Monday, December 18, 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick in Retrospect: The Man at the Top

Another extremely dubious aspect of Jeane Kirkpatrick's Dictatorships and Double Standards, is the exaggerated emphasis she puts on the importance of a single leader. She warns that when revolution threatens a "traditional" autocrat, all depends on the current leader remaining in power. Without him, the whole system will collapse:

Authority in traditional autocracies is transmitted through personal relations: from the ruler to his close associates (relatives, household members, personal friends) and from them to people to whom the associates are related by personal ties resembling their own relation to the ruler. The fabric of authority unravels quickly when the power and status of the man at the top are undermined or eliminated. The longer the autocrat has held power, and the more pervasive his personal influence, the more dependent a nation's institutions will be on him. Without him, the organized life of the society will collapse, like an arch from which the keystone has been removed. . . . The speed with which armies collapse, bureaucracies abdicate, and social structures dissolve once the autocrat is removed frequently surprises American policy-makers and journalists accustomed to public institutions based on universalistic norms rather than particularistic relations.

Superficially, this analysis may seem accurate. Revolutions do seem to proceed this way -- unrest stirs and increases. So long as the leader remains in power, he can keep a lid on it, but as soon as the leader steps down, the whole system falls apart.

But this analysis does not hold up so well in non-revolutionary situations. Both the Shah in Iran and Somoza in Nicaragua might be described as dynastic leaders, but in both cases the dynasty was a mere two generations old. But other dictators Kirkpatrick mentions, such as Chiang Kai-shek or Batista, fit this model less well. Batista, for instance, came to power by military coup, stepped down, and later seized power again. If Kirkpatrick is to be believed, the whole system should have collapsed three times over! In fact, at the time she wrote, Latin American governments were characterized, not by all-powerful dictators whose person presence kept everything together, but juntas and revolving door coups that constantly changed the man (or men) at the top with little or no impact on the greater social order.

Furthermore, if one gives the matter serious thought, no traditional society can possibly endure if "armies collapse, bureaucracies abdicate, and social structures dissolve once the autocrat is removed." After all the one constant in all political systems is that the leader is always mortal. There are no exceptions. Any form of government which survives long enough to become "traditional" or even "semi-traditional" necessarily has to develop institutions strong enough to deal with this fact. Some form of succession, whether dynastic heredity, regular coups, or even periodic civil war, is a necessary feature of any even remotely "traditional" society.

The absence of a mechanism for replacing leaders is, in fact, a feature of non-traditional societies. Ironically, this was a serious problem in Communist countries. At the time Kirkpatrick wrote, important Communist leaders such as Lenin, Stalin, and Mao had died, and the social order had survived them, but with a paralyzing interregnum of several years. Subsequent events would show revolutions in Communist/totalitarian countries followed a similar pattern. In country after country in 1989, pressure built, rulers held it at bay for a time, but when the man at the top stepped down, the whole social order crumbled. In most countries this happened peacefully, by general consent. However, in Romania, Nicolae Ceaucescu resisted to the last and was overthrown by violent revolt and was executed. Once again, "armies collapse[d], bureaucracies abdicate[d], and social structures dissolve[d] once the autocrat [was] removed." Iraq has provided a more recent example. The Baathist regime in Iraq was properly described as totalitarian. And, in removing Saddam Hussein, we ended up bringing down the Iraqi state.

What is really going on here? Why do social orders, from military dictatorships in Latin American to Communist governments in Eastern Europe depose or bury any number of leaders and endure and then crumble when one leader steps down before a rising revolution? The obvious answer is not that the entire social order depends on one man being in charge, but that in a revolutionary situation the entire social order is undergoing an extreme crisis that the man at the top tries (vainly) to reverse. It is the magnitude of the crisis, not the importance of the autocrat, that causes "armies [to] collapse, bureaucracies [to] abdicate, and social structures [to] dissolve."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick in Retrospect: "Forces" versus People

One of the oddest traits of Jean Kirkpatrick's Dictatorships and Double Standards is her view of US (and Soviet) power with respect to social conditions in Third World countries. She sees many social factors that make the development of democracy difficult and warns that we cannot impose it at will. Yet she also appears to believe that social factors have no role whatever in the occurrence of revolutions. Rather, the Soviet Union can create revolutions at, which fortunately we are always able to stop.

