Monday, March 7, 2005
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Hezbollah generates a natural experiment
As change continues to roil parts of the Middle East, media focus is increasing on Lebanon. The Syrian government is getting more specific in its plans for a partial pullout of its troops. However, the really interesting development is within Lebanon's domestic political scene. Scott Wilson explains in the Washington Post about Hezbollah's decision to maintain its support for Syria:
This will be interesting. There is no denying Hebollah's political strength in Lebanon -- however, there is also no denying that the group has been very slow to react to recent political developments.
Many commentators question whether democratization in Lebanon necessarily advance U.S. interests in the region if all it does is empower groups in Hezbollah. I've maintained in the past that even if that short-run effect takes place, democratization remains the proper long-term strategy. However, Tuesday will provide fresh evidence of whether even the short-run costs are as great as many people fear. If Hezbollah musters fewer people than expected in counter-demonstrations, then it suggests the fear of radicalism in a democratizing Middle East might be misplaced. [And if there are huge counter-demonstrations?--ed. Hey, then I'm wrong. But the social scientist in me is more excited about the prospect that there will soon be data to examine the hypothesis than worried about being wrong.]
UPDATE: The Council on Foreign Relations has an informative interview with Stephen A. Cook on the Syria-Lebanon dynamic from late February. Two useful tidbits:
ANOTHER UPDATE: Lee Smith will be posting daily dispatches for Slate this week from Beirut. His first posting contains this amusing paragraph:
posted by Dan on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM
Dan, HA mobilized 500K in the southern suburbs during Ashura.posted by: praktike on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
From what I read in the interview, Nasrallah didn't call for Syrian troops to stay in Lebanon per se. His statements seemed to be more inclined to say
In a genuine democratic election Hezbollah will probably do even better than in the gerrymandered system currently in Lebanon. However, the organization will lose its popularity if it starts supporting Syrian troop presence in Lebanon. I predict this is just part of post-Syria political jockeying.
Ultimately, the other groups (none of whom have clean hands, incidentally) need to find a way to get Hezbollah to disarm (or make its milita part of the army). Maybe some deal that gives Shia their real representation in parliament would work. But it is dangerous to keep private militias around, especially in a fragile society.posted by: erg on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
I predict the enthuasism for democracy in the Middle East in US neocon circles will fade somewhat after the next Palestinian elections, especially if Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyr's brigades participate fully. Hamas did very well in local elections (they boycotted the main election). Al Aqsa struck some deal with Abbas last time.
That being said, I think this is positive. Anything that induces Hamas, Hezbollah, even the Muslim Brotherhood, to put aside arms and negotiate is good. Furthermore, politicians typically have a stake in the society, they have positions and portfolios to defend, so they're less likely to strap on suicide belts.
"Size doesn't matter" includes manufactured crowds for propaganda purposes. A social scientist would not point to a demonstration in the US as tangible evidence of the broader public's opinion. Even if there's no impartial polling data in Lebanon, there's no reason to replace "no data" with "bad data".
The press will make a big deal about the size of crowds, but you're too smart to fall for that, aren't you?
You're missing the point. The crowd is testimony to Hezbollah's political strength, discipline and influence in Lebanon, not so much as to the depth of support for Syria. It may be a manufactured crowd, but in any case, its testimony to Hezbollah's ability to organize crowds, which is significant in and of itself.
Actually, the root cause of Hezbollah's position is that Syria is its conduit for weapons and its guarantee that all the other groups in Lebanon will never act on their belief that a group that exists to wage war on Lebanon's much more powerful neighbor Israel is maybe not such a good thing to have.
The farther Lebanon moves toward being a normal country not constantly on the brink of war the less importance someone like Nasrallah has. He has gotten used to being a prominent figure in international Muslim politics, and has no interest in fighting parlimentary battles over which roads get fixed in Nabatiyah. There isn't much question that supporting the Syrian presence will reduce Hezbollah's popularity with other Lebanese, but popularity is not the only reason Hezbollah got to where it is today.posted by: Zathras on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
I'm not sure I agree entirely with that -- the other Lebanese groups, many of which spent decades slaughtering each other are rarely united on anything (except possibly getting Syria out). Nor is there any particular liking for Israel in most Lebanese groups. Jumblatt was saying a year back that it was shame that Wolfowitz hd not been assasinated.
