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One Note

I must have turned off the debate, or perhaps I was simply overwhelmed by stupefying boredom, by the time Chris Dodd gave a bad answer at last week’s debate.  He said (via Sullivan):

Secondly, this doesn’t mean — elections are only one note, as they say, in the tune of democracy. Be careful what you wish for. If there were totally free elections, in many of the countries we’re talking about today, the Islamic Jihad or the Islamic Brotherhood would win 85 percent of the vote.

This post is a pretty good summary of what was wrong with this statement, but let me just add a couple more points.  The question Dodd was answering was about Pakistan, where the specific groups Islamic Jihad and Al-Ikhwan do not exist.  There are Islamist parties in Pakistan and there are jihadists in Pakistan, as we all know, but in the context of talking about Pakistan Dodd’s answer was even more awful than it appears to be out of context.  Here I definitely agree with Hamid that Dodd is just lumping together every kind of Islamist no matter the country, which is the same sloppy analysis that gives rise of the nonsense term “Islamofascism” that I wrote about for my column in the 11/19 TAC.  Worse still, his answer contributes to this general sense of looming disaster that Washington cultivates to justify supporting Musharraf indefinitely, regardless of how destabilising Musharraf’s own rule has become.  If many Republicans have been obsessed with Tehran 1979 and “Iran’s 28-year war” against America, as the more fanatical of them see it, leading Democrats this year are not above invoking the spectre of the Shah to scare people into paralysis and an acceptance of aimless, dangerous Pakistan policy.  Call it “Carter’s Revenge.”    

Critics of democratisation, including myself, generally have a few reasons for urging caution and skepticism about democracy promotion as a foreign policy tool and as a foreign policy goal.  One is the argument from national interest, which is quite clear: promoting democratisation in a country that will lead to an increasingly hostile or uncooperative government is unwise.  Another is a pragmatic argument that tries to consider the welfare of the people in the country: democratisation can empower those forces in the society that are most likely to turn the instruments of mass politics into the power base of an illiberal and repressive system.  A related concern is that democratisation will be forced on a society too rapidly and it will end up falling back on pre-existing family and communal structures in political organisation, fragmenting and dividing the country along ethnic, sectarian or other lines.  Yet another is that democracy promotion in practice has little to do with cultivating institutions of representative government and civil society, but very often involves propping up hand-picked lackeys whose purpose is to align their countries with Washington’s economic and political objectives in a given region.  Unfortunately for many nations, this is frequently what democratisation actually means.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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