Liberal Democracy or Empire?

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The question of how and when the United States should promote democracy abroad rose to the forefront of our nation’s foreign policy discourse following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and reached its apex in President Bush’s Second Inaugural Address.
In light of the recent focus on the domestic political systems of states in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is helpful to trace the roots of democracy promotion in American foreign policy.
In an unusually cogent lecture delivered at the New America Foundation last week, New America Foundation Whitehead Senior Fellow Michael Lind demonstrated that unlike other imperial leaders, the goal of every American president from Washington to Eisenhower was not to maximize American power, but to create an international environment in which America’s liberal, democratic way of life could flourish.
Lind explained that Woodrow Wilson’s frequently quoted declaration that the world must be made “safe for democracy” is often misunderstood. Rather than suggesting that the United States promote democracy throughout the globe, Wilson advocated the maintence of a stable international environment safe enough for the United States and other nations to afford the luxuries of personal freedoms, democratic representation, and limited government.


The Cold War is an excellent case in point of how a dangerous international environment imperils liberal democracy. The greatest threat that the Soviets posed to the United States was not the mortal threat of invasion and occupation, but the prospect that our efforts to counter the Soviets would compel us to abandon our way of life and move toward a more militarized, authoritarian society. Fear of the Soviets led to conscription, secret bombing campaigns, and clandestine arms sales.
Lind’s analysis is particularly relevant to the international position in which the United States finds itself today. Radical Islamic terrorism, which John McCain has mischaracterized as the “defining ideological challenge of the century,” poses less danger to our way of life than our own response to the attacks. The human and economic losses of September 11 pale in comparison to those resulting from the culture of fear and overreaction that the attacks spawned.
As Steve Clemons reminds us below, 9/11 led to an unprecedented shift of power to the federal government and to the executive branch in particular. These powers include the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, the mistreatment of prisoners and the $1 trillion undeclared war in Iraq.
When taking stock of the myriad challenges that constitute the United States’ national security portfolio, the next President would be wise to convene a concert of great powers to develop a set of rules, institutions, and patterns of behavior that contribute to a peaceful, cooperative world order, rather than pursuing incremental, crisis-management driven policies.
In addition to being in the United States’ long-term national interests, Lind’s analysis suggests that an effective concert of powers, rather than direct interference in the internal affairs of foreign nations, is the best way to provide those nations with the confidence and resources to develop and sustain liberal societies.
–Ben Katcher

Comments

35 comments on “Liberal Democracy or Empire?

  1. Kathleen says:

    Carroll…more on IAEA/Israel..Paul, it won’t be long until Dopey and Darth are not in charge…and Arthrudecco is certainly welcome to join our rag tag bunch…
    http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/10/04/nuclear.mideast.ap/index.html

    Reply

  2. Paul Norheim says:

    Kathleen… I think you should go to Italy and Sicily and guide
    your friends any time you want. I`m not an American, but I
    can`t believe it`s got so bad yet. Just go, and enjoy!
    And after that trip, you should consider visiting Asmara, telling
    the Eritreans about your role in their long struggle for
    independence. It`s a great story…
    And you may even ask arthurdecco to go with you from
    Canada… When the Italians occupied Eritrea, they sent some of
    their best architects there, and built a modernistic city: Asmara.
    There are still a lot of wonderful art decco buildings there
    (cinemas, cafes, etc). I`ve never been there myself, except in a
    typical Sarah Palin way (fueling on the airport from Addis to
    Oslo), but from what I have read, and judging from the pictures
    I`ve seen, it`s a fascinating town. Google on Asmara, and
    you`ll see…
    Just go, both to Italy and to Eritrea. I`m sure you`ll be well
    received. Enjoy, and have a good time! Remember: life is short…
    By the way, if you are interested in historical curiosities and
    paradoxes, Mussolini asked Le Corbusier to remake Addis
    Abeba after the invasion in 1936. Le Corbusier made some
    notes, drawings and suggestions, but they were refused. Still,
    Italy made their marks on Ethiopia during that time, in horrible,
    but also in a few good ways (roads, buildings in the capital,
    etc.).
    But hey, Kathleen, my point is: if you want to travel, go ahead.
    Just do it!

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  3. Kathleen says:

    Paul…you’re correct..it was EPLF… it’s been so many years now, I can only remember first namesof the people involved… and my documents from that time are not easilly accesible…
    Lately some friends have been asking me to take them to Italy and Sicily…I’m waiting until Dopey and Darth are no longer in charge…since the MCA, an American with a valid passport can be denied re-entry to the USA…perhaps I’m being overly cautious…

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  4. Paul Norheim says:

