Since 1997, you’ve been coming to BarnesandNoble.com to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, BN.com is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.

Reply
RTA
Wordsmith
RTA
Posts: 920
Registered: ‎08-19-2008

The Forever War: Achieving a lasting liberal democracy

 

I realize this is a bit after the fact, but Filkins's book is one of those texts that I enjoyed reading for the pleasure of his storytelling, so I wasn't as studious about note-taking, with the intention of posting my thoughts.  But there are a couple holdover moments that I wanted to throw out, that might lead to possible general discussion.  Toward the end of the book, Filkins tells of Yusra al-Hakeem, an Iraqi interpreter, whom Filkins describes as "one of my best Iraqi friends" (325):

 


And now Yusra had decided to leave the country.  At first she joked in her usual way.  "After 1,400 years, the Shiites have had their chance, and look at the mess they made.  The Shiites, they cannot govern Iraq--bring back the Sunnis!"  And then a laugh.  Yusra didn't mean it--she loathed Saddam.  But the danger was different now, debilitating in a way it had not been during the years of Saddam.

 

"I am so tired," Yusra said.  "In Saddam's time, I knew that if I kept my mouth shut, if I did not say anything against him, I would be safe.  But now it is different.  There are so many reasons why someone would want to kill me now: because I am Shiite, because I have a Sunni son, because I work for the Americans, because I drive, because I am a woman with a job, because"--she picked up her abaya--"I don't wear my stupid hejab."

 

She took my notebook and flipped it to a blank page...She drew a large circle in the middle.

 

"This was Saddam," she said.  "He is here.  Big.  During Saddam's time, all you had to do was stay away from this giant thing.  That was not pleasant, but not so hard."

 

She flipped to another blank page.  She drew a dozen circles, some of them touching, some overlapping.  A small galaxy.  She put her pen in the middle and made a dot.

 

"The dot in the middle, that is me--that is every Iraqi," she said.  "From everywhere you can be killed, from here, from here, from here, from here."  She was stabbing her pen into the notepad.

 

"We Iraqis," she said.  "We are all sentenced to death and we do not know by whom." (326).


 

I thought Yusra's statement here, "bring back the Sunnis," even acknowledging as Filkins does that she doesn't mean it literally, was somewhat telling.  It put me in mind of a discussion Fareed Zakaria (one of CE's own former feature authors) offered in The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.  The larger discussion in his text examines the sort of states in which liberal democracy is likely to take root, incorporating economic, cultural, religious and historical elements, among others that I'm sure I'm not remembering.  In the early part of the discussion he talks about what he calls "The East Asian Model" towards a liberal democracy, offering that non-Western transitions to liberal democracy are those that followed "a version of the European pattern."  And that pattern he spells out earlier in the text as "capitalism and the rule of law first, and then democracy" (55).  Countries like South Korea and Taiwan, in their slow transition, were first governed predominantly by military juntas; but, under such regimes, the economy was addressed first, along with the legal system, followed later by personal rights, individual freedoms and then free elections.  It was, thus, "autocracies [that] laid the groundwork for stable liberal democracies" (56).

 

Zakaria goes on to offer that pressing for elections in countries without certain economic, liberal and secular conditions will, statistically, result in a failure of that democracy.  And later, speaking specifically with regard to the Middle East, he accentuates that "the West" rather than pressing for immediate democracy in the Middle East should first seek "constitutional liberalism" (151).  He argues that lasting solutions begin with economic reform, as it "means the beginnings of genuine rule of law (capitalism needs contracts), openness to the world, access to information, and, perhaps most important, the development of a business class" (152).  Interestingly enough, in this discussion (originally copyrighted in 2003) Zakaria looks at Iraq as a possible focal point in the Middle East.*  He offers that if the United States were "to dislodge Saddam and--far more important--engage in a serious, long-term project of nation-building, Iraq could well become the first major Arab country to combine Arab culture with economic dynamism, religious tolerance, liberal politics, and a modern outlook in the world" (154).  But again, that effort of nation building should have started at economic reform with an immediate eye towards "constitutional liberalism" and not a quick rush to a democratic election.  As Zakaria notes in the Afterword (written in June 2007), the U.S.'s policies in Iraq were "less ‘nation building' than they were ‘nation busting' in their effects" (265).

