March 7, 2005

EUROPE HAD NO IDENTITY:

They made a democracy and called it peace (Spengler, 3/07/05, Asia Times)

This year's 60th anniversary of the Anglo-American victory in World War II will call forth innumerable orations about the triumph of liberty. Ad nauseam, we will hear that the occupation of Germany and Japan as well as the fall of communism set a precedent for the birth of democracy in Iraq, leading to the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East. If the experience of World War II and the Cold War were any guide, the Middle East would be well advised to shun democracy at all costs.

That victory by the United States replaced German, Japanese and Russian tyranny with democracies is not in doubt. The problem is: where are the Germans, Japanese and Russians? If the United States had set out to exterminate its erstwhile enemies, it could not have done a more thorough job. Its adversaries of World War II and the Cold War are dying out. In the Islamic world, a breakup of traditional society might produce similar results. Tacitus' famous dictum ("they made a desert and called it peace") comes to mind. I insist on the point not because I think it should have been otherwise, but to admonish Americans to steel themselves for terrible times ahead. [...]

[T]he former Axis powers and the former Soviet Union and its satellites occupy every one of the top positions on the death row of demographics. I refer to the United Nations' report " World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision". [...]


The United States has sufficient power to persuade Iraq's religious and tribal leaders to march their people to the polls as a condition for sharing power in a new government (The dotage of Iraq's democracy, February 2), or for that matter to extort a gesture toward multi-party elections out of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. But I do not believe that the Islamic world will abandon its long-developed sense of collective identity in favor of US-style democracy without tragic consequences.


David Cohen is fond of pointing out that this insidious imposition of democracy on the Europeans was brilliant precisely because it has neutered them and ended even the prospect of war between the respective states. But it worked only because they were post-Christian states with no viable basis for building enduring democracies and decent cultures. The Islamic world, especially the Shi'a dominated crescent from Lebanon to Iran, should prove quite different because it still hasthe required religious foundation, though it will have to be Reformed somewhat in Judeo-Christianity's image.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 7, 2005 8:20 AM
Comments

Seems to me there are more than several problems with this thesis, preganant as it is with post-hoc fallacies:

1. In the years of the Marshall Plan (i.e., immediately after the end of WWII), how was the US (or anyone) to know that Europe was to become "post-Christian"? That is, it was not a given that a democratic Europe was going to choose to jettison its faith (and in fact, it is not inconceivable that Europe may regain an appreciation of the Christianity it has seemingly jettisoned.)

2. Why would one even attempt to claim that an emasculated Europe was an American strategy all along? (NATO, anyone? That is, in the years before 2001)

3. The American attempt to spread democracy (or some form of it) in the middle east is NOT part of a sinister American plot to get Moslems to give up Islam---unless one insists that Islamofascism and Islam are in essence one and the same, as some in the west, as well as Al Zarqawi, bin Laden and their sympathizers seem to believe.

4. If democracy and religion are necessarily incompatible, how does one explain the US?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 7, 2005 9:36 AM

Barry: The goal wasn't so much an emasculated Europe as an emasculated Germany or, perhaps more precisely, a Frenchified Germany, so that French/German animosity wouldn't cause a general European war for the eleventy-first time.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 7, 2005 9:45 AM

Sorry, Germany was emasculated by splitting it up.

Given post-war realities on the ground, the goal was not could not possibly have been an emasculated West Germany.

The opposite, in fact. Otherwise, there would have been no rationale for the Marshall Plan.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 7, 2005 10:42 AM

Barry:

America is the point. We adopted a Republic as a religious society. We've maintained both.

We imposed democracy on post-Christian Europe and it's dying.

Now we undertake the process of democratizing Islam. Its prospects are much brighter than Europe's were. Though they are obviously not guaranteed. It too could slide into the secular abyss over time.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2005 11:01 AM

No, this is only a partial analysis.

European democracy evolved, politically, into democratic socialism, which evolved into less democracy and more socialism, so that ultimately, much of which should have been left in the realm of personal responsibility was transferred to the state, with subsequent, inevitable feelings of malaise, helplessness, alienation.

And while one could live the good life, social democracy ultimately became a devil's bargain---a self-destructive trap.

Which should be avoided at all costs.

