It’s Liberal Democracy Promotion, Stupid

As much as I appreciate Steve Cook’s attempt to dispel the notion that the Lebanon conflict invalidates democracy promotion, he seems to equate simple democracy with liberal democracy:

[P]articipating in a free and fair election does not necessarily imply that an organization is democratic. While Hamas and Hezbollah may have embraced the procedures of democracy, there is no evidence that they have embraced the rule of law, the rights of women and minorities, political and religious tolerance, and alternation of power.

Well, yes, but that doesn’t make Palestine or Lebanon non-democracies. It makes them illiberal democracies. What was effective about democracy promotion in Eastern Europe in the late ’80s and early ’90s was that liberal institutions were established along with democratic processes. That hasn’t happened in the Middle East, and that’s one of the many reasons that Bush’s gunboat democratization effort has been ineffective.

14 thoughts on “It’s Liberal Democracy Promotion, Stupid

  1. True democray in the middle-east will result in the populations voting for those spewing anti-US and anti-Israel messages. This should be understood by anyone who as lived in these areas and is familiar with “the arab-street” and muslims in general.
    I’d like to hear how Bush or the author of that article would debate otherwise.

  2. That’s not what Cook is arguing. And in any case, why would that invalidate democracy promotion? Democracy is good in and of itself, regardless of its effect on American interests. Moreover, if we look at the two liberal democracies with majority Muslim populations – Turkey and Indonesia – we see governments that, while not pro-American, are certainly more moderate and reasonable than the autocratic governments of the Middle East.

  3. Cook’s argument is that Bush’s democracy promotion did not cause the Lebanon/Israeli conflict. Why? Because these ‘extremist’ groups have been in government (both Lebanon & Palestine) before Bush II ever became president. Its more than a little hard for the effect to predate the cause.
    The paragraph which you quote is merely saying that just because an organization is elected in a democratic election doesn’t mean the organization (he’s not talking about the country) is democratic.
    Cook concludes that the problem isn’t that Bush’s promotion of democracy has caused the problem, but that if Bush had promoted democracy more/better than it would have negated the already established pattern of violence.
    In other words, you seem to have misunderstood his above reference to be talking about the nation as opposed to the agendas of the specific organizations (Hezbollah & Hamas).

  4. In other words, you seem to have misunderstood his above reference to be talking about the nation as opposed to the agendas of the specific organizations (Hezbollah & Hamas).
    Not really. A country where fundamentally illiberal parties like Hezbollah & Hamas can operate and influence policy is not exactly a liberal democracy.

  5. Okay. You’ve done a superb job of articulating that you think the countries are illiberal democracies.
    That fact does not discount Cook’s argument: Bush II’s policy of democracy promotion did not cause the current conflict, though if GW had tried harder it might have helped defuse the situation.
    My question for you is, ‘so what?’ Do you have a point?

  6. I’m not saying Cook is wrong. If you actually cared to read the first sentence of this post, you’d realize that I think he’s right. But I think he confuses the concept of democracy with the more complex concept of liberal democracy – as I make clear in every single sentence of this post.

  7. Steve Cook’s writing is illogical and misleading.
    His article is based on the faulty premise that “more democracy in Lebanon would have prevented the current crisis.” He evidently supports this premise by stating that “recent election results in Palestine and Lebanon suggest that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah enjoys the support of majorities of the Palestinian and Lebanese people.” And that had Lebanon emerged from its spring 2005 ‘independence uprising’ as a democracy, Hezbollah could not have continued to operate as an armed and thus autonomous faction” because “many Lebanese who do not support Hezbollah wish that the organization could be disarmed.”
    His article evidences a weak, childish understanding of how democracies, including ours, operate. First, every American over 18 should be fully aware of the fact that powerful minority groups can have a major influence over a democratic country’s policy and direction. Cook states that “Hezbollah’s Shiite base of support constitutes approximately 35 to 40 percent of the [Lebanese] population.” It should be no surprise to anyone, especially one writing articles for a national newspaper, that a militant group with backing of 35 to 40 percent of a democratic country’s population can have enormous influence over that country’s direction. It should be no great surprise that Hezbollah was able to maintain its powerful position, even after the democratic uprising.
    Second, we should all be fully aware by now that it doesn’t take majority votes to win elections, even winner-take-all elections.
    Cook misses the point when he states that “violence is not a result of the Bush administration’s push for a more open and democratic Arab world.” Bush’s forceful “democratization” of Iraq has created higher tensions in the area, which likely has led to the current blow-up. And while the world’s interests would best be served by an immediate cessation of hostilities, Bush’s half-baked preemptive strike policy has stripped the U.S. of the credibility it needs to make a serious push for an immediate ceasefire.

