Commenter Archive

AvatarComments by Roland Dodds*

On “freedom and neoconservatism

And you support this thesis with what exactly?

Again, I won’t go to bat for “neoconservatives” as a whole, but I don’t know many that argue military intervention is required to make change in all (if even most) situations. The Iranian state, its culture, and its political institutions are clearly different than those under Saddam’s regime; anyone who argues the same approach is required in both states is a fool. If that is the neocon line, then yes, they are wrong. I find that to be a strawman however.

But you can’t have it both ways on the Iraq War. We have been told by “realists” and the like that Iran’s position in the ME has changed significantly since the invasion, and to deny these huge changes in the region due to the war shows a rather selective way of assessing the international political system. If anything, I am relying on a realists understanding of power in the international system to make my claim that an Iran that is much more secure in its region (with its rival in Iraq gone) that enough clerics and politicians have tolerated and even accepted the recent uprising, without the fear that their neighbour could take advantage of the situation.

Now, is the war in Iraq the most important variable? I can’t say, but probably not. But to avoid the verifiable changes in the region caused by it would be foolish. You argue that my position is not one born out of any evidence, but I have yet to see you make a scientific claim that the intervention in Iraq is irrelevant to what’s going on in Iran. Looking back at changes in Europe in the 20s and 30s, and then in Asia after the second World War, history often shows that major structural and political changes in one state greatly affects the inner workings of the neighbouring states.

"

“you’re just making clear that you have a particular inclination with regard to how to interpret these events.”

It sure is, but anyone offering any kind of argument as to the cause of the rebellion is speculating, including everyone in this thread who believes the events in Iran are a refutation of the “neocon” persuasion.

"

Sure, it will be spun to fit someone’s world view. I see the same thing with Obama followers who believe all of this change in Iran is due to his speech in Cairo or his “conciliatory” nature. An argument I find highly unlikely.

For better or worse however, the removal of Saddam’s regime and the elections in Iraq did change things in the ME. It is impossible to specify which variable in the whole equation is the most important at this moment in time, but I would be inclined to place the Iraq War high on the list of variables in creating the conditions in Iran, and not necessarily because Iranian protesters are looking to Iraq as a model. It has more to do with changes in structural power in the region due to the war.

"

“What separates the neocons from the rest is the belief that American power can be used to get to these results, that through force we can spread democracy and peace and Western values to the world. Thus Iraq, and not Iran, best exemplifies neoconservatism in action, and it is there that the real vindication or refutation will occur.”

I do not believe the two events can be separated; these things don’t happen in a vacuum. The War in Iraq has had both positive and negative effects in the region; the negative ones have been discussed extensively at this point. But I find that the Iranian regime (assuming the military actually has firm control in the country) would have crushed these protests quickly if the Iranian government’s neighborhood enemy (Saddam) was still in power, and sitting on their border. The rise of Iran in the region is not a single directional trajectory; with their increased influence and role in the region means the inner workings of the state and the political society within it change too. So while the Iraq invasion has strengthened the Iranian position in their local, I believe these changes in Iran would not have come to be in the 2002 regional order.

Nor is this to say the “neocons” you speak of are offering the correct way forward in dealing with Iran now (I personally think Obama has generally taken the right approach, and that folks like Krauthammer are wrong on this).

On “Some Real “F”ers

I think you missed one of the more important points about fascism, one that I often see overlooked and is perhaps its most important characteristic, and that is its revolutionary zeal and desire to remake man and the world. Fascism is not simply military thuggery, warmongering, or racism, but a philosophy that believed it could engineer a new mankind. I have read only parts of Goldberg’s book, but he also seems to leave this important fact out.

As for the videos and the Iranian regime, I am unsure if it can be classified as fascism in its traditional form, but it is clearly a lethal totalitarianism state, and that is enough for any good liberal to stand against.

Whether Ahmadinejad won the election legitimately or not is irrelevant; the Mullah regime is a tyranny, one at war with many of its own people. It does not deserve respect.

On “adventures in invective

I think Peter is wrong in his piece, but I do share his distaste for a world tour that requires pandering to European’s and Muslim’s who truly believe the US is at war with them, even when previous policies on behalf of Muslims in Europe and elsewhere have been popular with the Muslim populations they were meant to protect.

But I recognize that the world is not fair, and that if it is necessary for Obama to remind the world of what I see as obvious so that he can accomplish larger goals, then so be it. If Obama can make tangible gains on this recent tour with his very eloquent speeches and words, then it will be worth the dent in some individual’s pride. I happen to doubt that all of these recent speeches are going to produce real changes and create the commitments the Obama administration is looking for from world leaders, but I would be happy to admit it if I am proved wrong.

In the meantime, I will defer to America’s greatest statesmen, Al Capone, whose words will likely come to mean something to the Obama administration.

“You can get alot farther with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word.”

Lamentable perhaps, but it remains an accurate assessment of the international system.

On “The Failed Obama Administration

“First, it’s really funny to me that the media is clinging to every one of these “failed” nominations as though they were major blows to the Obama Administration. Conservative commentators are already decrying Obama as a failure or an embarassment or worse and gleefully harp on his every hiccup.”