And while Lebanese in general may not share Hezbollah's desire to continue fighting Israel, many of them probably remember that Hezbollah was actually able to drive Israel out of Lebanon.
Hezbollah has a significant social services division. They've also been running for elections since 1992. Were it not for the gerrymandered system in Lebanon, their elections results would probably be better. Of course, their real power has never derived from parliament.posted by: erg on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
Bah, here it starts again. The simple fact is that Syria has been an overall beneficial and stabilizing influence in Lebanon. It's precipitious departure serves no one, not least democracy.
This has been readily acknowledged by the United States - which is why twice in 1976 and in 1990 the US Administration approved Syria moving into Lebanon to administrate it.
For suggesting that this policy was a wise move and it eventually laid the groundwork for the nascent beginning of democracy I have been accused by Buehner and others in stunning ignorance of simple history of "praising fascism".
I stopped responding because it became clear that they were ignorant partisan jeering rather than real debate.
Likewise the destabilization of the Hezbullah faction could have easily been predicted. Hezbullah needs time to transition from a military organization to a full fledged political party. Some agreement allowing them to remain an armed border guard on the Isreali border is called for.
Another stabilizing factor could be international acceptance of a phased Syrian pullout.
However hotdog Bush 43 wants to get all the credit for pushing Syria out when it had really nothing substantial to do with this invasion of Iraq policy. So now he is pushing for a step that would radically destabilize the situation and potentially lead to a breakdown in civil order in Lebanon.
Lebanon needs time to negotiate a phased and incremental historical change of government and sovereignty. The partisan hacks who viciously attack Syria fail to understand that this was Bush 41's policy goal - for a gradual pacification of Lebanon and gradual diplomatic and grassroots move toward democratic norms.
Moving too fast in order to try to falsely garner credit for what was actually his father's planted policy fruits Bush 43 threatens to wreck the entire process.
When I defended the notion that Syria might have been the incubator of democracy, and the universal application of democracy as objective social development, I was doing nothing less than defending Bush 41's policies.
Then again that's why I am called the oldman. Not because of my objective chronological age, but because I actually remember history. That and I am a crochety grouchy and grumpy curmudgeon.
Being so at this moment I pause to sneer at Buehner and the rest of the silly wanna-be hawks who are completely ignorant of both history and how actual reality works.
Barely 18 months later, after a sapping inter-Christian war between Mr Aoun and the main Christian militia, Syrian troops descended on Baabda and Mr Aoun fled to the French embassy and later to exile in France.
The Syrian move had a green light from Washington.
Damascus was backing the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein in Kuwait at the time, so things were different."
"I predict the enthuasism for democracy in the Middle East in US neocon circles will fade somewhat after the next Palestinian elections, especially if Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyr's brigades participate fully."
I predict the critics that have been unhappilly biting their tongues for the last few weeks will quickly let their suspicians and pessimism for democracy be showcased to the world.
"Being so at this moment I pause to sneer at Buehner and the rest of the silly wanna-be hawks who are completely ignorant of both history and how actual reality works."
Enough said. Sneers never solved anything, and clealry you have no answers to offer other than vague reactionary nastalgia for what most other Earthlings would call brutal fascism. Their is no stability in the iron boot. Not knowing this aptly demostrates your own lack of historical perspective.
Let me know when you have something to offer besides criticism.
"I stopped responding because it became clear that they were ignorant partisan jeering rather than real debate."
You stopped responding because you couldnt come up with any substantitive response.posted by: Mark Buehner on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
It is indeed amusing to see the same wingnuts who call for asking democratic countries and leaders to defy the wills of their populace and send troops to Iraq to suddenly develop a love for democracy. Mind you, these are the same people urging a ban on Al Jazeera, which is the closes thing to a free channel in the Arab world (Al Arabiya is owned by the far more illiberal Saudi royal family). And these are the same people who want to handle terrorism suspects to countries that routinely torture suspects (see the Renditions program).
Al Aqsa struck a deal with Abbas in which their leader did not contest the elections. Similarly, Hamas boycotted the parlimaentary elections, but will probably do very well in the next elections later this year. Hezbollah, as othres have mentioned earlier, in a genuinely free election will do well in Lebanon.
Acknowledging this is not negativism about democracy -- it is simply cynicism about how the wingnuts who despise democratic West European countries that do not always support the US will react when faced with democracies that actively oppose the US.
posted by: Janak on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
Oldman --- everyone knows that the Lebanese waters were exceedingly murky during their civil war.
