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Whatever one thinks about the wisdom of the attempt to remake Iraq as a democracy, the chaos that would result from the failure of that attempt couldn't be anything but bad for the region. So then, wonders Michael Young in the Wall Street Journal, why are so many in the Middle East rooting for that outcome?

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  1. Stopped reading it when I hit the false dichotomy of either supporting “democracy” through tanks and machineguns or “cozying up” to dictators.

    Hey, Mike – I’ve asked before, but you either didn’t see it or just ignored it, so I’ll ask again – can you at least acknowledge the libertarian viewpoint in your articles? That our government shouldn’t “support” either? That our first president had a pretty good idea regarding the proper role of foreign relations in our republic?

    I appreciate that you care for the people over there who suffer under tyrrany. But then, Marx cared for the proletariat who suffered in the factories.

  2. Thesis One: the invasion of Iraq was not a neo-colonial project.

    Thesis Two: damn native ingrates couldn’t even appreciate the great gift, the great opportunity, we provided them by sending our young men to save them from their own useless culture.

  3. BTW, I don’t think anyone who helped visit this catastophe on the Iraqi people has much standing to accuse those who wished to spare them from it of “ignor(ing) how Iraqis suffered from the ensuing carnage.” I remember April 2003 – there were even more Iraqis suffering from the carnage when the war was a great success.

  4. Joe,

    You know, I supportede the war at first as a security issue to remove WMDs. Nation building doesn’t work, whether it’s Haiti, Somalia, or Iraq. And yes, quasibill is right about avoiding entanglements abroad. However, do you really believe that democracy is somehow against the Arab and/or Muslim culture? I mean, do you really believe that, or is that just you throwing out some sort of snarky comment? In my view, the Iraq war has enough real reasons why it is not going well; why throw one out there that has no basis in reality and is somewhat racist (in my opinion). After all, didn’t the Klan and people of that nature say that blacks couldn’t handle freedom, education, and equality with whites and blame it all on “their culture?”

  5. I’ve been dying to know…if we’re all about creating Democracy in the Middle East, why haven’t we invaded Saudi Arabia? Or do we only wish to force Democracy on countries that we don’t like? I just don’t get it.

  6. However, do you really believe that democracy is somehow against the Arab and/or Muslim culture?”

    No, not at all. If it wasn’t clear, my “Theses” are reiteration of the points made in Mr. Young’s column. In other words, I don’t share Mr. Young’s sneering disdain at the possibility of home-brewed Arab democracy – I think it’s the only version that will ever take.

    It was the author’s outrage at the locals for refusing to grasp the great opportunity we “gave” them and his certainty that democratic reform cannot arise within Arab society on its own, that I was mocking with my snarky comment.

  7. J.C.

    One estimate I read recently was that the House of Saud has approximately 20,000 members.

    Based on that assumption, a good first step toward lasting peace in the ME would be 20,000 heads on 20,000 sticks.

    Sorry if that sounds evil.

  8. A friend of mine suggested that our policy is that if spreading democracy doesn’t work, then at least the ensuing civil war will divert “them” to “killing each other” instead of us.


  9. Speaking of insurgencies and democracies and separatist movements, etc., (this is a major threadjack, sorry), did anyone read about how one Swiss canton separatist group have expressed their views recently? They stole a national treasure–a stone. They have done this before, the bastard insurgents! They are not going to release this 80 kg stone until their demands are met.

    Inspired by this event, I have formulated what I hope will become widely known as…

    “JMoore’s Law of Civilization”:
    the more* civilised a society, the more* silly its means of political protest.

    *Note the pun on my name. Couldn’t resist.

  10. “And those of the Iraq war’s critics who, legitimately, bemoaned Washington’s coddling of Arab dictators (but then refused to endorse the exception to the rule in Iraq)”

    This strawman don’t hunt. Nobody argued that we should ‘coddle’ Saddam; only that it wasn’t worth an invasion to get rid of him when his state, as bad as it was, was the only beacon of secularism in a steaming pile of theocracies.

  11. M1EK

    “beacon of secularism”? “steaming pile of theocracies”?

    I’m not taking a position on this, but the implicit assumption that the secularist state is preferable to the theocratic one “don’t hunt” either. Vatican City is purely theocratic, but far preferable to purely secular N. Korea.

  12. Joe, you’re misreading somewhat obvious text if you believe that the author is saying that democracy could not have arisen on its own in Iraq because of some flaw in Arab culture.

