Skip to comments.Henry Kissinger: Spreading democracy (A realist's assessment of the 'freedom agenda')
Posted on 06/05/2005 12:16:52 PM PDT by RWR8189
Pundits have interpreted these events as a victory of "idealists" over "realists" in the debate over the conduct of American foreign policy.
In fact, the United States is probably the only country in which the term "realist" can be used as a pejorative epithet. No serious realist should claim that power is its own justification. No idealist should imply that power is irrelevant to the spread of ideals. The real issue is to establish a sense of proportion between these two essential elements of policy. Overemphasis of either leads to stagnation or overextension.
The progress of democracy did not occur entirely under its own momentum. Circumstance was as important as design. Elections in Iraq and Afghanistan were made possible by American military victories over the Taliban and Saddam Hussein; the Ukrainian election grew out of the collapse of Soviet and Russian power in Eastern Europe; the Lebanese upheaval reflected the isolation of Syria after the Soviet collapse; and the Palestinian elections were made possible by the death of Yasser Arafat and the defeat of the second intifada.
The debate between realism and idealism, therefore, usually misses the point. The realist school does not reject the importance of ideals or values. It does, however, insist on a careful, even unsentimental, weighing of the balance of material forces, together with an understanding of the history, culture and economics of the societies comprising the international system above all, our own. This includes a perception of the possibilities of unintended consequences.
This is why the supreme realist, Otto von Bismarck, defined statesmanship as follows: "The best a statesman can do is to listen to the footsteps of God, get hold of the hem of His cloak, and walk with Him a few steps of the way." It was a plea for awe before the unknowable, a respect for the contingency of unintended consequences paradoxically, a realist doctrine less of power than of humility and restraint.
The idealist school of thought is impatient with self-imposed restraints. It does not necessarily reject the geopolitical aspect of realism. But it translates it into a call for crusades on behalf of regime change. Though advanced as a new doctrine, the regime change prescription follows well-established precedent. It was the impetus behind the religious wars of the 17th century, the wars of the French Revolution in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Holy Alliance, the Trotskyite version of communism, and the contemporary Muslim jihad.
The content of the universal aspiration changes with circumstances, but its premise that world order depends on the general adoption of compatible values is constant. Realists judge policy by the ability to persevere in the pursuit of an objective in stages, each of which is imperfect by absolute standards but would not be attempted in the absence of absolute values. The acolytes of idealism sweep away such restraints; focusing on the ultimate objective, they reject the contingent discussion of feasibility with its inevitable geopolitical component. Realists seek equilibrium; idealists strive for conversion. This is why crusaders have usually caused more upheavals and suffering than statesmen.
American exceptionalism, viewing itself as a shining city on the hill, has always insisted on representing universal values beyond the traditional dictates of national interest. In that sense, the president's second inaugural address represents a strong affirmation of a major strand of American thinking on foreign policy. In a world of jihad, terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, President Bush put forward a challenge at once going beyond the interests of any one country and that different societies could embrace without prejudice to their own interests. He elaborated that the United States seeks progress toward freedom, not its ultimate achievement in a defined time, and that it recognizes the historical evolution that must be the foundation of any successful process. On this basis, realists and idealists should go forward together.
Values are essential for defining objectives; strategy is what implements them by establishing priorities and defining timing.
Strategy must begin with the recognition that the freedom agenda does not make geopolitical analysis irrelevant. There are issues for which crusading strategies tend to be off the mark. The rise of China is a geopolitical challenge, not a primarily ideological one. America's relations with India are another case in point. During the Cold War, India saw no imperative in supporting the cause of democracy against communism. Its national interest was not involved in issues such as the freedom of Berlin. Now India is, in effect, a strategic partner, not because of compatible domestic structure but because of parallel security interests in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, and vis-a-vis radical Islam.
KHALID MOHAMMED / Associated Press
Iraqi women cast ballots in Baghdad on Jan. 30. Iraqis voted in their country's first free election in a half-century.
The process of democratization does not depend on a single decision and will not be completed in a single stroke. Elections, however desirable, are only the beginning of a long enterprise. The willingness to accept their outcomes is a more serious hurdle. The establishment of a system that enables the minority to become a majority is even more complex.
Americans need to understand that successes do not end their engagement but most probably deepen it. For as we involve ourselves, we bear the responsibility even for results we did not anticipate. We must deal with those consequences regardless of our original intentions and not act as if our commitments are as changeable as opinion polls.
Elections are not an inevitable guarantee of a democratic outcome. Radicals like the Hezbollah and Hamas seem to have learned the mechanics of democracy in order to undermine it and establish total control.
