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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Default Dominos of Democracy

    So I'm tooling around in my stack of PME books today, and one portion covers the Bush Administrations National Security Strategy, produced in 2002 http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archiv...002/index.html, as well as an interview given by John Lewis Gaddis to Frontline in Jan 2003, just prior to the invasion of Iraq http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontl...ws/gaddis.html

    Gaddis made the point that the administration, without publicly stating so, believed that the toppling of Saddam Hussien and a resulting shift towards democracy in Iraq might serve as the first domino in the region. Other democratic shifts in Iran and Saudi Arabia were plausible, and that was where the administration was moving with the "grand strategy" it developed in NSS-2002.

    Gaddis also made note of how much preemption factored into this strategy, in terms of countering threats. This makes sense to some degree, considering the shock of 9/11 just a few months before, but it leaves me thinking hard on whether this domino theory eventually hurt us or helped us.

    "Victory for the American people," and "growth of democracy," became the buzzwords of speeches, and I wonder if all this rhetoric simply polarized other elements of the world into thinking the United States had shifted to a realm of imperialism. Is there additional literature out there (besides the tinfoil hatters) that critiques the Bush Administration in this regard? I've done some looking, but it's hard to wade through all the hits. Furthermore, what does the council think...have elements of the world become polarized for the worse?
    Last edited by jcustis; 08-10-2009 at 04:47 AM.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Dominoes of democracy?

    Jon,

    To me this strategy was rhetorical, possibly like the 'rollback' theme in Cold War Europe - which ended with Hungary 1956. Maybe it worked in the USA as providing legitimacy for the war(s).

    'Democracy' in the Arab perspective is very different from that in Western Europe, which appears to be a ballot box decision every 'X' years. Put that alongside US support for Israel, Mubarek in Eygpt and more - the US advocating democracy was damaged beyond repair.

    The 'Domino' theory appears to work the opposite way, if 'X' goes radical, then 'Y' will and later 'B'. I would suggest looking at the reaction to the FIS electoral victory in Algeria, plus the emergence of Hamas and Hizbollah.

    For the "man in the Arab street" I speculate that the US strategy meant nothing; for the politically active in and out of government different reactions. Overall IMHO it did not help outside the USA.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 08-10-2009 at 09:29 AM.

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    Default - culture follows culture

    - there has been a shift in Saudi domestic political involvement with their women and I read where cosmetic surgery is becoming real popular over there and it won't be long until the women are allowed to drive in that wealthy society and more of them are getting more education - granted, it's a downward trickle but real, not that they are going to be erecting Thomas Jefferson statues any time soon. These are essentially trappings, vague, of Democracy but some regard it as a waning of Patriarchal power as well.

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    Gaddis made the point that the administration, without publicly stating so, believed that the toppling of Saddam Hussien and a resulting shift towards democracy in Iraq might serve as the first domino in the region. Other democratic shifts in Iran and Saudi Arabia were plausible, and that was where the administration was moving with the "grand strategy" it developed in NSS-2002.

    Gaddis also made note of how much preemption factored into this strategy, in terms of countering threats. This makes sense to some degree, considering the shock of 9/11 just a few months before, but it leaves me thinking hard on whether this domino theory eventually hurt us or helped us.
    I don't see how a theory can help or hurt us... actions based on that theory would be another story, and in that event we'd have to assess the impact of the actions.

    The administration may not have publicly stated the "democratic domino theory" (I'm not going to check the archives to see), but this belief was stated loudly and often by many of the key supporters of the war, particularly those from the "neocon" side. Remember all the talk about "draining the swamp" in the Middle East? At times it started to sound like there was a row of huge crates in some warehouse in DC, each labeled "Democracy, functioning, one", ready to be "installed" like a spare tire or a light bulb. The assumption seemed to be that democracy is some sort of natural state, and that once the dictatorship was removed it would flourish of its own accord with a minor bit of judicious American cultivation, winning acclamation from all and setting a glowing example for the benighted peoples of the region.

    Of course it didn't quite work that way, as anyone with 4 functioning synapses would have expected from the start. Democracy cannot be installed, it evolves, and the evolution is often a prolonged process fraught with disorder and instability. When a dictator is overthrown by internal forces, there are by definition internal forces with at least enough coherence and support to overthrow a dictatorship. That doesn't assure a smooth transition to democracy, but it's a start. When a dictator is overthrown from the outside, where do you start? The institutions needed for democracy to function don't exist. If the outside party tries to create them, they are meddling. If they don't, there is chaos. Not a great place to be.

    Are we striving for stability in the Middle East, or democracy? They are not the same thing, and trying to force democratic transitions is hardly going to promote stability... quite the opposite.

    There's a lot of ranting about Saudi Arabia, and much of it overlooks the quite dramatic moves by the Saudis in the last 5-6 years, not toward democracy but toward providing a better life for the citizenry. The 90s were a pretty grim time in the Kingdom: the royals invested the proceeds of the first oil boom outside the country, for the most part, and when the glut and the price plunge came the royals were living in style while the populace felt the pinch - not a combination that promotes stability. The recent oil price surge saw a very different approach: the Saudis have spent enormous sums on domestic infrastructure, housing, health care, education, and job creation, and there has been a real influence on popular sentiment. Of course there are still fundamentalists who will take off and join the jihad, but they are not agitating for democracy, and democracy and liberalism are as likely to provoke radicalism as to alleviate it.