    He clearly and specifically identifies it as a political problem: he thinks that democracy could not have arisen in Iraq while it was in the grip of an authoritarian Baathist regime.

    Germany seems to have no cultural problem with democracy, but “home grown” democracy was not likely to spontaneously arise while its previous regime retained control of the machinery of state. (BWAHAHAHAHA, I used the Nazis as an example. Too bad.)

  13. Did you know that there is no German word for “fluffy”?
    But sticking to that analogy, don’t forget that prior to that they had a Republic, then voted it away. So, once again, I’m not sure where this whole “Democracy in the Middle East” bit is supposed to take us. Unless it is a cynical realpolitik attempt to keep them killing each other, as previously suggested.

  14. Fluffy –

    the Weimar Republic should stand as one of the great warnings about the fallibility of democracy. That so few in our new American Century know anything about it bodes very ill for our future (and not just in terms of foreign policy – the whole issue of turning on the printing presses to pay off debt has an eerie similarity to current policies – only the intervention of the Chinese government has prevented the American public from feeling the inflationary results – so far…)

    Self-determination means just that – they decide when, where, and how much it’s worth to determine their own government. If we make the decision for them, it’s U.S. determination. Classical liberal values bubble up through culture – they can’t be imposed by government.

  15. This strawman don’t hunt. Nobody argued that we should ‘coddle’ Saddam
    M1EK- In this crazy interweb thing, I’m sure you could find SOMEONE arguing for coddling Saddam. They’re probably rather scary for most of us though.

    I would think a hunting strawman might be in danger of being eaten by a deer.

    Did you know that there is no German word for “fluffy”?
    I propose “flueffig” then.

  16. I believe the crack-up of Iraq into feuding clan/ethnic factions was inevitable, whether Saddam was deposed from within or without. Simply put, there is no ‘there’ there. One cannot have a democratic society without there first being a society. Iraq is not a society, but a cobbled-together collection of antagonistic tribes/clans. No more likely to become a functioning democracy than was the former Yugoslavia, regardless of culture, history or values.

    As such, the Administration is left with an unpalatable choice: ‘stay the course’ and let more American troops be killed a few at a time while we throw together some fictional ‘democratic’ government that will fall apart within six months of our withdrawal, or bring the boys home immediately and take the heat from the media and Moveon crowd when the inevitable gross carnage ensues.

    Carping about what we should have done two years ago is pointless now–we are in the middle of the muck over there, and what do we do about it?

    As to the issue of whether Arabs are ‘ready’ for democracy, that’s just a great topic for a college bullshit session, isn’t it? Everybody can argue endlessly and without resolution, since there isn’t any clear answer. My take is not far removed from Mr. Young’s, though I disagree with his conclusion in the article. From my various readings, Arabs’ loyalty typically is to their immediate clan or tribe, and the purpose of political power in that part of the world has *always* been the enrichment of said clan/tribe at the expense of others, rather than to seeing to the common governmental concerns of the country as a whole.

    Mr. Young seems to recognize this point in his column, but he then reaches the contradictory conclusion that our troops should remain over there indefinitely to try and create a functioning democracy. But without the presence of a civil society, our troops could be there for decades without accomplishing that feat. I’m afraid I don’t have a pat answer for what I think we should do–no option seems very appealing, does it?

  17. Whenever trying to understand politics, you must first understand that politicians say many things, but it is only by wathching what they actually do, that you can determine what the goals are. That said…

    I can find no evidence physical evidence that the Iraq war was about bringing “freedom” of “democracy” to Iraq.

    Bush will no doubt consider the the mission successful if a Saud like religious government, devoid of freedom, takes hold.

    I repeat, all physical evidence I have at the present moment (gathered from speaking to not only marines, and former marines who are now contractors, as well as Iraqi ex-pats who have been back since Saddam’s ouster) is that Democracy and Freedom were only “chicken in every pot” speeches.

    I don’t know a single person who has a real handle on what this war is really about. But it was never freedom for the Iraqi people.

    Where is Thoreau? I think Mr. Young is looking for some of that Nebraska beach front property you were talking about a ways back.

  18. quasibill – I think you’re going too far. First, there’s no perfect “libertarian” principle on foreign intervention. Even Rand was sympathetic to efforts to topple dictators. That might seem very un-selfish of her, but that’s what she said.