  8. Mr. cook strays far from reality in trying to tie the Bush administration’s policies of democratization to having a nebulous effect on the region in his claim that,
    “…It seems clear that whether the Bush administration had pursued a policy of democracy promotion in the Middle East or not, Hamas and Hezbollah would have snatched Israeli soldiers…”
    Mid-East foreign policies, to whatever degree they are carried out, of the single world superpower have a substantial effect at all levels in the region. If we were to implement the right policies we could be working towards mutual peace rather than systematic annihilation of this or that group.
    It should not be forgotten that a democracy, even a liberal one, can exist with an agenda of war making against those it deems a threat. I would challenge you to say this is untrue of the democracy we enjoy. In Lebanon as in the U.S. I would venture to say that a base of 40% is quite high for one single party. Mr. Cook has suggested that more democracy would be the better answer for Lebanon, and to this I would not argue a contrary opinion. However one should be careful of what they ask for. With a 40 percent mandate a democracy can have a leading party marching itself to war as easy as an authoritarian led nation. A liberal democracy led by Hezbollah could just as easily create conflict with Israel as they currently are while operating as a militant group with some elected power. The answer is not in the democratization but rather in the steps taken to peacefully bring all sides on board, the process of airing out differences to reach a common objective of peace rather than airing out missiles.
    The final statement by Mr. Cook is as far off the mark as any single idea could be. The violence is neither a result of the Bush administration pushing too little or too much. It is more a result, as related to U.S. foreign policies, of poor policies being pushed.
    To not leave with only having picked out the problems and not giving any solutions I will say that the best model we could use in our foreign policies as relates to the Middle East would be the same as was used to end the decades long violence between the IRA and England.

  9. Conner – I don’t support Bush’s “preemption” (really prevention) doctrine, and neither does Cook. Both Cook and myself, however, think that support for democratic reforms in the Middle East is good policy, for both moral and pragmatic reasons. I think, and believe Cook would agree, that the invasion of Iraq has been a catastrophe and a stain on America’s entire Mideast policy. But the flaw with Iraq was with its brutish means, not its ends. Iraq no more invalidates our pressure on Lebanon and Egypt for democratic transitions than the Soviet Union invalidates progressive taxation.
    Furthermore, you assume that all Shi’a in Lebanon are Hezbollah backers. This is by no means the case. There are 27 Shi’a seats in the Lebanese parliament, and there are only 14 Hezbollah members of parliament. Moreover, there are 128 seats in Lebanese parliament, and a party with only 11% of the seats in Parliament isn’t going to exert a whole lot of influence.
    Aaron – you say that a democratic Lebanon would be just as bellicose with regards to Israel as a despotic Lebanon. This shows that you don’t understand basic democratic peace theory. As anyone who has studied any international relations theory knows, wars between democracies are spectacularly rare. Thus, it’s quite unlikely that a democratic Israel and Lebanon would fight each other. Further, your scenario of “a liberal democracy led by Hezbollah” is hilarious. No liberal democracy would allow an armed militia to run it. And Hezbollah has nowhere near the support needed to lead the Lebanese government.

  10. Minipundit,
    I agree that support for democratic reforms in the Middle East is good policy, for both moral and pragmatic reasons. But democratic reforms do no good if enough of the public (not necessarily the majority) is focused on doing bad things. Certain values and beliefs are not necessarily created by democracies. Democracies merely allow certain popular values and beliefs to be reflected in policy.
    I am hesitant to believe that the problems in the Middle East will be solved if everyone’s vote is counted. You state that “Hezbollah has nowhere near the support needed to lead the Lebanese government.” Where is your support for that statement? They seem to be the party in control right now. And I don’t an uprising against them.
    You seem to focus on the fact that Hezbollah holds only about 11% of Lebanon’s parliament. That does not, however, mean that only 11% of Lebanon supports Hezbollah’s policy toward Isreal or the U.S. It is quite possible, even probable, that much more than 11% agrees with Hezbollah’s policy towards Isreal. I’m sure there are many Lebanese citizens who are opposed to Hezbollah, but Hezbollah is leading Lebanon’s resistance against Israel’s invasion and Hezbollah does good things for Lebanese communities.
    I think we agree on the Bush administration. I hope we also agree that making votes count is not a cure-all. The first step should be an effort to win hearts and minds through diplomacy and information sharing. We need to start building friendships with the leaders of our current enemies, no matter how difficult the process may be. For example, we should be making frequent trips to visit with leaders in the Middle East, not just when war breaks out. I suggest that we swallow our pride and demonstrate that we are very serious and dedicated to working with different cultures and ideologies to come to common ground and to heal wounds. If we can’t do that, we can’t solve the problem, by pushing democracy or otherwise.

