George Packer Democracy

George Packer, one of my favourite political commentators, recently published a short two-part piece onine about human rights advocacy in the context of American foreign policy: manic-depressive was the verdict. Americans either do very little (Central America, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfour?) or go in all guns blazing (Somalia until the ‘Black Hawk Down’ moment, Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran?). Packer also aptly describes American impatience for multilateral diplomacy, particularly when it means cooperation with countries like China that will not abide the supposedly universal language of human rights.

American democracy advocacy is just as checkered: can the world community sit with completely straight faces listening to the US’ passion for democracy while propping up oppressive monarchies (Morocco, Saudi Arabia), military dictatorships (Egypt, Pakistan) and oligarchies with democratic trapping (Afghanistan)? This, of course, does not include the Cold War era, wherein the list becomes a great deal longer (Indonesia, Zaire, Ethiopia, Apartheid South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Turkey, Chile, Brazil, Iran, Iraq!, several Central American nations, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, etc etc etc.) Coughs and sniggers, barely stifled, greet America’s historic role as a guardian of democracy.

Democracy promotion has taken a new, sharper edge in the last few years: America invaded Iraq ostensibly to restore democracy to that country. What is different now, in the post-September 11th era, the (now mercifully waning) age of the neo-conservative ideologues in the Bush Administration?

I think the answer is that, far from seeing stability and democracy as two contradictory goals in foreign policy that have to be balanced and reconciled on a case-by-case basis, as in the past, the neo-cons see stability (American interests) and democracy to be one and the same thing.

There are a couple of aspects to this. First, there is a strong empirical correlation that IR scholars bludgeon the rest of us to death by boredom with: Democratic Peace Theory. Democratic countries rarely go to war with one another. Such oceans of ink have been spilt on discussing this correlation that I hesitate to do so here, except to say that only academics with way too much power in their hands would make a statistical correlation (and a silly one at that – are states unit-homogenous across time and space?) the basis for global policy.

Second and more frighteningly, however, is the neo-conservative’s sense of what democracy means. It does not mean the Dahlite definition of participation and inclusion, or the Przeworskian sense of a losing party accepting defeat in the context of free and fair elections. These are workaday definitions that don’t discriminate as to which parties participate: Hizb’ullah, the Swatantra Party, the National Socialists in Germany, Communists of all shades, Warren Beatty, Larry Flint, whoever.

Americans (some consciously, most not) usually prefer the ‘liberal’ modifier to their brand of democracy. This means, in its ideal, a notion of self-interested, unitary individuals who leave all social or cultural ties at the door of the polling place. We know in reality this is utter claptrap, just look at the Christian Coalition; and yet, America’s democracy promotion has that vision in mind. Thus, free and fair elections in Algeria or the Palestinian Authority are not legitimate if they don’t return good, ‘liberal’ subjects. Democracy exists for the purpose of creating American-friendly individuals with American goals and values. And this includes capitalism, consumerism… all the real goods of US hegemony. Free to choose is in the manner of Wal-Mart and not the full ideological spectrum.

The neo-conservative movement in America is predicated on a Manichean battle between good and evil; it doesn’t really account for the messiness of politics, either in America itself or abroad. Would America’s love for India as a democratic nation withstand closer scrutiny of Indian electoral politics? What would Bill Kristol have to say about Comrade Buddhadeb, Mayawati, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Bal Thackeray? What about the Ram Sethu, vociferous opposition against the N-deal, Reservations (so wider and deeper than the affirmative action that American conservatives have made their careers criticizing)? What would America say about the Jaffrelot’s ‘Silent Revolution’ of Dalit political power, if it meant that Dalits acted together as a force in electoral politics as opposed to getting absorbed into wider, more conservative parties? Do fans like Tom Friedman dream of an India exclusively populated by high tech entrepreneurs with MBAs from Stanford?

This specificity makes the neo-conservative brand of democracy promotion particularly malignant. These intellectuals and policy-makers honestly believe, true to the universalisation of their theoretical commitments, that every authoritarian country is full of these kinds of democrats – countries full of Ahmed Chelabis and Hamid Karzais. The most disturbing thing is that these characters still think this, after Iraq, after Afghanistan.

George Packer mentioned a conversation with a policy expert friend and the latter’s wish that America would just act like a Great Power of the 19th Century: acting on its own interests. I think it’s time to give serious thought to the first Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and American Isolationism; George Washington’s warning against foreign inolvement. Realistically, that won’t happen: America is far too deeply involved, whether we / they like it or not. But maybe, after the neo-con nigtmare is over, we can think seriously about what role America can play for good in the world.

