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There Is No Global Struggle Between Democracy and Authoritarianism

Chrystia Freeland joins [1] in exaggerating the significance of protests in Ukraine:

But as in 1989 the most important fault line in the world [bold mine-DL] today runs through a cold, crowded, euphoric public square in Eastern Europe.

Freeland is wrong about this, but her op-ed is interesting as a window into the thinking of people that say such things. If one assumes that there is a “global struggle between democracy and authoritarianism” going on, and if one also believes that the competing factions in Ukrainian politics represent different sides in this struggle, it might almost make sense to think that the most important fault line in the world runs through Kiev. It would still be overlooking a number of more important and dangerous fault lines in East Asia or the Near East, but it would make a certain amount of sense. Since there is no such global struggle to speak of, and the different factions in Ukraine represent competing interests inside one country, all of this effort to impose a grand ideological interpretation onto these events is misguided and wasted.

If there is competition today between “democratic capitalism” and state capitalism, that is obviously a dramatically different kind of competition from the one between the U.S. and the USSR. Thinking of it as a continuation or extension of the latter, as Freeland does, is simply wrong. There is nothing like the Cold War going on today, nor is there even a “cool war” between two ideological camps. Democracy is not at stake in the contest in Ukraine, so we should stop pretending that it is.

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21 Comments To "There Is No Global Struggle Between Democracy and Authoritarianism"

#1 Comment By Richard W. Bray On December 6, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

During the Cold War, supporters of President Reagan’s foreign policy like Jeane Kirkpatrick actually argued that
“Authoritarianism” was a good thing.

The proto-Neocons said that “authoritarian” states (even ones with wretched human rights records) were preferable to “totalitarian” states like the Soviet Union because authoritarian states could someday transition to democracy but totalitarian states could not.

#2 Comment By hetzer On December 6, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

Wouldn’t the end of the Cold War also be the closing (or at least lessening) of a fault line?

#3 Comment By Emilio On December 6, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

It’s true that there is no fault line in Kiev, and Ukraine is naturally closer to Russia than to the EU. But there IS a degree of ideological and sometimes even material struggle between authoritarian forms of government and more broadly representative ones. It may not be as pronounced as it was during the Cold War, but it’s real. Wasn’t the whole point of America to demonstrate that republicanism is better suited to man’s true nature than authoritarian alternatives? As long as there is a shortage of freedom, there will be a struggle against it waged by someone. If not this democracy, then hopefully some other will formulate policy with “internal unpleasantness” factored into the equation, somewhere, somehow, given some kind of weight and consequence. Does that mean a declaration of war every time there’s political repression abroad? No. But it means acknowledging that the philosophical/political struggle between democracy and authoritarianism is real, it’s global–in reach and scale and scope, even if not explicitly organized TO BE global–and sometimes it might just require one to take a side, unpleasant as that may seem.

Regarding Ukraine’s current position, I largely agree with you, DL. I just wanted to make my usual statement against isolationism.

#4 Comment By James Canning On December 6, 2013 @ 7:05 pm

Fair assessment, by Daniel L. And I think chances are fair to good that Ukraine will end up joining the EU.

#5 Comment By Puller58 On December 6, 2013 @ 8:41 pm

If anyone notices, the cretins in the Tea Party on Capitol Hill appear none-too-interested in the Ukraine. Those that per chance will in the future will signal the absorbtion of the Tea Party into the neocon controlled Establishment.

#6 Comment By Jamie Estevez On December 6, 2013 @ 8:55 pm

I would argue that it is the Western powers, especially the United States, the UK and the EU that is leading the way to the totalitarianism of the future. They are making the Orwellian Big Brother Nightmare a reality, yet they have the nerve to criticize the Ukraine and Russia. The Russians are if anything masterful of pointing out the hypocrisy of the US government and the other Western powers.

#7 Comment By philadelphialawyer On December 6, 2013 @ 8:59 pm

Emilio:

If the conflict between authoritarianism and democracy must be conceived of as running along a fault line, perhaps it makes more sense to view that line as running, not between countries, or blocs, along border lines, but within countries themselves. In that sense, and that sense only, the line might indeed run through a square in Kiev.