 

With Zakaria's argument in mind, I turn back to Yusra's longing for the return of Sunni rule.  As Filkins notes, Yusra hated Saddam and didn't really want his return.  But is it possible that she is implying a desire for a sort of interim autocratic rule that could stabilize the country, achieve lasting economic reform and realize a genuine rule of law?  And, if so, what should we think of possibly encouraging an autocratic government, even with the intention of it being a temporary vehicle to a liberal democracy?  Such a regime would certainly (even necessarily) trample some liberties, and would exist at the expense of democracy in Iraq.  But as Zakaria offers, instituting economic reform and constitutional liberalism are the first tested steps towards what will be lasting democracy. 

 

 


*I recall reading somewhere that Zakaria had written this in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but prior to the actual March invasion.  But I can't confirm that, because I can't find the citation, sorry.

Scribe
debbook
Posts: 1,823
Registered: ‎05-03-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Forever War: Achieving a lasting liberal democracy

I do wonder and have from the beginning, if getting rid of Saddam with no follow up plan only opens the door for another Saddam to come into power. Someone put into place by the US perhaps. Whoops, wasn't that how Saddam got there in the first place?

I'm not sure we have done the Iraqi's any favors. Like the woman states, she no longer has to fear Saddam but now she has other fears, more fears. Sometimes the eveil you know is better. Not that I am for Saddam in any way, but the plan was incredibly flawed and cost a lot of lives. What do we have to show for it?

A room without books is like a body without a soul.~ Cicero...
"bookmagic418.blogspot.com
Frequent Contributor
Jon_B
Posts: 1,893
Registered: ‎07-15-2008

Re: The Forever War: Achieving a lasting liberal democracy


debbook wrote:

I do wonder and have from the beginning, if getting rid of Saddam with no follow up plan only opens the door for another Saddam to come into power. Someone put into place by the US perhaps. 


Or someone (or more accurately, many someones) put into place by Iran, which was a central argument in one of February's featured books, The Devil We Know.
Baer's theory was that toppling Saddam's government paved the way for Iran to exert its influence within the country.  Much of the fighting that has taken place over the past couple years has been between Sunni and Shiite forces, many of those Shiite forces being Iranian proxies.  And in most of Iraq, the Shiites have been victorious and have now established strong majorities in areas that were previously mixed.  Meaning that any Iraqi democracy will be a strongly Shiite one, always looking towards Tehran.
 
 

 

________________________________________

Need some help setting up your My B&N profile? Click here!

Looking for a particular book, but can't remember the title or author? Ask about it here!
Blogger
L_Monty
Posts: 900
Registered: ‎12-30-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Forever War: Achieving a lasting liberal democracy


Jon_B wrote:
Or someone (or more accurately, many someones) put into place by Iran, which was a central argument in one of February's featured books, The Devil We Know.
Baer's theory was that toppling Saddam's government paved the way for Iran to exert its influence within the country.  Much of the fighting that has taken place over the past couple years has been between Sunni and Shiite forces, many of those Shiite forces being Iranian proxies.  And in most of Iraq, the Shiites have been victorious and have now established strong majorities in areas that were previously mixed.  Meaning that any Iraqi democracy will be a strongly Shiite one, always looking towards Tehran.

Filkins also returns to something similar to this theme in both his coverage of Afghanistan and Iraq, namely that those most interested in fighting and in deepening areas of the conflict are often the imported fighters. In Afghanistan, it's the Arabs and Americans. In Iraq, it's the Americans and the Syrians/Arabs/Iranians. In both cases, what he describes as native enthusiasm for conflict seems to be a temporary reaction to novelty which is quickly overwhelmed by the realities of both violence and retribution. Thus disaffected, the native population becomes prisoner to a proxy war of foreign aims and armies, aided only in small part by the locals.
Blogger
L_Monty
Posts: 900
Registered: ‎12-30-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Forever War: Achieving a lasting liberal democracy


RTA wrote:
Fareed Zakaria

F'real, y'all.


I don't disagree with the overall contention that nations that adopt an authoritarian framework and gradually introduce market economies and the rule of law before opening the door to political pluralism can and do outperform countries that try to do the latter first. But there are problems with how Zakaria approaches his argument about Iraq.

First of all, even in 2003, as I noted in the Iraq War Turns Six thread, mainstream newspapers cast serious doubt on the rationales for the Iraq Invasion. Given that claims of WMD caches and pursuit of nuclear material were so dubious and statistics about Saddam's ballistic capability so exaggerated, the structure of the peace would leave the realm of realpolitik as soon as these claims were debunked. Only in a world in which he'd had these weapons and was capable of delivering such a threat could you so cynically invade a dictatorship and replace it with another one, however benevolent.

