A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Thursday, January 27, 2011 :::

A Mind That Suits is pressed again today, but he is very concerned and would like to take a moment to express his concern.

Riots have erupted in Egypt, generally taken as a popular reaction to the popular uprising in Tunisia that forced out a long time dictator.  (His wife had the presence of mind to have a ton and a half of gold ready to take with her.  They spelled it "tonne," so presumably they are referring to metric tonnes, perhaps as much as $45 million at this afternoon's prices.  That is rather beside the point, but it does show that this was a long time coming.)

This has given rise to much hopeful commentary about a democratic revolution spreading throughout the Middle East, including references to George Bush's elaborate dreams of a worldwide democratic revolution.

Some are even looking forward to Friday, when afternoon prayers may well lead to full scale rioting.  The Egyptian government does not exactly have a long track record of welcoming dissent.  What if the riots fail?  Do we really want to make it seem that we support the protesters, only to watch them die horribly.

And what if they succeed?  What comes apres Hosni that will prevent le deluge?  Louis XV famously predicted that the brewing anti-monarchical revolution would result in a river of blood, and it was in justified reaction to that very real flood (deluge) that conservatism received it fullest statement, from Edmund Burke.

Burke was right to express scepticism about bloody revolution, and a real conservative must pause before cheering one now where no ground has been prepared for what comes after.

Back in 2003, A Mind That Suits a quick overview of how the world's major democracies became that way.  In the US, full democracy came at the cost of an emormously bloody Civil War. 

In Japan, democracy was imposed on an unwilling population by a victorious US--and victory came only after a couple of nuclear bombs convinced the Emperor to tell his people to stand down.  The people, it should be noted, reacted to his directive, not the bombs. 

In Italy, the rulers of the northern part of the country forced the south into their dream monarchical republic at the cost of a million lives. 

In one of their first full elections, in 1933, the Germans quite happily elected Adolf Hitler, who probably would have won handily without his party's coercive tactics and who enjoyed widespread popular support throughout the 1930's.  The Nazi Party was banned after the 12-year run of the 1000-year Reich, but it lives on in Austria. 

Italy, for that matter, still has a Fascist party.

If there is a "universal desire for democracy"--and A Mind That Suits remains largely sceptical that there is such a thing--it cannot be ignored that it takes a lot for democracy to flourish.  A constitutional democracy is about the restraint of power, and most groups want to be free of restraint so they can impose it on other groups--that most powerful of human urges, the universal desire to beat the living daylights out of the next guy.

When there was great talk of "nation building" in the 12 years of relative calm after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, true conservatives hemmed and hawed.  George W. Bush famously said nation building was not the job of our armed forces.  William F. Buckley, Robert Novak, and George F. Will all conceded that any true American has to believe in the virtues of liberty and that it was racist to think that liberty could only be enjoyed by some cultures.  But still they stressed that the ground needs to be well tilled before the seeds of liberty can sprout.  The great experiments of the time--among the Southern and Eastern Slavs--were just beginning. 

Then came September 11, and somebody got the idea that our best defense was forcing democratic revolutions across the globe, right now.  George W. Bush caught that bug, and we were off to the races.  Two wars that the American people supported, to remove the Taliban and Saddam Hussein from power, became a cause they had never been asked to support, the spread of democracy in countries they knew nothing about.

But votaries of this dream took every swing of events as a sign of the brewing global revolution, including experiments with elections in countries that had never had them before.  Cheers went up for the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and for pro-democcracy rioters in Uzbekistan.  Libyan leader Mammar al-Gaddafy (whose name is variously transliterated) gave up his scary weapons and abjured terrorism.

The subsequent years have not been kind to the vision of universal democratic revolution.

The leaders of the Orange Revolution wore everyone out with their bickering and Ukrainians happily elected an ally of Vladimir Putin.  In Russia itself, there is no great support for more democracy.  Nation building in the Balkans among the Southern Slavs and others has been an abject failure.

Few Uzbeks supported their democratic activists, and they were easily put down.  Our support for the activists convinced the government to throw us out and switch sides. 

In Arab countries, including Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood swept local elections in certain regions, and if our democratic dreamers think they are kindred spirits with the American Founders, well, they need to read something about the region. 

Almost anything, actually. 

al-Gaddafy noticed that nothing much happened to dictators who did not give up their scary weapons and support for terrorist, and is reportedly back to his old ways.

And what of our two wars?  Can anyone say that constitutional democracy is really taking root in Afghanistan?  An Afghani student once defined freedom for A Mind That Suits:  Afghanistan is the freest country in the world, he asserted happily.  It just depends on how many men with guns you have; that's how free you are.

And Iraq?  A Mind That Suits read just the roughest outline of history in the region in the long ago yesteryear of 2003, and was convinced that there was no emotion tying any Iraqi to the concept of Iraq as a country.  He thought that is was probable that the country would simply split into the pieces that have a history extending back millenia.  He was the first to say so in public, not that anyone noticed, except  a valued friend, an expert in the region. He actually got so huffy over that one that he stopped talking to A Mind That Suits for six months.

However, a noted member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Peter Galbraith, shortly thereafter wrote a book about it.

Then there came the civil war. 

Supporters of nation building called it something else, but they also tended to say that Donal Rumsfeld had competently planned for the period after the invasion, when he hadn't planned at all, competently or not.  And what followed was a vicious civil war.

A Mind That Suits remains sceptical that Iraq is going to survive.  If it does, it almost certainly will not be a democracy, or, for that matter, an ally of the US.

There is no evidence he has seen that any party in Iraq is willing to do anything more than cooperate in allowing three ill-defined territories to function on their own.  If that breaks down--and everyone really wants chunks of someone else's territory--one hates to think what will happen.  The current government wants us out, period, and we will have no say if they don't change their mind. 

A certain school of thought likes to point to the long standing autonomy of the Kurdish part of Iraq as an example of how democracy can function in the region.  It was Walter Lippman, if memory serves, who pointed out that news stories tend to follow a standard pattern and so one should look for useful details buried in them.  A conservative military expert with no stars in his eyes toured the Kurdish area some years ago, and commented that he nowhere saw portraits of the democratically elected leader, but everywhere saw portraits of the two dominant war lords.  That is what is known as a telling detail.

As is this: Did you know that Kurds are Sunni Persians?  A Mind That Suits only found that out recently.  Iran is the name of the modern country, dominated by Shi'ites, but there is, so far was A Mind That Suits knows, no  term in English for the race of people other than Persians.   Kurds speak a relative of Farsi so close as to be plausibly described as a dialect, though they might disagree.  (Vide, the opinions of Serbs and Croats about the differences between their languages.)

There are reports that one of the Kurdish war lords is an unreconstructed Ba'athist, and that he has reached a modus vivendi with the Shi'ite Iranians and a revanchiste Turkish government, an alliance that does not bode well for American interests.

Which is a long way of saying that A Mind That Suits would rather wait to see what happens in Tunisia--at last report, the revolution was not proceeding according to plan--before Egypt erupts.  He hopes, in other words, that the floodgates are not opened, and the lesson of the 21st Century is that not that we failed to learn from the 20th.

Nietsche said somewhere that as the trends he saw all too clearly swept all before them, it would be the fate of the common person to just be something that the √úbermenschen fight over.  Conservatives are supposed to be concerned about those common people, and resist the siren call of the supermen of history.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 7:01 PM



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