    Self-determination means just that – they decide when, where, and how much it’s worth to determine their own government

    Would libertarian principles really prevent us from interfering? What about, say, pamphlets and underground institutions and photocopying machines and digital cameras.? What about guns, can we give them guns?

  19. What about guns, can we give them guns?

    You can give them guns. I can give them guns. But if libertarianism is to mean anything and not just what “Republicans who smoke pot” decides it means, then no, the State, acting under libertarian principles, cannot interfere where it does not have jurisdiction.

    Now, that does not mean that this is the correct position at all times. To repeat what I’ve said before, you don’t have to accept any particular libertarian position, but for libertarianism to mean more than Democraticism or Republicanism (ie, what the members of a political party believe in at any particular time), then there IS an identifiable libertarian position on foreirn affairs, and it’s neutrality and non-intervention, except in the case of a violent action or credible violent threat against the nation in question.

    Lecture over.

  20. Skepticos:
    I can find no evidence physical evidence that the Iraq war was about bringing “freedom” of “democracy” to Iraq.

    You mean, other than that whole “election” and “constitution-drafting” business? That’s hardly just words. Perhaps the war was conducted for other reasons, but the occupation that followed the war has clearly been about trying to establish some form of democracy there.

    Frankly, I’d be happier if the war really had been about oil. At least that would have been a rational, if hardly libertarian, reason for being there. Our troops and personnel would control the oil infrastructure there and prevent sabotage, and who knows, maybe gasoline wouldn’t be quite so fucking expensive right now.

  21. ‘Did you know that there is no German word for “fluffy”?’

    I’ll bet there are hundreds for “spare and metallic,” though.

    fluffy, the Germans developed their own indigeneous republican system in the 1920s.

    fyodor, the civil war between the infidel House of Saud and the Wahabbist fanatics doesn’t seem to have distracted that latter from giving us no end of grief.

  22. “Even Rand was sympathetic to efforts to topple dictators.”

    Well, first, Rand was not a classical libertarian – just ask her followers. Objectivists and libertarians have been feuding for as long those two terms have existed. Their ideologies overlap in many areas, but they often arrive there through very different reasoning.

    “First, there’s no perfect “libertarian” principle on foreign intervention.”

    Um, yep. Same as domestic intervention, as they are one and the same in practice. The only major difference being that at least in domestic intervention, the people who bear the greatest costs are at least citizens who (ostensibly) have a say in their own government. Not so in foreign interventions, where the victims of government intervention can be classified as “them” and not even counted.

    IMHO, the motto of “libertarian” hawks is “leave ME alone, but I love to use my government to screw with “you.””

    “Would libertarian principles really prevent us from interfering”

    It would prevent the government from stealing from its citizens to interfere in an area where self-defense (as ably defined in our criminal law) is not at issue. Individuals, acting alone or in voluntary concert are free to interfere – however, they must also accept the personal responsibility for their actions, whether it be good or ill.

  23. fyodor,

    Um, that’s great and all that you have a clear concept of libertarian foreign policy, but so do I, and it’s 180 degrees removed from yours. I don’t want to start the “is intervionist foreign policy really libertarian?” debate here. My point is, you saying those things doesn’t make them true. You have to give some evidence, and you have to admit that there is also a case to be made for a libertarian foreign policy that calls on the U.S. to do what it can in helping people in other countries win their freedom.

    I mean, you don’t *have* to do those things, but if you want people who disagree to take you seriously, you should.

    Basically, saying that a military intervention is wrong because it’s paid for with tax money and not through voluntarily citizen action in’t real persuasive to a non-anarchist libertarian. Everything the government does is paid for with our money, and yet, there are certain legitimate functions of government. Most people agree that the military is one of them. The question then becomes, what should the military do?

  24. Why democracy first is my question? semi-free-market facism in China has worked quite well — grow the economy, allow the culture to mature and advance, introduce democracy at the village level, etc. etc. why can’t that work in the Arab world? To some extent that is what is being done in Libya. If China had introduced democracy in the 1970s, that would have elected real communists instead of self-interested thugs…not a libertarian solution but…

  25. Steve,

    First, since this is not an empirical but rather philosphical issue, “evidence” is hardly required, alghouth a well reasoned argument certainly is. I feel a gave one, although I would agree it wasn’t comprehensive. Time & space issues, y’know. My argument was limited to the difference between accepting a libertarian position and there being one on any particular issue. Some people feel that if they think of themselves as libertarian, but they disagree with the position that flows from libertarian principles on a given issue, then that “libertarian” position should be changed to fit their own position. I’m arguing that people who consider themselves “libertarian” should be able to accept that they may differ from the libertarian position at times, but that does not mean that the libertarian position does not exist or that it is determined by a majority of those identifying themselves as libertarian rather than by what logically flows from libertarian positions.

