Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Poli-Sci 101

You know what's really starting to frost my pumpkin? All the chatter I'm picking up from signals intelligence (yup, we monitor radio and TV broadcasts here at Stayin' Alive, to learn what we can about the worldwide idiocy conspiracy), about how the minor difficulties the U.S. has encountered in Iraq force us to assess whether the "idealistic" foreign policy goals of the neo-conservatives, to bring freedom™ and democracy™ to the world, must surrender to Kissingerian realpolitik.

Puh-leeze. The PNAC used the language of "democracy" to refer to the regimes it proposed to install in the Middle East, and they continued to put words about democracy and freedom into the mouth of President Mortimer Snerd after they seized power, but it is obvious what they really meant by the term. The new "democratic" government of Iraq was to be led by a person of their choosing -- specifically, a convicted embezzler who hadn't set foot in Iraq for decades -- and it was proposed that this "democratic" government would be friendly to Israel, would allow the United States to establish permanent military bases on its territory, and would allow U.S. corporations to extract, process and sell its petroleum. Since any government in Iraq that had popular support would do none of those things, it follows that "democracy" to the neo-cons means "regimes friendly to U.S. corporate interests."

We know that the preznit took Economics 101 because he talks about it all the time. Okay, that doesn't prove anything, but he did attend Harvard Business School so he must have at least sat in the back of the class. But it appears he did not take Political Science 101. In that course, you learn that political institutions depend on political culture -- that the expectations, aspirations, and norms people have about political participation, the role of government, loyalty to the state and the nature of the national interest are powerful limiting factors for the form of government.

You can't have a western-style secular democracy if you do not have the requisite political culture. You can't ride in on tanks and say, "Okay folks, now your country is a democracy, and you'd better act democratically or we'll blow you up," and expect results. The neo-cons may be blinded by ideology, but they aren't total idiots. They have always known that perfectly well. Their rhetoric about democracy™ and freedom™ is utterly cynical. The Iraq project was about installing a client regime, nothing else, and it was as Kissingerian as it could possibly be.

The alternative to imperialism, which is the correct label for neo-con policy, is working through international institutions to solve global problems. The U.S. has the world's most powerful economy, at least for now -- although we are squandering our wealth -- and is admired for its cultural achievements and for the ideals that it has lately failed to honor. Those are essential assets that we can use in exercising leadership. Military power, however, does not make for leadership, but for bullying -- which isn't working.

I'm going to be away from Your Internets for a couple of days. If we're lucky, you may hear from Revere. But I'll be back.