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Export Security, Not Democracy

What pragmatism can do for peace

Freedom is on the march. Backward. "Global Freedom in Retreat," headlines a recent press release from Freedom House. In 2007, for the second consecutive year, the group's annual survey of democracy finds a global decline in political rights and civil liberties. In the Middle East, modest gains have halted. Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria are backsliding.

In his new book, The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World, Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, looks at freedom in 23 "strategic swing states," countries outside the industrialized West with large populations or economies. More than half, he finds, have either remained firmly authoritarian or degenerated politically. "We have entered a period of global democratic recession," he writes, "with the swing states as harbingers of a possible broader downturn."

This is not what Dr. Bush thought he ordered when he prescribed a forward strategy of freedom. Perhaps even more alarming, and certainly more puzzling, is the collapse of American moral authority.

By American lights, President Bush's dedication to the cause of ending tyranny everywhere should have made the United States the world's white hat. Instead, as James Kitfield noted in this magazine last week, "Poll after poll shows the United States' standing and influence in the world sinking to unprecedented lows," with majorities in 10 of 15 recently polled countries saying they did not trust the United States to act responsibly, and majorities even in some closely allied countries—Britain, Canada, Mexico—calling Bush a threat to world peace.

After 9/11, democratizers, with Bush in the lead (and, full disclosure, with me among the followers), claimed plausibly to be the only true realists. "The policy of tolerating tyranny is a moral and strategic failure," Bush said last year. Extending freedom "is the only realistic way to protect our people in the long run."

Today, even some neoconservatives are wondering what went wrong. "These are hard days for democracy," Charles Krauthammer admitted in a Washington Post column in early January. Yet neocons still think they hold a trump card: No one has a better idea. "Six years after September 11," wrote Krauthammer, "there is still no remotely plausible alternative to the Bush Doctrine for ultimately changing the culture from which jihadism arises."

If that ever was true, it ceased to be as of last summer. That was when Amitai Etzioni published an important book called Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy. A professor of international relations at George Washington University, Etzioni argues that the United States should export security, not democracy.

If you want to discuss foreign policy in the age of terrorism, try consulting an ex-terrorist. As a teenager in the 1940s, Etzioni was a fighter in the Palmach, a Jewish insurgent group that tried to bomb the British out of what was then Palestine. The group aimed at infrastructure, not people, but Etzioni says the experience gave him a lifelong appreciation of the awfulness of war and the centrality of security.

Today, pondering the presidential race, Etzioni sees ample criticism of Bush, but nothing resembling an overarching alternative to the Bush Doctrine. American foreign policy needs a positive vision with a moral basis. But exporting democracy, Etzioni says, isn't it.

Why not? First, the Bush Doctrine suffers from Multiple Realism Deficiency Disorder. Democracy grows gradually from within, by stages, and cannot be imposed from without. The Bush Doctrine thus promises what it can't deliver. In any case, Washington often has little practical choice but to cooperate with friendly authoritarian regimes, such as those in Egypt and Saudi Arabia; we can't expect cooperation from regimes we're working to overthrow.

All of that you have heard before. Etzioni's signature contribution is an intriguing second argument. Putting democratization at the center of U.S. foreign policy, he says, is counterproductive. It turns against America millions of the very people it needs to win over: illiberal moderates.

The Muslim world is full of people who aver support for democracy. But comparatively few mean liberal, secular democracy, which is what Americans mean. Instead, they mean a combination of democracy and theocracy that Americans would not recognize as liberal-democratic at all. For example, they tell pollsters they want democracy while also saying their governments should be more Islamic.

These people reject American-style social liberalization, such as equality for women, which Americans regard as a democratic linchpin. On the other hand, the great majority of them abhor violence. Thus, writes Etzioni, "major segments of the Muslim world are neither pro-liberal-democracy nor pro-violence."

These "illiberal moderates," he argues, are "a kind of global 'swing vote,' " far outnumbering both illiberal extremists (who support violence) and liberal moderates (who support Westernization). A democratization agenda that implies American-style liberalization strikes illiberal moderates as a threat to their religion, not a promise of freedom. No wonder the Bush Doctrine offends them in droves.

But most of them will gladly support an American foreign policy in which basic security heads the agenda. Note the word "basic." To provide basic security, in Etzioni's framework, a government need not have a spotless human-rights record, independent courts, or even elections. It must merely protect its own people from genocide and ethnic cleansing, and refrain from invading other countries, supporting international terrorism, and posing a nuclear threat. If a regime provides that much internal and external security, the United States should promise not to overthrow it—even if it is unsavory or unfriendly in other respects.

