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Tuesday, March 13

The Democracy Doctrine: Not on its last gasp but its viewpoint too narrowly stated

Dear Pundita:
I am writing to tell you that I have been in the doldrums because I think President Bush's freedom doctrine has been killed off during the past year in the name of expediency and practicality. It's such a shame because it is an inspiring doctrine, and one worthy of the United States of America.
Claudia in Taos

Dear Claudia:
Get a grip. The bottom line has not changed, whether people accept or reject the idea that the United States can base foreign policy on the promotion and defense of democracy. In their rush to globalize trade and investment, the developed nations studiously ignored that a large swath of humanity has no say in how their government decides on trade and investment matters; they have no say in anything about the course of their government. But there's no pulling back from globalized trade and investing, and the attempt to do so can easily crash civilization.

Democratic institutions make globalization work, but there are two very different types of challenges to democratizing weak nations, in addition to the standard challenges to instituting democracy in a nation that's new to the practice:

1) Many governments categorized as democratic actually reflect illiberal or "stage show" democracy rather than the real deal; i.e., the country sees free elections but an elite class still has an iron grip on legislation, law enforcement, and government institutions.

2) When globalization brings to a developing country large-scale foreign investment and trade dominance by a more developed country, there is a backlash among the masses against the domestic government and the foreign governments backing globalized trade and investment.

The anti-globalization movement is one way of stating both factors. President Bush saw that the situation won't stand, if we want to continue to expand trade and global investing. So people should get the past the idea that Bush is a dreamer. He was just fingering a situation that was as plain as day in the wake of 9/11.

So why did Bush find himself in the position of the child in the The Emperor's New Clothes? Because it is setting a task the size and complexity of which the human race has never before seen, if you determine that democracy must be instituted in every nation -- and not just stage-show democracy, but the real deal. Human nature has a penchant for blinding itself when seeing includes the sight of insurmountable obstacles.

Yet when you deem an obstacle to be insurmountable that's an indication that you've stated the problem wrongly. Everyone with an engineering bent understands my point but government does not attract many engineering minds. So then the problem is stated as insurmountable and instead of restating, government butts its head against the insurmountable, then retreats into so-called realism.

In other words, the right approach is deemed impossible for want of a workable plan of execution. That's the reaction from many quarters with regard to the Bush Doctrine. But again, the fundamentals haven't changed: democratize more peoples or face suicidal decisions by governments to pull back from globalization of trade and capital flows.

That's why I keep saying to listen to Vladimir Putin, in the manner of taking instruction. Until we look at things through Putin's eyes, we can't understand the challenges to the Democracy Doctrine.

Putin is not on a power trip; he's a patriot. He dedicated his adult life to serving Russia. So why is he insisting on pulling back from certain democracy reforms?

First, he fears the further balkanization of ex-Soviet states, including territory now in Russia. And he has evidence to support the charge that the United States and Western Europe have conspired to balkanize Russia and the ex-Soviet states that are still allied with Russia.

Second, Putin believes that the democratic reforms of the Yeltsin era jumped the gun because Russia is not yet a fully functioning nation. The priority in Putin's view is to strengthen Russia's sovereignty; he believes that without that step, having no brakes on democracy will tear apart the institutions that keep Russia bumping along as a single entity.

Third, Putin believes that many attempts to liberalize Russia's democracy actually come from interests in the United States and Western Europe that want a big say in how Russia's government is run.

Are Putin's concerns overblown? From the US position, yes. But key is that today many other government leaders have similar concerns -- and they fear that a big backlash in their country against globalization can unseat their government. An ominous trend is that leaders with a truly dictatorial bent, such as Hugo Chavez, are making hay with the challenges to national sovereignty posed by foreign investment.

With regard to the sovereignty issue, Putin is not stating a situation that is unique to Russia. Iraq, for example, sees a large nomadic population that has a form of democratic decision-making -- the elders get together by consent from the rest of the tribe and hash out decisions. But the nomads don't have a sense of being Iraqi citizens and they don't have a strong commitment to Iraq as a distinct entity.

And even though they're not nomads, a similar situation exists in the Balkans between Albanians and Serbs. Clearly they have a greater commitment to ethnic ties than to a concept of nationhood.

Then the question becomes: how do you fully democratize a region that isn't really a nation?

So there is enough truth in Putin's concerns that the majority of the Russian people want to stay with his set of priorities for modernizing Russia -- even though that means scaling back liberal democracy.

Another question: How do you institute modern democracy in a region where people don't have clear ownership of property they reside on and can't enforce their ownership claims to a business? The notion of private property is closely intertwined with modern democracy because property owners tend to demand a say in how government works.

From this and other examples I could dredge up, while democracy is a clear-cut set of principles, implementation of a democratic society reflects a gestalt comprised of numerous complex situations. If the gestalt isn't there, a multi-pronged approach is needed to bringing it about. That's not as hard as it might sound, but it takes a lot of money and expertise to create or modernize institutions and legislation that support the democratic viewpoint, as the World Bank could tell you.

But even with the gestalt in place, globalization has mounted a challenge to democracy, which is reflected in Putin's most unpopular decisions with the developed nations. The bottom line is that globalized investment tends to support a country's entrenched ruling class, which doesn't like power-sharing with the rest of society. In a nondemocratic country or a phony democracy this factor is a huge obstacle to democratic reforms.

The Brussels crowd think they have the solution: downplay the sovereign nation and institute a global government. Here I am reminded of Mr Gurdjieff's advice to a disciple who asked how one could learn to love people in more unconditional fashion. G replied that loving a fellow human is a very big accomplishment, so first practice on animals; learn not to kick your dog. By the same token humanity is a long way from a globalized mindset in their personal affairs; just managing a national mindset is a huge step.

But in the present state of capacity, even the most globally-minded cannot manage the complexities of democracy in many cases. So a global government cannot be a democratic one -- a fact that does not seem to bother the EC overmuch. No matter what they might say to the contrary, I think Brussels prefers oligarchy to democracy, which keeps people in the diapers stage of development. Besides, oligarchy is wildly impractical in the modern age because today's governance problems are so vast and complex that it's a joke to claim that an enlightened elite can govern a population in the millions.

So where do all these observations put us in relation to the Democracy Doctrine? First the good news: look back on the Cold War era to see how far we've come in our understanding of the problems with implementing the doctrine. President Bush's decision to address the deep causes of the 9/11 attack on America opened a new chapter in history, as did his assertion that should be no more US "deals," of the kind characterized by US policy during the Cold War. Much of what the US is now facing in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America are problems left over from deals with autocratic governments -- deals launched by various powers during the Cold War.

The developed nations are still making unsavory deals; think of US relations with Pakistan, and German relations with Iran. But at least today the governments in such nations are clearly aware of the price they pay for such deal-making. The portability of strike weapons and the speed of information-sharing mean that governments can no longer kick the can down the road for decades when a deal blows up.

At the other end of the conundrum we face sophisticated arguments, of the kind that Moscow and Beijing mount, for repressing democracy.

Okay, I'm going to break off here. We'll take up the discussion tomorrow or later this week. For now, note that I have expanded a statement of the democracy problem to include the issues of sovereignty and globalized trade and investment, which the Bush Doctrine does not address.

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