Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Musing The Best Political News of 2004 

"What's that?", you ask, "Good news?" Yes: peaceful, fair Afghan elections, as William Safire points out.

I've thought for some time that it is difficult to defend our system of government and tolerate interactions with corrupt regimes such as China & most countries in the Middle East. Little is done when we need to maintain a stable status quo.

We supported reform in the former Soviet block nations to help bring about that empire's collapse, then did nothing to promote those seeking democracy in the former Yugoslavia, when it didn't serve our interests. We supported Afghan fighters against the USSR, again, when serving our interests. The rise of the Taliban should never have been tolerated.

This makes me wonder about the proper roll of a powerful democratic state in the face of countries that repudiate the ideas. Most will concede that acting to defense makes sense, even in a cold war, where we had interests to spread democracy to stop the spread of communism.

Far fewer would agree that this effort should be pro-active. I would be one of those. The situation in the Middle East, where most nations are not democracies, there is little governmental value in individual freedoms, and corrupt law machines are oiled more by bribes than justice.

I think this is intolerable for humanitarian reasons. It is also intolerable from a security standpoint. I would venture that an open society is explicitly threatened by closed societies, on a long enough timeline. The motivations can be benign: the west has gotten richer as a result of our system, while the ME has degraded, being an emaciated oil-junkie. This is a threat, and we are only coming to realize that. The thought that those systems can exist in they own world, and not metastisize & spread or reach a boiling point like Al Queda, is a myth.

Most describe the current War on Terror as a civil war within Islam. This makes sense, but in order to have the modern side win, we must understand the motivations. There is a medieval side only because the public sectors there are too corrupt to stop it. You can't win a culture war if the incentive system creating the problem doesn't change.

Does this mean I'm advocating more invasions? Not necessarily. It needn't come to that.

It could come in the form of a simple statement that most in this divided country could agree with. For example: "Saudi Arabia, you should hold elections, let women drive, and stop funding fundamentalist schools which breed hatred of the United State."

Will this have an effect? Maybe. If there are business consequences, I think it would be more meaningful. Take China, where anecdotes abound of miscellaneous businessmen mentioning in passing the plight of a political prisoner. While the diplomats and translators insert apologies to water down the sentiment, the statement causes a small ripple, and the prisoner is released to secure the deal.

Apply this to the above statement by appending, "or company XYZ won't get a subsidy to invest in your infrastructure".

At the very least, we'll sleep better at night.
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