As we saw with the Bush administration's change in PR tactic, as soon as the premise of a war turns away from OMG WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE, you can't keep a public willing to fight on power politics, and thus you switch the appeal to emotionally mobilizing political concepts. The trouble is, as soon as you have to embrace ideals as your casus belli, you have to be idealistic, which means trading in authoritarianism as a means of "liberating" a people is laughably dumb. Zakaria's problem in re: Iraq is that he was promoting a cynical idea of government management at a time when the terrifying threats that would have legitimized that sort of thinking were being shot to bits like wet kleenex by a series of sneezes. That he advanced the theory at all makes him either credulous or a little naive, and it's probably the latter, considering:

Zakaria's pretty much a doctrinaire free-market globalist, and his pro-authoritarian argument represents more of his tautological tunnel-vision praise for that kind of market fundamentalism. Free people have free markets; ergo free markets will free a people. The problem is that Zakaria routinely uncritically advances free-market globalization as panacea while whitewashing the consequences, which manifests in both his colonial apologias as well as his advocacy for modern economic colonialism, which explains itself via a kind of ouroborous of self-justification. Only truly free markets will free the people, but only an authoritarian leadership can preserve the free market and ignore the protectionist needs of developing native industry, which allows us to export our goods to them and invest in higher-end industries in their nation in a way native developers can't compete with, which introduces them to the global economy, which will make them free, because.

Anyway, this is all somewhat secondary to the Filkins quote, but I guess it came out because Zakaria bugs me.
RTA
Wordsmith
RTA
Posts: 920
Registered: ‎08-19-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Forever War: Achieving a lasting liberal democracy

[ Edited ]

L_Monty wrote:

 

Zakaria harangue


Just to be clear, as I don't want to be responsible for misrepresenting him, Zakaria doesn't offer an authoritarian form of government as a means to addressing the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Yes he does that, generally, with regard to many different countries, throughout the text.  And I guess that one could interpret his statement that the U.S. "engage in a serious, long-term project of nation-building" in the context of the rest of his discussion, as setting up a benevolent dictator.  But he never states that explicitly; actually he hardly mentions Iraq, the quote above constitutes the bulk of what he has to say about Iraq in his discussion.  And, while I agree that Zakaria trades a little too quickly in the "tunnel-vision" praise of see it worked here, it'll work everywhere, I think there is value in his argument about the ability of benevolent autocrats to institute some sort of rule of law, which is a necessary base for a functioning society.

 

Turning back to my original question though, it seems Monty that your criticism of Zakaria's position resides predominantly on his uncritical reliance on free-market globalization as a panacea to all the world's ills.  But, the reason I asked what people thought of such a position as proffered is that I have serious reservations about advancing the idea that democracies should actually encourage autocracies as a means towards bringing about liberalism, and then eventually democracy.  Zakaria's argument has the appearance of being sound in that he demonstrates quite convincingly how benevolent autocracies have led to more liberal states, and, often, eventually to democracies.  And on the flip he demonstrates how unsuccessful states that attempt democratic elections can be when they don't meet certain criteria, predominantly economic criteria as you note. 

 

For me though, outside his reliance on the free-market, I'm not sure how I feel about the world's most powerful democracies continuing to encourage, or even enabling, autocratic rulers as a means to an end.  Because, outside of, as debbook notes, a certain lack of success in that department, I'm a little hesitant about the moral implications therein.  And part of me wonders if I'm letting ideology outweigh pragmatic concerns, with such a hesitation.   

 

I think Filkins's passage here put me in mind of Zakaria's discussion because my reservation always revolves around how arrogant it is for the West to think that it can institute democracies in states, particularly under the auspices of: You're not quite good enough for a democracy, so here's a little taste of constitutional liberalism, protected by a benevolent autocrat, and maybe then, after rolling up your sleeves for some hard work, you can earn yourselves a bit of democracy in the future.  And I guess Yusra's words here make me reconsider that criticism of arrogance; because, ideologies aside, people really do need to be able to go to the market without fear of random death.

 


EDIT

 

I had the 6000th post, so BOO-YAH!, y'all.

Message Edited by RTA on 03-30-2009 07:32 PM