Daniel Larison

Why Democracy?

Having grown up as a good adherent of representative government, who earnestly believed that empowering the general population would hold in check the concentration of power, guard against power’s corrupting influence and prevent the rise of tyranny, it did not occur to me for some time that theoretically dispersing political power among the many has just as much potential to corrupt the many as it does to guard against the abuses of a few.

Today, we have the same abuses of power that ever occurred under the old order, but ‘we’ have become complicit in all of them. Rather than having abuses that might be corrected by the removal of a ministry or public outrage at misrule, we have abuses of power that become rallying points for entire sections of the country. Democracy on a large scale is nothing other than the organisation of apologists for different bands of tyrants. This is not even the degeneration or ‘inevitable’ fate of democracy in a Platonic sense, but its natural and original character that it possesses from its first day until its last.
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Motivations and Convictions

Oh yes, and, as a headline from a piece by Knight Ridder’s Tom Lasseter and Jonathan S. Landay (who have been doing fine reporting over the last year from Iraq and Washington) puts it: “Iraqi insurgency growing larger, more effective.” They write, in part:

“The United States is steadily losing ground to the Iraqi insurgency, according to every key military yardstick.… ‘All the trend lines we can identify are all in the wrong direction,’ said Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy research organization. ‘We are not winning, and the security trend lines could almost lead you to believe that we are losing.’”

Panic over ineffective Iraqi forces has led to headlines that come right out of the early years of the Vietnam War – as in the following subhead on the front page of the New York Times, “Plan Calls for Thousands of Additional American Military Advisers” that went with the head, “General Seeking Faster Training of Iraq Soldiers” – and a plaint that could have come out of almost any year of the Vietnam War: Why do “their” Iraqis fight so much better and more fiercely than “ours”? ~Tom Engelhardt

Dismal failure also greeted – and continues to greet – Washington’s claims about the successful Iraqification of local security forces. Six months of relentless efforts and constant announcements of further intensification, further speeding up of the process have so far produced only 5,000 trained and dependable Iraqi soldiers for a prospective 120,000-strong army. In the meantime, a third of the 135,000 policemen on the payrolls never even report for duty. Of those who do, only half are properly trained or armed. Time and again, instead of fighting the guerrillas, most police officers either defected or fled. ~Dilip Hiro

My father once recounted to me something that one of his college history professors had told him about military effectiveness and motivation. The subject was the much-maligned Italian fighting man of the 20th century, whose effectiveness had not been very great at all during the Second World War and was even relatively unimpressive during WWI. The professor, Gunther Rothenburg, a military historian and military man himself, knew perfectly well from that modern soldiers from the Italian peninsula had been among some of the most effective fighters and some of the more ingenious generals under Austrian or other regimes. What was lacking, on the whole, in modern Italian armies was the complete lack of motivation, the lack of any reason to be fighting and a lack of any identity with the regime or system under which they were fighting.
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U.S. Preparing for Iran Attack

The U.S. Air Force is playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Iran’s ayatollahs, flying American combat aircraft into Iranian airspace in an attempt to lure Tehran into turning on air defense radars, thus allowing U.S. pilots to grid the system for use in future targeting data, administration officials said.

“We have to know which targets to attack and how to attack them,” said one, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The flights, which have been going on for weeks, are being launched from sites in Afghanistan and Iraq and are part of Bush administration attempts collect badly needed intelligence on Iran’s possible nuclear weapons development sites, these sources said, speaking on condition of strict anonymity.

“These Iranian air defense positions are not just being observed, they’re being ‘templated,’” an administration official said, explaining that the flights are part of a U.S. effort to develop “an electronic order of battle for Iran” in case of actual conflict. ~UPI (courtesy of World Peace Herald)

It is difficult to read in these actions anything other than a plan for an impending U.S. or ‘allied’ military strike in the relatively near future. No state needs to have information on targeting other nations’ air defense systems unless its government means to launch airstrikes against them, and this is a course of action that has not been sanctioned by Congress or accepted by the public.

Not only are these flights quite illegal and provocative by any measure, once again making the United States the aggressor and international outlaw, but they are profoundly unwise. Should something go wrong, or if it were to provoke an incident in which Americans or Iranians were killed, these illicit activities would draw us into conflict with a country with which we have no necessary antagonism. It is frankly incoceivable how, on the eve of Shi’i electoral dominance in Iraq and Iran’s potential ability to explode what little political stability that there is in Iraq, the U.S. government has authorised provoking Iran more and more to take a hostile course against us.