    Kathleen, what you`re telling me is extremely interesting, as a
    crucial moment of what ended up as a de facto Eritrean
    Independence.
    As far as I remember, the Ethiopian constitution at some time in
    that process involved the possibility of any region of Ethiopia in
    the future to declare independence (among them the Oromos,
    spread over a big area of Ethiopia), whitch makes this a very
    sensitive issue to this day, and a headache for the Ethiopian
    government.
    Kathleen, if you want to visit Ethiopia, don`t tell them about
    your role in all this! They won`t be happy, since the result was
    that they lost access to the ports in the Red Sea. Thanks to you,
    they are land locked…
    Go to Asmara first; there you`ll probably be treated like a hero.
    One detail: “At a certain point, The Ambassador asked me if I
    would do her a favor and sit in on a meeting of the Eritrean
    Liberation Front and tell her who was there and what was being
    said.”
    Are you sure this was the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), and
    not the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF)? I believe that
    the current leader of Eritrea (the strong man in Asmara since
    those days) belongs to the latter group.
    The first group (ELF) was dominant while I was there (until
    1976), but the second one (EPLF) became the dominant group
    while, or after I left. This is not important for me personally, but
    quite important in the Eritrean-Ethiopian context. If you could
    confirm that it actually was the ELF, I would be glad. Because
    what you`re telling, is actually an important piece of history.
    Perhaps I exaggerated a bit regarding my father and Germany.
    After all, he has always loved Schubert and Beethoven (just like
    his father). Hopefully, I`ll travel to Berlin in a couple of weeks,
    translating the poet and essayist Gottfried Benn, staying there
    for a month, in a big flat owned by a Danish woman – bass
    player and member of a jazz group from New York.
    One of the crucial parts of your story about the Ethiopian-
    Eritrean agreement, is the amount of coincidence, and what you
    describe as an “instant rapport” between you and the Ethiopian
    Ambassador. Your devoted work for the Hopi cause obviously
    made you credible as well. Unfortunately, this did not bring a
    happy solution to the complicated Tibet issue at that time.
    Memory Lane? Yeah, but that is very important, both to prove
    that the UN can be crucial, and as a record for those concerned!
    Speaking for my self, I have an immense curiosity for this kind
    of stuff, especially everything regarding Ethiopia. So please feel
    free to continue down memory lane…
    The oldest University in Italy? I would guess Bolognia, but I am
    not sure either. I know for sure that Perugia has an old
    university, and that they are currently hosting international jazz
    festivals with names like Keith Jarrett, etc. etc. I also know that
    one of Ghadaffi`s sons lives, or lived there, a few years ago,
    somehow connected to football, and perhaps more then that.
    In any case, I had the privilege to spend a wonderful week
    together with my father in Perugia soon after my mother died,
    as guests of an italian family: Fequadua from Ethiopia/Eritrea,
    her Italian husband and their son; eating wonderful italian food,
    drinking Italian wine, trying to talk a happy mixture of Italian,
    English, and Amharic (an Ethiopian language), and having a
    great time.

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  5. Kathleen says:

    Paul…Ethiopia… I envy you having that wonderful experience of living there… for some reason Ethiopia has always held my fascination, so the opportunity to help was rather important to me….it’s odd how it came about…sometimes in life you come across someone with whom you have instant rapport… when I first arrived at the UN in Geneva, I saw an African woman, with whom I felt that… it turned out she was the Ambassador from Ethiopia, who, along with the Ethiopian Human Rights expert on the SubCommission for the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, was very sympathetic to the Hopi cause and both were extremely helpful..
    At a certain point, The Ambassador asked me if I would do her a favor and sit in on a meeting of the Eritrean Liberation Front and tell her who was there and what was being said. I agreed, but when I got there, it was all people who had also been helpful to me and the Hopi.
    I told them why I was there and offered to be the go between… I said I would tell her what they wanted, openly, not covertly. they agreed to use me for this… we went to the UN Library so I could look up all the UN Resolutions involving Ethiopia/Eritrea so I could understand the history to date… and asked Ethiopia for a copy of their Constitution…I then suggested that they hold another UN Observed referendum that would be binding on the issue of independence for Eritrea. They chose to do it…
    After I brought the Hopi and Navajo to the UN and the UN to Washington, the Tibetans asked me to help them, too…Another place that has always fascinated me.. Unfortunately we almost succeeded, but not quite….I had loads of support rounded up from many countries and a committment from the Human Rights expert from the Netherlands to go to Tibet, but we could not find language to refer to China that met with the Dalai Lama’s approval.
    UN representatives/personell cannot go to a country on official business without an invitation from the government or their approval. Since China was a member nation and Tibet was not and like it or not, China was calling themselves the gov’t of Tibet, it was tricky to say the least…. I suggested “adminstering state” but it was so close in time to China’s invasion, it was still too painful.. Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama did not suggest any other terminology that we could use to get a decision adopted, so it all came to naught. His more recent comments about the Olympics being held in China cause me to think that 20 years has caused a certain amount of resignation on some of the less important points…better to have people come and see for themselves, than not at all.
    Hope your Dad stays well …on his feelings about Germany, remember “The Moon is Down?
    Sorry todo down memory lane, but we are discuss ways the UN can be very effective.
    Perugia..Alfa Tomeo…yummmm.Isn’t Perugia the home of the oldest University or is that Bolgonia? I forget….

