October 27, 2005

Democracy and Perpetual Peace

As a fair weather supporter of the idea that democratic peace theory, it is with some interest that I read Eric's own (fair weather?) critique of the concept and in the interest of articulating my own views on the subject I will be quoting his own extensively.

In fact, the overwhelming heft of the evidence indicates that terrorism can thrive in liberal democracies - even mature ones - and in nascent democracies terrorism can operate at the highest levels of freedom of movement and impunity.

While I agree with a lot of this, one of the things that I think is frequently missed in these types of formulations is where the types of terrorist groups that are active in liberal democracies originate from. In the case of the Islamic terrorist groups that are able to operate with impunity in the West (with the UK's "Londonistan," a term coined by French counter-terrorism experts during the 1990s, being probably the most infamous example), I am not aware of a single Islamic terrorist group that has sprung up fully-formed inside a Western-style democracy. The various Islamic terrorist groups active in London are more or less extensions of their Middle Eastern counterparts and their existence and strength in the West should be seen more in the context of an attempt to export the political culture of the Middle East into Europe and the authorities apathy or hesistance towards the situation than an institutional fault of the democratic system in and of itself. The United States and Australia, to use two examples of countries that have successfully dismantled terrorist infrastructure within their own borders post-9/11, remain Western democracies but are far less hospitable to terrorism than say Norway, where Ansar al-Islam founder Mullah Krekar appears to be able to operate with more or less impunity.

The counter-example that is usually cited to all of this are the homegrown terrorist groups that have been active in Europe and North America since the era of modern terrorism began in the 1960s. All the same, if you take a look at these groups on a case-by-case basis, I think you'll find that in many cases they were either fringe organizations with little if any popular following (instead favoring small but extremely disciplined and well-organized cadres, which also fit with the Marxist ideology of many European terrorist groups) or in many cases were dependent on fairly sizeable external support and state sponsorship networks in order to wreak the damage that they did. If we are ever reduced to a point where bin Laden and his acolytes are reduced to the kind of support in the Middle East that say, enjoyed Neo-Nazi groups like the Order in the United States I'll be able to sleep a lot sounder at night. While you are always going to have cranks and meglomaniacs with delusions of grandeur who are willing to kill to achieve political ends, I would much rather be dealing with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols whose co-conspirators and supporters number in the dozens to someone like Zarqawi whose followers are in the thousands and who is admired by Salafist radicals that very conservatively number in the hundreds of thousands.

Although this second rationale, the peaceful democracies justification, might have been one of the lesser stated goals for invading Iraq, I find it ultimately less than compelling. For one, it ignores, or only tangentially addresses, the terrorist threat that we have been encountering for the past decade-plus. Our adversaries, al-Qaeda and similar Salafist jihadist groups, are not state actors and thus the peaceful characteristics of democratic states are less crucial to the defeat or containment of the Salafists. The state actor paradigm is better suited for Cold War calculations.

Again, I'm not sure if I agree with this paradigm because while al-Qaeda is certainly not an atypical state sponsored terrorist group, I think it would be a definite mistake to downplay the role that state sponsors, de facto state sponsors, or elements with states have been as far as their development is concerned. Former CIA director Jim Woolsey, for instance, has argued that we need to stop thinking in terms of state sponsors of terrorism and start talking about terrorist sponsored states, with a particular emphasis on how terrorist groups prop up de facto governments in places like Somalia, Afghanistan, or Bangladesh. Whether or not all of these can or should be replaced with democracies is another issue altogether, but I don't think it's any exaggeration to say that one of the key doctrines of counter-insurgency, and former CIA bin Laden unit head Michael Scheuer has argued that al-Qaeda is more properly classified as a terrorist group than an insurgency, is to deprive the enemy of potential sanctuaries and allies whenever possible. If supporting democracy or democratic reforms gets us further in that direction, then by all means that's the weapon to use.

Especially because, as noted above, terrorists can operate, generate support and find motivations while living in democracies. Thus, even if we create democratic states that are less bellicose, our terrorist threat will remain ever-present.