These obstacles define the magnitude of the challenge. As the world's dominating democratic power, we must relate values to power, institutional political change to geopolitical necessities. In countries where a vacuum must be filled and U.S. forces are present, the American capacity to affect events is considerable. Even then, however, it is not possible to apply automatically models created over centuries in the homogeneous societies of Europe and America to ethnically diverse and religiously divided societies in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
In multiethnic societies, majority rule implies permanent subjugation of the minority unless part of a strong federal structure and a system of checks and balances. To achieve this by negotiation between parties that consider dominance by the other groups a threat to their very survival is an extraordinarily elusive undertaking. It will, however, determine the degree to which democratic goals in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan can be achieved.
Lebanon illustrates another aspect of these considerations. The upheaval that expelled Syrian forces is a testimony to the growth of popular consciousness but also to the changed strategic environment. Syria, too weak to resist international pressures, may calculate that withdrawal eventually will return the situation to the chaos that triggered Syrian intervention in the first place. Three times since 1958 the United States that year, Syria in 1976 and Israel in 1981 foreign intervention held the ring in Lebanon to prevent collapse into violence and to arbitrate among the Christian, Sunni, Shiite and Druze groups that constitute the Lebanese body politic. The internal conflict is made all the sharper because the established constitutional arrangement no longer reflects the actual demographic balance.
At this point, the driving force in Lebanon is less democratic than populist; it is a contest by which the factions organize competitive demonstrations partially designed to overawe their opponents. The test will be whether the United States and the international community are able to bring about an agreed political framework and whether they can mobilize an international presence to guarantee that the conflicting passions do not once again erupt into violence and outside adventures are discouraged. It is the fusion of strategy and values, the merging of the practical and the ideal, and not an overemphasis on one at the expense of the other that holds the key to Lebanon's future.
In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the vacuum is potential, not actual. A wise policy will navigate between efforts to overcome stagnation and pressures that will dissolve the existing political framework into a contest of radical factions or the victory of one of them. The fundamentalist victory in the local election in Saudi Arabia illustrates this danger. Policies erring in either direction could turn these countries into the Achilles heel of the entire Middle East policy.
The United States has made clear its conviction that a democratic evolution reflecting popular aspirations is a long-term necessity. But it has not yet defined what it means either by that phrase or an appropriate evolutionary process. The revolution in Iran teaches the lesson of the risks of procrastination in the 1960s and 1970s before the fundamentalist upheaval, but also of the perils of pressures in the Carter administration that ended up in a system far more autocratic than the Shah's. Major strategic issues are at stake in a sensitive handling of these issues, including the viability of Palestinian negotiation.
Finally there is the challenge of how to deal with societies such as China and Russia, which so far have relied on the Western political tradition only to a small degree, if at all, in their transition to the globalized world. So far they have used their own histories or national senses of identity as guides. To what extent and by what means can America influence this process? And in what direction? What level of understanding of domestic context, influenced by centuries of history, is necessary to produce confidence in desired outcomes? What price in medium-term strategic interests are we prepared to pay?
The implementation of the freedom agenda needs to relate the values of the democratic tradition to the historic possibilities of other societies. We must avoid the danger that a policy focused on our domestic perceptions may generate reactions in other societies rallying around patriotism and leading to a coalition of the resentful against attempts at perceived American hegemony. The result of overexuberance could be, paradoxically, America's isolation from major trends of this period.
President Bush has put forward a dramatic vision. The national debate now needs to focus on the concrete circumstances to which it must be applied. The nongovernmental groups should participate in this process. Having made their point about the importance of the subject, they should now contribute to the development of a responsible substance. A strategy to implement the vision of the freedom agenda needs consensus-building, both domestically and internationally. That will be the test as to whether we are seizing the opportunity for systemic change or participating in an episode.
Despite efforts of the entire left to marginalize and vilify him, Dr. K. is brilliant and insightful.
Always happy to hear his opinion.
Dr. K and his brillant ideas led him to advise Israel to wait and be attacked in 1973 and not attack first.
Dr. K one of the many reasons we had 9/11.
The very day after the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, Kissinger's syndicated column referred to Deng Xiaoping ( as "one of the great reformers in Chinese history" and a man "who chose a more humane and less chaotic course" for China.
Dr K. and his whole elite intellectual thinkers can think up all the BS policy they want because at the end of the day it is the average American who has to die to defend this country.
Once the United States leaves Iraq and Afghanistan, they will revert to Islamic tyranny. Assassination, rigged elections, military coup, or civil war---one way or another, an Islamic strong man will emerge and the people will slavishly submit. Good bye democracy.
Bump for later
Some of that may be true, but Dr. K led America out of some of the insane cold war mentality. It is easy to look back and cherry pick imperfections.
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