Kirkpatrick is most often praised these days for acknowledging how difficult it is to create a democracy:

Fulfilling the duties and discharging the functions of representative government make heavy demands on leaders and citizens, demands for participation and restraint, for consensus and compromise. It is not necessary for all citizens to be avidly interested in politics or well-informed about public affairs--although far more widespread interest and mobilization are needed than in autocracies. What is necessary is that a substantial number of citizens think of themselves as participants in society's decision-making and not simply as subjects bound by its laws. Moreover, leaders of all major sectors of the society must agree to pursue power only by legal means, must eschew (at least in principle) violence, theft, and fraud, and must accept defeat when necessary. They must also be skilled at finding and creating common ground among diverse points of view and interests, and correlatively willing to compromise on all but the most basic values.

In addition to an appropriate political culture, democratic government requires institutions strong enough to channel and contain conflict. Voluntary, non-official institutions are needed to articulate and aggregate diverse interests and opinions present in the society. Otherwise, the formal governmental institutions will not be able to translate popular demands into public policy.

In the relatively few places where they exist, democratic governments have come into being slowly, after extended prior experience with more limited forms of participation during which leaders have reluctantly grown accustomed to tolerating dissent and opposition, opponents have accepted the notion that they may defeat but not destroy incumbents, and people have become aware of government's effects on their lives and of their own possible effects on government. Decades, if not centuries, are normally required for people to acquire the necessary disciplines and habits.

These are all sound points. What Kirkpatrick ignores is that the Carter Administration was not, in fact, calling on foreign governments to become democracies overnight, only to respect basic human rights. Respect for basic human rights is part of the necessary groundwork that can later lead to democracy.

While Kirkpatrick believes that objective social conditions have a great deal to do with whether a society is capable of democracy, and that the US has little power to change them, she has no patience for the view that objective social conditions have anything to do with causing revolutions.

The idea that it is "forces" rather than people which shape events recurs each time an administration spokesman articulates or explains policy. The President, for example, assured us in February of this year:

The revolution in Iran is a product of deep social, political, religious, and economic factors growing out of the history of Iran itself.

. . . .

Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, commenting on "instability" in Iran and the Horn of Africa, states:

We, of course, recognize that fundamental changes are taking place across this area of western Asia and northeastern Africa--economic modernization, social change, a revival of religion, resurgent nationalism, demands for broader popular participation in the political process. These changes are generated by forces within each country.

. . . .

So what if the "deep historical forces" at work in such diverse places as Iran, the Horn of Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, and the United Nations look a lot like Russians or Cubans? . . . What can a U.S. President faced with such complicated, inexorable, impersonal processes do? The answer, offered again and again by the President and his top officials, is, not much. Since events are not caused by human decisions, they cannot be stopped or altered by them.

Something very odd is going on here. Although Kirkpatrick does not use the dread term "forces" in talking about countries' capacity for democracy, she makes quite clear that democratization is not simply a matter of individual will, but depends on objective social conditions. Yet she seems to have no concept that what predisposes a society toward revolution also has something to do with objective social conditions such as "economic modernization, social change, a revival of religion, resurgent nationalism, demands for broader popular participation in the political process." Revolutions are simply the result of Russians and Cuban stirring up trouble, or, at most, indiginous revolutionaries armed and encouraged by Russians and Cubans.

