Wednesday, June 28, 2006

So long to all that

It looks increasingly like the "democracy promotion" rationale for Iraq was, at best, a once-off. Paige Austin in the MoJoblog:
"The rhetoric of the Bush revolution may live on," writes Philip Gordon in this issue of Foreign Affairs, "but the revolution itself is over." The reasons he posits are both practical and philosophical: having overstretched itself in Iraq, alienated key US allies, and worn down domestic support for spreading democracy abroad (only 20 percent of Americans today say that should be "a very important goal"), the administration just can't do it anymore. Another reasons, the other two authors say, is fear of what free elections might bring, fueled by Hamas's ascendance in Palestinian elections and the Muslim Brotherhood's in Egypt. Plus, Gordon explains, Bush's post-9/11 revolution in foreign policy was enabled by "a feeling of tremendous power." And, well, we have seen what that did for us. Good job, George.
The question is whether or not this is a bad thing. God knows, I'd love to see democracies all over the world - not because this would be a good thing for US foreign policy, but because this would be a good thing. And there's not a lot of evidence that the US can do anything to encourage democracy promotion through overt means - which pretty much rules out everything more than Clinton-era NGO support. Even that is likely to get a reaction from paranoid autocracies like those of central Asia.

It was very frustrating listening to this podcast of Diplomatic Immunity, largely because everyone seemed to agree that it would be a tragedy if Iraq caused "democracy promotion" to be delegitimized. My reaction was basically, So What? The American government isn't going to stop preferring democracies, where possible. What has been totally discredited in the Bush Administration is the idea that the US can and must invade second-rate tyrannies and replace them with democratic, pro-American, pro-Israel governments.

Here's the thing: This idea was ridiculous on its face, before a single boot stepped on Iraqi soil. The Bush Administration merely confirmed that fact, at the cost of untold lives. So if we want to talk about regrettable consequences, the end of a silly foreign policy is near the bottom of my list.

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