    Reply

  6. Paul Norheim says:

    Your husband was born in Oslo? I spent 18 years of my life
    there since I was 18. And now I live in Bergen…
    Kathleen, my brothers were as impressed as I was, when I told
    them that you had a crucial role in the referendum leading to
    Eritrean Independence.
    When I was 2-3 years old, my mother temporarily included
    two Eritrean kids into our family, Samuel (same age as me) and
    Aqlilu, (their mother was sick). I still know some of their
    relatives (one cousin living in Perugia, Italy, by the way, married
    to an Italian driving an Alfa Romeo and an old Fiat 500; they
    have a son who is currently studying Chinese…), I and would
    like to visit Samuel and Aqlilu in Asmara one day, if possible
    (they survived the civil wars, and are businessmen in Asmara)).
    In February next year, we – four of my brothers and my sister –
    (she was adopted, and has an Ethiopian mother and two
    brothers living in Addis Ababa, as well as one sister living near
    San Francisco), are going to visit Ethiopia again. Three of my
    brothers haven`t been there for 33 years…
    Nine years ago I introduced my sister Elisabeth to her biological
    mother and brother in Addis Ababa – they had not seen each
    other since Elisabeth was 7 months old.
    I`ve spent 11 years in Africa, 9 of them in Ethiopia during my
    childhood, and I think those years learned me everything I know
    about what is important and what isn`t. The cabin in the north
    is a nice reminder…
    Foreign policy? When I was a kid, living in a boarding school in
    Addis during the Ethiopian revolution, while Haile Selassie, the
    emperor, was in house arrest in his old castle, we listened to
    BBC to get information about what was going on in Ethiopia. It
    was during Watergate and Vietnam. My father always bought
    TIME Magazine or Newsweek when he was in Addis.
    Now, my father is often rather confused, having suffered several
    strokes. He often tends to mix the Cold War with Second World
    War, and recently he talked about a Russian invasion in his
    home village. We have removed him to Bergen from the north. I
    doubt that he knows where he lives, and he still believes that
    his wife is alive. When one of my brothers visits him and I am
    not there, he frequently asks if Paul could by the last TIME or
    Newsweek to him.
    When I do so, we find a bench in the sun, where he can sit
    reading about world events according to Newsweek or TIME,
    while I just sit there, occasionally commenting what he reads.
    He got his first serious stroke just before the invasion of Iraq,
    and has never commented on that event to me (my mother died
    of cancer three months after the invasion). But a couple of times
    in recent years, he`ve mentioned, in his whispering voice, that
    when he was young, torture was seen as cruel and inhuman.
    Now, he says, things have changed, and torture seems to be
    accepted.
    There is no reference to the Germans (who my father despised
    and feared), or the Americans (who he admired), just the notion
    that things are changing, regarding what is accepted as human
    behavior. Torture seems to be accepted.

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  7. Kathleen says:

    Paul…it does sound nice being in a cabin in the north country…..and to get away from “civilization”…when I was working with the traditional Hopi, we too did without electricity, running water, telephones, etc. back to basics is healthy for one’s perspective on what’s important and what isn’t…
    Incidentaly, my husband was born in Oslo and his mother’s family was from Bergren, too….

    Reply

  8. Paul Norheim says:

    Kathleen: a small correction to a sentence above: “My youngest
    brother was pro invasion of Iraq in 2003, and even now, the
    discussions got pretty intense after a few beers.”
    To be honest, we all went into Joe TwelvePack mode. Blame it on
    the rain and the absence of Jill Boxed White Wine.

    Reply

  9. Paul Norheim says:

    Kathleen said: “Carroll…Paul…good to see you both back…I’d
    been wondering where you were lately.”
    Thanks, Kathleen. Actually, I`ve spent a week or so together
    with two of my younger brothers, in our little cabin in the
    mountains just south of the Arctic Circle (where I was born),
    surrounded by autumn leaves exploding in intense yellow and
    red, with no computers and no electricity.
    Sounds nice, doesn`t it?
    Well… as a matter of fact, it rained most of the time, and we
    spent most of it inside the cabin, discussing uh… geopolitical
    issues… the financial crisis… the US elections… Norwegian
    politics… stuff like that. My youngest brother was pro invasion
    of Iraq in 2003, and even now, the discussions got pretty
    intense after a few beers.
    Besides, I had access to The Washington Note through my
    mobile phone. The captcha codes did not show up on my
    phone, so I couldn`t comment – but you could say that I was
    with you all; all the time – in more than one sense.
    Sad, isn`t it? Impossible to escape from the imperial TWN…
    BTW: thanks to JohnH and Carroll for your reflections above in
    response to my comments. I`m not sure if I have anything to
    add, as I agree with most of your points. And Caroll, you`re
    right: it`s “pro American and pro World”!
    You see, except for my brothers, most of my friends here in
    Bergen are authors, editors and critics, and though they have
    political opinions, most of them usually prefer to discuss
    literature, art or philosophy when we see each other. That`s
    fine, but I feel lucky after discovering The Washington Note.
    Literature isn`t everything – nor is politics or economic issues,
    by the way, but no one can claim that what`s happening today
    is unimportant.
    However, the next time we visit our cabin in the north, I intend
    to leave even my phone at home. We have a nice little library in
    a small, newly built annex. And no TV. But a few mountains,
    seas and rivers – just in case we get fed up of literature, art,
    philosophy & critics & geopolitics & sub prime loans & Sarah
    Palin — who, by the way, would have felt more at home in the
    landscape surrounding our little cabin than in TV debates about
    the Bush Doctrine.

