Thursday, May 24, 2007

Democracy; Famous Cousin Jeff; Possibility of Man

Famous cousin Jeff is convinced of this:

Democracy is not the answer in Iraq.
He might be correct. Certainly Iraqis have little or no experience of living in liberal democracy. neo-neocon recently speculated that liberal democracy may take a biblical 40 years in the wilderness to seep into the consciousness of Iraqis. Or longer.

And we are not just talking "democracy". The Palestinians recently had a democratic election: they elected Hamas to rule them.

Rather, we are talking "liberal democracy", i.e. a culture of respect for Western concepts of human rights and free exchange of ideas. "Liberal democracy" is part of our strategy for transforming our enemies into allies. Or, maybe more accurately, it is part of our strategy for transforming the children of our enemies.

Gagdad Bob, proprietor of One Cosmos, agrees with Famous Cousin Jeff that democracy cannot be successfully "given", as a gift can be given:

From Plato to Nato: The Idea of the West and its Opponents. Gress believes that we have been misled by scholars who [...] came up with the idea of the "grand narrative" of Western history extending back to its roots in ancient Greece.

But Gress believes that such critical ideas as liberty, democracy, and the free market were not so much ideas as behaviors that people lived out and only later reflected upon[...]. In other words, no one invented capitalism, or liberty or democracy, and that's sort of the point. These things had to first be lived and experienced in order to be valued.

I think we can understand Gress's point in analyzing the difficulty of transplanting "the idea of freedom" to the Middle East. Frankly -- and this is a little alarming to contemplate -- you can't just unproblematically transplant such an idea, because it is a value rooted in centuries of collective experience. I remember Dennis Prager discussing this on his radio program, and it came as a bit of a jolt to me. Like President Bush, I had had it in my mind that the desire for liberty was a universal human wish, something built into us. Therefore, all you have to do is "give" it to people, and that will be that.

Quite the opposite. Liberty is not a built in -- much less universal -- value, and I think you can see how this is a major part of understanding the motivations -- or shall we say, the deep structure -- of leftism. Classical liberals wonder why leftists do not value freedom, but they shouldn't. Rather, the question is why we do value it, because it is an obvious aberration in the human race. Most humans value security over liberty, predictability over change, conformity over individuality, and authority over self-rule.
To finish up with Prager's thought, he noted that it was God who wanted humans to have freedom, not humans. For the vast majority of human beings, liberty is not a particularly important value, much less the most important one. They would just as soon barter it away for security, as they have done in western Europe.
In reality, [the welfare state] simply reveals man for what he is -- a lazy, frightened, selfish, superstitious, instinct-loving and lowdown rascal. Leftism aims low and always reaches its target.

Only liberty unleashes the possibility of man and reveals what man can be, as an alternative to the unimpressive specter of what he is.
I don't know what will be the outcome in Iraq, but I hope 40 to 200 years will not be necessary for Iraqis to take to democracy. I hope modern communications: TV, radio, internet, movies, can speed the process. I hope this for the sake of us, and of Iraqis, and of the people of Teheran and Damascus.

Within 40 years, the U.S. may be hit by multiples of WMD attacks. If terrorists can do it once, there is no reason for them not to launch a dozen attacks, two dozen attacks, three dozen attacks. What would the U.S. response be to 100,000 dead Americans? 500,000 dead Americans? 5 million dead Americans?

Pointing to actual truth is controversial territory. Many people prefer fantasy to truth. If you point to truth, they accuse you of being filled with hatred. What would be the U.S. response to a series of attacks which claimed, say: 8 million American lives? 12 million American lives? Better minds than mine speculate that our response would be to level Teheran and Damascus - for starters. We would follow with more destruction after that. We likely would not wait around, trying to specifically and prettily target the guilty parties, while millions more American children stood at risk. We would strike - decisively, repeatedly, horribly - in self-defense. We would make things so horrible that any Jihadis who remained alive would not dare strike us again.

These are the stakes. For real. We are not playing a fantasy game in Iraq, nor in the larger region. It is much better if liberal democracy provides structure for tribal Arabia to modernize itself.

I should mention that Famous Cousin Jeff is in favor of installing an America-friendly, Jihad-unfriendly ruler in Iraq. Jeff would be shocked to know that in this he is simpatico with Donald Rumsfeld.

The problem would be the world-wide political repercussions: when the Jihad-unfriendly ruler cracked down on domestic Jihadis - with prejudice - as he would have to do - there would be political repercussions. We once supported a Jihad-unfriendly head-cracking ruler: the Shah of Iran. We supported him, that is, until Jimmy Carter threw him overboard due to "human rights violations."

Still, Famous Cousin Jeff's idea merits mulling. It's a serious idea. We ought not worry too much about political repercussions, as much of the world already detests us. If the the Jihad-unfriendly ruler would step aside, over time, and gradually allow a democratic/parliamentary government to take power, that would be ideal. Yet history tells us that may be too much to hope for. Power is seductive. People hang onto it with everything they can muster.

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