But the sides, directly contrary to what Ms. Freeland (whose full column, it should be mentioned, is much, much more about capitalism than it is about democracy) claims, are that the protestors represent autocracy and the government democracy. The government was elected, the protestors by definition are representing a minority view. And while there is nothing wrong with a minority engaged in peaceful protest, per se, there actually is something wrong with protest designed to induce foreigners, such as you, me, Ms Freeland, President Obama, Mr. Charles Krauthammer, various EU officials, to take sides and intervene against one’s own elected government. Particularly in a country such as Ukraine, where foreigners have intervened so recently, and particularly in a situation like this, in which the foreigners have their own obvious and selfish interests (interests which relate to their own economic well being, not democracy, freedom, etc) in the outcome of the question at hand.

I know you are more or less conceding the particular case, but more generally, instead of talking about “taking sides” in foreign countries for “freedom” and “democracy,” on the one hand, or “isolationism” on the other, you might take the cue of a poster on the previous Ukraine thread, who mentioned that folks right here in the USA would like more of a say in how their government does things, and, perhaps, that Mr. Krauthammer might do better by working towards that goal, rather than supposedly trying to “empower” the people of Ukraine.

We (you, me, all Americans) can and should fight for democracy and freedom where we live, and work and have a real stake, ie right here in America. It is not as if those two values are immune from attack here. Instead of fighting wars overseas for freedom, we might, as you yourself said, fulfill the “whole point” of America, which was to “demonstrate that republicanism is better suited to man’s true nature than authoritarian alternatives.” And we can do that best by BEING republican, and thereby providing that demonstration. Rather than clumsily at best, and with the all too possible corruption of purpose as the most likely occurrence, or, worst of all, simply because of bloodlust and the mad urge to power as demonstrated by Mr. Krauthammer, et al, taking on the role of fighting for what we think or claim to think or pretend to think is “freedom” in other countries.

#8 Comment By Cornel Lencar On December 6, 2013 @ 10:10 pm

It is state capitalism against corporate capitalism lead by the financial sector. Democratic capitalism is a silly thing

#9 Comment By Emilio On December 7, 2013 @ 12:00 am

Philadelphialawyer, the two need not be mutually exclusive. And not everyone who argues for a foreign policy that is responsive (in some shape or form) to human rights necessarily agrees with Krauthammer. As your standard secular liberal and social democrat, I think he relishes being a rabble-rouser and gadfly much like the late Hitchens, less analyst than polemicist but not quite as entertaining. Almost every time I make the mistake of reading him, I regret it afterward, because he’s just not imaginative enough to meet his own ambitions.

In our domestic policy considerations, our version of “human rights” are enshrined into law, and our first job is to make sure those laws are being honored, as you correctly point out. Other societies have their own social contracts, and looking after them and/or reforming them as needed is their primary responsibility. And you are right that there are fault lines within societies, including our own, and our main responsibility is safeguarding the home front. But those aren’t the only fault lines, and that’s not our only responsibility. Even if international customs and laws are weak and international outcomes often deeply uncertain, the security, health and stability of our neighbors and the environments we operate in is one of our significant points of interest in life. So it is strange to hear that we have little or no interest in the internal affairs of Ukraine. That’s like saying we have no similar interest in Ireland. But I think that not only we as citizens but our representatives, including the President, are empowered to make value judgments–judiciously!–about Israeli settlements in the West Bank, for example, or the Troubles in Northern Ireland, or the oppressive force of communism on Eastern Europe, or the oligarchy in modern Russia, or patriarchy in the Islamic world, or anywhere else that people are obviously getting shafted hard. The only questions are of strategy and timing and effectiveness, not whether we have the right to “interfere.”

#10 Comment By old guard On December 7, 2013 @ 1:03 am

The real fault line runs through countries, not regions. It runs through ours. It is evident in the shocking, unprecedented disparities in income and wealth and the reduction of formerly representative governments to instruments of social control – mass surveillance being a chief symptom – by a small class of the monstrously wealthy.

