The failed neoconservative utopia

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  1. Well put. The mindset of which you speak is first cousin to the “white man’s burden” philosophy in the late 19th-early-20th-centuries. It’s been dressed up with questionable rationalizations using all the right words (“freedom”, “democracy”, etc.) but it’s basically candy-coated racism, cultural arrogance and naked xenophobia at its core.
    That said … if a people choose democracy and self-rule as their model, more power to them. But it must be something they choose, not something forced upon them — either with threats or economic coercion — and the best thing the U.S. can do is be a shining example of how to do it right.
    At the moment, I’m not sure we’re accomplishing that.

  2. I hope your words, “I no longer think they’re deliberately evil. Instead, I see that they are idealists — zealots…”, are an overstatement for effect. Bush and crew are arrogant and not very bright. But for an intelligent person to actually believe that they are evil, a designation that should be reserved for the Hitlers and Stalins of the world, is inane.
    I’d say that the vision of seeding democracies in Iraq and other places is a wonderfully idealistic vision. Can you deny that the world would be a better place if Iraq and Afghanistan were independent, stable democracies? I don’t think so. Yes, we failed. But that doesn’t automatically invalidate the idea.
    Dwight, your statement, “if a people choose democracy and self-rule as their model, more power to them. But it must be something they choose, not something forced upon them — either with threats or economic coercion”, is almost correct. Replace “democracy and self-rule” with more generic description like “a particular system of government” and you’ll have it.
    One of many problems with countries like Iraq is that many, many people there have a strong preference for our type of democracy and are denied their right to representative government by oppressive military or theological dictatorships.
    Polimon, when you say, “societies everywhere reflect the individuals within them, and each is utterly unique. One cannot externally impose a value system or way of life that works in one society upon another… and certainly one cannot ‘force’ freedom.”, you are right, but not for the reasons you think.
    Indeed, freedom cannot be forced – it has to be universally desired. The fact is that democracy was and would continue to be welcomed by the vast majority of Iraqis if not for the murderous actions of the Islamic terrorists who are destroying that country from the inside out.
    But does that mean that Bush’s idea was wrong? Or is it our execution that is the problem?

  3. Polimom,
    Well said. The Neocon vision is indeed a utopian one, and much grief has been wrought upon the world by political leaders trying to impose their idea of a perfect world on their unwilling subjects.
    marc said:

    “I’d say that the vision of seeding democracies in Iraq and other places is a wonderfully idealistic vision. Can you deny that the world would be a better place if Iraq and Afghanistan were independent, stable democracies? I don’t think so. Yes, we failed. But that doesn’t automatically invalidate the idea.”

    I don’t doubt that the world would be a better place if Iraq and Afghanistan were independent, stable democracies. However, wishing does not make it so. Neither, apparently does overthrowing despotic governments by force and trying to “encourage” the emergence of democracy in the wreckage of the societies ‘on the cheap’.
    After WW II the (Western) Allies put 500,000 armed men in Germany — for 10 years! — and ran the country under a military occupation for years. If there had been resistance, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that another 500,000 — or 2,000,000 armed men would have been sent in. However, Germany had at least some democratic traditions, experience, and institutions to build on–much more so than Iraq. A democracy was indeed built there, but it required a considerable investment of manpower, money, and political will.
    In the Neocon utopia, the oppressed people are yearning for Western style democracy, and only need to be released from their chains for the dominoes to fall and democracies to spring up like flowers in the sun. A massive investment is unnecessary.
    To ask “is it desirable” is the wrong question. The right questions are: “is it possible” to facilitate / impose the type of government where we believe that

    . . . many people there have a strong preference for our type of democracy and are denied their right to representative government . . .

    AND “do we have the right?” to come rolling in to reshape their society in the image that we are sure that many of the people want?
    For those who are living the utopian dream, the first question is irrelevant, while the second one is incomprehensible. Of course the vision is desirable (many utopias are). And if we have the power to ‘make it so’ then do we not also have a moral obligation to do so? Even at a cost to ourselves?
    It is that unshakable certainty of the moral rightness of the end that justifies any means needed to achieve it that makes utopian political movements so destructive. In a sense, the Neocon position is just the polar opposite of the transnational radical Islamist position. God, and the superior moral position, are on each of their sides, in the minds of the believers.
    What a mess.

