Things Must Be Getting Easier In Iraq…

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Tim "I'm not a prudent member but I play one on the web" Cavanaugh, in November:

If it eventually turns out the invasion of Iraq leads to an outbreak of peace and freedom…the liberal hawks will undoubtedly swoop back in to show they were on the right side of history.

Michael "if intervening requires this quantity of illusion for an administration to be willing to risk it, we should be doing less intervening in the future" Ignatieff, in December:

But while you may not like the providential aspect of democratic providentialism, it remains true that the promotion of democracy by the United States has proved to be a dependably good idea. America may be more unpopular than ever before, but its hegemony really has coincided with a democratic revolution around the world. For the first time in history, a majority of the world's peoples live in democracies. In a dangerous time, this is about the best news around, since democracies, by and large, do not fight one another, and they do not break up into civil war.

NEXT: Man, I Love This Magical World of Tomorrow

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  1. In a dangerous time, this is about the best news around, since democracies, by and large, do not fight one another, and they do not break up into civil war.

    Is that true (especially the latter claim)? Or is it merely wishful thinking? Seems to me that lots and lots of democracies have collapsed via civil war or coup d’etat or for some other reason.

  2. Which just goes to show you: You can fool some of the people ALL the time.

    The elections in Iraq are going to be a bloody fiasco, with the best possible result being a Shia government that really hates us and pays only lip service to Democracy. (Sort of like Saddam, only different religion).

    What’s yet to be seen is how good the Bush White House will be at whitewashing this fiasco.

  3. I can also think of historical democracies which waged war which were not defensive in nature, which include Athens’ efforts to create an empire (SEE the Melian Dialogue – http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/melian.htm), the War of 1812 (think of the U.S effort to take Canada from Britain), the Mexican-American war (surely a war for imperial aggrandizement if there ever was one in U.S. history), the U.S. war against Spain in the Phillipines (and eventually against the Filipinos), France’s various imperial designs after 1870, Britain’s various imperial efforts (especially after 1832), WWI (where Germany, as a federalist nation with a democratically elected assembly went full scale into war out of – amongst other reasons – paranoia), etc. I dunno, I think that its all that difficult to whip a population of a democratic nation into supporting a war.

  4. Gary,

    It seems to me the first rule of political punditry is that one needs absolutely zero evidence to support what ever arguement one wishes to make.

    Seeing as modern “democracies” have only been in existence a few hundred years (at best), the author probably lacks any real data or long enough time-period to back up his statement.

    But that doesn’t stop him from making it. It furthers his goals, sounds good, and some dupe will believe him. Which is all that is needed in politics.

  5. Is that true (especially the latter claim)? Or is it merely wishful thinking?

    It’s true to the extent that it hasn’t happened much in history. But that tells us little, since historically there have not really been that many democracies before the 20th Century. When you think about it though, it’s hard to see any causal mechanism that would make democracies get along with one another and not fight wars. Most of the same war-starting pressures that apply to other societies — competition for land and resources, national pride and hubris, religious ideology and the idea that there is One True Way? — also apply to democracies.

    So experimental evidence seems to support the claim, but the experiment is still ongoing.

  6. trainwreck,

    Well, in fairness, the author does argue that democracies don’t fight “each other” (and most of my examples are of “democracies” fighting non-democracies). But you are right, in a world where democracies have been historically rare that doesn’t seem to be much of a feat.

  7. I think a worthy analysis would compare the actions of modern democracies towards each other versus with those of relations between nations that are not both democracies in the same time period. If there’s a significant difference, then that would be…significant. While I’ve noticed the same phenomenon cited by Gary Gunnels, that it’s not necessarily so difficult to whip a democratic polity into war, it may be that it’s difficult to do so against other democracies. OTOH, whether this would continue to hold if there were practically nothing but democracies to go to war against is an open question.

    All that said, I think representative government is a good thing in and of itself, the well known limits to how good that is notwithstanding.

  8. I don’t know if it counts as a full-fledged war, and I don’t know if Yugoslavia/Serbia (whichever term you prefer) under Milosevic counted as a democracy, but the US took military action against Serbia under Milosevic.

    It’s not entirely clear how democratic Milosevic’s rule was, and he certainly tried to rig and then ignore an election. Still, the opposition candidate was allowed to campaign rather than simply being killed, already putting Milosevic’s regime ahead of many other countries (admittedly not a tough feat).

    I guess my main point is that the distinction between democracies and non-democracies (or, for the nitpickers, constitutional republics with democratic features and other systems) is not always binary.

  9. “When you think about it though, it’s hard to see any causal mechanism that would make democracies get along with one another and not fight wars.”