Palestinian Guerillas killed Christians. Christian militiamen slaughtered Palestinians in refugee camps. Syria moved troops in to protect Christian groups, then fought them. Maronites killed each other. Israel fought Hezbollah. Syria fought Palestinans. The CIA tried to kill Hezbollah with car bombs. Syria clashed with Hezbollah (yes, really). Druze fought Maronites fought Palestinians fought Sunni fought Shia fought Israel.
There were many strange bedfellows in the war and no one has clean hands. SOme of the bizarre temporary alliances (Syria and the US) for instance, come out of that. I don't think its fair to blame Bush for the policies of that era.
That being said, all parties involved: Druze, Maronies, Sunni, Hezbollah, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US do need to be careful to ensure they don't reignite the civil war.posted by: erg on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
"Acknowledging this is not negativism about democracy -- it is simply cynicism about how the wingnuts who despise democratic West European countries that do not always support the US will react when faced with democracies that actively oppose the US. "
Its a fair point, and i acknowledge that there probably are some small segment of the 'neocon' school that will be surprised that democracy isnt a total panacea to US interests. But for the most part the argument is a straw man. If the choices are an anti-American Lebanon ruled by Syria or an anti-American democracy, well that a no-brainer isnt it? Turkey seems to hate our guts but Turks arent flooding into Baghdad with grenade belts. Despite what some of the shortsighted are arguing, democracy is a critical, if not singular, step on the road to prosperity and hence peace. This nation was supposedly built on the premise that God gave us our liberty. I simply cant follow those who believe that is true for us but not for our neighbors, or that we shouldnt support their self-determination until they reach some arbitrary threshold that we decided on. That used to be exactly the kind of cultural arrogance progressives (often rightly) savaged American foriegn policy over. What has changed except the politics?posted by: Mark Buehner on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
As I recall, what the first Bush administration wanted most of all in 1990 was to keep Lebanon from splitting the allied coalition against Iraq, period. I didn't think at the time that the policy it followed was a mistake and I still don't, but the idea that it was intended to lay the foundations for Lebanese democracy would have come as a surprise to Jim Baker. Or Dick Cheney for that matter.
As for the time Hezbollah needs to become a political party, that is indeed part of Lebanon's dilemma. The amount of time Hezbollah would need for this well exceeds the life expectancy of all but the youngest Lebanese. In the interim it will remain a terrorist organization, because that is what its leadership wants it to be. The number of Lebanon's Shiite Muslims would suffice to sustain Hezbollah as a political party; to remain an effective terrorist organization it needs Syrian support.posted by: Zathras on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
Besides, what were are alternatives in the Cedar Revolution? Make it clear to Syria we werent going to interfere when they machine gunned the streets clear? Was that the 'smart' move?posted by: Mark Buehner on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
In this case, yes. But what if Egpyt continues to ban the Muslim Brotherhood from running in elections and arrests thousands of people without trial as it did a few months back after the bombings ?
What about killing the British Ambassador last year ? And there have been occasional reports of Turkish insurgents in Iraq (not a lot, but then there are not a lot of foreign inusrgents in Iraq).
I am not so cynical -- I believe that Bush and at least some neocons such as Wolfowitz genuinely want to encourage democracy. However, I also think that many of them are simply unwilling or intellectually unable to grasp the idea of hostile democracies. Just as it is an article of faith for some progressives that the US can do no good, its an article of faith for some neocons that the US can do no harm.
Consider this -- many anti-UN type neocons have been complaining recently that most countries in the UN are not democratic. True, but at least ont he war in Iraq, most of the people of those countries opposed the war, and in many cases (such as Spain), the countries were urged to support a war their people opposed. And the most undemocratic part of the UN is the veto -- if the US wants more democracy in the UN, the best way is to lead by example and avoid using the veto.posted by: janak on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
"However, I also think that many of them are simply unwilling or intellectually unable to grasp the idea of hostile democracies. "
Thats an interesting thought and I admit I hadnt considered it. Bush has angered me many times over with his failure to grasp the significance of certain situations and act with the according zeal. Nonetheless, he hasnt purged the realists from his circle, and with Cheney and Rumsfeld around I dont doubt he will be able to forget such things. Those two have been witness or participants in half of American foriegn policy for the last half a century.