Do you find any of this surprising? Better yet, did you find the constant celebration of Obama throughout the campaign equally disheartening? It seems to me that the folks in the punditry business need to fill 24 hours of programming non-stop, so they talk up every single scandal/adulation they can get their hands on. Quality programming it isn’t, but hardly surprising.

And it’s easier to get enough talking heads to commensurate on this subject, then say, actually discussing the bailout as an initiative. That would require actually understanding economics.

On the other hand, I do hope that all these figures removing themselves from Obama’s potential cabinet reaffirms that politics can not be changed by eloquence and optimism. Rational individuals already know this, but some need constant reminders.

On “The Humanitarian Empire

You folks are pretty quick with the posts around here! I have not been part of earlier conversations on this topic here at the site, so excuse me if I reiterate points made previously.

You are right E.D., in that interventionism is far from dead. While “neoconservative” has come to mean any position advocating interventionism, many of its critics are quick to realize that the United States still must use its military force overseas, both to protect its tangible interests and defend rights and liberty elsewhere. Francis Fukuyama has Realistic Wilsonianism, Robert Wright says Progressive Realism, John Hulsman argues for Ethical Realism. Some NeoCons have clarified their specific position in the face of recent changes, like Charles Krauthammer and his Democratic Realism. All of these arguments offer a different view of America’s foreign policy, but all of which make the case for interventionism in one form or another.

I find the isolationist argument Freddie used previously not representative of how intervention has operated throughout history. I recommend a book by Gary Bass titled “Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention.” He reminds us that many nations working for independence have been midwifed by foreign powers; critics of interventionism may wish to believe that national liberation movements achieved their ends without the “meddling” of another force in their affairs, but history tells a different narrative. The very existence of the United States was made possible by foreign European powers intervening in British affairs. Hitchens, reviewing the book wrote, “remember what most people forget: how much international humanitarian intervention the United States had required in order to get that far. Not all of the aid to the fledgling 13 colonies was entirely disinterested -- the French monarchy's revenge for its earlier defeats in North America being an obvious motive.” Freddie argued that interventionism has produced far more failures than successes; a dubious estimation, but one I am willing to accept in this discussion. Even if we grant interventionism will fail more often than it succeeds, have the successful cases justified the application of the principle as a legitimate prospect on the world stage?

None the less, even the most idealistic interventionist must recognize that over-extension is a reality, and that our ability to maintain long nation building operations will be limited in the coming years. Discussing the failures in Iraq and democracy promotion as a whole is worth having, but don’t fall into the naïve trap of believing the United States (or any world power) can plainly turn away from military intervention abroad.

On “the democracy fallacy

I don’t know if your site picks it up E.D., but Andrew Sullivan has quoted this piece on his blog.

http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/02/a-false-premise.html

And of course, the man reminds me why I don’t take him seriously these days.

“The closer you examine it, the clearer it is that neoconservatism, in large part, is simply about enabling the most irredentist elements in Israel and sustaining a permanent war against anyone or any country who disagrees with the Israeli right.”

Oh vey.

"

“Many illegit, unelected, nigh unhinged regimes can be taken out - all the way out over a long week end.”

Even as a supporter of interventionism Courtney, I find that highly unlikely and unrealistic. I believe it is a moral duty to support democratic regimes and liberals putting themselves on the line against totalitarian structures they face in less free states, but our ability to confront all of them is restricted.

On “the inevitability dodge

“from a humanitarian and democracy promotion standpoint, intervention has produced far more failures than successes.”

Now there is something we can work with. I don’t know if you ordinary gentleman are up to it, but perhaps a series of pieces each focusing on a specific intervention by the United States, and letting everyone post their points as to the benefits and detriments that it produced. We then could see what it is about each that folks believe were beneficial (tactically and morally), and that may expose where the differences in measuring these operations exist. Perhaps a far too ambitious task, but a thought.

For while you claim “the historical record of the United States demonstrates” the overwhelming failure of intervention, I see that as history on its very head. While I would surely not get on board with supporting every (or even most) foreign interventions, the equally silly belief that a state in America’s position should only invest militarily in the direct defense of its territory, has unmistakably been proven to be foolish historically, and naive in my opinion.

On “the democracy fallacy

E.D.:

“The Southern European nations were democratized without any military intervention; the Eastern European nations that have democratized, did so after a policy of containment that never turned into a US intervention.”

Yes that is correct, but my point was that it was a rule of thumb among many in the IR field that they simply would never have a functioning democratic state. I believe history has proved those critics wrong, and should then give folks pause who argue that a society is intrinsically un-democratic.

On “the inevitability dodge

"this is a conversation that remains evidence-resistant."

How so? If you mean to say that arguing for intervention is “evidence resistant” while taking the opposite view is backed by a scientific outlook, I would like to know why.

"

Freddie, you are confusing a few points.