Kirkpatrick has half a point here. It is true that hard-core revolutionaries are generally a relatively small elite, and that it is this elite often tries to stir up revolution absent popular discontent. But for revolutionaries to move beyond a mere annoyance and actually menace the regime in power, they must have a certain critical mass of support. Attracting that critical mass does, indeed, depend a great deal on "broad historical forces" and objective social conditions, including the serious disruptions in people's lives that supposedly "traditional" governments can cause. And Kirkpatrick seems utterly blind to the fact that the revolutions in both Nicaragua and Iran (the countries she emphasizes) were exceptionally broad-based popular uprisings. Kirkpatrick is certainly right that in both countries it was a narrow revolutionary elite and not the general public that determined the direction of the revoultion. Doubtless it is true that in both countries the revolution moved off in directions the general public would not have chosen. But in both cases the broad public was willing to take that gamble.

Kirkpatrick heaps scorn on Jimmy Carter for saying there was not much he could do, and that he did not know whether the Shah would stay in power. She is amply clear that the United States, so powerless to create democracy, is omnipotent in maintaining autocrat in power. What Kirkpatrick is really saying is that Carter was a fool for not seeing bombing them back to the stone age or waging war on the entire population as acceptable alternatives.

Another thought Kirkpatrick should consider. If the Soviet Union was so omnipotent and could create revolutions and topple pro-Western governments anytime, anywhere regardless of objective social conditions, why did it choose such unlikely spots? If the Cubans can gobble up Nicaragua any time they want, surely Mexico would be a more attractive target. If they can wave their magic wand and create revolution in Iran, why not Saudi Arabia while they are at it? And, for that matter, what on earth possessed them to prefer Vietnam to India? Not once does she even address how the Soviets choose their supposed targets.

Kirkpatrick is doubtless right that the right conditions must be in place to create democracy. But she is dead wrong in assuming that conditions are unrelated to revolution.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick in Retrospect: Anything for the Status Quo

Jeane Kirkpatrick's primary purpose inDictatorships and Double Standards was to argue that, since revolutionary regimes are necessarily worse than "traditional" ones, we are justified in supporting any degree of repressiveness or murderousness in a friendly dictator because the alternative will, by definition, be worse.

What immediately moved her to write her article was the occurrence of two recent revolutions against friendly dictators; the overthrow of the Shah of Iran by Khomeini follower and the overthrow of Somoza in Nicaragua by the Sandinistas. In both cases, President Jimmy Carter refused to prop up a friendly dictator in the face of a popular uprising and (in Kirkpatrick's opinion) helped precipitate the revolution by asking the dictator to show greater respect for human rights. However, she did not claim that this failing was unique to Carter. In fact, she said, he was merely following a familiar pattern of refusal to prop up friendly dictators, from Chiang Kai-shek in China to Batista in Cuba to the various governments of South Vietnam to UNITA in Angola.

The pattern is familiar enough: an established autocracy with a record of friendship with the U.S. is attacked by insurgents, some of whose leaders have long ties to the Communist movement, and most of whose arms are of Soviet, Chinese, or Czechoslovak origin. The "Marxist" presence is ignored and/or minimized by American officials and by the elite media on the ground that U.S. support for the dictator gives the rebels little choice but to seek aid "elsewhere." Violence spreads and American officials wonder aloud about the viability of a regime that "lacks the support of its own people." The absence of an opposition party is deplored and civil-rights violations' are reviewed. Liberal columnists question the morality of continuing aid to a "rightist dictatorship" and provide assurances concerning the essential moderation of some insurgent leaders who "hope" for some sign that the U.S. will remember its own revolutionary origins. Requests for help from the beleaguered autocrat go unheeded, and the argument is increasingly voiced that ties should be established with rebel leaders "before it is too late." The President, delaying U.S. aid, appoints a special emissary who confirms the deterioration of the government position and its diminished capacity to control the situation and recommends various measures for "strengthening" and "liberalizing" the regime, all of which involve diluting its power.