"Dan, HA mobilized 500K in the southern suburbs during Ashura."
Half a million ? Lebanon's population is not known because there hasn't been a censur for decades, but its probably around 3.5 - 4 million. Shia are probably around 40%. So the shia would be around 1.5 million max. So 500K would be 1/3rd of the Shia population in Lebanon. That seems way too high.posted by: erg on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
I'm not entirely sure that the number of people demonstrating is any sort of scientific example. In the first place, there is the difficulty of estimating crowd sizes, which tend to vary. Also, the great danger of radicalism isn't in the ones who march, its the far smaller group that isnt even interested in peaceful marching. Finally, can you tell how committed they are to marching ?
Also, each Middle East country is unique and you cannot extrapolate from one to the other that easily. So the scientific validity of such an exercise appears limited.
Election reults might be a better indication - in any country where reasonably free elections are held.posted by: MEModerate on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
You are applying a double standard. Jim Baker and others could not have predicted the outcome of a potential Lebanese sovereignty but they did understand that civil politics required stability and took the required steps to generate it - and hoped for the best. Democracy is a product of social evolution. One can only set the conditions, provide encouragement, and hope for the best.
As for Mark Buehner do the names Turkey, Japan, South Korea, India, Phillipines, or Taiwan mean anything to you? Because they were all products of colonial or military administration that yes sometimes used jack-boot tactics and they developed naturally into democracies.
I find it amusing that you need to resort to rhetoric that sounds plausible yet is easily debunkable from history.
Military administrations do not create democracy, but they can set the environment from which a civil society and democracy can emerge.
And no I am not for Syrians gunning down people in the streets for political demonstrations but in all fairness the Syrians didn't threaten to do that either.
You have this strange cariacture in your brain that makes you refuse to acknowledge facts readily verifiable from history - because it refuses to conform to your idea of good and bad guys.
I'm sorry. Real life doesn't work like that. And if Bush 43 isn't responsible for Lebanese tensions he is responsible for destabilizing the situation by pushing for a quick withdrawal rather than a phased pullout. Power vacuum - I thought people would learn the meaning of these words after the post-invasion Iraq debacle. Without a clear source of authority and negotiated social aggreements societies an quickly fall into anarchy.
And Zathras, we do not have to know for a certainty the result of our actions in order to hope for them - or be credited for them when they do succeed. Otherwise parenting if it were to be based on only future certain knowledge of success, would be a hopeless cause. You just try your best and hope your kids turn out right.
In the same way, the conditions were set by the Bush 41 Administration, hoping to create security and a civil society that would one day bear potential democratic fruit. It is not too churlish to give them credit where credit is due - or to temper rhetoric about "jack-booted fascism" when it is wise to remember that a Republican President choose to acquiesce to Syrian occupation to stabilize regional matters.
This is of course the problem with imagining that there are simple good guys and bad guys in the world. It simply doesn't work.posted by: oldman on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
You would set the whole middle-east on fire and engulf it in flames in a darwinian survival of the fittest. How generous of you. In the first place, history does not indicate that democracies readily emerge from such an environment. Second of all, I wonder if you yourself would be willing to submit yourself and your own family to such a purging or whether it is "more primitive" cultures and races that need such treatment in your opinon.
I am always amazed at the great number of people who are willing to see someone else suffer without limit to have their own ideas proven right.posted by: oldman on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
"As for Mark Buehner do the names Turkey, Japan, South Korea, India, Phillipines, or Taiwan mean anything to you? Because they were all products of colonial or military administration that yes sometimes used jack-boot tactics and they developed naturally into democracies"
And do the names Nicaragua, Chile, or most importantly Iran mean anything to you? Jackboot thugs propped up by America that were overthrown and turned not only rabidly un-American but further undemocratic? To compare results of American stewardship of South Korea or Japan to what Syria is doing in Lebanon is moral relativism of the highest order, not to mention utterly unrealistic. Again I put it to you, what exactly are you suggesting? That we actively oppose democratic movements in the Middle East in favor of Syria and its ilk? To what end?
"You would set the whole middle-east on fire and engulf it in flames in a darwinian survival of the fittest. How generous of you"
You are suggesting what they have now is any better, or more importantly that endorsing perpetual slavery for the forseeable future is any more generous act.