Again, I'm not entirely certain that this is true. The radicalized European Muslim immigrants seem to be joining existing terrorist groups and networks, not forming new ones on their own, which would seem to fit with the idea that the entire phenomenon of Islamic terrorism in Europe is an external rather than internal phenomenon. As far as building up support in Western democracies is concerned, in order to so terrorists have had to at least pretend to moderate their agenda to accommodate the society they now live in. Hence, Saad al-Faqih has to at least pretend that his real concerns as far as Saudi Arabia mirror those of Westerners (or at least some Westerners) in order to continue to operate in the UK rather than going public with his real agenda, although the more intelligent observers and governments seem to be more or less able to see him for what he is, which is how he happened to get blacklisted by the UN nearly a year ago.

As to the issue of whether or not democracies start wars, I would note that Matthew White appears to have anticipated this line of argument and the subsequent debate as far back as 1998. While I by no means cite it as infallible, it does make for some interesting reading, particularly when the discussion is raised on the issue of how you define what a democracy is to begin with. This is an extremely important part of this debate and is actually a lot more complicated than it sounds, but it is also an especially thorny issue given our own history in certain areas.

One thing I will take note of is this:

As admirable as the exercise has been, the occurence of elections and referendums have vastly outpaced the establishment of the institutional checks and balances that the authors suggest are needed to restrain the urge to use war as a means of garnering and/or maintaining electoral dominance. Majoritarianism is more appreciated by certain factions than other necessary components such as dissent, minority rights and sharing of power. In present day Iraq, the temptation to use war as a unifying force may be even greater given the internal divisions that need to be broached.

With all due respect to Eric, Mansfield, and Snyder, there are a number of people within our own country who would argue that the institutional checks and balances of our own system have been insufficient to prevent the temptation of using warfare as a means of achieving electoral dominance, crushing dissent, minority rights, and power-sharing within current and past US governments, and we've had an unbroken democratic system (as variously defined) in place for more than 200 years. While I myself tend to think that such claims are twaddle, my point in bringing up that some people would make just the same arguments for our own government as Mansfield and Snyder would for emerging democracies is that if you can argue it here in a 200 year-old democracy you can argue it anywhere.

As bellicose and reckless as Saddam's regime was, there remains the possibility that subsequent incarnations of the Iraq state will do no better in terms of providing peace and stability to the region - if not by its internal implosion, then by its excursions targeting neighbors, territory and/or perceived threats. There has already been an uncomfortable level of cross-border sniping between the various factions and their perceived backers or enemies - from Iran and Syria to Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

If we're going from projections of an inevitable civil war and the subsequent implosion and Balkanization of the country to a fear of Iraqi expansion redux, methinks that we're going to be doing quite well. As it now stands, Iraq isn't in a position to defend its own borders without US assistance, let alone threaten any of its neighbors. Even once the army and security forces are up and running again in terms of defending the nation's territorial integrity, there is still the issue that Iraq lacks an existing the air force, etc.

I also think it's a definite mistake to conflate Iraqi sniping at Iran and Syria (often mirrored by similar allegations from US and UK officials) as well as Saudi Arabia with the kinds of visions of empire that Saddam seemed to favor. Iraq wanting to fight Iran or Syria (which, as noted above, they can't for the immediate future) because they believe that either nation is complicit in killing their nationals is a very different thing from seeking a war of conquest with designs of regional domination - I imagine we'd be equally pissed if Mexico or Canada was doing the same to us.

No doubt Israel is no more popular now than it had been prior to the invasion.

If Seymour Hersh and other journalists are to be believed, Israel is now actively assisting in training the peshmerga, which is now part of the new Iraqi military. I very much doubt that anyone could have imagined such an environment going on during the era of the Saddam Fedayeen. The anti-Israel groups that Saddam Hussein sponsored have all been dismantled in way or another and Iraqi government support for suicide bombing is currently no more. The Iraqis can think whatever they want to about Israel, just many people in Europe and the United States do. As long as they aren't actively sponsoring terrorism against it, I think it's fair to call the situation a net improvement.