There is a certain amount of socialism (or of the need of the individual to support the larger society) that necessarily inheres in democratic governance. The challenge is to find out what the threshold is and to avoid crossing it. The challenge is to continue to enable people to maintain responsibility for themselves and their environments. Some call this minimal government; but it's not that cut and dried. It's not that easy to achieve.

Vigilance is required. It is easy to lapse, faced with promises of the good life, of perfection, of utopia.

America, for a variety of reasons, has met that challenge. Mostly. Yes, it could lapse into European-style (or Canadian-style) statist malaise. Perhaps, in some ways, it already has.

But at least, the "enemy" has been understood and defined.

And one of the unintended "benefits" of the current GWOT, it seems to me, is that it has given one the opportunity to reassess, to learn, to distil what is necessary, and why, and what must be avoided, and why.

And as far as religion is concerned, it seems clear that one must search for a religion or religious credo that accentuates, that promotes personal responsibility and freedom of choice.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 7, 2005 12:40 PM

The Weimar Republic was just as liberal and "frenchified" as anything that showed up after World War II. Indeed, one could argue that it was more so. The difference between the two wars was, as Barry noted, the division of Germany, the massive occupation and reworking of German culture down to the roots, and the threat of Soviet occupation. None of this is present in the Middle East, not even in Iraq. If anything, our interventions are limited to superficial political changes, and they are making the area more Islamist, not less.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 7, 2005 2:18 PM

Derek:

Yes, it needs to be more Islamic than the secular tyrants were or democracy will not succeed. But it needs to be less Islamicist than the extremists are or it won't be democratic.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2005 2:25 PM

Barry:

No, first religion then democracy or it doesn't work over the long haul. It has no basis and no end.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2005 2:27 PM

It also needs to happen on this planet. And, as an American, I'd like it to be friendly to us. So far the track record is not very good. The one country with a democratic, Islamist party is also the country with growingly rampant anti-Americanism: Turkey. It's followed by Indonesia and Lebanon, two other countries with democratic institutions.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 7, 2005 3:08 PM

Europe had religion before democracy. In fact, many of the parties in Europe are called Christian Democrats.

The whole idea of post-Christian Europe really isn't anything new, either. As early as the nineteenth century, people had already foreseen it. Nietzsche made a name discussing it. It was in full-throated roar during the interwar period. World War II was certainly not needed to bring it about. In fact, it may have even delayed it a bit.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 7, 2005 3:11 PM

1. The idea that Europe is losing its democracy is laughable. They have problems to be sure but nobody is seriously considering folding up elected government and bringing back the street thugs in shirts of various colors.

2. The important distinction about religion between the US and Europe is that we never had a formal state religion whereas European states did. American faiths have to appeal to the populace, they do not get a share of the taxes as they do in Germany for example. As a result, America has a multiplicity of sects reflecting individual opinion and a great variety inside each sect. European churches tend to be bureaucratic models of top-down management. The parish priest doesn't have to give a tinker's dam about his parishioners in order to retain his position. An American rabbi who gives a speech critical of Ariel Sharon comes back to his congregational office to find the locks on his door changed and his stuff in a cardboard box. Precisely because Americans have this free choice of a wide smorgasbord of faiths, rather than a government dictated one-size-fits-all model, they are more involved with their churches and hence more religious.

3. If there is going to be democracy in the Islamic world, it is going to be influenced by Islam. That is only natural. Anyone who fails to understand or insists on denying the centrality of Biblical doctrine to American politics is delusional. What that's going to mean I don't know. But I would certainly imagine that it will have a different model of womens' rights for example.

4. The Turkish situation is a special one probably fairly unique so while interesting is hardly dispositive. The 'Islamists' there received about 35% of the vote, giving them a majority of seats. The majority of Turkish Kurds, particularly those in the gecekondus around Istanbul, voted for that party. There was tremendous resentment in Turkey about the main secular parties and their grotesque Argentine-level corruption. That these parties were supported by the US only made things worse. Moreover, the backhanded treatment that Turkey received under the Clinton Administration, heavily dependent on Greek political contributions, and from the EU, as everyone still fears Vienna 1683, exacerbated the situation. Israel-Turkish trade continues to increase as does their joint military cooperation, even though the Turks are not happy to see the Kurds in such a strong position in the new Iraq.