"In the first place, history does not indicate that democracies readily emerge from such an environment"
History is repleat with examples of democracies emerging from far poorer and more backward places, not easilly and not quickly, but ultimately.
"I am always amazed at the great number of people who are willing to see someone else suffer without limit to have their own ideas proven right."
And I am amazed to see the number of people that fear the dangers of change and treat the brutal status quo as some sort of compassionate solution. Its the doctorine of not getting ones hands dirty and it is bankrupt. Furthermore its one thing to opppose our active intervention and quite another to suggest we should be in active opposition to democratic revolution. Such faith in your fellow humans is charming.
And again, what are your answers?posted by: Mark Buehner on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
Reform demonstrations in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Kuwait, Egypt, Bolivia, Nepal, Morocco, Pakistan, and China.
Oldman if you want your so called policy adopted we'd better kick these people back into the corner quick until you judge them ready for democracy in your infinite wisdom. This is getting out of hand. People getting 'uppity' I suppose.posted by: Mark Buehner on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
"Tuesday's rally was far bigger than the more than 70,000 anti-Syrian protesters who filled nearby Martyrs' Square on Monday."
I would say that the results of Dan's "natural experiment" are in.posted by: Strategist on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
Then why did the pro-Syrian government fall?posted by: Appalled Moderate on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
I'm quite skeptical of the 500K number, as I mentioned earlier in another context.
However, I would not read that much into the size in any case. We all know that Hezbollah is a major player in Lebanon, we know they're well organized, we know that they represent one major group (the Shia community).
I see this as just political jockeying for the post-Syria era. The opposition parties need to strike some sort of deal with Hezbollah that leads to Syrian withdrawal while not humilating Syria or making it appear like an Israeli victory. Some of Syria's economic links to Lebanon can probably be kept as well.
I think the whole experiment idea cited by Dan was not all that meaningful in any case since the crowds weren't pro-Syrian so much as anti-Israel/US. Although one has to give Dan credit for doing something thats rarely done outside of the hard sciences -- suggest a hypothesis with failure and success conditions.
As far as the puppet Syrian government goes, my impression is that Hezbollah was not part of it. Many of these pro-Syrian legislators have little political base outside their small communities. Hezbollah is differnt -- it has a significant political backing.
Although one has to give Dan credit for doing something thats rarely done outside of the hard sciences -- suggest a hypothesis with failure and success conditions.
The problem, of course, is that people alway introduce explanatory interpretations after the fact, like 'the demonstations weren't really pro-Syrian but anti Israeli and anti American'. but of course, these are hypothesis that can be tested to, in theory if not in fact.posted by: stari_momak on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
A line of reasoning that could be used to defend anything as a necessary prelude to something better is a little convenient for me.
Without a century of Jim Crow how would Martin Luther King have been possible? Could we imagine postwar German amity with its neighbors without the monumental disasters caused by German aggression in the first half of the last century? How likely would the rising prosperity of China's economy be without the memory of famine and disaster produced under Communism? These are all perfectly legitimate questions that would rightly be denounced as absurd or worse if they were merely a prelude to a defense of lynch law, the Schlieffen Plan or the Great Leap Forward.
Frankly I doubt there are many sincere defenders on this board of the baleful Baathist regime in Syria or its specific policy of occupying Lebanon and arming the Hezbollah terror gang. There are instead bitter critics of President Bush eager to deny him any credit for some of the encouraging things that have happened in the Middle East recently, whose bitterness has prompted them to adopt some curious positions.
Frankly I'm not so concerned about how much credit Bush gets, not at the moment anyway. Arab history is replete with false dawns, and for all we know this may be one of them. I am more concerned with the direction and objectives of American policy now. For example, does the administration intend to support Lebanese who want Syrian withdrawal from their country as an end in itself, or does it have expectations that developments in Lebanon could lead to the downfall of the regime in Damascus itself? The first objective is both desirable (because a Syrian withdrawal would be a step toward isolating the Hezbollah terrorists) and attainable; the second may be desirable, in the sense that it would be a nice thing to see, but serves no immediate American interest -- and is moreover not obviously attainable.
American leverage in the region is considerable at the moment, but it is not infinite. We still need to set priorities, which is to say we need to focus on the battles we can win and of the more difficult cases concentrate on those that are most important to us. The most important difficult case, right now, is Egypt, not Syria. Evolution of Egypt away from a self-absorbed authoritarianism and toward a more liberal and responsible internal politics would set an example other Arab countries would find difficult to ignore. Nothing that could possibly happen in Syria would be as influential.