    Reply

  10. arthurdecco says:

    Should it be a surprise, Carroll, that I haven’t seen any mention of Canada’s involvement in any of the North American print media I devour?
    Canada’s involvement courtesy of our hard-right Rethuglican lite governing party, (the Conservatives) led by that prissy, rigid, unimaginative, born again demagogue/kontrol freak, Stephen Harper, shames me.
    Thank you for being the one to inform me.

    Reply

  11. Kathleen says:

    Carroll…you made my day…I’m really pleased that the IAEA is going to explore Israel’s nukes, too. On geese and ganders, let them eat yellowcake..

    Reply

  12. Carroll says:

    Why the UN is where it’s at. First the UN isn’t a ‘country’ with it’s own interest to promote..it ‘Is’ the CONVENING of countries..where they can ALL be heard.
    U.N. to Consider Israeli Nukes
    The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, begins meeting in Vienna with the focus on Iran.
    But it has also put Israeli nukes on the agenda, at the request of Israel’s Arab neighbors.
    The US opposed the move but folded.
    “IAEA ‘puts Israeli nukes on agenda’
    Mon, 29 Sep 2008 17:12:52 GMT
    The UN nuclear watchdog has unanimously agreed to put the issue of Israel’s nuclear capabilities on the agenda of its annual meeting.
    After requests by the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab League, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agreed to put the issue of Israel’s nuclear capabilities on the agenda of the 52nd annual meeting of the UN body.
    The move was initially met with protests by the US and Canada but the two countries had to back down from their position after they realized that other member states of the IAEA meeting’s presidential board would not support their stance.
    Israel is believed to possess the only nuclear arsenal of the Middle East but it has so far refused to allow IAEA inspectors to visit its nuclear sites.”
    Flashback:
    Documents
    Document 1. On 5 July, less than ten days after Levi Eshkol became prime minister, Ambassador Barbour delivered a 3-page letter to him from President John Kennedy.
    Not since President Eisenhower’s message to Ben Gurion, in the midst of the Suez crisis in November 1956, had an American president been so blunt with an Israeli prime minister.
    Kennedy told Eshkol that the American commitment and support of Israel ‘could be seriously jeopardized’ if Israel did not let the United States obtain ‘reliable information’ about Israel’s efforts in the nuclear field.
    In the letter Kennedy presented specific demands on how the American inspection visits to Dimona should be executed. Since the United States had not been involved in the building of Dimona and no international law or agreement had been violated, Kennedy demands were indeed unprecedented. They amounted, in effect, to American ultimatum.
    Here’s Kennedy’s letter to Israel…
    http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/israel/documents/exchange/01-01.htm
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    What good for the goose is good for the gander. Israel is going to choke trying to have it’s cake and eat it too…so is the US.

    Reply

  13. Carroll says:

    Posted by Kathleen Oct 01, 10:06AM – Link
    Carroll…Paul…good to see you both back…I’d been wondering where you were lately
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    We’ve been traveling, in and out….didn’t take the laptop so have been out of touch except for the regular news…very peaceful not knowing anything…LOL.

    Reply

  14. Carroll says:

    Posted by Paul Norheim Sep 30, 11:59PM – Link
    Carroll,
    It looks like the majority of the world population (including you
    and me) currently regard America as one of the biggest threats
    to world peace and stability. This is not an Anti-American
    position, but judgements based on aggressive, foolish and
    incompetent US actions during the last years.”
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    No what we are saying isn’t anti American at all..it’s pro American and pro World.
    My problem with the talkies grand schemes is just that…they will turn into schemes. So we convene party of cooperation of the great powers…huh?..what will they do?.. reinforce each others “national interest and goals”? Of course they will….foxes in charge of the hen house.
    So how does that work as in the case of Russia -Georgia, the ME -Israel, and other examples? Do we horse trade? the Ud doesn’t interfer in China’s human right as long as the ‘great powers’ let Israel keep on with thie war crimes and occupation? Russia can re annex everything they lost as long they don’t interfer in our making Exxon president of S.A.? Or our chasing OBL all over Pakistan? Do all we great power countries get together and aim our missiles at the not great power countries instead of each other?
    The whole idea shows the continuing idiotcy of the foppy talkie people in thinking “they” know best how to rule the world. The talkies, the policy people are failures, they are idiots, they are stuck thinking as big frogs in little ponds instead of little frogs in the big pond.
    The US should work with the UN instead of against it for all those “undefined” US national interest that are nothing but a cover for freaking capitalist pigs and idelogues….the US might regain some respect and help stablize the world that way…that should be freaking obvious to the talkie fops…it’s freaking obvious to everyone else.