Of course, the United States will still care about, and advocate, democratization and other core values. But top priority should go to basic security, on which everything else depends.

Realists insist that stability is the precondition for democracy; neocons, that democracy is the precondition for stability. Etzioni is saying that basic security is the precondition for both, a lesson stingingly learned in Iraq. "In Iraq our problem was that we did not focus on security," he says. "We focused on trying to build another America."

The template for Security First is Washington's handshake with Libya, a nasty regime that gave up weapons of mass destruction and terrorism and, in Etzioni's view, should have been more promptly rewarded for doing so. If Iran and North Korea were to follow Libya's example, they should get the same deal.

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  • ||

    Great. Let's just bring back Kissinger, James Baker and all the other "realists" with "security first" as their guiding moral principles. Then we can go back to celebrating cultural relativism while pretending it's a value rather than a grubby accomodation with authoritarians who keep their own people in bondage. Just great.

  • ||

    It relies on Disney and consumer goods and the passage of time to do the rest.

    Good piece.

    Many societies, if given(?) democracy will immediately vote themselves an authoritarian regime. One man, one vote, once. Stable liberal democracies require more than a constitution and a round of elections. They require societal tolerance for dissent and the willingness to accept losing gracefully (or at least peacefully) that cannot be legislated.

  • ||

    Well, I suppose this review is on this site is that "Security First" really means "support the least un-libertarian governments". Or, find the Pinochets of the world and support them over the Stalins and Mugabes. We should be like the Romans in "Life of Brian" who stare in to space while the Judeans ineffectually beat on each other. Ironically, this means we should support Israel.

  • ||

    Jonathan's call ally with illiberal moderates is the hallmark of Americas repeated failures in foreign policy. We are constantly supporting the lesser scumbags over their regional opponents. Then when they achieve power and start acting scummy, we have to go in and clean up the mess under the "you break it you bought it" doctrine. (Hatti, Philippines, Iran, Afghanistan e.g.)

    Ron Paul's articulated policy of noninterventionism, while promoting dialog and trade, looks to be the wiser path.

  • Ray Moore||

    The Muslim world is full of people who aver support for democracy. But comparatively few mean liberal, secular democracy, which is what Americans mean. Instead, they mean a combination of democracy and theocracy that Americans would not recognize as liberal-democratic at all. For example, they tell pollsters they want democracy while also saying their governments should be more Islamic.

    Those buffoons!

  • ||

    They require societal tolerance for dissent and the willingness to accept losing gracefully (or at least peacefully) that cannot be legislated.

    Just so. No question we need a better understanding of "deep democracy" and "deep liberty" - the social and cultural prerequisites for permanent political, cultural, and economic freedom.

  • ||

    Is there a (potential) contradiction here:

    We are constantly supporting the lesser scumbags over their regional opponents.

    Ron Paul's articulated policy of noninterventionism, while promoting dialog and trade, looks to be the wiser path.

    Doesn't the nonintervention policy admit that we will be giving the greater scumbags free reign? Over time, I would hope that dialog and trade would tend to "liberalize" countries, but there is a very long list of countries (most of Africa, Burma, Saudi Arabia, etc.) that we have had nothing but dialog and trade with, and they show no signs of liberalizing. I'm just not sure that its a sufficient way to deal with the worst of the worst, is all.

  • ||

    who says democracy is any good anyways? mob rule that trends towards socialism -- sign me up!

  • ||

    Commentators like Etzioni are given to think that security and liberty are somehow mutually exclusive principles, that you can advocate one or the other but never both. In my view this represents a false dichotomy. With the proper tweaking, American policy should be able to encompass both these ideals. The question is--how? I agree with Etzioni that security takes precedence over democracy. This really is a matter of common sense. In the absence of a civil social order, civil government is impossible. But democracy itself is the ultimate source of order in the world, and its advocacy (as a long term goal) must remain a core feature of American foreign policy. The problem is not the fact that we advocate democracy, but how we do it. Directly insisting on democracy in countries that have neither a democratic tradition nor the requisite social and economic conditions for democracy is a recipe for failure. It breeds resentment and charges of cultural chauvinism; and ignores the most salient features common to all democratic societies: Property rights and economic freedom. A foreign policy that advocates both security and democracy would take all this into account by directly insisting on security, and by indirectly pushing for democracy by promoting the economic structures (free trade, property rights) that lead ineluctably to democratic reform. What we need is a foreign policy that is more sensible and less sanctimonious. America should never abandon its core values of democracy and personal liberty. What we must not do is impose those values on others in the manner of a parent forcing a recalcitrant child to swallow his medicine.

