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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Foreign Policy Alert

I just read through my latest Foreign Policy Alert which I subscribe to by email. The latest edition is chock full of material to stimulate the thinking process - all of which is worth examining. For instance, read the following.

Britain's leading historian Eric J. Hobsbawm has this to say about
Spreading Democracy

The World's Most Dangerous Ideas
We are at present engaged in what purports to be a planned reordering of the world by the powerful states. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are but one part of a supposedly universal effort to create world order by “spreading democracy.” This idea is not merely quixotic—it is dangerous. The rhetoric surrounding this crusade implies that the system is applicable in a standardized (Western) form, that it can succeed everywhere, that it can remedy today’s transnational dilemmas, and that it can bring peace, rather than sow disorder. It cannot.

Democracy is rightly popular. In 1647, the English Levellers broadcast the powerful idea that “all government is in the free consent of the people.” They meant votes for all. Of course, universal suffrage does not guarantee any particular political result, and elections cannot even ensure their own perpetuation—witness the Weimar Republic. Electoral democracy is also unlikely to produce outcomes convenient to hegemonic or imperial powers. (If the Iraq war had depended on the freely expressed consent of “the world community,” it would not have happened.) But these uncertainties do not diminish the appeal of electoral democracy.

Several other factors besides democracy’s popularity explain the dangerous and illusory belief that its propagation by foreign armies might actually be feasible. Globalization suggests that human affairs are evolving toward a universal pattern. If gas stations, iPods, and computer geeks are the same worldwide, why not political institutions? This view underrates the world’s complexity. The relapse into bloodshed and anarchy that has occurred so visibly in much of the world has also made the idea of spreading a new order more attractive. The Balkans seemed to show that areas of turmoil and humanitarian catastrophe required the intervention, military if need be, of strong and stable states. In the absence of effective international governance, some humanitarians are still ready to support a world order imposed by U.S. power. But one should always be suspicious when military powers claim to be doing favors for their victims and the world by defeating and occupying weaker states.

Yet another factor may be the most important: The United States has been ready with the necessary combination of megalomania and messianism, derived from its revolutionary origins. Today’s United States is unchallengeable in its techno-military supremacy, convinced of the superiority of its social system, and, since 1989, no longer reminded—as even the greatest conquering empires always had been—that its material power has limits. Like President Woodrow Wilson (a spectacular international failure in his day), today’s ideologues see a model society already at work in the United States: a combination of law, liberal freedoms, competitive private enterprise, and regular, contested elections with universal suffrage. All that remains is to remake the world in the image of this “free society.”

This idea is dangerous whistling in the dark. Although great power action may have morally or politically desirable consequences, identifying with it is perilous because the logic and methods of state action are not those of universal rights. All established states put their own interests first. If they have the power, and the end is considered sufficiently vital, states justify the means of achieving it (though rarely in public)—particularly when they think God is on their side. Both good and evil empires have produced the barbarization of our era, to which the “war against terror” has now contributed.continue reading

Think about this, can any long-lasting ideology be spread at gun point?