Countries with topless beaches are not fertile ground for Bin Laden, even if they have an 'Islamist' party.

Posted by: Bart at March 7, 2005 4:53 PM

"Countries with topless beaches are not fertile ground for Bin Laden, even if they have an 'Islamist' party."

The Shah's Iran had porno theaters and Beirut was once a party town. Both Iran and Lebanon have since produced their fair share of Islamists.

"That these parties were supported by the US only made things worse."

WHAT!!!???? You're saying Americans are responsible for anti-Americanism? Impossible!!

Obviously, you're an America-hater of the vilest stripe! You probably cheered on 9-11 and agree with Ward Churchill that all the people in the WTC were little Eichmans... {enter the remainder of Bart's standard neocon rant against any and all dissent here}

[For those immune to irony, the above is spoken facetiously, and is not to be taken seriously.]

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 7, 2005 5:40 PM

Bart:

Not its democracy, its existence. The democracy will go as soon as Muslims outnumber Euros.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2005 7:44 PM

Derek:

God was dead by the War, which is why nazism and Communism had such an easy time taking over the whole joint.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2005 7:48 PM

Derek,

Islamic fundamentalists while present in Lebanon are far from a majority of the population. Even today the wines flow freely.

The Shah had his narrow coterie of Westernized Iranians who paid him off. The vast majority of Iranians had no experience with Westernization. OTOH, most Turks have family in the West and the penetration of Western civilization is quite deep, for good or ill. There never was a Miss Iran pageant, while Turkey has hosted the Miss World pageant.

America chose to back corrupt parties because they were 'pro-American' even if that 'pro-Americanism' was of little more importance than their position on the Designated Hitter rule. It is akin to our support of the disgraceful Ferdinand Marcos for so many years, or for that matter Somoza. When we support such people, we should not be surprised that we engender resentment. The same could presumably be said of the Shah.

Posted by: Bart at March 7, 2005 10:19 PM

"OTOH, most Turks have family in the West and the penetration of Western civilization is quite deep, for good or ill."

Yet, according to MEMRI, they are the most anti-American Muslim country, followed by Indonesia and Lebanon, two other relatively "westernized" countries. What does this correlation tell you?

I agree that we shouldn't support corrupt rulers. But I don't think we should get involved in choosing "better" systems for other people either, because the consequences of that forced decision won't necessarily favor us, as can be seen in the example of Turkey. The best option is to disengage ourselves. If democracy is the best system, then it will emerge eventually without our help, and the inevitable destruction such "help" creates.

Now look at this statement of yours: "When we support such people, we should not be surprised that we engender resentment." Sounds pretty much like what I and others have said about Islamist terrorism and 9/11. But when we make this obvious enough statement, you go batsh*t, ernestly accusing us of everything I wrote above in jest.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 8, 2005 11:57 AM

The Turks are momentarily upset about Kurdistan.

The Indonesians like us: http://www.brothersjudd.com/blog/archives/021273.html

They all want to be us.

Posted by: oj at March 8, 2005 12:01 PM

"Yet, according to MEMRI, they are the most anti-American Muslim country, followed by Indonesia and Lebanon, two other relatively "westernized" countries. What does this correlation tell you?"

Not a whole lot, considering that much of the 'anti-Americanism' was analogous to that of Europe rather than that found in Iran, that the Turks were getting rid of their death penalty at the time(hardly an Islamist innovation), that some was due to anti-Kurdish feeling, that lots of ordinary Turks were upset about backhanded treatment of them from the US and the EU and that once America was successful in Iraq
it would evaporate.

"But I don't think we should get involved in choosing "better" systems for other people either, because the consequences of that forced decision won't necessarily favor us, as can be seen in the example of Turkey"

Choosing the system didn't work out so badly for us in Japan, Germany, Italy and Korea did it? A reasonably honest pro-American junta can be preferable to a grotesquely corrupt democracy. Perhaps Turkey is such a place. But there is little reason to keep corrupt brutal leaders in power when they are a potential threat to American national interests which include such matters as Kuwaiti territorial integrity and stopping suicide bombings in Israel.

There is a qualitative difference between accepting the fact that some policies will create resentment and asking whether a different policy gets you to the same place without the resentment and claiming that inaction prevents people from resenting us, or that any appeasement to prevent them from resenting us is worth it. The mere fact that someone somewhere 'resents' what we want to do is not a sufficient reason for us to refrain from doing what we otherwise feel is right and necessary.