  • ||

    Perhaps even more alarming, and certainly more puzzling, is the collapse of American moral authority.

    I attribute this to the contemporary perversion of the notion of "American exceptionalism" which has been a gift to us from the neocons; where once we stood as an example, and a haven for the huddled masses yearning to be free, we now roam the globe as a petulant, deranged, tyrant, telling everybody, "We're better than you, and you'd better do as we say." [And not, heaven forbid, as we do.]

  • LarryA||

    Commentators like Etzioni are given to think that security and liberty are somehow mutually exclusive principles, that you can advocate one or the other but never both.

    Not. They said you can't enforce both at the same time. Indeed, the main message of Security First is the blindingly obvious insight that you can't enforce freedom.

    With the proper tweaking, American policy should be able to encompass both these ideals.

    How can we "encompass both these ideals" in foreign policy when we find it impossible to embrace both security and liberty in our own domestic policy? See: PATRIOT Act; Campaign Finance Reform; Etc.

  • ||

    But comparatively few mean liberal, secular democracy, which is what Americans mean.

    Are you sure about that? I could swear that many many americans have no problems with the tyranny of the majority.

  • ||

    Perhaps even more alarming, and certainly more puzzling, is the collapse of American moral authority.

    Alarming? yes. Puzzling? Not at all.

    The collapse is 100% due to the failure of the Iraq war.

    It is immaterial whether or not the Iraq war was, or can potentially be winnible given a change in leadership, tactics, or anything else. Nor whether lack of 'success' is just a preception gap. What matters is that the effort is widely perceived, even in this country, as a monumental failure. And, as the saying goes, failure is an orphan. Furthermore, to mix a metaphor, the failure is a red-headed stepchild that allows everyone to unite and beat it from their various disparate hobby horses.

    If Bush's 'vision' was correct, we would still have the same attitude toward us and mil-dip-pol ascendancy as we had in the mid and late 90's: grudging admiration.

  • ||

    Aren't all tyrants security first leaders? They do what they do in the name of national security.

    It seems to me that our founding fathers understood security first and, understood that in a free society it is the citizens that must provide that security. And that if it is left only to government, it becomes an authoritarian state. Enter the 2nd amendment.

  • ||

    What RC said. Count this as the weekly agreement.

    Rauch's and Etzioni's position is in no way comparable to the Kinninger/Baker version of realpolitik, as asserted above. Neither of those men, nor realists as a whole, focused on security. In fact, as we saw in our Reagan-era Iraq policy and Kissinger-era Indonesia and Chile policy (make them scream), they supported alliances and actions which greatly undermined people's security.

    I think people are assuming a binary choice when the actual options are much more complicated.

  • ||

    ...that is to say, they embraced policies which deliberately undermined security. A less-secure Chile or East Timor was not just an outcome of Kissinger's Chile policy or the policy of the Suharto regime; they deliberately set out to create less security in those places, in order to accomplish other ends.Jonathan's call ally with illiberal moderates is the hallmark of Americas repeated failures in foreign policy. We are constantly supporting the lesser scumbags over their regional opponents.

  • ||

    """The collapse is 100% due to the failure of the Iraq war."""

    I don't think so. Our moral collapse has more to do with us claiming that methods used by past evil men are moral when WE feel they are justified. Our new found inability to define torture, becoming pro-indefinate imprisionment, anti-habeas. We are ignoring human rights as described by our Constitution, and the Magna Carta. This administration has shit on morality and claim they have a valid reason. The current administration feels justified in taking a lower or even an anti-moral stance.

  • ||

    TrickyVic-

    The quantity of throughput in Gitmo (somewhere around 3,000) dwarfs in magnitude and more importantly visibility the death, destruction, and complete collapse of social order in Iraq.

    Nobody really cared when we were just doing this in Afganistan (cept the usual suspects). Futhermore we sent many (most?) of the people back to other countries - the same (non-western) ones that have the biggest problem with Iraq.

    And ignoring the constitution has been longstanding policy since the 'surge' in the drug war circa 1980.

    I'm am by no means defending anything Bush is doing. I am just saying the Iraq war has such an overwhelming geo-politcal (and economic) footprint to dwarf all else in the long train of abuses and usurpations. (And conversely, if iraq was a success, these would be swept under the rug)

  • ||

    Perhaps even more alarming, and certainly more puzzling, is the collapse of American moral authority.