Incidentally, the virtue of democracies in the international sphere is not that they are never hostile to one another, but that they rarely war on one another. The whole point of democracy is that it provides multiple options short of force for managing and resolving disputes, and this is as true of external as of internal relations.posted by: Zathras on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
I don't know if I agree with that. Pakistan and India have certainly warred on occasion, even when Pakistan was a democracy. I can attest that the war fervor in democratic India during these times is as intense as in any dictatorship.
As for internal relations, yes democracies offer a whole mix of tools to deal with them sort of repression. But we all know that democracies can breed terror as well (McVeigh and the Anthrax Kiler in the US, terror cells in Germany, France and England, Basque in Spain, Islamist groups in Morocco and Turkey). Russia as a democracy did not hesitate to level Grozny.
I will point (again) to India which has had half a dozen diferent terrorist and separatist groups in the last 2 decades (Sikh terrorists, Tamil terrorists, Islamic extremists, Christian separatists, Maoists, armies based on caste). I can also attest to vast amounts of demagoguery from HIndu, Muslim, Sikh policitians.
So much as I would love to beleive that democracy would lead to less terrorism and wars, I still remain skeptical. This may hold in Europe, burned out by terrible wars for centuries, but in countries that have ancient hates still lingering, it may not.
On the other hand, good solid economic development most definitely reduces the conditions for wars and terrorism. A solid effective jobs program counters terrorism better than almost anything else -- indeed, its part of how many of the small Persian Gulf states operate.
Don't take my word for it , take the word of the head of Hezbollah. Thats what he said.
Look, people (even a people as divided as Lebanese) don't like being occupied. That holds for Lebanon as much as it holds for Palestine or even Iraq .
Wasn't disputing, just saying the original experiment has fallen on the Hezbollah side. According to falisfication orthodoxy, you have to start all over again.
The whole situation brings up another fascinating social science quandry -- reactivity and complexity. Humans can learn, and here Hezbollah seems to have learned from the tactics of these so-called 'post modern coups'. If the west can finance protestors -- well dressed, nicely printed signs, fueled by free food, etc -- then very quickly the other side(s) will and apparently have learned how to counter-react.Makes analysis tough.posted by: stari_momak on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
What is being lost is the fact that just democracy is a moral end in itself, regardless of American interests. Democracies do go to war, probably less often than tyrants if only because those who are to bleed have some say in it. Democracies also have terrorists, although they would seem to be interested in domestic matters rather than global. Democracies torment minorities, destroy their environment, vote away their liberties, engage in vile wastes of resources, and many other terrible things. Democracy is famously the worst system besides all the others. But there is one thing to say for self-determination: its peoples are responsible as a whole for the actions of their nations, rather than just the few who hold the whips. That is what makes democracies desirable for the international community. Starving Hussein or Castros peasants for years solved nothing, but turning the lights off in Belgrade ended a genocide and turning off the trade taps to South Africa ended apartheid. Without overwhelming military victory, you can never really hurt the dictator, but its easy to hurt the people and thats what makes their decisions more thoughtful and ultimately peaceful. That, aside from the intrinsic rightness of self-determination, is the realist argument for democracy around the globe.posted by: Mark Buehner on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
Just a note: in a sense this was a poor "natural experiment" because the decision to try to hold the rally was endogenous. Perhaps Hezbollah had private information that the rally would work unusually well, and so decided to hold it. If, counterfactually, they had had private information that the rally would work unusually badly they might of chosen not to hold it. Therefore the observed success of the rally would be biased upward. Of course if the rally had failed then one could of still taken that as evidence that Hezbollah had low influence because of the known direction of the bias.
Personally, I reserve the term "natural experiment" for only cases where the treatment is predetermined/exogenous/orthogonal to the dependent variable.posted by: wml on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
Seems that rent-a-crowds have been a fixture for years. It isn't some new tactic. I am sure there is also genuine support in that crowd. If I were Lebanese, I'd be mindful that civil war was the result of Lebanon's last period of self-government. It would give me pause before embracing a Syria-free nation.