To go back to my Turkish example, I would not get myself all upset if the Turkish military rolled out of the barracks and suspended the democracy again were the economy and social order to collapse. I would hope the Turkish military would ask America to help them figure out why whenever Turkey tries democracy they elect nutbars like Erbakan or horribly corrupt people like Demirel and Ciller, or embarassingly stupid men like Ecevit.

Posted by: Bart at March 8, 2005 2:07 PM

"Choosing the system didn't work out so badly for us in Japan, Germany, Italy and Korea did it?"

First, we didn't choose the system in Korea. We supported a number of dictatorships and juntas there. The Koreans themselves made the change.

The examples of Italy, Germany and Japan are not analogous to the Middle East, because (1) in those countries you had previous democratic traditions to work with (2) they were mono-ethnic and (3) the alternative to working with us was being fed to the Soviets. Even then, we needed to stay in those countries for decades, and we are STILL there to this day. That does not look an option in the Middle East. Today, Al-Aziz, a chief figure in the Iraqi UIA, told us to beat it.

"But there is little reason to keep corrupt brutal leaders in power when they are a potential threat to American national interests which include such matters as Kuwaiti territorial integrity and stopping suicide bombings in Israel."

Neither of these are American interests, really. Kuwait might be in the most tangential way, but it did not necessitate our near-permanent presence in Saudi Arabia after the war. As for Israel, there's nothing we can do about suicide bombings that they shouldn't be doing for themselves. In fact, it sets a bad precedent for us to take care of the their national security for them. You yourself often gripe about the evil State Department. But the only reason Israel has to worry about them is because of its unhealthy dependence on American aid.

"To go back to my Turkish example, I would not get myself all upset if the Turkish military rolled out of the barracks and suspended the democracy again were the economy and social order to collapse."

As long as we're not involved, I wouldn't get bent out of shape either.

Posted by: Derek Copold at March 8, 2005 3:32 PM

The traditions were of spectacularly failed democracies.

Posted by: oj at March 8, 2005 4:54 PM

"First, we didn't choose the system in Korea. We supported a number of dictatorships and juntas there. The Koreans themselves made the change"

OK, and John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson are responsible for Pulp Fiction, not Quentin Tarantino.

"The examples of Italy, Germany and Japan are not analogous to the Middle East, because (1) in those countries you had previous democratic traditions to work with (2) they were mono-ethnic and (3) the alternative to working with us was being fed to the Soviets. Even then, we needed to stay in those countries for decades, and we are STILL there to this day. That does not look an option in the Middle East. Today, Al-Aziz, a chief figure in the Iraqi UIA, told us to beat it."

In none of those countries was the democracy respected by the powerful classes, it was more window-dressing than reality. Today, after American direction, that is not the case, even the most recalcitrant Junker and samurai has acquiesced to the democracy.

America's presence in those nations is part of their joint defense and as staging areas for American action elsewhere not some attempt to impose American will on them.

The UIA is a fragile coalition, that some member should speak out of turn there is no more surprising than hearing weird and disparate views in a synagogue men's club.

"Neither of these are American interests, really. Kuwait might be in the most tangential way, but it did not necessitate our near-permanent presence in Saudi Arabia after the war. As for Israel, there's nothing we can do about suicide bombings that they shouldn't be doing for themselves."

If you can't see why having the oil wealth in the hands of people who will dissipate it on the hookers, tables and bars of Monte Carlo, Punta del Este and Marbella is preferable to having it in the hands of someone who will declare war on other oil-producing states risking regional immolation, and the destruction of the entire region's oil supply, then I can't help you. Admittedly a Saudi Pinochet or even a Saudi Rios Montt is preferable to what they have now, but even the most dissolute Fahd or Khaled is preferable to someone who behaves as if he is the lineal descendant of Assyrian psychotics. Also, if Israel were not confident of being under the American umbrella, would we have seen the Samson option by now? Or perhaps the use of bacteriologicals and chemical weapons? Also, I hope I do not need to remind you of the extent of Israeli and American tech cooperation.

Posted by: Bart at March 8, 2005 9:17 PM
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