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Muravchik and the Dems


Jonah, I’m headed out for some travel, and so don’t have time for back-and-forth on Muravchik’s piece. But let me note quickly that I found Muravchik’s defense of democratization theory unconvincing.

Muravchik says that even had we installed and backed a single strong leader, American troops would still have had to sustain him. That’s true, but it does not follow, as Muravchik claims, that our military burdens would have been the same in that case as they are now. No-one can know the outcome of this counter-factual, but it is certainly conceivable that a U.S. backed strongman might have had more success at keeping rebellious factions mollified and in check than what we’ve seen take place so far. Again, this can’t be known one way or another, but for that very reason, we can’t take Muravchik’s assurance as valid.

Muravchik says that such democracy as has taken hold in Iraq has “made our burdens there so much lighter.” I find this unconvincing, and it seems more an assertion than an argument. Muravchik says high voter participation and “a degree of give-and-take among the various factions” shows that “democratization can be said to have received a decent start in Iraq.” Again, this is unconvincing. I’m not sure what a bad start for democracy would look like, if what we’ve seen so far is decent.

Muravchik says outsiders can help start successful democracy. He may be right in some cases, but this begs the question of whether a strategy heavily dependent on outsiders will succeed in the Middle East. Muravchik says American democracy itself depended on outside help from Lafayette. Well, America had a deep indigenous tradition of democracy. Iraq does not. The Lafayette analogy is so strained that it only makes Muravchik’s argument look weak.

The root of the problem is that Muravchik still identifies democracy too heavily with elections. He talks about the need to change the “political culture” of the Middle East, but his notion of political culture is, by my lights, far too shallow. Muravchik thinks elections “will work to pacify” an excessively violent political culture. But this puts the cart before the horse. The absence of elections is not the cause of factional fighting. That is why the presence of elections has done little to stem such fighting. The existence of a social system based on tribal and religious factionalism explains why elections by themselves have been unable to transport a liberal political culture to Iraq. Only a slow and deep shift toward a liberal political culture could allow a democratization strategy work in the Middle East. For that to happen, elections should come after deeper, liberalizing social change, not before. (For my detailed views on this, see “Democratic Imperialism.”)

In short, while it’s clear that Muravchik has not changed his mind about democratization, I don’t think he’s even begun to meet the objections of sceptics. In my reading, Muravchik has restated his conclusions about democratization, but has not argued for them in any detail. Nor do I see how any scenario in Iraq would have made Muravchik change his mind. I’m not sure how the aftermath of elections could have been much more discouraging than what we’ve seen in Iraq. At this point, the “quick elections are the solution” theory still seems to me to be running on empty.

As I’ve noted before, the interesting thing is that the center of democratization theory has now shifted to the Democrats. Have a look at the “After Iraq” symposium in the new liberal policy journal “Democracy.” Notice that the piece by Will Marshall advocates backing the right of Egyptian Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in elections, while Larry Diamond is talking about promoting democracy through “serious and sustained dialogue” with various Islamists. Folks still don’t realize what’s going to happen if the Democrats get in. The notion of quick democratization in the Muslim world isn’t going to be pared back, it’s going to be supercharged. The Dems are going to take a precipitous democratization policy and make vastly more problematic than it already is by applying it to Islamist parties–at least that’s what one major faction of Democratic policy wonks is going to push for. It’s going to be “accommodation” city, and all under the guise of democratization.


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