March 01, 2003

The Democratic Exception Richard Hass,

The Democratic Exception

Richard Hass, head of Policy Planning at the State Department, has talked of the so-called "democratic exception". By that, he and others mean that U.S. foreign policy, traditionally bent on fostering democratic insitutions overseas (witness post-war Europe, Japan), has not sufficiently prioritized this objective in the Middle East. The argument, crudely, is that given vital strategic interests (energy etc) in the region the U.S. cherishes stability over democracy in the Middle East. Hence relatively cozy ties with quasi-authoritarians like Hosni Mubarak, unaccountable monarchies a la Saudis, among others. Sure, any US Ambassador in the region has as part of his bilateral beat human rights issues. But they, I would submit, are rarely paramount considerations in the bilateral relationship with key countries in the region.

It is important to bear this in mind in the context of Bush's recent speech at AEI where he said:

"The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East. Arab intellectuals have called on Arab governments to address the "freedom gap" so their peoples can fully share in the progress of our times. Leaders in the region speak of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater politics participation, economic openness, and free trade. And from Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward politics reform. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.

It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world--or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim--is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life. Human cultures can be vastly different. Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth. In our desire to be safe from brutal and bullying oppression, human beings are the same. In our desire to care for our children and give them a better life, we are the same. For these fundamental reasons, freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror."

Grand goals, and hopefully not merely in the realm of rhetoric. And I agree with him fully about these common aspirations of mankind and how, even though the region didn't go through the Enlightenment and other key historical periods that we take for granted in the "West", that nevertheless your typical Bahraini or Iraqi would prefer greater freedoms and more accountability from his leaders. But we have to make sure Dubya's speech is not aimed solely at simplifying the war message--"Liberate Iraq!"--so as to bring waverers on board.

I'm certainly not in the camp that believes we have left Afghanistan in the lurch now that al-Qaeda was dealt a heavy blow and our attention is turning full-square to Iraq. I believe key Administration players truly want to continue assisting Afghanistan make a go of becoming a workable democracy (though such individuals must remember that Afghanistan is more than just Kabul). And I trust people from Richard Armitage to Paul Wolfowitz want to leave Iraq with some coherent (if, of course, nascent) democratic institutions in place.

But let's not kid ourselves about the hard slogging that awaits. And let's not be naifs about some easy reverse-domino process whereby Jeffersonian Democrats sprout out from Riyadh to Damascus simply because we were able to create a workable, federated polity in Iraq.

Posted by Gregory at March 1, 2003 08:29 PM
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