Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Wrong Time to Lose Our Nerve

I can't believe I missed this while looking at the Islamic Imperial Dreams, but this is good:

A small group of current and former conservatives--including George Will, William F. Buckley Jr. and Francis Fukuyama--have become harsh critics of the Iraq war. They have declared, or clearly implied, that it is a failure and the president's effort to promote liberty in the Middle East is dead--and dead for a perfectly predictable reason: Iraq, like the Arab Middle East more broadly, lacks the democratic culture that is necessary for freedom to take root. And so for cultural reasons, this effort was flawed from the outset. Or so the argument goes.

My favorite lines:

Does Mr. Fukuyama believe Iraqis prefer subjugation to freedom? Does he think they, unlike he, relish life in a gulag, or the lash of the whip, or the midnight knock of the secret police? Who among us wants a jackboot forever stomping on his face? It is a mistake of a large order to argue that democracy is unwanted in Iraq simply because (a) violence exists three years after the country's liberation--and after more than three decades of almost unimaginable cruelty and terror; and (b) Iraq is not Switzerland.

And this one about "cultural differences":

The problem with Iraq, Mr. Will said in a Manhattan Institute lecture, is that it "lacks a Washington, a Madison, a [John] Marshall--and it lacks the astonishingly rich social and cultural soil from which such people sprout." There is no "existing democratic culture" that will allow liberty to succeed, he argues. And he scoffs at the assertion by President Bush that it is "cultural condescension" to claim that some peoples, cultures or religions are destined to despotism and unsuited for self-government. The most obvious rebuttal to Mr. Will's first point is that only one nation in history had at its creation a Washington, Madison and Marshall--yet there are 122 democracies in the world right now. So clearly founders of the quality of Washington and Madison are not the necessary condition for freedom to succeed.

I will add here one country he does not mention in their democratic struggles: France. Only an unserious student of history would forget that one of the more celebrated democracies of history that claims itself an ally of the US began with a period of time called "the Reign of Terror". It started out with some noble intentions and ended with the "terrorists" beheading (yes, beheading) thousands of fellow French. First they started with the "oppressors" and then they moved on with denouncing each other as "traitors". Even the grand "terror master" Robespierre ended with his neck under the blade. I believe this revolution continued from 1789 until 1794 with the most horrific year being 1793 to 1794 where, according to wikipedia:

Although the regime under which the Terror took place began to assemble itself as early as 2 June 1793, the Terror as such started on 5 September 1793 and lasted until the executions following the coup of 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794), in which several key leaders of the Reign of Terror were executed, ushering in the Thermidorian reaction. The Terror took the lives of between 18,000 to 40,000 people (estimates vary widely, due to the difference between historical records and statistical estimations). In the single month before it ended, 1,300 executions took place.

1,300 executions in a single month. Imagine that. And this was in a "civilized" nation. Today, we would be seeing headlines that assured us France was a lost cause and would never see democracy. Of course, unlike Iraq, they had little external support to stabilize or ward off the inevitable return to despotic rule under Napolean and the return of the monarchy for several decades.

Another interesting similarity:

In the summer of 1793, the French Revolution was threatened both by internal enemies and conspirators, and by foreign European monarchies fearing that the Revolution would spread. Almost all European governments in that era were based on royal sovereignty, whether absolute or constitutional, rather than the popular sovereignty asserted by the revolutionary French. Foreign powers wanted to stifle the democratic and republican ideas, which they feared to pose a threat to their own respective countries’ stability. Their armies were pressing on the border of France (see French Revolutionary Wars).

We often see bloggers discuss the similarities in developing democracies in nations such as Japan and Germany where democratic ideas had little if any history. We talk about how long it took to build government and infrastructure, create a democracy. But, in all the struggles for Democracy, I've always found the French/Iraq comparison to be the most viable save that the French had try to destroy their clergy as oppose to use it as a base for governance as we see in Iraq.

It took the French four years before they finally executed King Louis XVI. They even argued over whether it was right, necessary or beneficial. He even received a trial, though I'm certain it was a lot less judicial than Saddam's circus. The political wranglings of post Revolutionary France were no less torturous. Maybe even worse, all things considered.

Yet, here they are, 200 years later, believing themselves to be the arbiters of real democracy and foreign policy. The most tolerant society.

So, the policy of democracy and freedom are dead?

Or, is it that the "realists" are still trying to cling to the throne of their "righteousness"?

A response to Messrs. Buckley, Will and Fukuyama

I also recommend this video for self education. (h/t Blackfive)

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