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Comments

And I would like to see the

And I would like to see the American government focus their energies on the majority of American citizens as well as those at the lower end of the spectrum (not the elite and wealthy who are the movers and shakers of our capital order, to which US politicians seem to have a soft spot for).

But you seem to be missing the point of, or evading, my question--what if what you prescribe is part and parcel of what we have come to call imperialism, even if of a more benevolent kind? I don't know if it is--and you could mount arguments against that standpoint--but what if it is? What to do then? That's why I posed that question as prior to your call for class justice within the U.S.

I don’t believe it’s as easy

I don’t believe it’s as easy as assuming that dealing with class problems and the conditions they create in places like the U.S. will in and of itself dismantle imperialist policies.

It's not that changing national policies will by default change the global economic framework. But if you study globalization, the role of nation-states, commercial laws, political-economic frameworks, and the socio-economic dynamics in the actor states which interact with one another(both powerful and poor), you'll see that there has to be laws between the actor countries which will encourage the disparity you are talking about (this is why the US is re-writing all of Iraq's laws, so that it fits well with the US'. If Iraq's domestic and international commercial laws didn't matter, the US wouldn't bother fiddling with that). That national disparity often parallels and ties into global inequalities.

All I am saying that it's not as simple as criticisms make everything out to be; it involves complicated procedures, restructuring and maneuvering. And I would like to see the American government focus their energies on the majority of American citizens as well as those at the lower end of the spectrum (not the elite and wealthy who are the movers and shakers of our capital order, to which US politicians seem to have a soft spot for).

No, it wasn’t. It’s difficult

No, it wasn’t. It’s difficult to talk about a global remedy without first giving priority to the national political-economic infrastructure which has also decimated the livelihoods of Americans (and non Americans who reside and work in the US as well). Many of our national commercial laws facilitate the global structures that we deride. It’s also a question of re-funneling sources from, say, the bloated defense budget and using taxpayer monies to instead fund good and sound domestic policies (ie universal healthcare, education, etc).

My point was that what you said (and say here) is one answer to the question I posed as to whether international inequities are alleviated or increased by addressing class disputes within wealthy states. The other answer is that by promoting welfare state politics (which means addressing the kinds of things you're talking about), it's a process by which the national elite of the U.S., the U.K., France, etc. buy off the working class people in their countries in order to promote imperialism abroad (e.g. the AFL-CIO participated in pro-American Cold War policies in the 2nd half of the 20th century, and to go back further, welfare programs were initially created by Bismarck and other late 19th century / early 20th century leaders who were not ruling democratically and had no intention of doing so).

That's what I mean when I say it was implicit--not that I'm making the same point as you, but that what you say is one side of a fairly heated argument in my head. I don't believe it's as easy as assuming that dealing with class problems and the conditions they create in places like the U.S. will in and of itself dismantle imperialist policies. Though that could be true...it's just not sorted out yet for me.

That's one of the reasons why it's contentious--the other being that it's sort of cold to say you should ignore or even endorse conditions you view as horrible in your own society. That's also why it's interesting.

It was implicit. No, it

It was implicit.

No, it wasn't. It's difficult to talk about a global remedy without first giving priority to the national political-economic infrastructure which has also decimated the livelihoods of Americans (and non Americans who reside and work in the US as well). Many of our national commercial laws facilitate the global structures that we deride. It's also a question of re-funneling sources from, say, the bloated defense budget and using taxpayer monies to instead fund good and sound domestic policies (ie universal healthcare, education, etc).

However, you didn’t touch on

However, you didn’t touch on what my main point was, and that is taking care of the slums and ghettos we have here. The problems afflicting Americans on a national scale I don’t need to list. My own personal experiences have led me to believe that the poor, the marginalized, and other misfortunates in this country have been left to shit and I myself feel this way.

It was implicit.

Dr A: There’s this raging

Dr A:

There’s this raging argument in my head resulting from the reality that most wealthy states are gated communities that help keep the poor poor in their huge-ass ghettoes (i.e. areas like Asia and Africa). So, one way to look at it is that the mechanisms you provide are ways in which the elites of those states have bought off the working classes–and this is evident in the U.S. during the cold war period and especially beyond, at minimum, and I would wager in other countries, though I don’t know.

