Monday, February 21, 2011

This is the Most Exciting Moment in World Politics Since the Fall of the Wall

The great moment when the Berlin Wall fell was an era when two great bastions of tyranny fell - most of the Communist states, and most of the Latin American capitalist authoritarian states. The world is a freer, richer, and more peaceful place because of those two great revolutions.

They were revolutions not just of one nation or another, but of many nations suffering under similar ideological regimes. The several revolutions fed off one another as they rose up. And, just as important, those ideological regimes lost heart, lost faith in their own legitimacy. The continuous pressure and example from the democracies was vital to both encourage the people and discourage the regimes. The democracies, the United States included, have many faults and mixed motives, and we also supported many of those oppressive regimes for a long time. But in that glorious moment, the good causes and good reasons came together.

The Muslim states are the last major bastion of ideological authoritarianism on earth today. We are witnessing a similar combination of happy forces against that ideology. There are sufficient pro-democracy populations in most Muslim nations to rise up, and to rise up with amazing discipline. The ideology that authoritarianism is a Muslim value is tottering, and is being opposed by Muslim intellectuals, journalists, and some religious leaders. And the democracies seem willing, even eager, to support democratic regimes in Muslim nations - even the ones with oil.

The news of the next few months will no doubt bring blood and horror, as some regimes - the Libyan, for example - fight back with brutal oppression. And we do not know what kind of regime Egypt will end up with. After the Wall fell, after all, the Russians gave up their empire, but the Chinese did massacre their democrats at Tienanmen Square. Some tyrannies will win this round, and some oppressed people will not even try to rise up.

I believe that when the dust settles, though, there will be, say, half a dozen Muslim democracies, and a several less oppressive Muslim regimes. Most importantly, the connection between Islam and authoritarian ideology will be broken.


Molly Q. said...

Hope things turn out more like East Germany and less like Iran.

Gruntled said...

I don't think we have heard the last word on Iran yet. The protest at the stolen election almost worked, and the Iranians are still back protesting now.

Molly Q. said...

Yeah, but its taken thirty years so far and untold lost lives.(Thank you Jimmy Carter.)

Sookie said...

Some credit should be given to GWB who helped Iraq begin down its road to freedom.

Gruntled said...

Molly Q. I think we really need to thank Eisenhower, for overthrowing Iran's elected government and installing a dictatorship, which was backed by all subsequent administrations until it was overthrown. Actually, I think Carter had the best hope of helping Iran make the transition to democracy of all of that set of presidents, but we had poisoned the well for so long that we disabled the moderately religious, leaving the field open to the mullahs.

Gruntled said...

Sookie, I give President Bush the Younger full credit for promoting the idea of democracy in the Middle East. I think he did it so clumsily, especially in Iraq, that he may have done more harm than good.

The current uprisings are much more likely to be successful, as they are indigenous. I think the current administration has been much more adroit at helping foster democracy by not antagonizing the reigning governments.

Anonymous said...

I wondered how long it would take you to give Obama credit for his "handling" of their uprisings.

Gruntled said...

Do you think I am wrong? I would be glad to have my errors pointed out to me.

Whit said...

Gruntled, we don't know enough yet to make a judgement.

Freedom is a lot more than democracy (majority rule), and certainly more than one-man, one-vote, one-time. You need protections for minorities and individual rights. You need protection of private property, economic liberty and the rule of law. You need limited government and a space for civil society. You need an enlightened culture that does not stone adulterers or murder apostates. (Note the conviction yesterday in Arizona for an “honor killing”) And you probably need most of all a prosperous and sizable commercial class. Whether enough of this is present, or can evolve, in these societies in time is open to question.

What if Eisenhower had not supported the Shah? We might have had a Communist state there and across the region. Or maybe not.

What if Carter had been more decisive? There might be a pro-American, liberalizing constitutional monarchy in Iran; or not.

What if Reagan had responded with force after the Lebanon Marine base bombing? Would we still be facing Islamist terror?

For that matter, what if the Orthodox Patriarchs of Constantinople not excommunicated, and the Emperors not persecuted, the Coptic, Jacobite, Armenian and other non-orthodox Christians of the Middle East, and those Christians had supported the Byzantines rather than the Arabs so that Islam was pretty much limited to the Arabian Peninsula?

There are always unintended, and unforseen consequences in foreign policy. Often we can do no better than try to make our foreign policy consistent with the vision we have for ourselves, accept that even as a Superpower our influence is limited, and speak the truth to evil around the world.

Gruntled said...


I entirely agree that it is too soon to tell how things are going to play out with the various Muslim democratic uprisings. I am very hopeful, and will watch with great interest.

I think the United States is a secondary player in these largely indigenous movements. We have more power to mess things up by getting directly involved than we do to help. Nonetheless, we should help behind the scenes as much as possible.

I think U.S. policy should be guided by being for democracy. We go astray when we are merely against some other enemy. We are actively wrong when our policy is guided merely by economic interests.

Gruntled said...

Eisenhower did not merely "back the Shah" - he overthrew a democratically elected government, for the first time (but not the last). This created an autocratic regime without restraint. By the time Carter was president the Shah had created such a brutal police state that I don't think constitutional monarchy was possible - not with the dynasty, anyway.

Whit said...

Gruntled, I agree with your first reply with the emendation that our policy should be guided by freedom and liberty rather than just "democracy" and with the further emendation that, because a strong commercial class is needed for democracy, and because free trade and globalization tends to break down oppressive forces (although not always), good economic policy and prosperity usually reinforces good foreign policy.

As for your second post, backing the Shah was shorthand, I was not arguing with your history. But the history in Chile where a politically oppressive, but economically liberal (in the classic sense) regime gave way to what is, with Columbia, probably the best run South American nation today, leaves me less pessimistic about what the Pavlavi dynasty might have accomplished had they survived. Did the Pavlavi's fall because they were too oppressive, or not oppressive enough? And did what followed the Shah mark an improvement, particularly given its role in the genesis of the Terror War?
But that's all speculation. We are where we are, and today’s troubles are enough for today.