July 23, 2008


In Search of Realism (Joseph Loconte, July 23, 2008, First Things: On the Square)

As is well known, the Bush doctrine represents a remarkable about-face for an administration that initially swore off “nation-building.” Its repudiation of decades of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East—stability at the cost of freedom—has been no less astonishing. Nevertheless, despite its candor, the document leaves probing questions about America’s democracy agenda unanswered. Can a self-declared Islamic state, for example, support the political doctrines of equality, pluralism, and individual freedom? How can the United States promote democratic reform in societies that have little or no experience with these ideals?

Clues to some of the answers may be found in Florence, where Pocock’s story begins. In Florentine thought, he writes, there was “no ambiguity in the general assent that when men are not virtuous, the world becomes problematic and even unintelligible.” The problem, in other words, is located primarily in human nature—its naturally selfish will to power. “Republics existed to mobilize the intelligence and virtue of all citizens,” writes Pocock. “Their stability was dependent on their doing so and if they failed they became governments of a few, whose intelligence and virtue were doomed to decline by their finite and insufficient character.”

We might call this “republican realism”—the fact that self-government depends on citizens who are self-governing. The American Founders, down to the last man, held to this view as a core democratic doctrine. They worried that republican virtue might not exist in ample supply in the United States. “Even if every Athenian citizen had been a Socrates,” warned Madison in The Federalist, “every Athenian assembly would have been a mob.” Rice acknowledges the challenges facing emerging democracies. She admits that democratic development is “never fast or easy” and that “few nations begin the democratic journey with a democratic culture.” Instead, they must create and sustain it over time “through the hard, daily struggle to make good laws, build democratic institutions, tolerate differences, resolve them peacefully, and share power justly.”

What she doesn’t say, what the Bush administration has mostly failed to explain to the American people, is the fearsome difficulty—and the terrible frailty—of this task in states ravaged by despotic governments and religious extremism. How many Americans believed in late 2001, after the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan, that the nation today would remain threatened by the forces of tyranny and nihilism?


Afghanistan Doesn't Need a 'Surge' (ANN MARLOWE, July 22, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

Afghanistan needs many things, but two more brigades of U.S. troops are not among them.

Barack Obama said: "We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there." Mr. Obama should have supported the surge in Iraq, but that doesn't mean that advocating one in Afghanistan makes sense.

Afghanistan's problems are not the same as Iraq's. Its people aren't recovering from a brutal, all-controlling tyranny, but from decades of chaos and centuries of bad government. Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, is largely illiterate and has a relatively undeveloped civil society. Afghan society still centers around the family and, for men, the mosque. Its society and traditions are still largely intact, in contrast to Iraq's fractured, urbanized and half-modernized population.

The Afghan insurgency has no broad popular base and doesn't mirror an obvious religious or ethnic fault line. It is also far more linked with Pakistani support than the Iraqi insurgency or militias were with Iran. Afghanistan needs a better president, judiciary and police force -- and a Pakistani government that is not playing footsie with the Taliban.

The possibility exists that Afghans might be better served by choosing not to try to have a central state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 23, 2008 8:48 AM

How many Americans believed in late 2001, after the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan, that the nation today would remain threatened by the forces of tyranny and nihilism?

I did. Of course, I also believe that we are back in Kipling's World, and all of the Bakers and Scowcrofts can't keep stability upright anymore.

Posted by: Mikey at July 23, 2008 12:07 PM

"How many Americans believed in late 2001, after the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan, that the nation today would remain threatened by the forces of tyranny and nihilism?"

Heck, Washington fought eight years to gain independence, Lincoln presided over a civil war to preserve the Republic. Yet, the quacks believe after only seven short years, Afghanistan should be a peaceful Republic. Some people need perspectives.

Posted by: ic at July 23, 2008 1:24 PM

ic: That means having perspective beyond your own time; you know, understanding that history isn't all about you. Thanks to my ancestors getting together, I'm here. And you are. And OJ is. And everyone else.

History - pretty big, isn't it?

Posted by: Mikey at July 23, 2008 6:27 PM
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