Another way to look at it is that the people who promote these kinds of policies–progressivy types, are more prone to doing things that are mildly less destructive in the context of a global capitalist system, and, so, might do the expected-Obama tactic of combining rhetoric about raids in Pakistan with actual programmes for democratic support etc. rather than the neocon or realist tactic of obliterating everything and supporting the wrong people in order to support oil interests, blatant (as opposed to soft) American imperialism, and, for the neocons, whatever else they have come up with in their intellectual fantasyland.

I am with you on all points.

However, you didn't touch on what my main point was, and that is taking care of the slums and ghettos we have here. The problems afflicting Americans on a national scale I don't need to list. My own personal experiences have led me to believe that the poor, the marginalized, and other misfortunates in this country have been left to shit and I myself feel this way. And I will go as far to say that the poverty I saw in, say, Italy and Portugal, was nothing compared to what I've seen in the States. I am living in it right now (I live on the border of a ghetto and university town, so I see startling contrasts) and I've seen it most of my life. And it's not right that people should have to struggle the amount they do, especially when this country is so fucking wealthy. There is no excuse why we, one of the most "industrialized countries"- whatever problems you have with that ideological tag- are the number one country in terms of the majority of the poor being children. We spend billions of dollars on bombs; for children, we don't do crap except for coming up with ineffective "reading programs" and "No Child Left Behind" junk. And it is important for us to slap sanctions on the Iraqis and Cubans and starve them to death and deny them any medical assistance, but the US government has by far and large placed sanctions on its own citizens/residents/denizens as well.

I am a person of local/global context, and I obviously care about global issues and what the US has been doing abroad. But all too often we keep looking beyond our borders and decrying the inequalities that exist. That is totally fair and I agree with that. However, we tend to minimize the poverty that surrounds us here at home and the people who bear the brunt of it. Some don't simply see it or think it is as bad as in other countries, which often indicates that they have no idea how bad some places have it in the US. American Desis are a part of this country, we are a part of the fabric. We should care about our fellow citizens just as much as we care about folks who live in other countries/places (seeing that some don't have citizenship tied to any country). And we should care about how fucked up Bobby Jindal's politics will be for those in Louisana- black white, whatever- not for what "his politicking will mean for the community" which is what another blog is annoyingly analyzing, and just drives home the point that we can often be very near sighted, myopic, and behave as if we are not really a part of this country.

End rant :)

First, there is a strong

First, there is a strong empirical correlation that IR scholars bludgeon the rest of us to death by boredom with: Democratic Peace Theory. Democratic countries rarely go to war with one another.

You frequently hear this, and the imprecision with which it gets discussed irritates the hell out of me. First of all, this totally elides the idea of social democracy. There are no social democracies and with the exception of brief spurts in different places like the German Revolution in 1918, there haven't ever been. At some point, somebody in modernity--probably Jefferson or Locke, I guess--pulled a sleight of hand and got "representative democracy"--which Aristotle would have called "aristocracy", I believe, to get labeled democracy.

Setting aside my own amateurish objections, wikipedia has combined a nice list of possible "exceptions" to this ideologically driven theory. See here".

In the ongoing section we find this one for example:

Al-Aqsa Intifada 2000- Yasser Arafat was elected president in 1996. Since 2005, an elected Hamas government. New elections were postponed in 1998. The Infifada started in 2000. Arafat's regime ignored many civil liberties and ruled autocratically. [67] Elections in 2005 and 2006 following Arafat's death but the new regime is less than 3 years old. Neither the Palestinian Authority Administered Areas or the Israeli-Occupied Territories in the West Bank and Gaza are liberal democratic according to Freedom House in its 2006 report (for the year 2005).

Personally, as much as it pains me to say, I think Thomas Friedman's Big Mac theory might have more credibility in terms of relating to integration into the capitalist system, but then, what do i know? :)

When the entire

When the entire Democract/Republican nightmare is over, I’d like America to do something for the people that live within its borders. I’d like to see universal healthcare, access to higher education by way of grants and subsidies rather than loans, a living wage, etc. Not saying I want American to say fuck off to the world, but I want to see some things done here at home.

There's this raging argument in my head resulting from the reality that most wealthy states are gated communities that help keep the poor poor in their huge-ass ghettoes (i.e. areas like Asia and Africa). So, one way to look at it is that the mechanisms you provide are ways in which the elites of those states have bought off the working classes--and this is evident in the U.S. during the cold war period and especially beyond, at minimum, and I would wager in other countries, though I don't know.