#11 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 7, 2013 @ 5:05 am

It’s hard to see how promoting freedom for corporations to do whatever they want overseas has anything positive to offer democratic accountability anywhere. A government whose domestic and foreign policies consist mostly of serving corporate freedom against that of empowering individuals is really one in which authoritarianism overwhelms republicanism.

Every nation’s power elites now collude in deceiving their citizens, a thoroughly anti-democratic and authoritarian practice. There is a protracted outage of the “lights of a city upon a hill.”

#12 Comment By philadelphialawyer On December 7, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

Emilio:

“…not everyone who argues for a foreign policy that is responsive (in some shape or form) to human rights necessarily agrees with Krauthammer…”

Of course not. As I mentioned, Krauthammer represents the worst of what I see as the typical trichotomy. At best, in most cases, intervention in foreign affairs is “clumsy.” Because we don’t live in those countries, don’t understand all the ins and outs, and are prone to make mistakes about who really supports democracy and freedom and who just claims to. Next, we have the situation where intervention perhaps begins in all earnestness, but then, over time, corrodes or degrades into something worse. And, then, finally, we have intervention of the neo con/Krauthammer variety, which is all about power and domination ab initio. In other words, intervention can be quite wrong and indefensible, and not even approach the level of evil represented by Mr. Krauthammer.

“Even if international customs and laws are weak and international outcomes often deeply uncertain, the security, health and stability of our neighbors and the environments we operate in is one of our significant points of interest in life.”

Perhaps the answer to weak international laws and customs is to strengthen them, and international institutions. That way, if intervention does occur, it will be less likely to occur because of misunderstanding or simple power politics disguised as morality. Hence the UN Charter. Hence the no war is legal unless approved by the UNSC or undertaken clearly in self defense doctrine. For the UNSC to approve a war, it means that “the West” (ie the USA, the UK, and France) and Russia and China have at least tacitly accepted the necessity of it (by not exercising their vetoes) and that a majority of all SC members, permanent and temporary, have also agreed. Not perfect, by any means, not perfectly democratic, not perfect for ensuring freedom, and not perfect procedurally. But better both than nothing and better than each country, but particularly the powerful ones, deciding on their own, subject to all the mistakes listed above, to go to war.

Make that regime stronger and better, and you will do more to promote freedom and democracy than by all the unilateral or “coalition of the willing” interventions real, planned, or imagined.

“So it is strange to hear that we have little or no interest in the internal affairs of Ukraine. That’s like saying we have no similar interest in Ireland.”

Maybe I’m missing something here, but it seems to me that “we” (ie the USA, Americans) do, in fact, have no similar interest in Ireland. Ireland should be run the Irish, as they see fit. Just as Ukraine should be run by the Ukrainians, as they see fit.

“But I think that not only we as citizens but our representatives, including the President, are empowered to make value judgments–judiciously!–about Israeli settlements in the West Bank, for example, or the Troubles in Northern Ireland, or the oppressive force of communism on Eastern Europe, or the oligarchy in modern Russia, or patriarchy in the Islamic world, or anywhere else that people are obviously getting shafted hard.”

It is one thing to make value judgments and quite another to go to war. You mention Israel, well, in my view, US aid and support to Israel should be cut off completely. That is how “we,” the USA, should exercise our value judgment. Not by going to war with Israel. As for Ireland, I guess you are talking about Northern Ireland. It seems to me that a peaceful, more or less democratic solution is already working there. So why would or should the US interfere, much less intervene? The Communists are long since gone from E Europe, so that hardly is relevant. From there you move to more and more global and less specific concerns. Russian and Ukraine are too “oligarchical,” Islamic societies too “patriarchal” for your tastes. And, therefore, people are getting “the shaft.” Well, those criticisms, and others, can be, have been and still are leveled against the USA as well. People here “get the shaft” quite regularly as well. Does that justify intervention against us? Or does it only work one way?

Leaving that hypocrisy aside, are we to intervene everywhere in the world, until….what? The whole world meets some definition of democracy and freedom, including anti oligarchical and gender equality standards, promulgated by the USA and its president?