    Reply

  15. Kathleen says:

    DonS…I agree…there has been a tremendous concerted effort on the part of the Right to devalue the goals and usefullness of the UN, starting with Reagan’s “Me First”, American chauvinism ..but I don’t think respect for the UN is damaged beyond repair….perhaps it’s geographical, but where I live, we celebrate UN Week with special UN related events in town and in the schools…..the kids collect for Unicef for Halloween….I think the yearning for peace will prevail over the brute force approach… the pendulum swings both ways and I think we’re headed for a more co-operative approach to world peace again.

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  16. DonS says:

    Kathleen, I to am fan of the UN and the goals of the UN. However, I firmly believe the UN has been characterized as anti-American by the whole right establishment, not just the neo-cons, and it is ALWAYS easy to sell anti-Americanism to the sheople. Like we are doing the rest of the world a big damn favor by even being part of the UN. The center left is ALWAYS too willing to keep quiet when to speak out is to risk being lumped in with “anti-Americanism”.
    If perception is reality, we’ve got a problem selling global cooperation to the masses. Its what’s been demonized for decades as “world government”. Maybe under the current [would be] humbling circumstances, Obama can begin to sell a new image. But his own limiations mean that he is as likely not to take the risks that are needed to move the discussion significantly toward real global cooperation.

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  17. JohnH says:

    After posting my comment above, I realized that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a perfect example of what happens when a concert of great powers gets involved in imposing a solution. Israel was founded by UN mandate. Today you have a quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations nominally working together for peace.
    The fruits of the quartet’s work on one of the great sources of instability in the world? Nil. They are simply not a constructive force. Meanwhile, neighboring Arab states’ reluctant involvement–the Arab Peace Initiative–lies dead in its tracks, stymied by the United States.
    The situation shows the futility of Michael Lind’s theory of bringing together concerts of regional players and world powers to guarantee stability where existing instability truly threatens world peace.
    The solution will come in one of two ways. One, letting the players sort it out themselves by making Israel/Palestine a foreign interference free zone (not likely). Or two, violating Israel’s sovereignty, knocking heads of the two sides together, like Carter did, until they agree on a solution that assures the dignity, aspirations, and prosperity of both sides. Unfortunately, the concert of world powers lack the will to do what is necessary.

    Reply

  18. Kathleen says:

    Carroll…Paul…good to see you both back…I’d been wondering where you were lately.
    I disagree that most Americans hold the UN in the same disdain that Neocons do. The hope for world peace is still best served by the UN. It’s mainly when Repugs are in office that we trash the UN and refuse to pay our dues, but use the UN’s prestige when it suits our agressive aims.

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  19. JohnH says:

    Paul–I did not watch the Lind’s video, because videos are frankly too time consuming. I wish they would provide transcripts instead. However, I have watched Lind in the past. He is all for convening stakeholders at multiple levels, worldwide and regional.
    The problem with Lind’s approach is that solutions tend to get imposed on the weaker players. It substitutes the hegemony of the group for the authority of “the indispensable nation.” From the perspective of local people, the difference is moot–neither a single hegemon nor a group hegemon is likely to address local grievances and aspirations, particularly when they conflict with the hegemon’s strategic interests.
    For example, suppose a concert of industrialized oil consuming nations (US, Europe, Japan)–a concert of democracies, if you will– jointly decided that the price of oil should be $20/barrel. They work together to impose that solution on weaker nations in the Persian Gulf, Caspian basin, plus Venezuela, Colombia, Nigeria, Mexico and Russia.
    Well, this is roughly what happened in the 1990s. The result was declining living standards in oil producing countries. That fueled domestic instability in many, most notably Saudi Arabia (bin Laden), Russia, Venezuela, and Nigeria. It is now primarily domestic instability that threatens oil supplying nations and their status as reliable suppliers, not conflicts between nations.
    Where this gets confusing is that the hegemon, single or group, always frames its involvement in the most noble rhetoric. It claims to act in the best interests of the oppressed — promoting democracy, freedom, human rights, womens’ rights, drug interdiction, etc. etc. If only the locals could be enlightened enough to internalize the hegemon’s culture, values, and message! However, the hegemon’s actions on the group contradict its rhetoric.
    Imposing stability on others to protect economic prosperity, tranquility, and perhaps even democracy at home is therefore paradoxical. Imposition is by definition anti-democratic. And eventually it leads to blow back from the oppressed, who understand first hand the hypocrisy of democracy preaching colonialists, whose actions betray their real intentions, which do not extend much beyond ripping off the resources.
    My points are two: First, the foreign policy debate all too often takes the noble rhetoric at face value. I do not recall Lind ever really disassociating himself from the noble rhetoric, the root of a lot of the confusion.
    Second, great nations depending on weaker nations for scarce strategic resources need to promote governments that are truly representative of the people and promote widespread prosperity and the rule of law. Siding with a tiny, “soverign” but unaccountable elite threatens stability and the reliable supply of scarce resources.
    To be successful then, a concert of great powers cannot just agree among themselves on a imposed solution. They must instead find a way to give people incentives to promote their own organic, representative systems. One model for this has been the European Union, which offers prosperity, conditioned upon building institutions, democracy and human rights. An alternative is much of Latin America, where a period of “benign neglect” from foreign meddling has led to a flowering of democracy. And the Bush administration should bow down before a democratic Venezuela that is a truly reliable oil supplier.