    Liberal democracies face all the problems you mention, moonbiter, but are better able to solve them before they become serious enough to make war look attractive. Since the people are freer, there is a better chance of innovation coming to the rescue. Since public officials are answerable to the public, both in practical terms and in the philosophy they bring to their work, the government is more motivated to find solutions.

  10. “When you think about it though, it’s hard to see any causal mechanism that would make democracies get along with one another and not fight wars.”

    I would think trade and cultural exchanges would count as a mechanism there.

  11. Josh,

    Yes, but trade and cultural exchanges aren’t exclusive to democracies, indeed, trade can foster war. For example, clearly one of the reasons for England’s efforts in the Hundred Years’ War (along with dynastic claims, etc.) was to get its hands on France’s agricultural production (particularly its wine), which was a major source of wealth in 14th and 15th century Europe; instead of merely being involved in that trade (for England’s wool) they wanted to control it physically.

    Anyway, I don’t see why trade disputes between democracies wouldn’t turn into open warfare on occassion, especially if the products of trade at issue were especially important.

  12. GG,

    Given your analysis of the Hundred Years’ War being partly caused by England wanting to get its hands on France’s agricultural production, why would that make trade a cause of the war? Wouldn’t they have wanted that control even if they did not have the opportunity to trade for goods? Just because trade didn’t eliminate the desire to go to war, that doesn’t mean it was a cause. Unless you’re postulating that England would not have wanted to control France’s agriculture in lieu of trade because they wouldn’t have known about it?? That would seem unlikely, and even less likely to be relevant in today’s world. Or maybe you mean it was France’s ability to make money off its agriculture through trade with other nations, in which case the war would still not have been caused by trade between England and France, and it would seem then like your citation is an example of fighting over wealth rather than trade per se.

  13. fyodor,

    Given your analysis of the Hundred Years’ War being partly caused by England wanting to get its hands on France’s agricultural production, why would that make trade a cause of the war?

    Well, you have to understand the period’s economy and political situation. (a) There are few commodities which are traded outside of local areas (it was a pretty rudimentary economy after all and most agricultural products were fairly perishable), these being wool, wine, beer, salt, sugar, a few spices, and some precious metals (obviously there was also trade in finished products like plate, jewelry, leathergoods, etc.); thus the incentive for getting your hands on these commodities to trade was fairly high in an economy where money tended to be scarce but was needed to gain or hold power. Note also that beer and wine were really foodstuffs at the time and not something to get drunk on; in other words, they were essential parts of the medieval diet. (b) France’s vast riches were ripe for the picking because of the generally weak nature of the French state at the time (its generally argued that France becomes France because it was unified in the image of fighting and defeating the English in the Hundred Years’ War – its one of the reasons why physical signs of the war are still pointed out to travellers to France) and troublesome nature of the statelet of the Burgundy (the Burgundians siding with the English seriously undermined the French war effort for much of the war – when they switched sides, the English cause was likely doomed). (c) The French controlled Flanders, yet Flanders was the chief source of foreign exchange for England (since it was the industrial center of northern Europe, and where England sold its wool crop to manufacturers to turn into woolens), this control the English found that they could not tolerate.

    Wouldn’t they have wanted that control even if they did not have the opportunity to trade for goods?

    Probably, but the trading situation – or rather the geopolitics of the trading situation – that aided in the creation of the conflict.

    …it would seem then like your citation is an example of fighting over wealth rather than trade per se.

    Perhaps, but that wealthy manifested itself in the trading system that was bound up in the war.

  14. fyodor,

    There are also a few other factors involved (the dynastic situation I already mentioned that was a result of Henry II’s marraige to Eleanor of Acquitaine, the French attempt to counter the English allaince with Flanders and its control of southern France – called the “nutcracker” – by the Auld Allaince with Scotland, the death of Phillip the Fair, the end of the Capetian line and the whole Salic Law controversy), but suffice to say that the geopolitics of trade between France, Britain and Flanders was extremely important with regard to the outbreak of the war.

  15. Democracies are better at avoiding war? Hmmm. I doan theenk so.

    A democracy that lacks well designed and effectively implemented institutions isn’t worth a bean turd. Which looks to me like a big part of why so many third world democracies don’t live long, even when intentions are good.

    But didn’t we start out talking about Iraq? Now we’re back in the Middle Ages. 🙂 Life is so much easier to make sense of in retrospect.

    Avoiding war isn’t always good, and the long term outcome of war isn’t always bad. But avoiding clearly *stupid* wars, like Iraq, well — I used to be in the camp that believed a well educated democratic state would avoid this.

    I doan theenk so anymore.

  16. Here we are trying to decide what makes for an efficient, progress-making society.
    Starting with Iraq as an example just don’t make sense, do it?

  17. Morat’s best possible result comment above is why I refuse to believe that the administration’s ultimate goal is actually a democratic middle east. Democracy in Iraq would simply be a substitution of one tyranny for another.

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