Sorry, but that actually DOES put you in the Krauthammer, Jacobin camp. You think that the way the USA and the West does things should be spread, by force if necessary, across an unwilling world. That is just the kind of universalist ideology that the neo cons embrace and that makes for endless war. In the name of freedom and democracy you would kill millions, bankrupt our country, and subvert the very freedom and democracy, here and abroad, that you purport to want to spread.

“The only questions are of strategy and timing and effectiveness, not whether we have the right to ‘interfere.’

Actually, those are not only NOT the only questions, but they are not the most important ones, either. In a post colonial world, in a world in which the UN Charter is international law, we, actually, have no right whatsoever to interfere. The liberal international order, which the USA not only supported but actually midwifed, makes non intervention in the absence of UNSC approval or self defense THE paramount provision of international law.

Violating that principle, believe it or not, was the basis, even though it was somewhat avant la lettre and thus dubious legally, for war crime and crime against humanity trials in Germany and Japan after WWII. Pursuing an aggressive war, according to the USA and its WWII allies, is war crime. Tony Blair actually received official legal advice warning him that authorizing UK involvement in the US war on Iraq could be the basis of a criminal indictment, in the UK courts or international tribunals, based on the crime of aggressive war. Think about that.

Nor is this mere legalism. The law, as it usually is, has a basis in morality. The moral principle here is that of self determination. No society has the lawful right, the authority, to remake another, by force, merely on its say so that the changes it wishes to make would be improvements.

So, no, while matters of effectiveness and strategy inevitably come into play, they are not the main point. The main point is that “we” (you, me, the USA, the West generally) have no moral or legal right to play God and tell the rest of the world how to run their societies, even if they choose to do so in violation of some of the things that “we” hold dear, or claim that we do.

“Philadelphialawyer, the two need not be mutually exclusive…”

Actually, Emilio, I think they are. We can’t be war mongering imperialists abroad and expect to remain freedom loving democratic republicans at home. We can’t be Imperial Rome when we face the world and yet be Switzerland when we face each other. No more than the Romans could maintain their republican institutions at home when they became an empire abroad. To intervene abroad on a regular, ongoing basis, means the maintenance of an MIC, a national security/espionage State, that is anathema to constitutional rights, freedom generally, and meaningful self government. The fight for freedom and democracy has to be fought here, in the USA, against the NSA and the like, not against boogymen in the Ukraine,Russia or “the Islamic world.”

#13 Comment By James Canning On December 7, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

The ruling clique in Ukraine like the insider deals that make them so rich. EU-style reforms obviously would erode their profitable programme.

#14 Comment By karen Bidwell On December 7, 2013 @ 7:41 pm

Call it what you will, this is resource politic — Who gets the goods and who doesn’t. Give it any ideology you like, the extraction industries will carry on and be they oil, natural gas, water or gold the politics of self reveranace will trump policy every time. Not surprised at the depth of involvement with PACs and am also not surprised that social concerns will act as the beard. We’ve had opportunity — the wellspring of constructive conservative thought — and wasted it on a bunch of thugs.

#15 Comment By Emilio On December 7, 2013 @ 11:59 pm

philadelphialawyer, the blog post is about Ukraine, and no one is talking about invading Ukraine because of the protests, nor about America invading Israel because we don’t like the settlements – where did that come from? Since when is war the only form of foreign engagement?

I lived under communism for a while. The people in communist Eastern Europe who were not living in completely rural environments knew that the West was richer and freer and safer and better in almost every respect than they were. They knew this even though the vast majority never had the opportunity to actually see the West. They knew because of ties of kinship and perceived kinship, cultural kinship, historical relationships, the slow seeping of information back and forth, and the application of plain common sense. For me, after we made it to Austria, the rumors were confirmed. Austria was better off than Romania. The US is better off than El Salvador. Tens of thousands of Americans are not riding to El Salvador packed on top of trains, looking for work. South Philadelphians aren’t moving to Cambodian villages, the reverse is true. French and English families aren’t smuggling themselves into Sudan, and Germans aren’t flooding Albania looking for work. So is it really fair to say that I want to spread freedom to the whole world and have it all become like America? What a caricature. The world already wants to become like America and the West and every other stable and desirable place in very measurable ways and they vote with their feet. Plenty of decent people in Russia and Ukraine know that they as a society are doing something wrong in certain areas, compared to other societies who are succeeding in those areas, and they know it would behoove them to learn. Just like it would behoove America to learn from others as well, especially about conservation as well as the social safety net. But again, how are the two mutually exclusive? America has things to learn, and things to teach. Why cut out one at the other’s expense?

