but about the spread of democracy and freedom generally. I also tend to take a rather long view about this war of ours, which helps me avoid the emotional roller-coaster that much of the commentariat seems to be riding on. The decline of neo-cons (if that's what it is) is neither unprecedented nor permanent. Various policy factions will rise and fall, but the war will go on.


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