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  20. Paul Norheim says:

    Carroll,
    It looks like the majority of the world population (including you
    and me) currently regard America as one of the biggest threats
    to world peace and stability. This is not an Anti-American
    position, but judgements based on aggressive, foolish and
    incompetent US actions during the last years.
    Thus, if America fears that certain other countries may
    represent threats to world peace and stability, and would like to
    establish agreements within a “concert of powers” (Ben Katcher),
    or even a global social contract (Steve Clemons), then perhaps
    that would be fine far beyond US intentions and “national
    interests”.
    If America wants to discuss a redefinition of the rules and
    limitations of power, and contribute to establish new
    agreements on a global scale, and those limitations also applied
    to America, this may be in the interest of other countries as
    well. The trick is to find a formula that makes Americans feel
    more protected from foreign attacks, at the same time as the
    world feels more protected from US attacks.
    But before this, America has to find ways to protect itself from
    itself. But that`s your business.

    Reply

  21. Carroll says:

    ..” Anne-Marie Slaughter and G. John Ikenberry at Princeton University — have
    disavowed their own proposal and called it a Trojan horse for undermining the United Nations and a workable international order.”
    Well, well, well… when did they do that? When did they recognize the Trojan horse?.. after everyone started calling their plan a move to replace the UN?
    Meanwhile….”concert of democracies”….”convening of great powers” …what’s the difference? The intent is plain and the same.
    Please realize this talky people…the world is not the same…it is not as flat as Tom Friedman’s brain …but it is “fluid”…call it the information age the internet age whatever. But power, even in the “not great power countries” is moving and flowing and testing the “great powers and will continue to do so.
    And you want a convening of GREAT POWERS to control and rule as the US as ruled….a continuation of the master of the universe game..with partners who might still have some money and military left?
    Pleeze…. it’s over. Find a new delusion. Preferably one that doesn’t involve the US. We have had enough of the fops who would be rulers…and the court jesters of the rulers.
    The UN is suppose to be CONVENING of “all countries”…and that is as it should be. Slaughter, and all the rest need to learn to live with it, they are not going to be part of a new ruling concert of anything.

    Reply

  22. Paul Norheim says:

    Hey DonS,
    You`re saying what POA usually spends three words saying:
    “We`re screwed.” And I agree.
    But:
    Is that the end of the discussion? Is everything lost?
    I would say: not yet.

    Reply

  23. DonS says:

    The concesus “wisdom”, sold to the American populace over the past 50 years, is that the world is a dangerous place, and that we can only rely on America as the prime mover and leader of all forces on the march to oppose those who would destroy our “way of life”.
    Just as the hubristic leaders thought they could dictate to the masses, by virtue of some wierd “override” switch, that the Wall Street bailout bill was different from the propaganda-fed assumptions about the “wonderous virtues of unregulated market capitalsim seeking to bury the socialistic tendencies of lingering New Deal aberration” — and failed — so is it fatuous to think that some new breed of leaders can override the massive distrust of global cooperation that has been hammered into the public.
    The UN — a noble global experiment — has been stigmatized almost beyond repair in the American psyche.
    We elites — mostly maniuplated by our lobbyist-owned politicians — are paying dearly for acquiescing increment by increment to the money grubbing forces that have distorted the American world view to Sarah Palin-like sound bite.