Regarding Israel, I disagree. The problems there are serious, but I don’t see how cutting off aid would do anything but give up all of our leverage with them. It would be a catastrophe for anyone who actually wanted to influence them for the better –and no, not by invading them.

Regarding international law, you make some good points and they’re appreciated. However, I was less than thrilled when you called me a Krauthammerian Jacobin… but I’ll get over it. I know full well I’m not a war-mongering imperialist, although I may have a broader outlook on our freedom of action and the propriety of active involvement. But please stop insisting that I want to invade every country I’m interested in.

#16 Comment By philadelphialawyer On December 8, 2013 @ 11:53 am

Emilio:

First of all, armed intervention is not only wrong, but illegal, under international law. That is not merely “a good point,” but a fact.

The main issue is not really what you, on an ad hoc basis, say you “want” to do, the issue is what your theory leads to, the natural conclusions of your principles. As you mentioned, expediency and tactics may color your choice of where and how to intervene. But, shoot, that is true of the Krauthammmer neo cons as well. They too pick and choose their targets, based on expediency and relative weakness. But on the level of what SHOULD be done, what would be done if it could be done, you are no different than they are. You see Western ways of doing things as inherently better than others. Indeed, you set up a hierarchy, with the USA at the top, and everyone else being prevented from being just like it by nefarious forces. And you would invade them, if you thought that matters of tactics and expediency permitted, to “rectify” that situation. At best, you are a Jacobin with a small “realist” component.

And, by the way, most people migrate to follow economic opportunity, which does not necessarily correlate with democratic government. Plenty of Black Africans migrated to South Africa under apartheid, but what does that prove? Other than that SA had a modern economy?

“So is it really fair to say that I want to spread freedom to the whole world and have it all become like America? What a caricature. The world already wants to become like America and the West and every other stable and desirable place in very measurable ways and they vote with their feet.”

Guffaw! How is it a caricature when, in the next sentence, you admit it is correct! According to you, in your wisdom, the whole world wants to be like America, and, in a perfect universe, you would help them do just that.

“Plenty of decent people in Russia and Ukraine know that they as a society are doing something wrong in certain areas, compared to other societies who are succeeding in those areas, and they know it would behoove them to learn.”

Leaving aside who is “decent” and who is not, it seems to me that both Russia and Ukraine have elected governments. Apparently, the majority in those countries do NOT want what you say they want. You don’t even have an argument about some putative, speculative majority longing to be just like the USA and the EU and being held back by an unelected dictatorship.

“Just like it would behoove America to learn from others as well, especially about conservation as well as the social safety net. But again, how are the two mutually exclusive? America has things to learn, and things to teach. Why cut out one at the other’s expense?”

Its not about learning and teaching, its about projecting power and bullying. And, even short of war, the US does plenty of it, with its trade sanctions and diplomatic wars and so forth. Things the US would never accept from the Ukraine or anyone else. We can learn and teach without “intervening.” And intervening, too much and too regularly, as I said, destroys what is good about what we have here. Something you have failed to address at all.

“Regarding Israel, I disagree. The problems there are serious, but I don’t see how cutting off aid would do anything but give up all of our leverage with them. It would be a catastrophe for anyone who actually wanted to influence them for the better –and no, not by invading them.”

LOL! We have no influence on them. Precisely because they know we will continue writing them checks and doing their bidding in the UN and elsewhere, no matter what they do.

Finally, and frankly, I really don’t, without all due respect, much care about your experiences in Eastern Europe. For far too long most Americans have let folks from Eastern Europe, who have a particular view of the projection of American power based on an idiosyncratic experience, namely living in Soviet satellite countries during the Cold War, more or less claim the moral high ground in discussions such as these.