    I hear about this, but I can't remember a time when America ever had "moral authority" (whatever that means). Your lefty/socialist types everywhere have always hated us, your authoritarian types anywhere don't care about moral authority anyway, and even Western Europe has been in a resentful funk about the US since shortly after WWII.

    Just when was this halcyon time, and what did our "moral authority" amount to?

  • ||

    Yes, the 1990s are so hard to remember.

    The crowds of Palestinians cheering Bill Clinton, all the girls named Medeleine in Albania, the huge vigil held in solidarity with us in Tehran after 9/11 - boy are those hard to remember.

    Especially if the actual status of America's moral standing the world isn't something you pay attention to.

  • ||

    RC, I think it comes from talking the talk but not having as much media presence to witness the failure to walk the walk. Since Vietnam when we had reporters in our war zones, we've seen exactly what is really bad about what we say is really good. Ever since, politicians and their supporters have been creating excuses for these atrocities rather than finding ways to avoid them.

    "We kinda feel bad now that you noticed, but it's all completely necessary" as opposed to "we feel bad and we will do everything in our power to rectify the situation."

  • ||

    Yes, the 1990s are so hard to remember.

    The crowds of Palestinians cheering Bill Clinton, all the girls named Medeleine in Albania, the huge vigil held in solidarity with us in Tehran after 9/11 - boy are those hard to remember.

    Especially if the actual status of America's moral standing the world isn't something you pay attention to.


    Even a soldier feels sympathy for his enemy from time to time.

  • ||

    Or the Berlin Wall speech.

    Or the Kennedy administration.

  • ||

    Doesn't the nonintervention policy admit that we will be giving the greater scumbags free reign?

    Supposedly their own citizenry has something to do about that, no?

    After all, we would certainly hate "security first" as a domestic policy. Seems worse to to have a foreign policy that is contradictory to our domestic policy.

    Of course, we mostly pay lip service to democracy domestically anyway. Most legislation is "security first" in spirit. Our foreign policy already IS "security first", we just call it "democracy first" to pander to American voters.

  • ||

    At 53, I am among the last group that were taught in civics class that the USA is a republic first with a restricted democracy.
    Unrestricted democracy is a recipe for mob rule.

  • ||

    It's not about Gitmo. It's about the attitudes that create places like Gitmo and secret prisons.

    """And ignoring the constitution has been longstanding policy since the 'surge' in the drug war circa 1980."""

    Certainly our government has history in ignoring parts of the Constitution in the drug war. But name a case where the President has claimed the authority to designate a drug user and US citizen, beyond the scope of law stripping them of the right to challange their detention.

    I think most of the not caring with Afghanistan is a result of not yet knowing what they were doing. Besides, we always seem willing to give the government the benefit of doubt in wartime, until they prove unworthy of that benefit.

    I do agree that the Iraq war put the problem in the spotlight.

    """Yes, the 1990s are so hard to remember."""

    In the 1990's and before, the concept of exporting security was called a policing action. We were not very good at it either.

  • ||

    The crowds of Palestinians cheering Bill Clinton,

    And look at all the progress Bill Clinton made towards peace in the Middle East.

    all the girls named Medeleine in Albania,

    /wipes a tear/

    the huge vigil held in solidarity with us in Tehran after 9/11

    Ah yes, the Iranian pledge to help us root out the Taliban in Afghanistan and to end their support for Hezbollah. I remember it well, especially the "more in sorrow than anger" speech their PM gave withdrawing those pledges after we invaded Iraq.

    Or the Berlin Wall speech.

    Which changed the behavior of the Soviet empire how?

    Or the Kennedy administration.

    Bay of Pigs? Cuban embargo? Vietnam?

    If by "moral authority", you mean the ability to attract PR gestures unattached to meaningful behavior or commitments, then I am unimpressed.

  • ||

    I'd want to change the subject, too, RC, if I was left arguing that America's reputation in the world hasn't declined over the past 7 years.

    Um, this went wrong! That went wrong! Kennedy sucked!

    AND YET, we were vastly more respected and admired than we are today - which, you might remember, is what you were trying to argue about (and not what other governments were doing) before you decided to retreat to safer ground.

    Don't worry, nobody noticed you doing that.

  • ||

    We were also more respected when we were the strongest nation standing up to Soviet style communism. Since 1991, we've been the lone top dog who was too foolish to realize we'd better pull back a little (not completely, necessarily, but at least a little) from around the world as a show of good faith now that our opponent is defeated. We didn't do that, so now we are sole oppressor (or seen as such). Every other country feels like David to our Goliath now. We shouldn't relish that position.

  • ||

    looks the joe - rc dean comity at 11:11 was cancelled more abrubtly than Ribbentrop-Molotov

  • ||

    True, Nick.