Kirkpatrick would stand for no such nonsense. She regarded such situations as cut-and-dried with only two alternatives -- our friendly autocrat or the Communist revolutionaries. In such cases, she sees no alternative; we must support a friendly leader by any means necessary. What means are those? Well, to begin with, we should never criticize a friendly government's repressiveness or ask for any restraint. Its repressiveness is simply doing what is necessary to protect itself against threat. We should do whatever is necessary to support a besieged friendly autocrat. How much may be necessary? Well, Kirkpatrick pours scorn the liberal press for interpreting insurgency as "evidence of widespread popular discontent" and sees refusal to arm a regime to suppress such an insurgency as tantamount to "toppling" the regime in power. She is also contemptuous of Carter's unwillingness to intervene militarily to keep either the Shah or Somoza in power. And apparently in Vietnam that long-term committment of 500,000 troops and large-scale carpet bombing and defoliation was not sufficient either. These days one hears praise of Kirkpatrick in some surprising quarter because she believed it was not easy to create democracy and would not have supported George Bush's world-wide military interventions on its behalf. But she would and did support military interventions all over the world to prop up friendly despots.

And there, I believe, is Kirkpatrick's most serious moral failing. She fails to recognize that insurgencies are often, indeed, expressions of popular discontent (more on that in the next post) and therefore fails to recognize just violent "traditional" leaders may have to be to uphold the status quo. In fact, the revolutions in bothNicaragua and Iran were overwhelming popular uprisings. Somoza responded, in effect, by waging war against his own people and bombing his own cities as one would bomb an enemy country. To Kirkpatrick, this just wasn't enough, and we should have helped him hit harder. The Shah, for the most part, went down without a fight, but presumably it would have taken a similar level of force to suppress the similarly popular uprising in Iran. Just how brutal does a "traditional" ruler have to be in maintaining power before we decide that a revolution might not seem so bad by comparison?

Kirkpatrick showed more clearly just how severe human rights violation she was prepared to justify in defense of the status quo when she served in the Reagan Admistration, which followed her advice when revolution threatened in El Salvador. The government there engaged in massacres of hundreds of defenseless villagers, raped 8-year-old children, tore the babies out of pregnant women, and massacred refugees as they attempted to flee. Kirkpatrick steadfastly stood by our friends throughout regardless. Never did she explore the question of whether any degree of slaughter in defense of the status quo ceased to be justifiable. Nor did she discuss the extent to which prolonged civil war tends to brutalize participants on both sides, regardless of who wins.

Perhaps the best comment on Kirkpatrick's anything-for-the-status-quo philosophy was posted recently on Glenn Greenwald:

3000 killed in Chile to "prevent a Cuba." 15,000 killed in Argentina to "prevent a Cuba." 80,000 killed in El Salvador to "prevent a Cuba." 100,000 killed in Guatemala to "prevent a Cuba." Thousands more when you add up Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic.... "to prevent a Cuba."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick in Retrospect: "Traditional" and "Revolutionary"

I was an adolescent whose political consciousness was just dawning when I first read Jeane Kirkpatrick's Dictatorships and Double Standards. I was outraged at her amorality. Kirkpatrick has now recently died, and in the surrounding flurry, many others have having the dubious pleasure of reading her work, perhaps for the first time. Her argument has stuck with me ever since. This occasion is as good an excuse as any to address a few posts to her article.

Kirkpatrick purports to discuss the difference between authoritarian and totalitarian governments and explain why totalitarians are worse. She does not, however, define her terms. The distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian was raised long before Kirkpatrick's article. The usual distinction is that authoritarians seek to control only the government and will allow some independent institutions outside government control, so long as they do not directly challenge the regime in power. Totalitarians seek to control all of society, to destroy all independent institutions or subordinate them to the government and, in many cases, to compel everyone to participate in government-controlled institutions.

Instead of dwelling on this distinction, Kirkpatrick automatically equates "authoritarian" with "traditional" and "totalitarian" with "revolutionary" (read "Communist") and largely blurs the distinction between revolution and totalitarianism. Thus she considers any regime that upholds the status quo as inherently preferable to any one that challenges the status quo, and justifies almost anything done in defense of existing institutions. Her most famous (or infamous) quote is:

Traditional autocrats leave in place existing allocations of wealth, power, status, and other resources which in most traditional societies favor an affluent few and maintain masses in poverty. But they worship traditional gods and observe traditional taboos. They do not disturb the habitual rhythms of work and leisure, habitual places of residence, habitual patterns of family and personal relations. Because the miseries of traditional life are familiar, they are bearable to ordinary people who, growing up in the society, learn to cope, as children born to untouchables in India acquire the skills and attitudes necessary for survival in the miserable roles they are destined to fill. Such societies create no refugees.

