Friday, January 28, 2005

How to promote freedom

While I think the Powers article (discussed below) is interesting becuse it lays out the biggest problem facing the left at the moment, Sock Thief seems more interested in using it as ammunition to support his perpetual claim that the left has turned its back on those suffering under tyranny, approvingly citing this section:

One of the left’s glories has been its tradition of heroic internationalism, still alive in the anti-globalization movement’s insistence on workers’ rights around the world. (Typically, though, "anti-globalization" sounds negative rather than positive.) But when it comes to foreign policy these days, the left appears lost. I get depressed hearing friends sound like paleocon isolationists or watching them reflexively assume that there’s something inherently tyrannical about the use of American power. It’s not enough to mock Norman Podhoretz’s insistence that the battle with Islamic terrorism is World War IV. Just as the left lacked a coherent position on what to do with murderous despots such as Milosevic and Saddam - it won’t do to say, "They’re bad, but . . ." The left now needs a position on how best to battle a Muslim ideology that, at bottom, despises all the freedoms we should be defending. America should be actively promoting the freedom of everyone on the planet, and the key question is, how would the left do it differently from the Bush administration?

Timothy Garton Ash provides the answer: by using the Ukranian model, rather than the Iraqi one. Ultimately, freedom has to come from the grassroots. We can help by providing ideological support, international monitors, and pressure on governments to respect human rights and open themselves to change, but we must always be careful to ensure that we are not supplanting the goals of local activists with our own, or trying to impose freedom rather than letting it evolve. Because while Bush is right in saying that everyone wants to be free, an important part of this freedom, sometimes even more important in people's minds than the freedom from tyranny, is the recognition of independence and self-government it brings. To the extent that imposed freedom undermines this recognition, it is counterproductive - something Isaiah Berlin noted in "Two Concepts of Liberty":

It is this desire for reciprocal recognition that leads the most authoritarian democracies to be, at times, consciously preferred by its members to the most enlightened oligarchies, or sometimes causes a member of some newly liberated Asian or African state to complain less today, when he is rudely treated by members of his own race or nation, than when he was governed by some cautious, just, gentle, well-meaning administrator from outside.

Berlin was writing in 1958, before people realy realised just how "rude" some of those new rulers could be, but his underlying point remains. And it poses a serious problem for attempts to impose freedom from outside. In Iran, the mere threat of US intervention caused people to flee the nascent democratic movement and turn to the Mullahs overnight (and who can blame them, given the sordid history of US intervention in their country?) But OTOH, Ukraine and Georgia showed that the problem is not insurmountable.

As for what to do about Islamic terrorism rather than freedom in general, I've said it before many times: treat it as a law-enforcement problem. Track down, arrest and try terrorists for their crimes, while fighting a battle of hearts and minds to win over their support base. The latter involves addressing some of the Muslim world's problems - poverty, injustice, and the results of all those sordid interventions, for example - while showing that Islam is not incompatible with western democracy. Unfortunately, rather than showcasing their Muslim citizens as examples of how freedom need not mean giving up your values, many western governments seem to be doing their utmost to make them feel unwelcome.

This strategy isn't flashy, and doesn't produce many photo-opportunities, but it is likely to be far more effective than America's present ham-fisted efforts.


> Ultimately, freedom has to come from the grassroots.

If you are saying that we must sit back and watch then you have success like Ukraine alongside failure like Congo, Rwanda, and Somalia etc.
As the communists learned long ago - to make change one must first have power and when you don't have power those you oppose seem relatively strong.

The left opposes power particularly amongst those countries where they have influence in doing so they cannibalize their own influence. In the end this will destroy their own ideals.

Posted by Genius : 1/28/2005 10:17:00 AM

I wish that left international solidarity politics hadn't been sidelined by an understandable focus on the injustices that the domestic New Right perpetrated
in the eighties and nineties. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF dictatorship haven't gone away in Zimbabwe and the junta still rules Burma, although there are a range of combatants against that particular regime, not all of which are particularly savoury either.

Oppression and tyranny haven't gone away.


Posted by Anonymous : 1/28/2005 10:38:00 AM

Just because Bush has appropriated a bunch of liberal internationalist language to justify his invasion of Iraq, given the collapse of the invasion's primary justifications, is no reason for the left to give up its liberal internationalist principles. And these include humanitarian military intervention in certain (extreme) cases. Let's not forget that it was the Democrats in the US who supported the Kosovo campaign while the Republicans opposed it. Or that the Alliance was the first New Zealand political party to advocate sending troops to East Timor in 1999.

Yes, there are some on the left that argue that even New Zealand's troop presence in the Solomons is somehow evil imperialism, but these are an incredibly small minority. The vast majority of lefties I know support our government, and other democratic governments, being actively involved in spreading democracy and freedom and happiness and all that around the world. We oppose the war in Iraq because it quite clearly fails those tests - it has bolstered terrorism, emboldened dictators like Kim Jong-Il and resulted in massive human suffering in Iraq, all of which is contrary to the goals of liberal internationalism.

And that's the correct critique of the Iraq invasion, not this Pat Buchanan-esque 'America should mind its own business' rhetoric that some use.

Posted by Ranald : 1/28/2005 11:13:00 AM

So you oppose the iraqi occupation because it was not as sucessful as the east timor and solomon island occupations?

Posted by Genius : 1/28/2005 01:04:00 PM

Uh, yeah... I think something being unsuccesful is a pretty decent reason for opposing it.

Posted by Ranald : 1/28/2005 02:49:00 PM