Monday, September 25, 2006

Suzanne Nossel -- 10 Lessons for Progressives

Moving right along...
Now that the yawning public is waking up to some embarrassing facts about the much-ballyhooed GWOT and all that (stuff a lot of prople have been saying for a year or it ain't), Suzanne Nossel ticks off ten (count them -- ten...) more or less obvious conclusions we hope have been grasped by now. She calls them lessons for Progressives after Bush, but I think they would be better called Lessons for Anyone who can read, write and think, no matter what their political inclinations. H/T Huffpo.

1. The U.S. must remain at the forefront of promoting democracy worldwide - The hangover of the Bush years will lead many to urge retreat from efforts to advance democracy in farflung places, on grounds that such work is costly, dangerous, and bound to fail. While the impulse is understandable, this would be a huge mistake. America's role in fostering democracy and aiding democrats the world over helped fuel us to superpowerdom during the first half the twentieth century, and keep us there during the second. This drive was behind many of America's greatest contributions to the international system - including the creation of the multilateral order and the rise of great democracies on all continents. We cannot throw the baby of democracy promotion out with the bathwater of Bush Administration policies.

2. Democracy is not the same as pro-Americanism - One of the rationales behind American support for democracy is the idea that Democratic regimes are more inclined to support the US. While this is true in the long term, the effect is neither immediate nor universal, as we've learned the hard way in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and - arguably - Iran. Where there are longstanding grievances, immediate resentments, and/or political elements who rally support based on anti-Western and anti-American agendas, the democracy won't necessarily temper these sentiments. Americans need to understand that fostering democracies around the world will benefit US interests over time, and not to expect immediate gratification in the form of pro-US governments.

3. Democracy delayed will be seen as democracy denied - The US cannot afford to take the position that where democratic elections may result in the rise of extremist or anti-US elements, such elections should be indefinitely postponed. If there are reasons to believe feasible, relatively quick steps can be taken to foster more free and fair elections, there may be nothing wrong with advocating that those happen first. But a position that only once US-friendly parties are poised for victory does a population deserve to elect its own government will be seen as self-serving and hypocritical.

4. Elections are necessary but not sufficient for democracy - Rather than downplaying the importance of elections, US policymakers should place more emphasis on dimensions like the development of democratic institutions; the building of an independent judiciary; freedom of the press and of expression; civic education; a firm state monopoly on the use of force, and more. These get short shrift because they take more money and time, and don't provide the same photo ops as peasants waving ink-stained fingers in the air. In Eastern Europe and elsewhere, the US, other Western governments and international bodies have gained experience promoting a full range of democratic accouterments. We need to get to work as energetically in these areas as we do in the business of holding elections.

5. Pro-democracy and anti-corruption must go hand-in-hand - The big lesson of Hamas' victory is not that elections were a bad idea, but that West's erred glaringly in failure to ensure that the previous Fatah-led government provided adequate levels of law and order and social services to sustain its hold on power. By most accounts, Hamas' win reflected less popular extremism than abject frustration with the corruption and ineptitude of the Fatah regime. Similar tendencies are reportedly behind Hezbollah's popularity in Lebanon. It is no surprise, and is laudable, that voters prize competence and reject corruption. The West needs to do what it can to ensure that they don't need to vote in violent extremists in order to get them.

6. Democracy must be seen as homegrown - It seems obvious that a system of self-rule cannot be imposed from the outside, though evidently not so to team Bush. [Ed. symantic quibble here. Democracy must not only be SEEN as home-grown, it must BE home-grown. All one can do from outside is plant and water the seeds. Not defoliate the landscape. And I'm not talking about plants here. For the dim reader, "defoliate the landscape" is a figure of speech.] Democratization processes that start with invasions and occupations risk tainting the gift of the democracy as something that's being rammed down a society's throat. The challenge, admittedly, lies in situations where local democratic advocates are so weak and/or repressed that there are few avenues for channeling aid and support to engender democratic progress under an existing regime.

7. You can't eat political freedom, nor hide behind it - Populations that are hungry, destitute, or terrorized by violence may well have priorities that come before political freedom. If democratization fails to address people's most basic needs, they will be miserable and restive irrespective of the sanctity of their right to vote. If those promoting democracy, including the US, are oblivious to issues of popular welfare, their political agenda will be suspect. This is not to say they are worse off because of democracy, but rather that irrespective of the indicia of democracy, their political system and social fabric will remain deeply vulnerable until these fundamental needs are met. This is why President Bush's constant mantra about the march of democracy in Iraq rings so hollow.