    Reply

  24. Paul Norheim says:

    Sorry, my post above became almost unreadable… I`ll try again:
    To DonS, Zathras and JohnH:
    First to DonS,
    Regarding a “concert of powers”, you`re right: as long as America arrogantly
    believes in US exceptionalism, the concept is not credible.
    BTW: Russian exceptionalism also has a long history, both during communism and
    long before that. However, in the 1990`s the Russians went through the lessons of
    being diminished as a great power, like Germany, England and Turkey before them
    in the 20`th century – a lesson America has not yet attended. Who knows – perhaps
    America will learn that lesson in the coming years, becoming prepared to
    contemplate the Lindh option? In the meanwhile, Russian power increased with the
    oil prices.
    Zathras is also correct when he says that “if American democracy is imperiled by the
    American government’s reaction to terrorism the place to start addressing that is in
    America. There isn’t a lot that any foreign country can do about the weakening of
    Congress relative to the other two branches of government, for example, or about
    the weakening of the State Department relative to the Pentagon.”
    Conclusion: America is not yet ready for the thoughts of Ben Katcher & Michael Lind.
    JohnH:
    Ben Katcher refers to Michael Lind`s lecture (linked to in the post) as a premise of
    his reflections. Lind`s point is not fuzzy, as far as I can see, but provokes a lot of
    questions.
    Perhaps you`ve watched the Lind video (recommended) or read the book, but
    anyway: Michael Lind`s basic point is not to implement US democracy on a global
    scale, but protecting democracy in America.
    It`s a US-centric world view with preserving domestic democracy as a strategic goal.
    His point is basically: if you “have to” fight external enemies permanently, and to
    such a degree that you have to sacrifice democratic values because the fight requires
    that you become a militaristic nation, then you have lost. You can do it on short
    terms (like WWI and II) to avoid permanent militarism, but the strategic goal is to
    defend democratic values in America.
    His basic concept does not require democracies abroad, but a degree of stability
    that does not “force” America to become militaristic on a permanent basis, thus
    threatening domestic democracy indirectly.
    This stability is a precondition for democracy, also for foreign countries, who BTW
    may chose that kind of government, or not. But US democracy does not depend on
    democracies abroad, only on stability and a certain lack of tensions.
    Then you could ask: what if another superpower emerges, who certainly also prefers
    stability, but who as well has “national interests” (like energy) abroad, that collide
    with US interests?
    In other words: what would happen if there were two USA`s on the planet? Or,
    perhaps 30 years from now: a powerful USA colliding with a powerful China? How
    will they play within a concert of powers – will both of them demand the role of the
    first violin?
    I`ve not read Lind`s book yet, but perhaps his book suggests answers to this
    question. Another question: If the US goal is stability abroad, to preserve democracy
    at home, this may some times require promoting a kind of authoritarian stability
    abroad that may be against democratic wishes in certain countries – like the status
    quo policies regarding the Middle East, as well as certain South American and Asian
    countries before G.W. Bush.
    “Stability” comes at a price.
    Thirdly, words like “national interest”, “domestic democracy” and words like “oil” and
    “energy” might be hard to distinguish.
    Perhaps Ben Katcher or Steve could clarify some of these issues on this thread?

    Reply

  25. Paul Norheim says:

    To DonS, Zathras and JohnH:
    DonS,
    Regarding a “concert of powers”, you`re right: as long as
    America arrogantly believes in US exceptionalism, the concept is
    not credible.
    BTW: Russian exceptionalism also has a long history, both
    during communism and long before that. However, in the
    1990`s the Russians went through the lessons of being
    diminished as a great power, like Germany, England and Turkey
    before them in the 20`th century – a lesson America has not yet
    attended. Who knows – perhaps America will learn that lesson in
    the coming years, becoming prepared to contemplate the Lindh
    option? In the meanwhile, Russian power increased with the oil
    prices.
    Zathras
    is also correct when he says that “if American democracy is
    imperiled by the American government’s reaction to terrorism
    the place to start addressing that is in America. There isn’t a lot
    that any foreign country can do about the weakening of
    Congress relative to the other two branches of government, for
    example, or about the weakening of the State Department
    relative to the Pentagon.”
    Conclusion: America is not yet ready for the thoughts of Ben
    Katcher & Michael Lind.
    JohnH:
    Ben Katcher refers to Michael Lind`s lecture (linked to in the
    post) as a premise of his reflections. Lind`s point is not fuzzy,
    as far as I can see, but provokes a lot of questions.
    Perhaps you`ve watched the Lind video (recommended) or read
    the book, but anyway: Michael Lind`s basic point is not to
    implement US democracy on a global scale, but protecting
    democracy in America.
    It`s a US-centric world view with preserving domestic
    democracy as a strategic goal. His point is basically: if you “have
    to” fight external enemies permanently, and to such a degree
    that you have to sacrifice democratic values because the fight
    requires that you become a militaristic nation, then you have
    lost. You can do it on short terms (like WWI and II) to avoid
    permanent militarism, but the strategic goal is to defend
    democratic values in America.
    His basic concept does not require democracies abroad, but a
    degree of stability that does not “force” America to become
    militaristic on a permanent basis, thus threatening domestic
    democracy indirectly.
    This stability is a precondition for democracy, also for foreign
    countries, who BTW may chose that kind of government, or not.
    But US democracy does not depend on democracies abroad,
    only on stability and a certain lack of tensions.
    Then you could ask: what if another superpower emerges, who
    certainly also prefers stability, but who as well has “national
    interests” (like energy) abroad, that collide with US interests?
    In other words: what would happen if there were two USA`s on
    the planet? Or, perhaps 30 years from now: a powerful USA
    colliding with a powerful China? How will they play within a
    concert of powers – will both of them demand the role of the
    first violin?
    I`ve not read Lind`s book yet, but perhaps his book suggests
    answers to this question. Another question: If the US goal is
    stability abroad, to preserve democracy at home, this may some
    times require promoting a kind of authoritarian stability abroad
    that may be against democratic wishes in certain countries – like
    the status quo policies regarding the Middle East, as well as
    certain South American and Asian countries before G.W. Bush.
    “Stability” comes at a price.
    Thirdly, words like “national interest”, “domestic democracy” and
    words like “oil” and “energy” might be hard to distinguish.
    Perhaps Ben Katcher or Steve could clarify some of these issues
    on this thread?

