Russia, China and other nations have an interest in seeing autocracy spread and in staving off democratic reform. ~David Brooks

I find the outline of the Kagan prescriptions as flawed as, if not more flawed than, I did Lind’s “liberal internationalism,” but that isn’t my main point today.  Still, let me make a few notes in passing before I move on.  I would note that Lind’s argument is most effective in attacking the weaknesses in the Kagan position simply by saying, “The existing institutions aren’t really broken–we just have to use them properly.”  The Kagan view is that we should create new institutions that will embody the fundamentally wrong assumptions that have led to the “misuse” or neglect of international institutions over the past 5-15 years (the short version of which is: we rule the world and everyone had better do what we say).  In a fight between between Lind’s mistaken view and the far crazier alternative view, I would take Lind’s side any day (which does not change my view of the flaws in Lind’s argument).

My main point is a much narrower one: this claim about the interests of Russia, China and “other nations” is almost entirely wrong.  The “nice” thing, if you like, about authoritarian nationalist regimes, which would be fair descriptions of both Moscow and Beijing at this point, is that they are not interested in changing the regime types of other countries.  Their interests lie in securing reliable trading partners and allies in various corners of the world.  If those allied governments are autocratic, so be it; if they are democratic, this is not a problem for the authoritarian nationalist.  Russia and China will do business with Germany gladly, and don’t care about its domestic politics except insofar as this might affect trade, but the Chinese will also be very cosy with Khartoum, because there is oil to be had regardless of the regime’s crimes.   

Washington has inexplicably cast itself as the revolutionary agent for global political change.  Russia, China and “other nations” have a vested interest in something relatively close to the status quo, or perhaps the pre-Bush status quo.  They don’t need autocracy to “spread”–they need to limit the expanding number of pro-Washington lackey, er, democratic governments around the world, which gives the impression of opposition to democratic reform.  Since so many of the “colour” revolutions have been shams or staged performances designed to mask the transfer of power from one batch of oligarchs to another, there isn’t much actual democratic reform for Moscow and Beijing to oppose. 

They may defend autocratic governments in the process of opposing pro-U.S. governments, or they might decide to support opposition groups in U.S.-allied states as a way of destabilising regimes allied with us (in much the same way that we undermine governments friendly to their governments).  Even this overstates their hostility to actual democratic reform.  They have no strong interest in preventing it, unless the government is friendlier to their governments than the foreign public is; they have no interest in promoting it, unless the people in that country are more well-disposed to their governments than the ruling elites are.  That is what a reasonably rational, self-interested foreign policy looks like; we might try it some time.  In reality, given the general unpopularity of the U.S. government in so many nations around the world, actual democratic reform in many parts of the world would be positively beneficial to Moscow and Beijing–they could probably detach Turkey, Jordan and Egypt (among others) from our system of alliances and influence tomorrow if the populations of those countries had a real say in the matter.  If Moscow and Beijing really wanted to hit us where it hurts, at least for some short-term gain, they would be much more active in encouraging the reform protests against Musharraf.  However, their establishments are just as concerned about what would happen if Pakistan descends into chaos as is ours, and China has its own obvious vested interests there.  These interests concern what is in the best interests of China (at least as interpreted, self-servingly, by the government in Beijing), and not whether there is a dictator or an elected prime minister in Islamabad.  They will maintain their strategic relationship with Pakistan regardless of these things, just as they would pursue their hegemonic relationship with Burma whether or not the government in Rangoon was a junta or an elected and representative one.