Precisely the opposite is true of revolutionary Communist regimes. They create refugees by the million because they claim jurisdiction over the whole life of the society and make demands for change that so violate internalized values and habits that inhabitants flee by the tens of thousands in the remarkable expectation that their attitudes, values, and goals will "fit" better in a foreign country than in their native land.

What is wrong with Kirkpatrick's assumptions? She presupposes an immutable distinction between what is traditional and what is revolutionary, and that whatever is not Communist is, by definition, traditional and therefore not disruptive of ordinary peoples' lives. In fact, no present-day society can truly be called traditional, or non-disruptive. Africa, for instance, had its genuinely traditional societies severely disrupted in the 19th century by European colonialism, and again in the mid 20th century by independence. In Latin America, the traumas of colonization and independence were older, but contemporary society is being buffeted by modernization and urbanization. Perhaps the most extreme example is Haiti. Haiti's modern history begins with the complete extermination of its indiginous population and their replacement with slaves, forcibly transported from Africa. Because the death rate among slaves on Haitian plantations was so high, new slaves were constantly being imported (at great cost to their "habitual rhythms of work and leisure, habitual places of residence, habitual patterns of family and personal relations.") Then the slaves rebelled, killed off the colonizers, destroyed the plantation system, and sunk the country into general anarchy. Eventually a social order emerged which somehow rates as "traditional."

Legitimate distinctions between totalitarian and authoritarian do not necessarily tell us which form of government will be more disruptive. Consider the comments of Kirkpatrick critic Tom J. Farer:

If a revolutionary state commands people to move from one section of a country to another, we naturally condemn this ugly ct as violating the right to travel freely and choose one's place of residence. But if the state enforces an absentee landowner's decision to expel sharecroppers, who have tilled the land for generations, and if the landowner's choice was a rational response to market forces, even if those forces were themselve determned by political decisions about subsidies or the tariff on imported farm equipment, many economists will applaud it. . . . Quietly and anonymously, economic and social forces unleashed or at least aided by the state can eliminate entire cultures.

On the other hand, how long does it take before what was once revolutionary becomes traditional? Once people's lives have been disrupted enough by the new patterns enforced by revolutionary change, those, too, become "traditional." New "habitual rhythms of work and leisure, habitual places of residence, habitual patterns of family and personal relations" develop, along with new "traditional gods . . . and taboos." At the time Kirkpatrick wrote, the Soviet Union had been Communist longer than most African countries had been independent. Anyone in 1979 watching Soviet newlyweds lining up at Lenin's tomb to view his body could be forgiven for seeing it all as a new "tradition."

Next post: Just how much violence does Kirpatrick advocate to uphold the status quo?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dwindling Options in Iraq

In a most perverse way, I feel vindicated. In one of my earliest posts, I proposed that the best way to address a controversial issue was not for the President to make a single proposal, but instead to offer options for public debate. I was referring to a domestic issue, but now, according to analysis by the Los Angeles Times, there are roughly six options being discussed for Iraq, (1) stay the course, (2) increase troops, (3) gradual withdrawal, (4) partition or decentralization, (5) negotiate with Syria and Iran, or (6) install a new strongman. Some of these proposals are mutually exclusive, but there is not reason why we cannot combine various others. My own preference is for (5), negotiation with Syria and Iran, combined with whatever combination of other approaches promises the best result.

George Bush is famously opposed to negotiating with "evil," but he is by no means to only one in this case. Juan Cole has a good roundup of reactions. According to the Sunday Times (London), insurgent forces share the alarm. The Times reports that U.S. forces had been negotiating with insurgent groups for some time. Negotiations were troubled at best because the insurgents, Sunnis and Baathists, only wanted to negotiate return to power. Upon hearing that Americans would even consider negotiations with Iran, the insurgents cried betrayal and broke off negotiations. The Saudi leadership is so alarmed that they have threatened to give aid to the Sunni insurgents if the United States withdraw precipitously.