As to the issue of Iraq fighting a conventional war with Israel at some point in the future, if we're projecting out things out far enough to the point where Iraq will have the logistical capacity to do so on the scale that Saddam did we're now knee-deep into some extremely uncertain speculation as far as what Iraq will look like by the time it could even hope to do so, let alone the rest of the Middle East.

But this thesis has broader implications as well. It should be considered by those that favor the promotion of democratic reform, such as myself, in terms of informing the ideal mixture of methods, means and priorities associated with such endeavors. Sometimes, there is a great value in allowing and encouraging gradual change from the inside-out, grassroots-up.

This would seem, at least on the surface, to be a partial reaffirmation of the Kirkpatrick Doctrine that attempted to justify US support for authoritarian governments, particularly in Latin America, on the grounds that they were going to make far easier transition to democracy than their totalitarian communist counterparts in the Soviet Bloc. I have no desire to re-fight the arguments of the Cold War on this one, but I thought I would note this.

One further point would be that while I think you can justify support for authoritarian governments while pressing for internal reforms, most Western powers usually haven't as far as the Middle East is concerned, particularly those Middle Eastern governments that are closest to us either economically or strategically. The problem that we (along with the British, French, et al.) have cared too much about the stability of various Middle Eastern governments to press for any kind of change whatsoever in the status quo is one that I think a lot of us have become more and more aware of since 9/11 and continues to be one of the major factors responsible for bin Laden's support in the Middle East - he is seen as being the only one willing to stand up and confront the region's governments and their Western allies through force of arms. Until some kind of alternate outlets are established through which political views, even totalitarian ones like Qutb or Madudi's vision of Salafism (which I am rather skeptical as far as the chances of it sweeping the region in the event it is allowed to compete politically - in those states where Salafist parties have run, they usually garner about the same percentage as far-right parties in Europe), can be expressed openly, I do foresee this support waning for the immediate future, which has direct implications for US national security.

Posted by at October 27, 2005 01:57 AM | TrackBack (1)


Well, state sponsorship.

Inevitably, things cost money - bombs, guns, travel, etc, etc. And these things (I hope I'm right), aren't cheap.

So that money goes illegally, from drugs - cue the Shining Path - or legally, from sympathetic states - or importantly - sympathetic RICH GUYS in a state.

This is important because sympathetic rich guys in Saudi Arabia do support Al-Queda under the table, and we are talking a lot of money - even if the Saudi government doesn't.

The best way to take away the sympathetic rich guy financing stuff, is to take away the nationalism card. While this won't kill Al-Queda, it does remove one of the financial pillars, not to mention decreasing the providing of bodies for cannon fodder and suicide bombings.

On state support - well, yes, again, states CAN and DO provide money.

I think the unusual problem of the Middle East is a type of cohesive religious identity, that develops across nations. That religious identity insures at least some support from across the Arab street.

Was the insertion of Israel the cause for this? Probably for most of it. Even in Central and South America, where the US was doing things like overturning governments, there wasn't a WHOLE NEW COUNTRY inserted into Central America.

There's been enough resentment towards the U,S., that bubbled up in the 80's, and still is currently in places like Brazil and Venezuela. I can imagine if Israel has blossomed somewhere in an unpopulated part of Central America, the same type of resentment across countries MIGHT have developed (don't know for sure of course though).

But this is how it is. Nothing to do about it now, but go forward. We are of course going to continue to support Israel, although I would like US support to not be fanatical in scope, ala giving US secrets away to Israel, like the current case being prosecuted.

Still, your analysis is missing without recommendations about what to do around the perceived AGGRESSION of Western powers. Invasion of course, only fosters more of the terrorism based on nationalism - and who do those who are resentful of imperialism go to? Al Queda.

For many people this is why the US must exit.