Even assuming for sake of argument that an aggressive American FP and military stance was called for during the Cold War, the fact is that the Cold War is long since over. An exceptional set of circumstances should not dictate policy that becomes the rule, after that set of circumstances has vanished. After every major war but WWII, the US disarmed and extracted itself from over involvement in foreign affairs. It made no permanent allies, had no permanent enemies, and pursued no “agenda,” “freedom” or otherwise, in its dealing with other nations. After WWII, we made an exception, based, supposedly, on the threat posed by the USSR and Communism generally. Well, that threat, if it ever really was as great as claimed, is gone. Perhaps, you and yours were benefitted by the aggressive FP and military policy pursued by the US during that time. Good. But that is hardly reason to continue it now, when the reason for it has disappeared.

#17 Comment By philadelphialawyer On December 8, 2013 @ 11:55 am

Should have been “all due respect”

#18 Comment By philadelphialawyer On December 8, 2013 @ 11:55 am

WITH all due respect

#19 Comment By Duncan Mitchel On December 8, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

Emilio, you make some good points, but there’s an irony in what you say that I must comment on — though from your comment as a whole I think you’re already aware of it:

“The US is better off than El Salvador. Tens of thousands of Americans are not riding to El Salvador packed on top of trains, looking for work. South Philadelphians aren’t moving to Cambodian villages, the reverse is true. French and English families aren’t smuggling themselves into Sudan, and Germans aren’t flooding Albania looking for work. So is it really fair to say that I want to spread freedom to the whole world and have it all become like America? What a caricature. The world already wants to become like America and the West and every other stable and desirable place in very measurable ways and they vote with their feet.”

Of course this is correct, but it has little to do with communism per se. It reminds me of a joke I heard in the 70s, supposedly often told in the USSR: A Soviet schoolteacher tells her grade-school class how awful things are in the United States — poverty, racism, unemployment, homelessness, oppression — whereas in the Soviet Union, everyone has food and a place to live and work and freedom! A little girl in the class bursts into tears. The teacher asks her what’s the matter. “I want to live in the Soviet Union!” she cries.

The irony I mentioned is that many poor countries — you mention El Salvador — were part of “the Free World” during the Cold War. “The Free World” included brutal dictatorships with grinding poverty, often installed by US intervention and maintained with US aid (both monetary and in the form of training police and torturers). The US didn’t want poor people from those countries coming here; at best, we wanted some college-educated technicians who’d been trained in their home countries, or sometimes here, at their governments’ expense. The poor people we wanted to keep in their own “free” countries, kept under control by the cops we provided. And those poor people who managed to come here often found themselves enslaved (sometimes literally), facing violence and racism and more poverty. (Surprising numbers of immigrants to the US are returning home these days, but I’d bet they are mostly educated people with money who’re returning to developed countries like South Korea, not the poor; though I know that many undocumented Mexicans are going home voluntarily, if temporarily, because they miss their homes and families and culture. They want to come back, but it’s for the money. And that’s reasonable. Still, it’s worth noticing that many immigrants are disappointed by what they find here.)

So there are times when people are celebrating America as an example to the world, and I want to burst into teachers and cry, “I want to live in America!” And I’m not in bad shape financially or otherwise. But I still see a gap between the American promise and the American delivery, for too many people, and it’s getting worse.

#20 Comment By Emilio On December 9, 2013 @ 7:36 am

Bush and Blair were representatives of two nations that more than any others guard the very international system whose laws they then violated. But these violators will never face any kind of repercussions, not from their strongest domestic opponents and not from their strongest international allies. Yes, there are states with a strong interest in international law and legitimacy, but we all know that no matter how strong the interest, NO ONE is bringing THESE violators of the law to justice. So why is that? And given that it’s true, where is the proof of the law’s actual existence? It’s on the books, you say? Well, I agree that just because it’s weak doesn’t mean we should be kicking it and seeking to nullify it at will. But we must ask why it’s weak, and how to strengthen it. And if the only answer on how to strengthen a law is to recommend the exercise of self-restraint by those unwilling to actually submit to its rule, then I am not impressed. That is no law which is powerless when self-restraint is lacking.