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Neocons and Carter

It is a striking thing to behold contemporary neocons rhetorical infaturation with democracy, as the president who reintroduced this sort of nonsense into high foreign policy discussions as a matter of national policy, Jimmy Carter, is the one whom they greatly loathe above all other recent presidents. After all, he succeeded in making a peace deal between Egypt and Israel, which contradicts everything neocons believe about Israel’s relations with its neighbours, and he happened to preside over the total collapse of Cold War Middle Eastern policy with his insipid endorsement of popular movements around the world. Certainly, Mr. Carter’s response to the Islamic Revolution in Iran was uninspiring, and the rest of his presidential career wasn’t any better, but we should not forget that Mr. Carter’s public turn towards democracy as the theoretical guiding principle of American foreign policy began the process of detaching real American interests from ideological preferences, and identifying American policy with the latter at expense of the former.
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Delusional Democratists

Readers in numbers beyond my ability to reply individually have challenged me whether President Bush’s inaugural speech is a statement of his intentions or merely a celebration of himself and American democracy. Surely Bush doesn’t believe America has the power to remake the world in its own image other than by being an example for others to follow?

The answer is that it doesn’t matter whether Bush believes, or even understands, what he said. The neoconservatives believe it, and they control the Bush administration.

The Bush administration is not establishing any democracies. It is starting a war that will last a generation. That is the neocon plan. They have put their intentions in writing just as Hitler did. It is no protection that their plan is detached from reality. Robespierre was detached from reality, and that did not stop him. So were Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. People with power in their hands who are detached from reality are the most dangerous people of all. The delusional quality of their rantings disarms people from taking them seriously: “Oh, they couldn’t mean that.” But they do. ~Paul Craig Roberts

Mr. Roberts has said it so well that there isn’t much to add. I remember that some people regarded the “axis of evil” speech as ‘mere’ rhetoric or a declaration of principles, rather than what it was: a hit-list of regimes to be destroyed by war. The frequent comparisons by the neocons of that speech to Mr. Reagan’s “evil empire” remark were, as usual, completely misleading, as the substance of Mr. Reagan’s policy was largely one of furthering the thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations. He was willing to combat communism, but not recklessly and not aggressively. To acknowledge the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” which it was, was very different to specifically targeting countries as supposedly mortal dangers to the United States.

Those who imagined that the Iraq war was ever optional after the State of the Union of 2002 are on the same ship of fools who believe Mr. Bush was just talking about some nice, general ideas. On the contrary, he will inaugurate a global pyre of revolution and chaos for his precious goddess, freedom, and offer up untold numbers of dead on the altar to democracy. (Incidentally, the sheer impiety of the speech, on which more later, ought to have shocked a great many more people than it did, but they have been too well-conditioned in singing ‘Nur der Freiheit gehoert unser Leben’ to comprehend the perversity of Mr. Bush’s description of political freedom as if it were itself divine.)

The comparisons that Mr. Bush’s inaugural address have conjured tend to come from Wilson’s call for war against Germany (“make the world safe for democracy”), resulting ultimately in all the horrors of the twentieth century, and Kennedy’s claim that we would “pay any price,” and some 50,000 Americans and a million Vietnamese paid that price for him. We can expect much the same result from the policies that will follow from this speech.

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Hypocrisy Reigns in U.S. Ukrainian Policy

An official U.S. delegation sent to Ukraine’s presidential inauguration last weekend included a Ukrainian-American who has accused Jews of manipulating the Holocaust for their gain and playing an “inordinate role” in the rise of Soviet communism.

Myron Kuropas, an adjunct professor at Northern Illinois University, wrote in 2000: “Big money drives the Holocaust industry. To survive, the Holocaust industry is always searching for its next mark. Ukraine’s turn is just around the corner.”

In a 1996 essay, he addressed Soviet-era atrocities in Ukraine and wrote: “The inordinate role played by Jews in bringing Bolshevism to power is certainly a topic worthy of further exploration.”