  4. marc —
    The term “evil” may carry a deeper meaning for you than I intended. Nefarious, perhaps? Since I don’t think of the neocons as intellectual sloughs, I’ve been assuming they understood the fundamentals flaws and deliberately ignored them. Re-casting them as zealots is not, I realize, complimentary, but it allows me greater latitude in my thoughts.
    You asked:

    But does that mean that Bush’s idea was wrong? Or is it our execution that is the problem?

    The flawed idea was not Bush’s, and the execution is a failure unto itself. As I said above — even perfect execution would not have brought about the goal.  Here’s someone else’s post that might give some more insight.

  5. So, Polimom and others, let me ask you a question: do you also feel we should have stayed out of the former Yugoslavia (Serbia/Kosovo/Croatia/Bosnia/=-Herzegovina)? The Taliban (Afghanistan) and Saddam (Iraq) were both involved in their own form of “ethnic cleansing” that was just as bad (for the victims, anyway) as what was going on in the former Yugoslavia.
    I won’t argue the point about whether or not “our” form of government is something we should foist off on every other country in the world: one would think that we would have learned the futility (and inherent dangers) of that practice back in the 1930s-1940s (in that the “regime change” that came out of Versailles led, indirectly, to the ascension of Hitler in Germany. Fortunately for us, MacArthur had more sense.)
    Yeah, it would have been much better had the UN stepped up in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and dealt with the situations there. But heck, they can’t even handle Darfur, so I wouldn’t start holding my breath on that score.
    ~EdT.

  6. EdT,
    With all due respect, the Balkans in the 90’s and the abject failure of the UN (pick any decade as an example) are not relevant to Polimom’s point. This post is not about the specific actions taken by the Bush Administration (though she has not been shy about expressing her views on those actions in other posts) it is about the mindset and motivations of the decision makers. Whether one thinks the actions taken are splendid or appalling in conception or in execution is not the issue.
    If Polimom is right, and our current leaders (and much of the electorate) have been captivated by a Utopian vision, that’s a problem. Even if the vision is one of bringing about harmony and mutually respectful, peaceful coexistence among nations — including nations that today are little more than artificial fiefdoms led by medieval robber barons with helicopters and artillery, or nukes — it’s a problem.
    Why? Because Utopian visionaries frequently get so caught up in the end state they are trying to bring about they fail to recognize, or even to see, data that suggests that their actions are not achieving the effect they thought they would. When confronted with data that does not conform to their vision they do not challenge their vision, they deny the data.
    As examples, does anyone remember the: “US troops will be greeted by flowers from the smiling Iraqi peoples.”? or the “Insurgency? What insurgency? There should not be any insurgency, therefore there IS no insurgency! (How disloyal of you to insinuate otherwise!)” from Rummy and others?
    When leaders refuse to acknowledge data that conflicts with their view of how the world really is, they can persist in actions that are doomed to fail for a very long time. Refusal to let the data tell you that what you are doing isn’t working is the hallmark of the true believer . . . or the fanatic.
    That is the point here.

  7. I understand, TM – but, my concern is that somehow people get so tied up with damning everything the Bush administration does, that they fail to see that this type of behavior (I think it is called “nation building”) has been going on for quite awhile now – and in many cases the pragmatic rationale for the activities has been quite reasonable.
    My point was that what led to our (mis-)adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are totally consistent with what led to our involvement in the Balkans, in Darfur, in Rwanda, in Europe during the 1940s, and in other places around the world where someone decides to engage in a bit of ethnic cleansing with an eye toward creating a master race (or at least eliminating entire populations deemed “untermensch”.) Part of the problem may be that we were so horrified by what happened in Germany during Hitler’s regime that we really, really don’t want to see it happen again. And so, when it raises its ugly little head (whether overseas, or in some remote compound in the USofA), we tend to play whack-a-mole — using a sledgehammer.
    As far as utopian visions go – I gave them up long, long ago, along with my beliefs in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and the Easter Bunny. I just don’t want to see the baby thrown out with the bathwater.
    ~EdT.

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