    The bitter irony was that the Iraq War's glorious success was supposed to cement our global domination for generations, but showing just how unbeatable we are, and by discreditting the French and the UN.

    I know, cuz I read about it in National Review.

  • ||

    I'd want to change the subject, too, RC, if I was left arguing that America's reputation in the world hasn't declined over the past 7 years.

    Show me where I've argued that, joe?

    I've just been arguing that all this nattering about "moral authority" is so much gas. Nobody can even tell me what it is or when it ever made a difference.

    Your examples of when America had moral authority are

    (a) JFK, the father of the Cuban embargo (and look at how many nations followed his moral authority there!), Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, and I believe the odd assassination attempt on Castro.

    (b) Clinton(!), who can chalk up near-daily air-strikes against Iraq, the metastasizing of the Islamists, the festering of the Palestinians, and genocide in Africa.

    I find myself unable to discern either the source or the effects of this international "moral authority". It is a fit subject for mockery as part and parcel of the transnational progressive project.

  • ||

    One flaw in the article is that it says democracy can't be forced at the barrel of a gun. It can, but it depends highly on the circumstances. Germany after WWII succeeded as a democracy because of its ties to western neighbors, its experience with a parliamentary system, and its need to defend itself from the soviet union.

    Japans' democratization after WWII is harder to explain. It does not have many of the same traits that Germany had. But it is interesting to note that Japan has had -for the most part- a one party dominant system in the post WWII. Era.

  • ||

    Japans' democratization after WWII is harder to explain.

    I believe they had some experience with a parliamentary system, but I'm no expert on Japanese history.

    The Japanese have repeatedly proven themselves very adept, perhaps the world champions, at adoption/mimicry of other systems. It must have deep cultural roots, but I think that's probably a big part of it. Sadly, not a part that can be replicated elsewhere.

  • ||

    I find myself unable to discern either the source or the effects of this international "moral authority". It is a fit subject for mockery as part and parcel of the transnational progressive project.

    No "decent respect for the opinions of mankind" for RC Dean.

    No shining city on a hill for him.

    No Berlin Wall speech.

    Nope, putting guns to peoples heads is the only way to get what you want, and America has never benefitted from being viewed as the good guys.

  • ||

    I haven't read the book, but this is an interesting article. I'm just not sure how Etzioni's suggestions would help the US to avoid its usual habit of providing support to dictators who can provide "stability." I've always had some moral qualms about this (though it's possible that in foreign policy there's no practical way to keep our hands clean).

    Are there alternatives to propping up governments that stifle free speech, persecute minorities, engage in major corruption, and so on?

  • ||

    "...with majorities in 10 of 15 recently polled countries saying they did not trust the United States to act responsibly, and majorities even in some closely allied countries-Britain, Canada, Mexico-calling Bush a threat to world peace."

    Which ten countries? What do those majorities think should have been done instead?

    Though that does not really matter much in the end. American foreign policy should not be run to appease the delicate sensibilities of foreigners (in allied countries or otherwise). It should be run to advance the interests of America.

    "Making security the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy sounds pretty minimalist."

    Actually, I agree with this, though doing this and trying to advance liberal democracy should not necessarily be mutually exclusive. I presume spreading "democracy" was considered a less self-servicing sell both at home and abroad. The problem with the word "democracy" comes from the way it had been corrupted by American presidents like Wilson and FDR. We should be more precise about what we mean, but that ship may have sailed.

  • Robert||

    These people reject American-style social liberalization, such as equality for women, which Americans regard as a democratic linchpin. On the other hand, the great majority of them abhor violence. Thus, writes Etzioni, "major segments of the Muslim world are neither pro-liberal-democracy nor pro-violence."


    Well, duh! There are very few people who would prefer violence to having their enemies go peacefully to the gas chamber. Unfortunately, there are just as few who would rather go peacefully to the gas chamber than engage in violence.

    Many societies, if given(?) democracy will immediately vote themselves an authoritarian regime. One man, one vote, once. Stable liberal democracies require more than a constitution and a round of elections. They require societal tolerance for dissent and the willingness to accept losing gracefully (or at least peacefully) that cannot be legislated.


    Many? How about all? If you could get your way and amend the constitution to keep it that way and forbid your opponents from ever changing it back legally, why wouldn't you?

    Look at Turkey & Libia. They know that if they don't oppress Islamists, Islamists will oppress them. It's a bistable equilibrium.

  • Nike Dunk Low||

    is good

  • قبلة الوداع||

    thank u

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