If you come to foreign relations from a purely “realist” perspective, then you would accept that a state will act as a state does, regardless of the moral character or social makeup that exists within the nation. That was the point of my first comment concerning the amorality of actions on the world stage. If one does prescribe to that worldview, then states will push for more influence and power on the world stage. I don’t happen to subscribe to such a position, and like yourself, believe that human morality dictates the direction a state should take. Your understanding of history on a few points is incorrect however.

I am unsure how you can say that “Yes, South Korea is in better shape than many other places in the world, and yes, South Korea was the beneficiary of American rebuilding. But to say that American rebuilding efforts caused South Korea’s ascension is to make a frankly enormous leap from correlation to causation.” An enormous leap? I don’t know many military or political scientists who would say South Korea would have survived the invasion from the North without continued American military support. If we disagree on that point, then I think there isn’t much more to say on this.

Now your second point, that Korean society posses a number of cultural strengths that have helped it achieve its level of success, is a better one. But this doesn’t change the very glaring point that those aspects of Korean culture would not have flourished had it not been for continued American military support (one can make the case that the military is no longer needed perhaps, but that’s for another day). Even as someone like yourself, who is opposed to intervention, surely you can take from Korea that there are benefits to having a stronger state protect a smaller one, and both import and allow democratic society to take form?

Perhaps there are some who believe that intervention ‘causes’ democratic transformation, something I do not believe. But to argue that a more powerful state can not help create the necessary environment (sometimes through force) for that democratic system to develop seems patently incorrect.

On “the democracy fallacy

An interesting set of pieces E.D.; a “coming out” if you will, clearly on the side of realists like Walt in the foreign policy discussion. I am a student of the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M, one of the leading “Realist” centered policy programs in the country, so the ideas are not foreign to me. The school holds the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, which should tell you the basic outlook the program pursues. I have enjoyed it thoroughly, and the “realist’s” description of state power and how it operates throughout history (among other points) has been convincing.

I do think you have an adopted the overly simplistic “realistic” position that Walt and other realists so willingly peddle however.

First of all, the “meddling” the United States engages in is the very thing any unipolar (or hegemonic) power would pursue. If we are to believe Mearsheimer’s offensive realist argument in “The Tragedy of Great Powers,” then we accept that states will naturally and constantly push their influence and power as much as it is capable of doing (both through soft and hard power). Walt and his followers seem to believe that the US and Israel meddle too habitually, and yet also want to argue that states always act in a specific interest maximizing manner.

Imposing democratic “values” may sound like a new and foreign exercise, but it is not, and there are successes to the policy even though it wasn’t referred to as democratic promotion at the time. Japan and Taiwan are clear example of this, but South Korea is an even better case. South Korea at the start of the 50s was poorer than Ghana (Ethiopia sent some of its citizens to help the struggling country, which goes to show how things have changed), and was an almost completely rural Confucian society, one that shared very little with the west and the democratic institutions that grew out of it. The US generally did not have the intention of making Korea a democratic alternative to the north when the war began, and the country lapsed into military rule more than once. Yet, with the continued support and protection provided by the American military, as well as the transformation of the society, Korea now stands as one of the most remarkable examples of how quickly traditional culture and superstition can be subverted. Does Korea look or sound like America (and I mean in the political sense)? Not really. But few could see Korea as anything but a remarkable transformation, brought upon by the continued aid and support of a unipolar power.
Not long ago, it was an accepted rule among the IR community that the Catholic Southern European states could never have democratic societies; the institutions were simply too foreign to those cultures many reputable men claimed. The same was then said of Confucian societies. Then it was Eastern European states that were too connected to the Orthodox Church and superstition. So I am a bit skeptical when I am told that the Muslim lands are antithetical to democracy. In fact, I find that historical evidence is counter to your claim, I turn to a recent Fouad Ajami piece: “In 15 of the 29 democratic countries in 1970, democratic regimes were midwifed by foreign rule or had come into being right after independence from foreign occupation. In the ebb and flow of liberty, power always mattered, and liberty needed the protection of great powers.”
The “realists” may have something to be said about tactics for bringing more democratic societies in those regions, but I don’t believe the neoconservatives are as idealistic as you believe them to be. Charles Krauthammer wrote something that I generally agree with in his “Democratic Realism” piece, where he said : “We will support democracy everywhere, but we will commit blood and treasure only in places where there is a strategic necessity.” Perhaps that is closer to a realist end of the spectrum than the purer neoconservatives like Hitchens, but I think the idea that elections-mean-peace is a character created by its opponents more than an actual reflection of the ideas as a whole.

Our cultural exports are tools in pushing for democracy overseas, but don’t assume they will succeed in all instances; in fact, North Korea is an excellent ying to the South’s yang. A society can block out and distort our cultural exports if it desires to do so, and thus in North Korea’s case, remains enslaved. I am thankful our nation did not cut off ties with China when they crushed democratic demonstrators in the late 80s; our continued cooperation has helped bring the country closer to democracy than if we had turned from them. But don’t assume such a strategy always works, and the force of the state is sometimes required to make it so.

*Comment archive for non-registered commenters assembled by email address as provided.