Also, somewhere Yglesias has a post on X many countries have made a transition to quasi- democracy in the last 20 years - the vast majority doing so without a shot being fired.

So bringing "democracy at the barrel of a gun" project doesn't have a lot going for it.

There still would be a lot of graded incentive-carrots and sanctions-sticks the world community could use to encourage good behavior. At least this would be so if the lifeblood of the economy weren't oil. Still, even in the region, if you get all the Western powers to agree to favorable economic treatment based on some openness reform, civil rights, etc - it would be a tasty carrot.

Posted by: JC at October 27, 2005 03:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In Iraq, where do those who are resentful of al Queda turn to? The imperialists?

Posted by: Chuck Betz at October 27, 2005 05:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Americans -- especially the wingnut right -- need to realize that "democratic rights" are WAY down the priority list for people below shelter, food, and general security. Promoting democracy in nations whose populace lacks any of those things is a waste of time. The best way to promote democracy is to promote economic reforms that redistribute a nations wealth away from the oligarchs who control it, and toward the general populace.

....but because that sounds like (and, is) socialism, the wingnuts can't accept it.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 27, 2005 07:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


As far as not presenting any conclusions, I'm sorry I wasn't able to produce a detailed plan for curtailing terrorism while preventing conflict between democratic societies. I haven't gotten around to figuring out that cold fusion stuff yet either :p

Saudi billionnaires support al-Qaeda out of nationalism? Certainly some do because they don't want US troops on Saudi soil, but many of them also supported bin Laden and his fellow travelers long before their focus turned to the US. I think you're over-stating the nationalism card at the expense of religio-ideological issues.

Your Israel in Latin America issue is different because there really isn't anything like a Pan-Latin ideology the way there is a Pan-Arab ideology. And while many Latin Americans are Catholics, there aren't the comparable issues of holy sites and the like.

US resentment is different from open conflict. There's a lot of anti-Americanism in Latin America today, but they aren't the ones actively trying to kill us and even FARC usually goes out of its way to avoid drawing the US's wrath. Similarly, there's a lot of animosity between the US and France right now but nobody seriously believes that the two countries might fight one another in the immediate future.

I also don't think that you can reduce the whole issue of al-Qaeda to Israel - the main impetus of the movement comes from Saudi and Egyptian Islamists whose organizations were only marginally focused on Israel. As for the issue of US citizens attempting to provide Israel with classified information, we just had a similar (abeit bizarre) situation involving an American Filippino that was every bit as serious.

"Invasion of course, only fosters more of the terrorism based on nationalism - and who do those who are resentful of imperialism go to? Al Queda."

I think that this a red herring and a false assumption. We invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in a campaign that we clearly saw as justified but an awful lot of Afghan and Pakistani Pashtuns did not. We are still fighting the Taliban today, but it isn't any stretch to say that the vast majority of Pashtuns didn't throw in with al-Qaeda to kill the evil Western imperialists.

Posted by: Dan Darling at October 27, 2005 09:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


"Was the insertion of Israel the cause for this? Probably for most of it. Even in Central and South America, where the US was doing things like overturning governments, there wasn't a WHOLE NEW COUNTRY inserted into Central America. "

In S. and C. America, the US method for the past 100-150 years has been to beef up local elites if they cooperate, and to destroy them if they don't (replace with rival factions, usually). This means that we've had a lot more on-the-ground oppression employed. In the Middle East, we've been attempting control for only 60 years, and haven't been able to destroy elites as much, IMHO. For example, the House of Saud was in control when the US started allying with them, and the US hasn't been able/willing to displace them.

"There's been enough resentment towards the U,S., that bubbled up in the 80's, and still is currently in places like Brazil and Venezuela. I can imagine if Israel has blossomed somewhere in an unpopulated part of Central America, the same type of resentment across countries MIGHT have developed (don't know for sure of course though)."

It wouldn't have been an unpopulated part of Central America, it'd have been in a populated part.

