Sunday, September 26, 2004

Dichotomies, a reply

Just Left does a fine job of describing the parlous state of much of the debate on humanitarian military intervention. Lots of singing to the choir going on.

So it's a pity they conclude by confusing two separate, but often related, issues when they characterise the debate as:
Should the West dominate the world, and seek to make it over in its own image? Or are other ways of life - economic, social, political, religious - allowed to coexist with capitalist liberal democracy
There probably are those that want the West to "dominate" but they are a very small minority and there are few that advocate humanitarian military intervention who
...start with a presumption that it involves dissolving societies and cultures and making people into something more like you.
This is a strawman argument. No one who argued for intervention in Afghanistan or Iraq was motivated by the desire to foist a Western way of life onto unwilling populations. And this has not happened.

In fact in Afghanistan the recognition of this need to work within the confines of traditional ways of life has caused many problems, such as having to deal with tribal chiefs (often called War Lords) and the slow pace in bettering the position of women.

In Iraq the interim government has representatives from every major religious and ethnic group. It even includes the Iraqi Communist Party. Hardly the arbitrary imposition of a foreign culture.

Those advocating such intervention wanted to spread liberal values such as democracy and freedom which are universal values, they are not the exclusive property of the West.

Two issues are being needlessly conflated - the issue of humanitarian military intervention and the issue of what is seen to be the spread of Western culture and influence. To advocate the former is not the same as advocating the latter. The argument for or against military intervention can, and generally is, made on its own merits. Our troops in East Timor were not there to install a facsimile of New Zealand culture.

In terms of how to create a more positive environment for debating such issues I don't have much of a solution. The divisions are there and with every day are reinforced. I have chosen, because I come from the Left, to try and point out the failings I see in the arguments coming from the Left and also to point out that there are some very unhealthy elements out there calling themselves "Left". I was pleasantly surprised to find like minds at blogs such as Harry's Place.

In terms of the outcomes in Afghanistan and Iraq I remain optimist. Elections will be held in both countries and we should remember that the progression from tyranny to democracy always costs. We should be putting our energies into supporting those elements in these countries that aspire to liberal democratic values so that they too can experience the luxury of squabbling over the merits and demerits of privatisation.

However, in terms of the health of the Left I despair.


Blogger Jordan said...

You are, again, ignoring the evidence that stares you in the face. There was a *conscious* project to remake Iraq in the mould the neo-cons wanted - flat taxes, everything privatised, etc.

That is not liberal democracy - that is the extremist imposition of an ideological blueprint on another society.

The fact these things did not come to pass is a good thing, but it is not because the Americans are happy to be doing things differently - it is because of resistance to them by more leftwing governments, and the nature of the insurgency in Iraq itself making private involvement in reconstruction very difficult.

I think you'll find those who want the West to dominate are not such a small minority as you might hope. Similarly, such people *do* want to remake societies in their own image. See above. They may be a small group, but they happen to be a very strong voice in the United States Government, and their point of view has more power than it deserves on its merits.

Iraq is going better than I had feared in these things, the inclusion of many political opinions etc. This is unambiguously good.

You are however continuing to set up straw man arguments in response to the points I am making, using misleading generalities.

You cite Timor - the United States is not involved in that operation, and it has been quite successful. I dare say though that Australia is imposing pressure on oil issues...

As I said in my initial post, these things are not black and white. I may be too sceptical about the US, but you are being too easy on the neo-cons - not sceptical enough.

27 September 2004 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Sock Thief said...

The US was involved in East Timor; it was Clinton's hard line with Indonesia (a belated change in US policy) that lead to its independence and UN presence.

I agree that with Iraq there was an attempt to push a neo-liberal economic line, which I disagree with. But this is at present an anomaly; it has not been the case in Afghanistan. Also, Iraqi oil was deliberately kept nationalised to be a resource for Iraqis as a whole.

I think you over-estimate the influence of any small group in the present US that want to turn other countries into clones of the US. I'm not sure who you are referring to. If it’s the neo-cons then you are mistaken. Wolfowitz played a leading role in the move to democracy in the Philippines and Indonesia; neither of those countries have been reconstituted in the image of the US.

Their political opponents say in the State Dept, have generally been quite happy to go along with whatever system of government happens to exist in countries such as Saudi Arabia. A position that I presume most liberals would be critical of. I think it’s the old school political realists, rather than the neo-cons that are cause for concern. But even they have not made moves to export US culture lock, stock and barrel.

But in the spirit of your initial piece, I'm not uncritical of Bush. I disagree with 80% of his domestic policy.

27 September 2004 at 12:57 PM  
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