    The Gulf States are not democratic, but what business of ours is that? They are ordering their affairs in their own way, and whatever change takes place will happen in their way at their demand: I don't see any real evidence of widespread demand for democracy there. They aren't invading anybody, they aren't bothering anybody, why mess with them? We've more than enough problems elsewhere...

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Political handsprings to attract attention -- or deflect it...

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    I don't see how a theory can help or hurt us... actions based on that theory would be another story, and in that event we'd have to assess the impact of the actions.
    Political rhetoric. Not worth assessing.
    Are we striving for stability in the Middle East, or democracy? They are not the same thing, and trying to force democratic transitions is hardly going to promote stability... quite the opposite.
    In order, No; No; Only a few Ideological oddjobs even tried -- and that only briefly. The object was to send a message that attacks on American interest worldwide emanating from the ME would no longer be tolerated as Afghanistan was a message to the world not to attack American soil; two different things in two very different areas. Needed to do all that without disrupting world oil supply. The 'democracy bit was an afterthought in an attempt to replace the flawed WMD rationale.
    The Gulf States are not democratic, but what business of ours is that? ... We've more than enough problems elsewhere...
    True and you'll note that we've made no noise to them -- or the Saudis -- and very little to Pakistan about democracy...

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    True and you'll note that we've made no noise to them -- or the Saudis -- and very little to Pakistan about democracy...
    I agree that we've made no effort to force democracy on the Saudis, but we hear quite a bit of noise from outside Government suggesting that we should, though it's never quite clear how. I've even heard it said that Saudi Arabia is dependent on the US or even a US client state... again, I'm not sure how, certainly they aren't financially dependent on us (more the opposite). We've moved to protect the Saudis from potential external aggressors, but that was in defence of our own interests, and I see no hypocrisy there.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Is the issue of democracy in the Kingdom, Pakistan, Iran, etc., a neocon platform? Has any of Obama's rhetoric stated a similar aim?

    I admit that I've been a bit removed from the issue previously, but I am curious now.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I don't pay much attention to domestic politcs because it's so predictable

    and boring, so I'm not at all sure -- nor do I care - who wears what tags but my perception is that the Neocons were former liberals who became conservative and got, through Cheney, various positions in the last Administration. Perception is also that they made no noise about the Saudis but that those who opposed the previous administration and the Neocons were noisy about our failure to 'tackle' the Saudis or Pakistan and instead making the mistake of attacking Afghanistan -- until that worked, then they switched to the mistake of attacking Iraq. They are now quiet and will likely remain so until Iraq erupts than it will be someone else's fault.

    Everyone seems to have an idea about Iran...

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    Gaddis made the point that the administration, without publicly stating so, believed that the toppling of Saddam Hussien and a resulting shift towards democracy in Iraq might serve as the first domino in the region. Other democratic shifts in Iran and Saudi Arabia were plausible, and that was where the administration was moving with the "grand strategy" it developed in NSS-2002.
    There's no doubt in my mind that the idea of Iraq as a "democratic domino" was a real element in US strategy for many--although certainly not all--in the Bush Administration at the time. There are a variety of reasons why political changes in Iraq didn't have the desired effect (PM me with an email address, and I'll send to some of my own work on the issue), but the question raised here is what effects the rhetoric of a "forward agenda of freedom" had on US interests in the region and around the world.

    Ironically, I think there were two seemingly contradictory effects. The first was the response, especially in the ME, that this was just a new form of imperialism. The second objection, however, was that the US was not serious--and was not going far enough. In short, Washington got simultaneously blamed for both meddling too much, and not meddling enough.

    Exacerbating these effects was the additional factor that the critics were, to a large degree, right. The US became quite serious about pushing reform for a brief period of time in 2002-05, even on its allies—however flawed, the semi-competitive Egyptian presidential elections of 2005 wouldn't have occurred without US pressure. Indeed at the time many in Cairo would likely have ranked US pressure for reform as among the primary national security threat to Egypt (or, more accurately, its dictatorial regime).

    The policy was dead by the end of the year, however, as evidenced by Washington's tepid response to massive fraud in the Egyptian parliamentary elections, as well as the unwelcome results of the January 2006 Palestinian (PLC) elections. Washington's problem with democratic politics is that voters in the region didn't like US foreign policy, and if given the choice would often vote for parties (usually Islamist) who had very different views of the world than those held in the White House.

    The net effect of all this was a policy that fell between two stools. It raised expectations through lofty rhetoric of supporting change, only to back off, and thereby confirm the view of so many in the region that it had all been subterfuge all along. This was far more damaging to US interests, IMHO, than would have been either accommodating dictators or pressing for real political change.
    They mostly come at night. Mostly.


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