Friday, January 28, 2011

Democracy Building According to Jackson Diehl

First, you replace the non-democratic government of the targeted nation with a... dictatorship. Ah, but not just any dictator. A benign dictator. A philosopher king, if you will. And then you charge him with keeping the peace while he assembles the nation's various political factions and they collectively write a constitution. And then they work together to engage the middle class such that, when the election occurs, it's the nation's wealthier members, manufacturers and merchants who choose the next government, not the unwashed masses. Seriously folks, this is the real Deihl:
"This administration has been at best lukewarm towards our cause of democracy," Saad Eddin Ibrahim, one of the most respected Egyptian opposition leaders, told me Thursday.

"Clinton's statement on Tuesday reflected what the policy has been for two years," Ibrahim said. "The second statement was a bit more balanced. But it is still not balanced enough for our taste. What we hope for is explicit support for the demands that are being put forward by the people in the streets."

Those demands are coherent and eminently reasonable: Mubarak should step down and be replaced by a transitional government, headed by ElBaradei and including representatives of all pro-democracy forces. That government could then spend six months to a year rewriting the constitution, allowing political parties to freely organize and preparing for genuinely democratic elections. Given time to establish themselves, secular forces backed by Egypt's growing middle class are likely to rise to the top in those elections - not the Islamists that Mubarak portrays as the only alternative.
I recognize that it takes valuable seconds to find demographic information on nations like Egypt, and that people like Diehl probably have better things to do with their time than to see if the facts support their arguments, but it seems worth asking: In what sort of democratic election will Egypt's middle class be able to define the outcome? Egypt has 9.7% unemployment (a long-term problem, with the official figure likely understating the reality), 20% of the population lives in poverty, and the population is 90% Muslim. Close to 30% of the adult population is illiterate - a 17% male illiteracy rate and a 40.6% female illiteracy rate. One third of the population is under the age of 14. The median age is 24. This may strike Diehl as odd, but those demographics do not suggest to me that a secular middle class will be able to control the reform process.

Diehl criticizes the Obama Administration for standing behind Mubarak instead of... I'm not sure what. I guess, telling him to resign and appoint a philosopher king as his successor.
Thus began what may be remembered as one of the most shortsighted and wrongheaded policies the United States has ever pursued in the Middle East. Admittedly, the bar is high. But the Obama administration's embrace of Mubarak, even as the octogenarian strongman refused to allow the emergence of a moderate, middle-class-based, pro-democracy opposition, has helped bring the United States' most important Arab ally to the brink of revolution.
There are two ways of looking at this, of course. Diehl's way, that within days Mubarak's regime will fall and a forward-looking, secular, democratic regime will take over, reform the nation of Egypt and uplift its people, and leave its people angry that the U.S. wasn't more supportive at the onset of their revolution. Or that the Mubarak regime will prove sufficiently stable to withstand the protests. But since Diehl is suggesting that Egyptians resent President Obama's supposed abandonment of the Bush-era "freedom agenda", it's worth stepping back a few years to see how Bush treated Egypt and Mubarak. And who better to give us that history than Jackson Diehl?
So Democrats have to start by "reclaiming our own ground," [Will] Marshall says. His book proposes two important ways to do that. First, Democrats can clean up the crimes perpetrated by the Bush administration at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and the CIA's secret prisons, and restore America's reputation as the world's foremost defender of human rights. They can also end Bush's cynical policy of demanding democracy from enemy regimes such as Iran and Syria while tolerating the continued autocracy of such friends as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Were Diehl attempting to be fair, he would also acknowledge how the Bush Administration insisted upon elections for the Palestinian Authority then reacted in horror when the wrong party won. Diehl appears to share that sense of "democracy" - he doesn't want elections in Egypt now, implicitly acknowledging that Islamic factions would win an election. He wants the nation ruled by the benign dictator until secular parties "establish themselves" and we can be pretty sure that "secular forces backed by Egypt's growing middle class are likely to rise to the top in those elections". Should Diehl get his wish, one wonders... will Diehl call for elections if, six months or a year from now, it still looks like Islamic parties would prevail in an election? No, actually one doesn't. It looks like Diehl's "freedom agenda" is that of Bush: it only counts as freedom if the correct person or party comes out on top.

We can also play the game of "Which Secretary of State is Diehl attacking"?
But her aims are utterly different from those with which Bush began his second term - such as the "freedom agenda" he restated in Prague. Democracy promotion in the Middle East is out, replaced by a belated but intense effort to broker a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Even more strikingly, the "regime change" strategy that once marked Bush administration policy toward North Korea has been dropped in favor of an all-out effort to negotiate a rapprochement with dictator Kim Jong Il.
Bland, carefully balanced statements were issued by second- and third-level spokesmen, while [she and the President] - who regularly ripped Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - remained silent.
Condi vs. Hillary. Yes, that first comment was directed at Condoleezza Rice. Except when Rice walked away from the "freedom agenda" and embraced tyrants Diehl saw her moves as "bold new strategies" - "No wonder, perhaps, that the secretary hasn't bothered with directives about dissidents."

Diehl's primary mistake lies in his hallucinatory belief that the U.S. can control events in Egypt - or is it that he believes he can control the events through some form of extremely powerful wishful thinking: That the U.S. could do something that would inspire Mubarak to resign and appoint Mohamed ElBaradei to be his temporary successor. That the masses would accept Mohamed ElBaradei as the leader, and would accept his initiative to draft a constitution establishing Egypt as a secular democracy. That the various political factions involved would cooperate in creating such a constitution, and the factions Diehl wants to see marginalized or excluded from that process would acquiesce. That secular political parties would flourish - but perhaps just two or three of them, such that they could reasonably form a government. That the middle class would overwhelmingly and successfully elect a secular, democratic government. And that all of this could be achieved within six months. As Daniel Larison has observed,
The administration could tell Mubarak that. Instead of the increased criticism it has already promised, the administration could threaten Mubarak with its “wrath.” Would this entail merely the suspension of aid, or would it involve more serious penalties? In other words, what exactly should the administration be threatening to do to Mubarak and his allies if they do not comply? It’s all very well to bluster and make threats, but Mubarak knows that our government is not going to risk seriously undermining the current government. He will assume that the administration is bluffing and playing to its domestic audience, and he will probably be right. If the administration is not bluffing, it genuinely risks making the same mistake that Carter made in his handling of the Shah and domestic opposition to his regime.
Larison continues with an explanation of why it's unrealistic to expect the Muslim Brotherhood to remain on the sidelines. Larison predicts, quite reasonably,
By the end of the week, it looks as if the Brotherhood will have officially joined the protests as well. The protesters cannot be neatly separated into the “good” secular democrats here and the unacceptable Islamists over there. For that matter, there is as yet no evidence that any of the protesters object to the Brotherhood’s participation.
Larison relates the observation of Jonathan Wright that one of the reasons the Islamic Brotherhood has remained in the background is likely because its involvement "would frighten off some of the other groups" and that with its open involvement "the government will feel free to use much more brutal methods to disperse protesters". If Mubarak falls and a new government is to be peacefully formed, the Islamic Brotherhood will demand a seat at the table.

1 comment:

  1. Everything old is new again (it's still the party out of power that makes unreasonable complaints, it's just the names that have changed - and realpolitik goes on.)