Another way to look at it is that the people who promote these kinds of policies--progressivy types, are more prone to doing things that are mildly less destructive in the context of a global capitalist system, and, so, might do the expected-Obama tactic of combining rhetoric about raids in Pakistan with actual programmes for democratic support etc. rather than the neocon or realist tactic of obliterating everything and supporting the wrong people in order to support oil interests, blatant (as opposed to soft) American imperialism, and, for the neocons, whatever else they have come up with in their intellectual fantasyland.

Not sure if it's even worth

Not sure if it's even worth re-entering the conversation here; I apologise for not engaging earlier, I had a technical hitch that prevented me from commenting (hence the prime sign on the name).

1) AD, if you're still with us, the links are
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2007/10/the-other-day...
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2007/10/the-burmese-j...

Sorry about the delay -- I will put live links back into the post at some point.

2) So the idea that in American foreign policy, democracy means capitalism period has a certain ring of truth to it, but doesn't really let us make finer-grained distinctions. I just wanted to point out a certain philosophical flavour to the neo-conservative democracy promotion that is a great deal more removed from realities on the ground than other eras.

Actually, a book needs to be written comparing the 'best and the brightest' of the Vietnam era with the neoconservatives in the Bush administration: there are similarities to be sure, but the former had faith only in their own analytical abilities, not faith in the theories themselves. Can we imagine Donald Rumsfeld having the same mea culpa realisation that McNamara did?

3) Global vs. national inequalities: there are a few concrete things that would, I suspect, help both sides of the ledger. To take an example, US and global regulation on capital markets, institutional borrowing, and forward deals (swaps), etc. the S&L crisis of the 1990s and the current sub-prime crisis in the US are just the other side of the coin from the Asian finanial crisis on 1997, and the Argentinian crisis on 2002. Money needs to be slowed down and forced into socially responsible investment. So, support the Tobin Tax (a tiny tax on all international financial transactions that gets larger with short-term round-trips), and get used to your retirement fund growing at 5 percent rather than 6 percent. Less volatility means more capacities to invest across the board, and a few people won't be as insanely wealthy as they are now.

One thought that needs to e left to another time: manufacturing *must* be the basis of growth in the Global South, no ifs, ands or buts. And that will have to impact America. The problem with America is that mechanisms for redistribution are deeply underdeveloped. But then, the same is true for the South, so I don't know where that leaves us.

For the US, "democracy" means

For the US, "democracy" means capitalism and the free market. The two are the one and same.

But maybe, after the neo-con nigtmare is over, we can think seriously about what role America can play for good in the world.

How about America first takes care of the people within its own borders? I'd like to see universal health care, alleviation of poverty, more financial support in the form of grants and/or subsidies for higher education so that students are not stuck with paying off loans for the rest of their lives.

I think the answer is that, far from seeing stability and democracy as two contradictory goals in foreign policy that have to be balanced and reconciled on a case-by-case basis, as in the past, the neo-cons see stability (American interests) and democracy to be one and the same thing.

??

American democracy advocacy is just as checkered: can the world community sit with completely straight faces listening to the US’ passion for democracy while propping up oppressive monarchies (Morocco, Saudi Arabia), military dictatorships (Egypt, Pakistan) and oligarchies with democratic trapping (Afghanistan)? This, of course, does not include the Cold War era, wherein the list becomes a great deal longer (Indonesia, Zaire, Ethiopia, Apartheid South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Turkey, Chile, Brazil, Iran, Iraq!, several Central American nations, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, etc etc etc.)

But maybe, after the neo-con nigtmare is over, we can think seriously about what role America can play for good in the world.

I hate the neo-cons as much as you do, but they are by no means the only ones who have been hypocrites, pumped up the military complex, and dragged the US through covert and overt operations to "spread democracy" (ie spread the ideology of capitalism). The Democrats are not so much better.

These intellectuals and

These intellectuals and policy-makers honestly believe, true to the universalisation of their theoretical commitments, that every authoritarian country is full of these kinds of democrats – countries full of Ahmed Chelabis and Hamid Karzais.

It's highly questionable whether they honestly believe anything and regardless whether they're relevant at all without power brokers like Dick Cheney.

I look forward to the post about what Bill Kristol would say about Buddhadeb :)

What is different now, in the

What is different now, in the post-September 11th era, the (now mercifully waning) age of the neo-conservative ideologues in the Bush Administration

Why do you say it's "mercifully waning"?

I think the answer is that, far from seeing stability and democracy as two contradictory goals in foreign policy that have to be balanced and reconciled on a case-by-case basis, as in the past, the neo-cons see stability (American interests) and democracy to be one and the same thing.