  11. You state that “Hezbollah has nowhere near the support needed to lead the Lebanese government.” Where is your support for that statement? They seem to be the party in control right now.
    Um, no, they’re not. They are a minor member in the governing coalition. They no more run Lebanon than Shas runs Israel.
    I’m sure there are many Lebanese citizens who are opposed to Hezbollah, but Hezbollah is leading Lebanon’s resistance against Israel’s invasion and Hezbollah does good things for Lebanese communities.
    As you yourself state, only 35-40% of Lebanon is Shi’a. It’s highly unlikely that Sunni or Christian communities would back Hezbollah. Sunnis see Shi’a as apostates, and the Christians tend to ally with Israel. Even if every single Shi’a backed Hezbollah – which will never happen – it would only have enough support for an incredibly weak minority government, at best. Moreover, Muslims are underrepresented in the Lebanese parliament under the current seat allotment system. There are only 27 Shi’a seats in the parliament, which means that Hezbollah could get a maximum of 20% of parliament. Not even a minority government would be possible with that.

  12. The fragile and short lifespan of modern democracies allow for an extremely limited case study for which to make such claims as to refute the ability of nations operating under these forms of government to make war upon each other.
    More to the point, the importance of using terms such as ‘liberal democracy’ for a supercilious reward bares little to no value in discourses relating to, what in effect is, inter-tribal warring between ethnic groups of a particular region.
    I believe that the point being made is that any freely elected governing body respectful of its own citizen’s rights and well-being is still capable of conflicts outside its boarders.
    I make no attempt at suggesting that an armed militia could hold power in any democracy. Once elected you gain legitimacy in a purists’ version of democracy. Therefore you would no longer maintain that the ruling party is a militant group would you?
    However, your opinions are well versed and we should look to history for some guidance as you suggest. Perhaps Santayana is correct, “those who can’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” It would seem no words spoken could be more fitting for a debate centered on this region of the globe.
    What if I were to tell you that a militant group called the PLO will take control of the Palestinian Authority and sit at the table with the most powerful leaders of the world and the United Nations as a legitimate ruling party, sounds far flung doesn’t it? What today are grapes tomorrow will be wine. History as Santayana suggests may have a pattern of repeating itself.
    Hezbollah has, to some extent, the possibility of controlling the freely elected government of Lebanon. Therefore by finding a means that will allow for a settling of differences peace is attainable. The issue is not the system of governments; it is the inability of differing ideologies to coexist in close proximity. If you can solve that problem it wouldn’t matter the system by which either side governed themselves. Attempting to beat people into democracy will prove, in history, to be as reasonable an effort as was the attempts to beat the Moors and Jews into Catholicism proved to be.
    Just by having attached yourself to a concept doesn’t guarantee its relevance or worth.
    To be more succinct, if one groups ideology lacks the ability to see their neighbor’s right to exist simply because their theology differs both states can have a freely elected “liberal democracy” and still end up in conflict. The issue is tolerance not a lack of liberal democracy.

  13. Cook stated “Hezbollah’s Shiite base of support constitutes approximately 35 to 40 percent of the [Lebanese] population.” I take this to mean that Hezbollah has support from 35 to 40 percent of the entire Lebanese population.
    Regardless, Hezbollah has overwhelming support in Southern Lebanon. On June 6, it claimed a massive victory in southern Lebanon in the second stage of national elections – see

  14. Part of the rule of law is respecting the elections of others. Israel and America have not been doing that. Had they, Hamas could have been a back channel to avoid the current conflict.
    Another basic part of the rule of law is to not occupy countries or parts of countries where you are not wanted. If we had practiced that in the Philipines at the turn of the last century there would be no Filipino faction of Al Queda today. There would also be no Al Queda in Iraq. Bush should have quickly put an Sunni Arab army (Syria, Turkey or Jordan) on the ground in the Sunni Triangle. His bullheaded insistence on one Iraq is a major driver to the current debacle there.

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