8. Democracy must coexist with, not trump, cultural and religious heritage - Tricky but true, if democracy is seen as overriding deeply-held cultural and religious beliefs, it will be rejected in many quarters. In places ranging from South Africa to Afghanistan, clever innovations have been developed to envelop tribal and religious leaders into democratic governance structures, so that democracy is viewed as compatible with traditional beliefs. By showing that we understand this, we can make American-supported pro democracy efforts better accepted.

9. Populations that resist authoritarianism at home will reject it on the world stage as well - The same instincts that lead populations to overthrow dictators and demand a say over their affairs cause them to resent American policy diktats in the global arena, and to insist on more multilateral approaches. The rise of democracy around the world, and the importance of the US being seen at the vanguard of spreading democracy mandate corresponding shifts in our foreign policy. For more on that, read this.

10. Proponents of democracy will see their own democracies held up to scrutiny - Ever since the US began assertively promoting the spread of democracy, skeptics around the world have pointed to flaws in our own system. This happened during the Eisenhower era when American policies on race were exposed as an affront to our own professed values, and more recently in the scandals that have surrounded Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Hurricane Katrina. To serve as a beacon for democracy around the globe, the US must be prepared to hold itself to a higher standard at home. Fortunately, most Americans would prefer to hold to such a standard anyway.

I really hate dedicating blog space and time to posts like this. I feel like I'm teaching a toddler his colors or how to recognize the alphabet on little wooden blocks. Wait...I did that yesterday afternoon and it was kinda fun. it gives me hope that he will learn better than those we have put into office. (Gulp! We did that to ourselves, didn't we? Maybe this democracy stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be....) In the dim shadow of this most recent report on security (this NON-news that many of us have been prating about for a year or two) entirely too many people still don't get it...

Oh, well. Let the post-mortem begin. Frankly, I like best the shorter version at Duck of Minerva. That's what I call cutting to the chase.

1 comment:

Hoots said...

This sincere and very thoughtful comment was left at Suzanne Nossel's post.

Dear Suzanne,

As english is not my mother language, please forgive my mistakes.

It is certainly laudable to propose solutions for a better world thanks the United States of America.

The problem seems immediate to me when you begin by saying that "America's role in fostering democracy and aiding democrats the world over helped fuel us to superpowerdom during the first half the twentieth century, and keep us there during the second."

Sorry Suzanne, but you are swimming deeply in your own mythology.

Do you seriousely believe that the USA became a superpower just by "fostering democracy and aiding democrats the world over..."?
Are you really so naïve?
Just go and tell that to the people of Vietnam, Indonesia, Guatemala, Columbia, Bolivia, Chili, Iran, Haïti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Salvador, Cuba, ... (find yourself other examples). At the best, those people will kindly laugh.

As a European, I thank your country to have helped us against the Nazis but I hardly believe this move was just to give back freedom to my parents (never heard of Pearl Harbour?).
On that point, I can also thank the ugly Staline and the USSR which made at least half of the job.

Whatever the reasons were, I stay gratefull. But not candid.

So, if you want to propose solutions (and I thank you for that), please do not begin with premices that the majority of the world do not share.

When the Americans repetedly present themselves as the big defenders or promotors of democracy all around the world, it sounds very very fake and hypocritical for many many people outside your own country, people who are not especially "anti-american". They just read and open their eyes.

Do you remember this person saying on the 9/11: "Why are they hating us?".

Maybe you should begin by answering that question and remember that your problem did not begin with Bush'presidency. He just worsened it.

And think about this: what to think about a country which impeached one of his presidents because he was a liar (what everybody knew, the problem was that he lied at the wrong moment at the wrong place) and seems to do little about another who, among other things, lied and bring you into no less than a war?

Must I precise that I have no rabic anti-U.S. feeling ?

I just think the US, as anybody but with more power, are able to do the best as the worse. Since Bush's era, I hardly can see the best. The existence of opponents to his politic is a very small consolation. Even if I admire their fight, I consider it is the least I can wait from the American citizens even if the struggle is hard.

Anyway, dear Suzanne, consider all this as a feeling more than an argue.

About your wrong premices, was it Woody Allen who said that even a broken clock gives the right time twice a day?

Just a joke... Do believe I'am on your side.

Best regards

The writer makes excellent points, starting with the fact that America has rarely, if ever, been seen as an avatar for democracy in the world. Freedom, upward social mobility, land of opportunity and all that perhaps...but democracy, no. I have no answer for this writer except thanks for pointing out the obvious.