Saturday, February 05, 2011

Domino Theory of Democracy: Current Events Failure of Unified US Policy

Events in Egypt demand that the world and, most particularly, the US, stand up and take notice. We have been too busy navel gazing the past three years, leading up to the 2008 elections, concentrating on domestic policy at the expense of foreign policy, trying desperately to gain or hold on to political power. Now the US government, along with its European Counterparts, is trying desperately to play catch up, not sure which way to turn. Should they support the regime or should they support the protesters' demands for political freedom?

For some, these events are a replay of the fall of the Shah in Iran under the Carter Administration. For others, it is the fall of the Iron Wall and Communism in Europe that eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Suddenly, an administration that's entire foreign policy seemed to be based on creating a "friendlier" United States has a Secretary of State calling for leaders in the Middle East to institute democratic reforms a la the Bush administration's now infamous Neo-Conservative "Democracy Domino Theory" that people with a voice in their government would be more prosperous and less susceptible to radical ideologies or disrupting, violent revolutions.

As the Consul At Arms points out, people are already pointing the finger, trying to figure out who to blame for not seeing Egypt's shake up and Mubarek's fall from power. There is already a cry that this was a massive failure of intelligence, but, as CAA points out, this is not an intelligence issue, but a policy failure.

This failure dates back to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the First Gulf War. Before the collapse, the United States largely adhered to a policy of containment against the USSR and the spread of Communism. This policy had its detractors including those who advocated engagement with the USSR and China as well as those who leaned towards isolationism and disengagement.

After the collapse of the USSR, without a single or singular enemy to guard against, the United States' foreign policy became mired in the United States' internal political struggle. No major foreign policy doctrine was developed to use as a blue print for international interaction. The United States could no longer define its role. When once upon a time it had taken the self-imposed title as the guardian of freedom and democracy, it was alternately seen as a potential policeman of international events, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, or a self-interested giant that stood by as people were massacred as in Rwanda.

The US slowly became less of an international leader and more of the self-interested giant reaping its economic rewards where it could. The events of September 11 appeared to shake that notion to it's foundations. A small band of organized men, well funded, with a simple plan and immersed in a world wide theory of political, economic and physical warfare nearly brought the United States to its knees. Their message resounded across the globe. The United States was not invulnerable nor invincible.

Thereafter, the Bush administration scrambled to develop a foreign policy to meet this new reality. One such policy put forward was the idea of a Democracy Domino Effect. Wherein the volatile nations of the Middle East, the birth place of the new and threatening ideology, could be reshaped by the appearance of a liberal, free democracy within their midst. A country and people who would carry those ideas out into the region, transferring it through osmotic contact to those around them until it spread into every dark corner.

The idea was to counter the ideology of the attackers directly who stated that Freedom and Democracy were anathema to them and the Muslim world. That it was halal, forbidden, as it put man above Allah or God's governance. Beyond that it was believed that giving people a voice in their government, to voice their ideas openly, would become a pressure release valve as well as allow countering ideas to be stated, muting the power of the terrorists' message. A power it received because it was expressed in religious terms, in mosques around the region. The one place that the authoritarian governments of those nations could not squelch and the US had little reach.

Those who opposed the neo-conservative theory believed we should maintain a lower profile, shore up our allies in the region, enhance our intelligence operations and allow those nations to deal with their own populations and political issues internally. Thereby maintaining stability in an economically strategic region without exposing the United States to a potentially devastating cost of blood and treasure. The fear of destabilization was compounded by the fear that freedom would not mean liberalization within these countries, but allow the radical and deadly ideology an opening to gain control. In many ways expressing the concept of a revised "containment" policy that would keep the problem "over there".

The neo-conservatives prevailed and the Bush administration went forward with a plan to dislodge Saddam Hussein from Iraq under the premise that he had or was currently providing material support to these terrorists by way of money, arms and a place of refuge. That was substantially true, but probably not to the extent that the administration purported with the fear of provision of WMD or its actual volume.

Iraq was to be the testing ground with Afghanistan as a secondary position, but Iraq proved to be an ugly, drawn out, bloody event. The longer it went on, the less credence the neo-conservative idea of democracy domino seemed to have with the politicos, Bush's advisers and the American people. Everyone was weary and now justifiably leery of nation building. Again.

It seemed to many that it was a repeat of the Vietnam war where the United States became mired in local enmities without an end in sight or any real hopes of a democratic nation emerging. In the end, fatigue set in and the United States turned once more to internal matters. The Democrat party won control of the presidency and the congress in 2008, tossing out most of Bush's foreign policy and turning towards containment, shoring up old allies and reducing friction in the region. The US economy had taken a blow and the only way it could recover is by insuring the security of its foreign imports and exports, building relationships that would allow those financial concerns to grow.

With that return to "normalcy" in the US foreign policy, the Obama administration began to focus on internal politics and policy. With the advent of the US financial crisis, that return seemed absolutely necessary. Foreign policy took a back seat and the internal politics took control.

The problem with that policy was that it appears to have completely ignored the real changes that had already occurred. It also ignored the new reality of the new age of communication via cell phones and the internet along with the aging and decrepit condition of US allies, their political and financial systems and the impact of financial weakness in the US on those allies.