American politicians- whether they are neo-cons or not- conflate "democracy" with capitalism and the free market.

The neo-conservative movement in America is predicated on a Manichean battle between good and evil; it doesn’t really account for the messiness of politics, either in America itself or abroad.

I understand that this is a blog post on neo-cons, but IMO, there are plenty of liberals who adhere to the same ideology (which, I am not quite sure you are arguing is). Vietnam was by war the most destructive war in terms of deaths, and that war wasn't exactly conducted by neo-cons.

America is far too deeply involved, whether we / they like it or not. But maybe, after the neo-con nigtmare is over, we can think seriously about what role America can play for good in the world.

When the entire Democract/Republican nightmare is over, I'd like America to do something for the people that live within its borders. I'd like to see universal healthcare, access to higher education by way of grants and subsidies rather than loans, a living wage, etc. Not saying I want American to say fuck off to the world, but I want to see some things done here at home.

Dahlite definition of

Dahlite definition of participation and inclusion, or the Przeworskian

Who the heck are Dahl and Przeworski??

Second and more

Second and more frighteningly, however, is the neo-conservative’s sense of what democracy means.

Isn't it more apt to ask what the sense of democracy is for most American politicians, rather than just the neo-cons? From my understanding, their view is not too different from the "liberals". Like I said, I think the tool most widely employed by US politicians is conflating "democracy" with capitalism. They never wanted to bring democracy per se to Latin American, Iraq, etc. They want to bring capitalism.

Kawaa, Would you please

Kawaa,
Would you please provide a link to the Packer article if possible?

Desi Italiana: Okay, so your

Desi Italiana:

Okay, so your point is that the destructive equation of simplistic notions of capitalism and democracy are equated not just by neo-cons but by the American establishment in general. Fine. And you say,

They never wanted to bring democracy per se to Latin American, Iraq, etc. They want to bring capitalism.

I'm not sure its so productive to frame all understanding of world politics and economy in terms of conspiracy theories. The post refers to the consequences of the range of meaning and signification behind terms like 'capitalism', 'democracy' that are thrown around all the time and the fact that these meanings respond to specific cultures of thought. Why must I state something so obvious? Because you're back here belabouring the obvious with nothing else substantive to add. Vilification of opposing political positions should atleast be accompanied by an attempt to understand the different logics and premises within them. As difficult as it is to stomach, people do sincerely believe in the warped tenets they espouse even if its inherent hypocracy is starkly evident for the rest of us.

Desi Italiana: Who the heck

Desi Italiana:

Who the heck are Dahl and Przeworski??

Writers/theorists of the most basic readings on democracy offered in Poli Sci 101 classes at all American universitites.

Writers/theorists of the most

Writers/theorists of the most basic readings on democracy offered in Poli Sci 101 classes at all American universitites.

Why, thank you for the intellectualist and elitist snark! Because obviously, everyone must have gone to college...

I’m not sure its so productive to frame all understanding of world politics and economy in terms of conspiracy theories.

Who said anything about conspiracy theories? There are plenty of people who passionately believe that democracy can be best facilitated by the free market. That doesn't mean- nor does it take away- that democracy isn't conflated with the free market.

Why must I state something so obvious? Because you’re back here belabouring the obvious with nothing else substantive to add.

Then why the hell are you responding?

Why am I responding? Why do

Why am I responding? Why do you comment here in the first place? This blog has been infinitely more readable and enjoyable without your presence. Don't you have your own blog space to be repetitive on?

Why am I responding? Why do

Why am I responding? Why do you comment here in the first place? This blog has been infinitely more readable and enjoyable without your presence. Don’t you have your own blog space to be repetitive on?

I could very well say that before you started commenting here with condescending "It's basic reading in American Politics 101 blah blah blah" remarks and shadow moderating, "AD," some of my questions would have been answered- or not at all, it doesn't matter.

Now, do you want to cut out the snark? Unless you have authority to ban me, sorry, but you might see more of my comments here on PTR. If it's not "enjoyable" for you, don't click on my handle to see what I've written.

Having problems posting

But maybe, after the neo-con

But maybe, after the neo-con nigtmare is over, we can think seriously about what role America can play for good in the world.

I think the first thing the Americans (self-included) can do as the 800-pound-gorilla in the room is to shut the fuck up and do some self-reflection first. and maybe talk about some minor things (on an international geopolitical blah blah blah level) like Burma.

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