Kuropas was part of the delegation led by Secretary of State Colin Powell at Sunday’s inauguration of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

A White House official, who refused to be identified by name, said Tuesday: “We were not aware of his previous statements. Had we been aware of such comments beforehand, we would not have invited Dr. Kuropas to be a member of the delegation.” ~The Chicago Tribune

It is pathetic that the government would have wanted to drop Prof. Kuropas from the delegation to the Ukraine, and all on account of comments that are statements of fact. He has distinguished himself as being one of the leading voices calling attention to the genocide carried out against the Ukrainians by the Soviet government and has made a point of trying to have Walter Duranty’s fraudulent Pulitzer rescinded. Duranty, as we will all recall, was The New York Times reporter who maliciously and dishonestly covered up the Ukrainian famines and genocide out of blatant pro-Soviet bias. What the White House and State Department should regret is their obnoxious interference in another country’s election to support the victory of a criminal, rather than their inclusion of a respectable member of the Ukrainian-American community.
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Defensor Pacis: Failures of Domination, Failures of Liberation

Note: The debut today of the first of several occasional columns for Eunomia, Defensor Pacis, will be the beginning of combining the shorter, more immediate responses to daily news items and commentary that have been typical of this blog and longer, more developed discussions contained in thematic treatments of various contemporary questions. Defensor Pacis will aim to address principally the questions surrounding the proper role and function of government, legitimate authority and the appropriate goals of good government. Naturally, while Marsilio of Padua’s treatise is the inspiration for the name and some of the general conceptions of the work, this column will not always be applying his arguments to contemporary affairs, but will be taking his understanding of government and, by extension, Aristotle’s, as a guide.

The purpose of government is to restrain the wicked, ensure the administration of justice, defend domestic tranquility, repel foreign invaders and secure the lives and property of the people. Good government requires that the prescriptive rights and customary practices of a people be respected by those in authority, and that those subject to legitimate authority cooperate with the authorities for the common good. Free men are not hostile to obedience within limits, and obedience is a political virtue when the political authority remains within its proper limits and fulfills it proper role.

When the authorities fail in their responsibilities, or those who have seized their place fail in fulfilling them, respect for authority will be vitiated, hubris will increase, order will collapse and the blessings of tranquility depart from the land. The failure to execute the duties of legitimate authority deprives it of a great deal of its legitimacy, and it is a matter of practical fact (whether or not it is a so-called ‘right’) that people, who normally desire only these most basic functions of government, will cease to obey and support an authority that has effectively abandoned them. They will fall back upon natural bonds of kinship and the more profound affinities of a common land or a common faith. These are their primary loyalties, and political authority possesses any of this loyalty only upon completion of its duties.

Naturally, a servile nation will fail to reject an authority even long after it has abandoned any pretense to fulfilling its proper role and has worked mightily to sever their natural loyalties. Such a nation will be inordinately preoccupied with the idea of freedom, perhaps in proportion to the degree to which they themselves lack such freedom, and will be obsessed with liberating other nations (however, in the course of things, this liberation has come to mean nothing other than making the others like themselves).
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Outposts of Tyranny?

Condoleezza Rice, President George W Bush’s nominee as secretary of state, has identified “outposts of tyranny” where the US must help bring freedom.

They are Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Burma and Belarus. ~BBC News

Even I will agree that the governments in these countries are more or less dreadful (though some are no worse than some ‘democracies’ in Africa), though the inclusion of Belarus, Cuba and Iran is ridiculous in comparison with the others. Two of these three states, Iran and Cuba, suffer from being on the bad side of domestic American lobbies–otherwise, no reasonable calculation of the oppressiveness of their regimes would merit inclusion in this list with some of these others (unless we were to include China and Turkmenistan among the worst). Belarus’ Lukashenka is an embarrassment even to one-time ally Vladimir Putin, and no one would be happier to see him gone than the government in Moscow, but its government is less repressive than that of democratic Thailand, which has engaged in a massive killing spree in recent years in its own dubious “drug war” dishonestly tied to anti-terrorist rhetoric. Belarus was put on the list as the last remaining former Soviet republic outside Russia not yet gobbled up by some ‘pro-Western reformer’ type. Any move against Belarus would likely be the last straw with Moscow, reeling from a string of insults over the past three years.

Without a doubt, Robert Mugabe’s regime is oppressive and has been a disaster for the once-prosperous Zimbabwe, the junta in Burma is brutal and North Korea is a horrid nightmarish state. Now comes the inevitable question: what of it? Is it worth staking still more reputation, blood and resources on the line to ‘fix’ these countries that do not, by any objective estimation, have strategic importance for assuring the United States’ security? American security interests dictate keeping these regimes from completely collapsing of their own dead weight, not recreating the mayhem of post-Saddam Iraq on four continents. Burma in particular is a political landmine, as its regime has become increasingly tied to China for military, political and economic support.