Posted by: Barry at October 27, 2005 03:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Saudi billionnaires support al-Qaeda out of nationalism? Certainly some do because they don't want US troops on Saudi soil, but many of them also supported bin Laden and his fellow travelers long before their focus turned to the US. I think you're over-stating the nationalism card at the expense of religio-ideological issues.

Saudi billionaire's don't support al Qaeda, they pay "protection money" to it as a cost of doing business with the United States. It the Saudi royals came even close to supporting the goals of al Qaeda, they could do more damage to the US than 10,000 suicide bombers, simply by shutting off the oil. And they'd be redistributing the oil wealth of Saudi Arabia to the people of that nation, rather than using it to support a way of life that is so extravagant it would make Robin Leech blush.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 27, 2005 04:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This comment excludes from consideration the Arab tendency to want things both ways. In Saudi Arabia especially this desire is more deeply entrenched than any of the pillars of Islam.

Posted by: JEB at October 27, 2005 05:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pan-Arabism. I wonder if Al-Queda and its ilk would be considered a version of Pan-Arabism?

That Pan-Arabism is similar to a form of nationalism, is shown by both Afghanistan, and also by Iraq. You get fighters from many countries flowing in, to fight off the invading army. First the Soviet Union, now the U.S.

However Pan-Arabism breaks down between states - such as the Iran-Iran war.

By the way Dan, nowhere did I say "presenting conclusions", so I don't know where that came from, other than to create a straw man to then knock down. Have a party, if that's your type of thing.

Myself, I'm more interested in not leading the discussion, and getting as good a handle on the collection of causes, rather than say it's THIS cause, or THAT cause. And nationalism, and the felt violation of nationalism, is not the ONLY cause - that is not what I'm saying - but it is a SIGNIFICANT cause.

Bad ideology, bad theory and practice in civics - these are causes as well.

So I agree that states foster terrorism, as providing a lot of the resources for fostering terrorism. But nationalism plays a big role as well.

And then Pan-Arab nationalism plays its own weird role too.

But Pan-Arabism is supported cynically BY the heads of Middle East states, as a way to take focus off of themselves.

In this sense, our cozy supportive "special" relationship with Saudi Arabia in all its co-dependent glory - is again, a BIG cause of why we aren't, and shouldn't, be taken seriously in wanting either a better life for the populations in the Middle East, or in democratic transformation.

Let's figure THAT out, and fix THAT problem, before we invade any other countries, wouldn't you say? This way we take out some state support, and strike a blow against Pan-Arabism.

But we aren't going to invade Saudi Arabia, and we shouldn't either.

So how should the U.S. handle that issue, where there is clear "looking the other way", and "enabling" from the U.S. happening?

Posted by: JC at October 27, 2005 05:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Iran-Iraq war.

Posted by: JC at October 27, 2005 06:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To the idiots who voted for George Bush......HAHAHAHHA

Kerry may not have won, but good God! As a Vietnam Era Veteran it just sickens me. Iraq has become our new Vietnam. Lets see....The white house is now slowly leaking republican cracks. They had no plan, no exit strategy, by the way many a war has been lost over this.

The country that I do love has become the most hated place on earth, thanks George. Where is Bill Clinton when you need him. The bigger question is do we stay in Iraq, to save face. Or tuck our tail between our legs and admit we made a dreadful mistake.

Decisions. decisions....my oh my! As far as France goes, you let em in the muslims, now you have to deal with them. Immigration in all countries is just a plain joke. These people do not want to assimilate into any society but their own. But they sure as hell will take all your benefits of your country.

Me thinks, America and Europe just need to tell the immigrants who dont want to abide by the law, get the hell out of our country and piss off! As much as people dont want to admit it, muslims and the rest of the world will always be at odds. Their culture is not my culture and never will be. I wish we all could get along but folks it just aint gonna happen!

Posted by: James McElfresh II at November 4, 2005 11:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
The City
Western Europe
United Kingdom
Central and Eastern Europe
East Asia
South Korea
Middle East
B.D. In the Press
Syndicate this site:


Powered by