You may want to take a look at the Beirut Star for local MSM media info on what's going on. There are stories of Syrian workers being chased out of southern Lebanese cities, negotiations involving Hezbollah, etc. The picture is yet unclear whether this is a Velvet Revolution, or merely a Prague Spring.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
I don't think democracy as a "moral end in itself" is getting lost. It would be lost if it were up to me, but it's all everyone else from the President on down seems to be talking about right now.
Don't get me wrong; I like democracy. It is by far the best form of government over the long haul, and any people striving toward it deserve as much support as we can practicably give them. Americans, however, talk about this subject while taking a lot of things for granted. Perhaps the most important is that elections, even free and fair elections, and democracy are not the same thing. Institutions to protect minority rights, mediate disputes between people and interests, and allow government to function are required as well.
Just as important is the consideration that all this talk of rights and moral ends obscures: democracy makes great demands on the people. It requires self-restraint. It requires constructive participation in resolving problems not one's own. It requires tolerance of differences in creed and customs without indifference to necessary morality. It requires, inevitably, some subordination of loyalties to family, clan, tribe, and religious or regional faction to the interest of the whole.
The United States cannot create any of these things -- not by Presidential rhetoric, not by generous aid programs or the application of military force or the most strenuous demonstrations of goodwill. The peoples of other countries must choose these civic virtues. Some of them will not, even if given the opportunity. The pervasiveness of violence-prone religions, backward and inferior cultures, and all the weight of history are often against those who do.
For these reasons I don't consider that Pakistan or Russia have ever been democracies, though now and again they have had elections. Nor do I think democracy is the sovereign remedy to the problem of Islamic terrorism, though I have hopes it may be helpful in some countries eventually. The things Americans take for granted are often absent -- sometimes, entirely absent -- in the countries for whose democratic futures we have such fond hopes. That doesn't mean democracy cannot succeed in some of these countries (and in the case of Iraq, America having made a commitment of blood and honor has little choice but to try to make it succeed).
It does mean that, at least in the short run democracy is unlikely to take hold in most of them. American foreign policy cannot be based primarily on a calling to lead nations to water at whatever cost to our own interests. The United States is a country, not a church. We should not act and certainly should never pretend to act as if we mean American interests to be subordinate to our dreams for other people's futures.posted by: Zathras on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
Bah Zathras, you're getting weak minded. Whether or not Bush is "getting the credit" is entirely relevant when such a claim is central to his proposal that we accelerate and expand his program of 'coerced democratization' if there is such a thing (Weekly Standard's wording in use of word coerced wrt to promoting democracy not mine) in the middle east in Iran and Syria. Your absurdness begins to approach that of medeveil scholars discussing how many angels dance on the head of a pin.
Of course whether or not Bush get's the credit is an entirely relevant issue - because he has made it so and his cotorie is extending the claim in support not of past policy but future policy! And if you can't see that clearly then all you have provided is meaningless and in the most pejorative sense of the word intellectualized drivel.posted by: oldman on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
You are taking rather extreme liberties in setting up straw men to attack me with the ad hominem that I support fascism or totalitarianism. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am merely adhering to the conservative principle of thought that cultural evolution is slow and incrementalist and local rather than revolutionary or produceable by social engineering or outside intervention.
This does not mean that I wish to discourage democracy but I wish to keep a slow, steady, and gradualist pace of phased reforms and considered applications of promotion.
To be against social engineering by ideological elites and revolutionary rhetoric is the very quintessence of conservatism. I was against this when discussing liberal and leftists attempts at revolutionary transformation and I am against it when discussing attempts to bring democracy 'at the point of a gun'.
When democracy is pushed on people before they have established norms of civic life, they resort to guns and knives to settle their political disputes and not political discourse. It is not their material wealth or level of technology that is key, as you seem to mistakenly ignore, but it is their level of cooperation, institutional soundness, and cultural norms of conflict resolution that are key. A quite technologically primitive tribe can be ready for democracy when they are ready to resolve disputes by group cooperation and not resorting to sticks and stones.
And further it is not I who am to judge, but the recognition that democracies emerge spontaneously out of group dynamics, and our job is to prepare for them, recognize them, and foster them.
As such I would say my faith in democracy as a universal and evolutionary development of mankind is greater than yours.
However that experience tells me that forcible or violently prompted social engineering is unlikely to create democracy precisely because violent environments conflict with non-violent dispute resolution.