But forget pleading for the self-restraint of a hegemon, YOU actually tell me that international law is in force. “Think about THAT, Tony Blair,” came the warning that he risked being prosecuted. But I know full well that Tony Blair going along with Bush had nothing to fear. Was he wrong? Is he even considered a criminal? Will he or Bush ever be convicts? The whole line of thinking is laughable. And so all this gives me pause about the current state of international law, and it makes me wonder all the more deeply about the actual mechanisms and forces that underlie international behavior. And, ultimately, I conclude that the best strategy for dealing with the conundrum of turning the law of the sword into the law of the pen is continued engagement and the promotion of democratic principles. I admit that it’s risky and open to criticism, and may well be wrong-headed. But at least I’m not crazy enough to think that international law as currently constituted can actually affect the behavior of strong states.

#21 Comment By philadelphialawyer On December 9, 2013 @ 10:34 am

Emilio:

“And, ultimately, I conclude that the best strategy for dealing with the conundrum of turning the law of the sword into the law of the pen is continued engagement and the promotion of democratic principles. I admit that it’s risky and open to criticism, and may well be wrong-headed.”

Its well beyond those three things, it is contradictory. No one here, contra to the insinuation of your first post, is an “isolationist.” No one here is arguing for withdrawing from the international institutions and repudiating the international law that makes up the heart of the international order. What we are talking about, instead, is bullying and threatening, threatening, as Obama did with Syria, to simply break international law. And with stretching the law past all meaning, as Obama did in Libya and Bush and Blair did in Iraq, when SC resolutions that did NOT authorize the use of force, or only the use of very limited force, were perverted into interpretations that authorized regime-changing force. And the kind of endless diplomatic and trade sanctions unilaterally imposed by the US against regimes, such as those in Cuba and Iran, it dislikes, not, despite the fig leaf, because cf concerns about “democracy” or “freedom,” but out of naked, geopolitical self interest.

That’s what your “continuation of engagement and promotion of democratic principles” are all about. And it is not pretty, on the ground, as viewed from the other side of the US “shock and awe” missile bombardment. Nor the economic deprivation it causes, as it did in Iraq. Your policy is not the opposite of “isolationism,” it is the subversion of the very internationalism you purport to want to strengthen.

You ask why Bush and Blair have not been prosecuted, well, one reason, surely, is that that they were not alone. That there was a “coalition of the willing,” which provided, and still provides, them with “cover.” What would your policy accomplish, other than to enlarge the group of the “willing?” Go back and look at some of the folks who signed off on the Iraq misadventure….and you will find among them supposedly democratic, supposedly heroic figures like Vaclav Havel, providing moral cover for the squalid, sordid, war mongering Bush and Blair.

See our host, Mr Larison, here:

[2]

And your policy is to create more such “grateful to the US” figures. In the Ukraine and elsewhere. To have the US, the UK, the EU and the West generally, put in power, one way or another, “yes men,” who will then turn around and back the creation of more yes men in yet more countries. Somehow, I don’t think that is going to solve the very real conundrum of how to enforce international law against the most powerful Western leaders.

“But at least I’m not crazy enough to think that international law as currently constituted can actually affect the behavior of strong states.”

No, but your solution to that problem is to simply abrogate it in regards to those strong states. Then, I guess, the law, having been officially negated, won’t be flouted.

Instead, perhaps, you might consider what I suggested, which is “promoting” democracy, freedom and the rule of law right here at home. Bush, his torturers, Obama, etc, COULD be prosecuted under US domestic law. The memo I mentioned stated that Blair could be prosecuted under UK domestic law. We could be working to make it so. Beyond mere after the fact, honoring in the breach, prosecutions, we could, in the US, in the UK, and elsewhere in the West, have a political culture that makes decisions like attacking Iraq, threatening to attack Syria, using threats and bullying tactics to get “our” way in Ukraine, Iran, Cuba, etc, etc, unpopular in the first place.

But you aren’t interested in any of that, you have universal values to spread worldwide, at the point of a gun, if necessary, instead. And are not concerned about the necessary, concomitant erosion of those very same values among those doing the spreading, not to mention the futility of the entire endeavor in the first place.