The fuse was already lit. The genie was out of the bottle. Images of both bloody, awful warfare as well as the hopeful Iraqi people going to the polls, setting up a government, hammering out a constitution and doing other acts of self-government were broadcast around the globe. Iraqis by the thousands used the internet to voice their opinions, pro and anti-democratic, in support of Saddam's old regime, in support of a new government, in support of the Shia or the Sunni, royalist and technocrat. Every aspect was transmitted through the air waves and across the wires.

Every where around the world, even in places with "dictators" and authoritarian governments, people were able to read and think about those events. "Osmosis", the transfer of this idea, was not simply by dent of human to human physical contact, but by every means of communication available.

In Egypt, these events were watched closely. Egyptians expressed both horror and fascination, hope and absolute fear that any such event could take place in their country. That same fear and fascination had spread to many nations in the region.

The failures of Bush's policy are plentiful. Beyond the noted fatigue of long term warfare, the administration failed to set its theory up as the doctrine of the United States by gaining acceptance in congress or having the doctrine ratified in any political manner. It may have felt incapable based on the amount of political opposition and the fear of the US citizens in establishing another, long term, "Cold War".

It did not set up nor significantly re-organize government agencies or institutions that would over see the long term application of this doctrine. It failed to convince the people of the United States of the necessity of this "new world" of spreading democracy. Not only as a device to counter the current, threatening ideology, but as a plan to bring wide spread security and prosperity to the United States, its allies and people around the world.

Bush may have tried to do too much, too fast. He advocated democratic changes and liberalization to US allies across the board. These governments made few changes, largely superficial and simply waited for the United States' political atmosphere to change. It was not long in coming.

When the Iraq was at it's bloodiest in 2006, support for the Democracy Domino Theory vanished like a balloon that had been popped. Republicans by the scores ran away from the neo-conservatives and their policy. Internal issues and the demand for an end to the war brought the Democrats and their policy of "realpolitik" back into control of congress. The time to build on a new doctrine had passed.

Further, for some countries, Bush's demands were seen as detrimental and dangerous while people on the street saw his advocacy of democracy and freedom as hypocritical with the continued support of such authoritarian regimes as Mubarek and the Sheiks in Saudi Arabia. Eventually, the public advocacy of freedom and democracy, at least, any pushed by the United States, drifted away. In many spheres, the word "neo-conservative" and "domino democracy" became derogatory epitaphs.

However, in the end, the Iraq experiment had already had a long term and definitive effect on the region. Not only in pushing some towards the stated enemy's ideology, but in pulling others towards the idea of change through the political process of democracy. In many ways, it was the bomb that no one could diffuse nor control its blast effect. For good or bad, Bush's policy changed the region and it is now up to the current administration to deal with the effects.

The Obama administration, beyond reverting back an antiquated idea of containment, one that did not significantly change post Perastroika, has made multiple blunders in its own foreign policy. First, it has failed to recognize the changes of the last decade, preferring to attempt to stuff them back into the bottle than to deal with it directly. Secondly, it has not stated its foreign policy plainly beyond trying to put up a more friendly, less interfering facade. If they did not want to follow Bush's policy to the letter, they needed to maintain and shore up the United States' image as the leader of freedom and democracy.

At this moment, Obama may have hoped to imitate Reagan, but, in failing to seize the moment over the last twelve days of "revolution" in Egypt, may have resurrected Carter. Reagan's policy of continually and irrevocably advocating freedom as the natural condition of man, mainly without naming names, gave him a cache, presented the US as a leader of freedom even while not having to engage in any major military action or destabilizing allies.

They have also failed to recognize the ground changes in countries such as Egypt or the age of Mubarek. He is 82 and could not have survived another presidential election. There were no real successors in the wings. Mubarek's son was seen as a playboy, a very weak imitation of his father. Very few within the NDP could boast of the same power or control. Mubarek had kept them at a distance and at each other's throats for years with alternate hand outs and punishments.

This administration, as well as the last, has failed to make any connections outside of the military and the ruling NDP. The connection with the military is the best that the administration can hope for as it still represents control of Egypt.

It has failed to make significant demands on allies to improve political systems or liberalize in any significant manner. It has also failed to identify legitimate and liberal democrats within even allied nations to support, even clandestinely or even moderately in the open. While many supporters of the current administration blame Bush for the United States' fall from leadership of the free world, this administration has done nothing to substantively re-establish that image either by word or deed.

The problem of establishing this legitimacy comes from three other factors. The Obama administration is seen as politically weak since the loss of Congress by the Democrat party in 2010. The United States is also seen as financially weak due to its on going recession and high unemployment rate. Finally, the US military is seen as spread too thin and substantially depleted after the Iraq war and the ongoing Afghanistan front.

The current administration needs to come about quickly and develop a foreign policy that re-establishes the United States' role as the leader of free nations while providing the most effective economic advantage. Without that, the United States may in fact see another 1976 and Obama join the ranks of presidents such as Jimmy Carter. One term wonder presiding over a demoralized nation.

One can only pray that there is a Reagan waiting in the wings.


Consul-At-Arms said...

Thanks for the mention and the link.

Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked back to you here: