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December 13, 2004

Democratic Providentialism

With Krugman on sabbatical and The BarbEhrian off doing, well... whatever BarbEhrians do when they're not forcing conservative female bloggers to commune with the uterus-as-conscience, I had thought it might be safe to once again venture onto the editorial pages of the Times.

Armed with bunny slippers and brimming mug 'o joe, I judged the threat of Bob Herbert did not require an elephant gun and bravely trudged off in search of lib-sign. It was not long before my search bore fruit. If the Op/Ed page doesn't work, the NYT Magazine usually proves a snark-rich hunting environment:

During this year's election campaign, President Bush liked to wind up his stump speech with a peroration about freedom -- and therefore democracy -- being not just America's gift to the world but God's gift to mankind. This line went down well, maybe because it carried the happy implication that when America and its soldiers promote democracy overseas, they are doing God's work, even in Iraq.
The name for this idea is democratic providentialism. It has become the organizing vision of an administration that took power in 2001 actively disdainful of highfalutin foreign-policy uplift. All that John Kerry and the Democrats could put up against it was prudent realism, and to the extent that the election was a referendum on vision, prudent realism lost hands down. The 2004 election closed out the final chapter in a fascinating realignment in American politics. Democrats, who once were heirs of big dreamers like Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, risk becoming the party of small dreams, while the Republicans, who under Nixon and Kissinger seemed determined to divest foreign policy of high moral purpose, have become the party that wants to change the world.

Hmmm... Ignatieff. Remembering my last encounter with this beast, I began to wonder if leaving the elephant gun behind had been wise. I drew a bead on Mr. Ignatieff with my pea-shooter but decided to hold off for the present: further observation of the prey was needed:

But while you may not like the providential aspect of democratic providentialism, it remains true that the promotion of democracy by the United States has proved to be a dependably good idea. America may be more unpopular than ever before, but its hegemony really has coincided with a democratic revolution around the world. For the first time in history, a majority of the world's peoples live in democracies. In a dangerous time, this is about the best news around, since democracies, by and large, do not fight one another, and they do not break up into civil war. As a result -- and contrary to the general view that the world is getting more violent -- ethnic and civil strife have actually been declining since the early 1990's, according to a study of violent conflicts by Ted Robert Gurr at the University of Maryland. Democratic transitions can be violent -- when democracy came to Yugoslavia, majority rule at first led to ethnic cleansing and massacre -- but once democracies settle in, once they develop independent courts and real checks and balances, they can begin to advance majority interests without sacrificing minority rights.

Good God: this beast was sentient! It was clearly not prey at all. I quickly pocketed my pea-shooter and commenced to study its strange cries.

Ignatieff points out that critics of democracy-building don't exactly have the facts on their side:

Democracy has other advantages, some of them chronicled in a persuasive new book called ''The Democracy Advantage,'' by a trio of authors led by Morton Halperin....The real test of democracy is not how it does in countries that are already rich. ...The test is whether democracy works in poor countries without these advantages. Some analysts, like Fareed Zakaria, question whether you can stabilize democracy in countries where per capita income is below $6,000 a year.
Halperin and his colleagues disagree with [the prevailing] ''development first, democracy later'' thesis. Democracy's advantage, they show, becomes apparent when you compare countries below $2,000 in per capita G.D.P. that have turned to democracy -- like the Baltic states, Mozambique, Senegal and the Dominican Republic -- with authoritarian states like Syria, Angola, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe. The poor democracies deliver more growth, lower infant mortality and higher life expectancy.

They also, once they are stable, show a marked decrease in terrorism:

... "Apart from population — larger countries tend to have more terrorists — the only variable that was consistently associated with the number of terrorists was the Freedom House index of political rights and civil liberties. Countries with more freedom were less likely to be the birthplace of international terrorists. Poverty and literacy were unrelated to the number of terrorists from a country. Think of a country like Saudi Arabia: It is wealthy but has few political and civil freedoms. Perhaps it is no coincidence that so many of the Sept. 11 terrorists — and Osama bin Laden himself — came from there."

A second study from the John F. Kennedy School of Government confirmed this finding:

"In the past, we heard people refer to the strong link between terrorism and poverty, but in fact when you look at the data, it's not there. This is true not only for events of international terrorism, as previous studies have shown, but perhaps more surprisingly also for the overall level of terrorism, both of domestic and of foreign origin," Abadie said.
Instead, Abadie detected a peculiar relationship between the levels of political freedom a nation affords and the severity of terrorism. Though terrorism declined among nations with high levels of political freedom, it was the intermediate nations that seemed most vulnerable.

This study was even more interesting as the data suggest emerging democracies were prone to a temporary increase in terrorism that abated once democracy became established: a finding that puts the lie to the "miserable failure" and "lack of planning" memes so popular with regard to the effort to establish democratic government in Iraq.

Ignatieff notes two "problems" with promoting democracy: firstly that democracy may not deliver promised growth, and secondly that a new democratic government may not prove friendly to American interests. Both seem illusory concerns. The example given for growth, that of India, where actual per capita income only doubled was somewhat laughable. If my income "only doubled" I doubt I'd be complaining. I might wish for more, but I would still be twice as well off as before.

As for the risk that the new regime might turn against the US, Ignatieff himself dismisses that one rather effectively. We have propped up enough dictators who later turned against us to know the risks involved. There are only temporary alliances in the world of international politics. That said, a democratic government is more likely in the long run to be friendly to US policies.

Also blogging: Booker Rising

Posted by Cassandra at December 13, 2004 06:13 AM

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Killing them softly with the TRUTH again, are we?
Lib sign usually includes scatological reasoning,
as well as marking of the territory as sacred. (e.g. Uterus-as-conscience)

How wonderful that you now have a new creature to observe: The moderate with the facts.

Posted by: Cricket at December 13, 2004 07:50 AM

Kind of heartening, isn't it?

Ignatieff wrote a piece a while back that infuriated me so much that I just shook with fury.

I stared at it for days, but couldn't write about it - this was in California, but I was just so tired that I couldn't muster the words to refute it. I didn't feel like I had the facts. I knew he was wrong, but didn't have the energy or time to do the research to prove it with my workload at the time. It drove me batty.

I get tired of disagreeing with liberals all the time - there has got to be some common ground, although I suspect Ignatieff may be more of a moderate, I don't know. I don't keep track and anyway I detest labels although I throw them around as much as the next person. They're so convenient :) And so I'm guilty.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 13, 2004 08:03 AM

SO what you saying is that a person who has the right and the power to express himself peacefully through the exercise of his franchise is less likely to explode himself and others as an expression of his disatisfaction?
Thank God for experts.

Posted by: spd rdr at December 13, 2004 08:08 AM

Well, spd, considering that Cass has imploded, exploded, melted, and other wise morphed as a result of illogic and stupidity (regardless if it is left or right, ie Sean Hannity being a right wing twit)
and gotten her own forum so that we didn't have to do the same, I would say, YEAH!

Posted by: Cricket at December 13, 2004 02:48 PM

Hey, didn't the 'Vichy' French government, from 1940 to 1944, have a 'problem' with 'terrorism' from the Maquis, and after democracy was 'restored' in the 5th Republic, did they REALLY have better relations with the US of A? Was that case cited? I think not. But then again, Vichy France was a defacto allie of our declared enemy, Germany, in those years, so yeah, I guess that the new government was an improvement.

I got a lot of scare quotes today to use up.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at December 13, 2004 03:51 PM

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