Saturday, February 28, 2004

Russia not an exception in its failure ... a glass half full a reason to celebrate?

Talk about lowering expectations. Russia in a new article by Foreign Policy online magazine isn't an apparent failure despite its economic woes and widely recognized fallback into an authoritarian state. No, the authors claim that the problem is that the expectations were too high and that the Russia experience is the norm for a new country transitioning to democracy and free market economics.

" Conventional wisdom in the West says that post-Cold War Russia has been a disastrous failure. The facts say otherwise. Aspects of Russia's performance over the last decade may have been disappointing, but the notion that the country has gone through an economic cataclysm and political relapse is wrong--more a comment on overblown expectations than on Russia's actual experience. Compared to other countries at a similar level of economic and political development, Russia looks more the norm than the exception."

This is despite as the authors admit:
" Yet the mood among Western observers has been anything but celebratory. Russia has come to be viewed as a disastrous failure and the 1990s as a decade of catastrophe for its people. Journalists, politicians, and academics have described Russia not as a middle-income country struggling to overcome its communist past and find its place in the world, but as a collapsed state inhabited by criminals and threatening other countries with multiple contagions."

Consider for a moment Haiti's situation which is currently falling apart (MSNBC). This whole discussion is why even though the oldman liked the idea of removing Saddam he was so leery of invading Iraq. Here we have a similar situation played out. Duvaliar = bad man in power. Replaced by whom with (Clintonian) military force? Corrupt and inept (but elected) Aristide. Years after intervention? Still a sore spot on the globe and a black eye for American promotion of Democracy.

So yes, we removed Saddam and yes he was a very bad man. However the Iraqis like the Haitians don't necessarily have to materially benefit from this. This is especially true since we're introducing elections into a country that may not be ready for tolerant and diverse multiparty democracy, and we've already appointed opportunistic and ineffectual scumbags in the form of the IGC to power there - Chalabi the liar of Baghdad, Iranist theological operators who run militias like the BADR brigade, ineffectual traditionalists like Adnan Pananachi, token feminists without any real power base, etc.

And yes, just like Haiti it could all fall apart. This is the problem with the forward promotion of democracy, it's a great idea but it's incredibly hard to do properly. And you may end up stuck there or having it be a chaotic mess for years on end.

So yeah, Clinton failed in Haiti... and now Bush is on the verge of failing Iraq. There is no agreement yet (CSM) on the long term disposition of US forces, which means the situation is incredibly precarious (FPIF).

Proponents of the forward promotion of democracy (Oldman1787) tend to over-emphasis how quickly benefits can be attained and to downplay potential risks. But as Amy Chua (Guardian-UK) in her article "Our most dangerous export" has pointed out, the optimistic scenario is not the way history tends to play itself out!

" In May 1998, Indonesian mobs swarmed through the streets of Jakarta, looting and torching more than 5,000 ethnic Chinese shops and homes. A hundred and fifty Chinese women were gang-raped and more than 2,000 people died. In the months that followed, anti-Chinese hate-mongering and violence spread throughout Indonesia's cities. The explosion of rage can be traced to an unlikely source: the unrestrained combination of democracy and free markets - the very prescription wealthy democracies have promoted for healing the ills of underdevelopment. How did things go so wrong?"

So what do these authors do? Faced with the realities that interventions promoting transitions tend to lead to crony capitalism and corrupt authoratarian rule instead of genuine multiparty diverse democratic governments, forward proponents of the spread of Democracy are forced to argue for the lowering of expectations. Instead we are urged to regard the "progress" that Russia has made. I'm not sure anyone would argue that things are worse in Russia today than they were under the Communist regime, but that's not the point. The point is that those who promise authentic and transparent, democratic and capitalist societies can't deliver. The promise made to the American public and the world is never that American intervention in other countries will create slightly less repressive governments and pseduo-market economies with heavy government management, or worse as the Weekly Standard reports they become like Haiti which is basically a failed state now.

That is not what they are promising. And proponents of foward democratization at the cost of stability should be held responsible for promising more than they can deliver. Certainly if the United States is to put itself with blood and treasure on the line, the argument that we should do so to create only mildly totalitarian states with phony democracies controlled by economic oligarchies with possible intermittent civil wars that we will need to intervene in later is going to be less potent of a rallying crying than "making the world safe for democracy". But that is the truth of the matter! And the sad thing is that the proponents of Democracy discredit it by claiming to deliver more than they reasonably can ever expect to create in results.

Idealistic notions of how fast countries can culturally develop are unrealistic and a fools' gamble. We can help other countries, but in order to do so we have to realistic about how much can be achieved and what the cost will be. Otherwise America just ends up losing credibility and looking like a silly ass.


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