Obviously such the neighbors' fears an rational. Any negotiated settlement with Iran will almost certainly mean Iranian domination of at least the Shiite areas of Iraq, a prospect that alarms most neighboring countries. Yet Iran has the power to sabotage any future for Iraq not to its liking. To resist negotiations is to close one's eyes to the painful truth, which has long proved a failing policy. So, how does one negotiate the best feasible arrangement between parties who are so irreconcileably hostile to one another?

Start by negotiating with Iran. Let there be no illusions what we will be negotiating. We will negotiating the terms of handing dominant authority in southern (Shiite) Iraq over to Iran. What do we get in exchange? The last remaining hope for any degree of stability in the Shiite areas of Iraq. As Hilzoy admirably explains at Obsidian Wings, so long as Iran is facing a hostile army next door that might attack, it is in Iran's interest to stirr up trouble in Iraq. Once the hostile army withdraws and Iran faces a power vacuum next door, or an area it wishes to dominate, then stabilizing Iraq will be very much in Iran's interests. Will Iran be able stabilize Shiite Iraq? No one knows. If yes, then everyone, but especially the Iraqis will be better off. If no, then it becomes Iran's problem, not ours. Turning the mess we made over to someone else and saying you clean it up is not such a bad deal for us, and not such a good deal for Iran. Let's make the deal before the Iranians figure that out!

Negotiations should address only U.S. withdrawal from Shiite areas of Iraq, the only areas Iran can claim as a sphere of influence. We should move at least a modest force to Kurdish Iraq as a warning to the Iranians to keep their hands off the Kurds. The Kurds surely will welcome our protection. The Iranians and Turks will probably agree to our presence if we promise in exchange to restrain our Kurdish allies from stirring up any trouble among Iranian and Turkish Kurds.

What of Sunni Arabs in Iraq? One of the reasons so many Arabs fear Iranian domination of southern Iraq is that they fear for the safety of the Sunnis living there. Again, such fears are justified. But if the United States begins negotiations with Iran now, while leaving its troops in place, Sunnis will at least have warning and opportunity to flee to Sunni dominated areas. So, do I endorse option 4, a de facto partition? Many people have opposed this option, either as unwarranted interference, or as encouraging ethnic cleansing. But partition is well under way, whether we like it or not. Sometimes the best way for mutually hostile groups to stop fighting is for them to separate. If we shift our troops' mission to protecting Sunnis as they flee, we may hope at least to minimize the bloodshed. When Iran takes over southern Iraq, Sunni Arab Iraqis doubtless will want some sort of protection from Iran. Maybe they will even ask us to stay! More likely, they will want some multinational Arab force. Introducing some sort of peacekeeping force between Sunni and Shiite Iraq will doubtless be wise.

Finally, what about Iran's nuclear ambitions? This is, after all, one the the things the neighbors (rightly) fear most. Ideally, we could make them part of a package deal. Iran submits all aspects of its nuclear program to weapons inspectors in exchange for domination of southern Iraq. But if Iran will not agree to these terms, it is still in our best interest to get our troops out of harms way. By occupying southern Iraq we are, in effect, giving the Iranians 140,000 hostages. Hostile action against Iran would lead to all-out war against our forces in southern Iraq. Remove our troops, and our ability to menace actually grows. (I do not favor bombing Iran, but being able to credibly threaten has its advantages).

So, these are the suggestions a nobody like me would recommend. Do I see them as serious prospects? No. Hilzoy again explains it best. Just as pushing for reconciliation in Iraq is unrealistic because none of the parties want to be reconciled, pushing George Bush for diplomacy will fail because George Bush does not believe in diplomacy. In all probability he will choose option (1), stay the course. Things will continue to slowly deteriorate, leading who knows where.