    Reply

  26. DonS says:

    Convening a truly equal partner “concert” goes against the arrogant, hubristic, xenophobic nature of the American psyche that infests main stream politics for the most part, at least these days; and that as a country we have demonstrated (as the post implies)
    This is way too much of an intellectual approach for it not to itself be misused and mischaracterized by the conventional wisdom. It is paradoxical thinking out loud; to protect our way of life by anything but brute force? Counterintuitive at best. I’m being a bit of the devil’s advocate, but not much.
    Oh yeah, and what are we going to do about the problem of, say, Israel, that virtually every other contry in the world “sees” differently than us? And that undermines belief that the US can be trusted to act in an above board and rational fashion?
    How about some humility pills first?
    Haven’t we done enough damage?

    Reply

  27. JohnH says:

    I find all this democracy talk to be warm and fuzzy but lacking much definition. By democracy, are we talking about making the world safe for American democracy–Democracy(TM)? Or are we talking about making the world safe for indigenous, organic democracies the world over?
    It’s pretty clear that supporting American democracy has been the policy for the past hundred years. And it has often been at the expense of others. As FDR said about Somoza: “He’s a dictator, but he’s our dictator.” History is replete with examples: the US sponsored overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran, Arbenz in Guatemala, Allende in Chile, Aristide in Haiti. Throughout the 1980’s the US supported military dictators and their dirty wars throughout Latin America, suppressing any democratic movements.
    Clearly, other nations’ fealty to Democracy(TM) is more important than the practice of democracy itself.
    More recently you have the United States actively opposing democracy in Venezuela. Venezuelans routinely give their country higher marks for democracy than any other country in Latin American but Uruguay. In world rankings, Americans give the US the top spot, but Venezuelans give their democracy the #5 spot, placing them above many European countries. Yet the authorities in Washington presume to know better and consistently label Venezuelan democracy as tyranny.
    Seen from abroad, the US spews lots of noble rhetoric about democracy but fails to practice what it preaches. (Iraq being a classic case.)
    I’m continually amazed at pundits and think tankers who routinely accept the government’s democracy promotion rhetoric at face value. Are they really that clueless? If so, what value do they add to the discussion of foreign policy? If not, then they surely understand the disconnect between America’s rhetoric and its actions, and they have chosen to promote US propaganda and its anti-democratic, imperial ambitions.
    Either way, it’s not a very flattering picture of those who talk about US democracy promotion as if it were a serious effort and not a rhetorical cover for furthering American self interests.

    Reply

  28. PT says:

    Steve,
    when did slaughter and ikenberry disavow the concert of democracies? They are on the record as supporting it as recently as July
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/fd9e2fdc-4e7f-11dd-ba7c-000077b07658.html

    Reply

  29. Ben Katcher says:

    Steve’s interpretation is correct. A concert of powers must include all of the great powers (including China and Russia) to be relevant and effective.

    Reply

  30. Bob Reid says:

    If Wilson was only advocating for a world in which the U.S. could flourish as a democracy and not promoting democracy for other parts of the world, why was he hailed as the saviour of Europe after WWI?
    It seemed that there was an expectation by the people of Europe would be supported in their self determination rather than the reinstitution of empire and monarchy.

    Reply

  31. Zathras says:

    Well, to start with, if American democracy is imperiled by the American government’s reaction to terrorism the place to start addressing that is in America. There isn’t a lot that any foreign country can do about the weakening of Congress relative to the other two branches of government, for example, or about the weakening of the State Department relative to the Pentagon. Nor can any government but the one in Washington raise energy taxes in the United States.
    Beyond that, though, the idea of coordinating policies with governments that, broadly speaking, share American values is not a new one, and certainly did not originate with John McCain. It is the foundation of NATO, and was the orignal foundation of what is now the G-8; in the minds of many of the organization’s early supporters, it was even supposed to be the foundation of the United Nations. Some governments will share American values more completely than others; a few will share very few of them.
    It is no more than common sense to conduct our foreign affairs on that basis: maintaining closer relations with our traditional friends than with those nations with interests opposed to ours, endeavoring always to maintain closer ties to each of the latter group of nations than they have to one another, and building international institutions that serve American interests rather than for their own sake. This course will not address the defects in American government and politics that only Americans can repair, but as far as controlling and repairing the damage to our international standing and world order sustained in the last few years it will work now as it has in the past.

    Reply

  32. Tahoe Editor says:

    League bad. Concert good.
    DRUDGE: Obama Kids Sing for Dear Leader…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TW9b0xr06qA
    I find Lind to be usually cogent.

    Reply

  33. Steve Clemons says:

    I think Ben is advocating the opposite. Even two of the primary
    authors of the concerts of democracies notion — Anne-Marie
    Slaughter and G. John Ikenberry at Princeton University — have
    disavowed their own proposal and called it a trojan horse for
    undermining the United Nations and a workable international
    order.
    Interesting post.
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

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