However since we have decided to turn the entire middle-east into a live laboratory for your social-engineering experiment on millions upon millions of human beings I guess we really will see who is right about whether or not guns can inspire democracy afterall.posted by: oldman on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
But that is a problem. If the 2 800-pound gorillas of the Arab world (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) remain governed by brutal, repressive, pro-American dictators, what is the right step to take ? Is there any different between the right step morally, and the right step from US interest perspective ? If both had totally free elections, Islamist parties (including Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda style groups) would probably do very well, especially if they're not as nihilistic as Al Qaeda. In fact, in July 2003, before Al Qaeda started attacks in Saudi Arabia, I think that an Islamist group could well have won an election in Saudi Arabia.
Incidentally, I dispute the notion that democracies are more careful about going to war than dictatorships. For 150 years till WW-II, Britain was arguably the most democratic country in the world or the 2nd most democratic (after the US). In that time, it fought dozens of wars: Boer, Crimean, 2 Nepal wars, 2 Afghanistan wars, a dozen wars in India, the war of 1812, wars against Zulus, Arabs, WW-I etc. [I consider only the Napoleonic wars and WW-II to be forced on England].posted by: erg on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
For those who believe the 500,000 figure because they read it:
You will give me all your money.
You just read that, so believe it.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
As I said above, I don't believe the 500K figure. But I do believe a few hundred thousand figure. Hezbollah is a large, well-organized group in Lebanon with some political backing. A democratic Lebanon will have to accomodate this significant political and social group (although hopefully they can be induced to put down their arms). The Bulk of the Shia in Lebanon are far more distrustful of Israel and the US than of Syria.posted by: erg on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
One final comment about democracy: I'm generally concerned that there may be expectations that are too high for the new government in Iraq. For a lot of people, many of whom took great pride in voting, it was a sign of empowerment and a hope for better things. But we know that democacies are slow and sometimes messy, that they're full of compromises. The delight of voting may give away to the cynicism when democracy doesn't improve your condition immediatedly. Also, corruption is a huge scourge of third world countries. Corrupt politicians would lead to further disdain for democracy. Even now the delay of forming a government is angering people (who don't realize how much horse trading is going on behind the scenes).
My suggestion would be to encourage more local, grass roots elections, especially in the South of Iraq. There have already been some, but we need more with some real executive authority. Local councils can make a real difference to people's lives immediatedly.posted by: erg on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
"The Bulk of the Shia in Lebanon are far more distrustful of Israel and the US than of Syria."
A whopping 73 % of Shia think that Israel or the US are behind the Hariri assasination. The corresponding figures for the Druze and Maronites are respectively 12% and and 22%. Clearly there are stark sectarian divisions about the role of Syria in Lebanon and what the best path for the future is.
The current round of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations aren't so much about democracy versus anti-democracy as these sectarian divisions. It is hardly clear that a majority of the Lebanese want a full withdrawl of Syrian forces.
It is worth nothing that the undemocratic Lebanese system of sectarian represenation benefits the Christians at the expense of Shia Muslims. I wonder if the anti-Syrian protesters would support Lebanon moving towards a full-fledged democracy with majority rule which would probably lead to a coalition government led by Shiite parties. What about the Bush administration? Would they support a truly democratic Lebanon which , if it doesn't lead to civil war first, would probably lead to more power for Shiite parties like Hezbollah? I suspect not.
posted by: Strategist on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
Just as 9/11 put a floor under American isolation, Iraq put a ceiling over American interventionism. Iraq has proved to be tough, complicated and expensive enough that I think more interventions are not on the cards in the near future. The neocons who were calling to march on to iran have been sidelined for the nonce.
So I think the possible danger of over-eager American interventionism is minimal at best. An invasion of Iran (which neocons like Victor Davis Hanson and Michael Ledeen were calling for just after Iraq) is not on cards since it would require probably half a trillion dollars in expenditure and probably half a million troops.
The possibility of Bush getting credit does not bother me. Bush has received (justly) blame for the many things that went wrong in Iraq, its reasonable for him to get credit for any positive impacts.
Well, janak, that seems like no more than common sense to me too. It is a proposition some people will never accept, as you know, for the usual reasons. I think I've made clear my reservations about where Bush administration policy might go from here, but denying reality seems to me a poor tactic with respect to giving effect to these reservations.posted by: Zathras on 03.07.05 at 10:47 AM [permalink]
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