The managed, careful dissolution of the Soviet Union averted what might have become a a series of destructive conflicts over the succession. The approach to these others should be no different. Calling them “outposts of tyranny,” and then Mr. Bush following up by promising to “end tyranny” on earth, sends a perfectly clear signal: these regimes will be liquidated by Washington one way or another in the coming few years, if Mr. Bush has anything to say about it. Only in Burma would the democrats surrounding Aung San Suu Kyi be remotely prepared to assume a serious leadership role within the next decade.

From the American perspective, which is surely the one that ought to matter most to the American president, there is no practicable way to enforce his vision on the other five countries save his preferred method of violence. Even if his goals were remotely in the American interest, which they are not, he cannot achieve them without unnecessary costs to our country and our armed forces.

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The Democratic Compulsion to Uniformity and Despotism

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

In America’s ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence. This is the broader definition of liberty that motivated the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act and the GI Bill of Rights. And now we will extend this vision by reforming great institutions to serve the needs of our time. ~George W. Bush, Second Inaugural Address

The first quote drips with the propaganda of Lincoln and FDR. It sounds the same as Lincoln’s claim that the Union could continue “half slave and half free,” and just as FDR’s wartime Capra Why We Fight series depicted a “free world vs. slave world” opposition that made participation in the war seem as if it would have been obligatory regardless of Pearl Harbor. The mind of today’s terrible simplifier cannot imagine the continued existence of our way of life and political regime without feeling compelled to alter someone else’s and replace it with some imitation of our own. Of course, free nations can coexist in the same world with those unlike them, and there is no necessary antipathy between them.

Only a regime founded on subversive principles feels the compulsion to expand continuously, ever fearful of being snuffed out by the forces of order and authority. Above all, democracy, like any mass regime, pushes a uniformity of type among its people: because democracy cannot function without a high degree of homogeneity, democratic culture encourages the mediocre, the idea of equality and the fake anti-elitism of the democracy’s public spokesmen in the press and government. This drive to uniformity within leads some radical partisans to believe the entire world must also be made uniform if their own system is to survive.
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Newsflash: Bush Not a Conservative!

But the speech was in almost no way that of a conservative. To the contrary. It amounted to a thoroughgoing exaltation of the state.

Bush has just announced that we must remake the entire third world in order to feel safe in our own homes, and he has done so without sounding a single note of reluctance or hesitation. This overturns the nation’s fundamental stance toward foreign policy since its inception. Washington warned of “foreign entanglements.” The second President Adams asserted that “we go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” During the Cold War, even Republican presidents made it clear that we played our large role upon the world stage only to defend ourselves and our allies, seeking to changed the world by our example rather than by force. Maybe I’m misreading Bush — I’m writing this based on my notes, and without having had time to study the text — but sheesh. ~Peter Robinson

It’s very good to see that more and more erstwhile, or perhaps simply easily fooled, conservatives have begun to run away from the messianic and revolutionary ideas of the administration, or at least from such unapologetically mindless expressions of such ideas. Nonetheless, where have Mr. Robinson and some of these others, troubled by the extremism or excessiveness of the speech, been for the last three years? As for Messrs. Robinson and Simes, I cannot say for sure (they surely weren’t vocal opponents of Mr. Bush’s radicalism, I know that much), but Buckley and Noonan were perfectly willing to sing ‘hallelujah’ to the river god of democratic revolution (and largely still are willing).

Where were these people when we few happy, real conservatives were declaring Mr. Bush unconservative since his lunatic ‘axis of evil’ speech and even before then? How could it have not been clear what Mr. Bush’s universalist pretensions were in the months after September 11? Mr. Robinson is, of course, absolutely right that Mr. Bush enunciated a total departure from traditional American foreign policy, but then he had done that in 2002 to the cheers of people over at NRO. Why must Mr. Robinson couch his criticisms in such a defensive way, as if the fault might lie with his interpretation? The message of the speech was unmistakable: the same Yankee, freethinking way of life will prevail in every corner of the globe, or else the fate of Iraq awaits those who resist.
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