    Okay, regarding the philosophy itself, my understanding of libertarianism is that it’s based on the non-initiation of force and the limitation of government to legitimate functions. Sure, the military is a legitimate function. But initiating force and taking sides in conflicts outside a particular military’s borders is not. Question for you: does the concept of jurisdiction mean anything to you? If concepts such as the rule of law and limited government do, I would think (and hope) jurisdiction would too. I think it’s intrinsic to the concept of government being limited, rather than allowed to do whatever the hell it can get away with. Obviously, actively choosing sides in a conflict outside one’s own borders violates the limits of one’s jurisdiction.

    Also, the only thing (if anything) that justifies taxation for the military is security, also known as survival. It’s different to tax someone to police the society of which he is part than to tax him to police another society altogether. What if not everyone agrees who to give the guns to? Then you’re taxing people to go against their own interests. And if that’s not non-libertarian, then I don’t know what is.

    Now, you may make arguments that it’s pro-freedom to take one side or another or that it’s ultimately better for our security, even if our security faces no immediate threat. Feel free to make such arguments, but please just don’t call them libertarian. You might as well say that support for a welfare state is libertarian because of the belief some have that it reduces crime.

  26. Steve,

    I was addressing one aspect of the issue, now, at your behest, I’ll address another.

    My understanding of libertarianism is that it is based on the principles of non-initiation of force and limited government.

    The concept of limited government, ie the concept that the organization charged with a monopoly on arbiting the use of force must use that force within specified and legitimate limits, requires the acceptance of limited jurisdiction. A state is therefore limited to use its force over its own citizens, for whose benefit the state serves. The state of one nation simply has no business outside that nation’s borders.

    Another issue is that the only thing that (possibly) justifies taxation for the military is security, also known as survival. It is one thing to tax someone to police the society of which he is a part, it is quite another to tax that person to police a different society altogether. What if someone does not agree which side to give the guns to? Then you would be taxing him to go against his own interests, and if that isn’t unlibertarian, what the hell is?

    Now, you may argue that giving guns to one side in a foreign conflict is pro-freedom or that it ultimately enhances our security even if our security is not immediately threatened, and those might be perfectly good arguments, but please just do not call such arguments libertarian. You may as well call support for welfare libertarian based on the belief that some have that it prevents crime.

  27. ChrisO

    You mean, other than that whole “election” and “constitution-drafting” business? That’s hardly just words.

    I would love if someday I have to eat my words, but I just don’t see freedom, or anything approaching democracy arising. Really, I do hope I’m wrong.

    But…I don’t see any theocracies promoting freedom or real democracy. And right now I’m betting that the legal structure we leave there will resemble Iran’s or Saudi Arabia’s. And I do not consider those free countries.

    Freedom of belief is one of the most fundamental rights a person can have, I am not convinced that you can be free with that absent.

    No, the evidence I see, says that Bush is willing to take the risk that Iraq will go the way of Iran, to make them more like the Sauds. Besides, Bush does not seem to see the risk in supporting Theocracies or non-democratic societies.

  28. Sorry for the double post. &^$#$^)$%& server…

  29. Dang. I was hoping the article wouldn’t treat that question as rhetorical.

  30. Fair enough, fyodor. I’m not entirely comfortable with the label “libertarian,” if it’s even confused with “Libertarian.” I consider myself a classical liberal.

    But by “evidence,” I didn’t mean empirical data, just a philosophical argument as to WHY non-interventionism is the ONLY libertarian foreign policy. All you did was say that it’s so.

    As far as jurisdiction goes, I’m a huge fan of federalism and our constitutional system, because them’s the rules we live by, and they’ve suited us well. But I don’t believe that classical liberal ideas (“free minds, free markets”) have any jurisdiction or borders.

    It’s a pretty radical philosophy, I know: tree of liberty, blood of tyrants and all that. But I believe that dictators and fascists should die, even more than I believe that our taxes should be lower or that two dudes should be able to get married (though I also believe those things).

    That’s not very well thought-out, but it’s late. Maybe I’ll try to explain it better tomorrow.

  31. Did you know that there is no German word for “fluffy”?

    There is: flauschig.

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