Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Wednesday, October 16, 2002
As long as I'm blogging Stanley Kurtz's pieces, I might as well blog people he recommends reading: here is a speech by Martin Kramer making many of the points that Kurtz makes. It's very good. So now, of course, I'll take issue with Kramer, too.

Actually, that's not fair: I agree with Kramer pretty much. I agree that elections without a democratic - or, better, liberal - culture are a virtual guarantee of revolutionary dictatorship or anarchy. I agree that much of the Middle East could be worse, that we do not want instability for its own sake, and that authoritarianism is preferable to failed states.

But it must still be asked: what kind of authoritarianism? I can live, and America can live, with legitimate authoritarians. I can live with the patriotic Turkish military. I can live with the pale ghost of Nasserism that rules Egypt. I have in the past compared that ghost with the ghost of the Mexican revolution, which was similarly nationalist, socialist and anti-Western, but which was tamed over time and slowly, with increasing prosperity and American influence, began to give in to democratic pressure. I can live with the monarchies of Jordan and Morocco and Tunisia, which are as far from absolute as they are from democratic. I could even live with the odious regime in Riyadh if they did not purchase their survival by paying off those who murder us.

But we cannot live with the regimes in Baghdad or Tehran - or, for that matter, Tripoli or Damascus. Not because they are authoritarian but because they are radical, violent enemies of the West. To use Jean Kirkpatrick's old distinction, they are not authoritarian but totalitarian. Their legitimacy is derived from war on America and its allies; they rule not by tradition or consent but by terror. They are natural enemies. And now that they have shown their determination to do us harm on our own soil, and are amassing the weapons to do us far greater harm, they must be destroyed.

I think we all agree on this. So the only question is: what will we do with, to take the first example, Iraq once we have liberated it? And how will we arrange that liberation to bring the maximum benefit and the least collateral damage to our interests? That's where the whole discussion of democratization belongs.

I agree, as I said, with Kramer that political democracy is a long shot. But we need to install a regime that has popular legitimacy, which is not the same thing, if only because without one our clean-up job will be much harder. And similarly, we need to install a regime which begins to inculcate liberal values that will eventually blossom into democracy. Maybe that means giving the country to the Hashemites. Maybe it means installing a military government for a while. Maybe it means disarming it and bringing in the U.N., as was done in Cambodia, for instance. I'm not averse to some kind of authoritarian rule temporarily, if I thought such a regime were plausible for Iraq, which I think it isn't. But if it were, I wouldn't be averse. Kramer talks about Algeria as a caution, but the story of Algeria is that the military won. The Islamists have destroyed their credibility by launching their horribly violent civil war. The military was utterly despised by the general population in the early 1990s because of their corruption, but the civil war has proven them to be, of all things, patriots, because they were determined not to let their country be destroyed by the Islamists. I recognize this is a somewhat disturbing view, but that's the underlying message I get from, for example, Gilles Kepel's book, Jihad: that where the state has been willing to crush the Islamists by force, it has succeeded; and when it has succeeded, it has left the society better prepared for the slow work of transitioning to more democratic norms than was the case beforehand.

I could live, in any Muslim country, with the equivalent of the pro-Western dictators of South Korea or Taiwan or the Philippines or Indonesia, all of whom saw Communism as the primary enemy and kept their nations out of the Soviet orbit. I could live with kings and autocrats who similarly saw Islamism as the enemy, and crushed it, so long as these kings and autocrats were strong, and strong in their friendship with us. If those conditions are met, then eventually, if they took American tutelage, their societies would enjoy some Western freedoms - such as religion - even as they failed to enjoy others - such as the franchise - and over time would progress politically and economically to the point where some degree of democratization was inevitable. The Egyptian democrats now in prison are not all or even mainly Islamists; they are crushed by the regime because the regime can crush them, not because they are America's natural enemies. But unless Egypt begins to unravel as a functioning state, and turns against the West, I do believe there will come a day where these democrats peacefully take power in that country, as they did in Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and, for that matter, Mexico and Russia.

But that won't work in Iraq. We have to take that regime out, and we have to do it ourselves. We can't rely on, for example, a palace coup to do the work that needs to be done. Iraq is structurally unsound. Hussein is an acute problem, but the larger problem is that Iraq is already a failed state, and it is too powerful a state to be left alone as such a dangerous failure. There will be more and more such states in the Muslim world, and we need to policy for how to deal with them. Building a city on a hill is insufficient.

(As an aside, the repression of Islamism in countries like Algeria may - I'm not saying it will, but it may - clear the decks for the next generation of Muslim leaders in these countries to consider democracy as an alternative to endless terror, war and misery. Islamists have failed in power in Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan. They have discredited themselves utterly in the civil war in Algeria through extreme violence. While they are gaining ground elsewhere - in Pakistan, for instance, and in Saudi Arabia - where they have failed and lost there is a chance - whether it will be seized, I don't know - to build an understanding of Islam that is compatible with and reinforces democratic and liberal norms, rather than undermining them. This would be a hugely positive development if it happens, because Islam is the main vehicle for the operation of what passes for civil society in many of these countries. That's a problem primarily because Islam has, increasingly, been unable to function as an alternative, non-coercive social organism outside the state, rather functioning as an opposition to the state per se or a political organism devoted to taking over the state. But this is not something immutable about Islam, and if Islamic leaders in places like Algeria could turn away from Islamism they could become a powerful force for the liberalization of their countries. This is the vision that Kepel outlines in his book. Where I disagree with him is in the assertion that this change is already well underway, and well-nigh inevitable. I think it's still in its infancy, and is more likely to fail than not. But that doesn't mean it's overwhelmingly unlikely, or that there's nothing we can do to create more favorable conditions for success.)