Friday, May 09, 2003

PNAC: The flaws of missionary zeal

In the latest MoveOn bulletin there is a link to an April 5th article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal that provides an excellent summary of the Project for a New American Century. I note, with interest, the following summary of what PNAC stands for: In essence, the neoconservatives argue that national sovereignty is an outdated concept, given the overwhelming power of America, and the U.S. should do all it can to impose democracy on countries. Some have called this approach democratic imperialism. It echoes the do-gooder impulses of Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic president who formulated the League of Nations as a solution to war, then paradoxically blends it with American military might. Hulsman dubbed it "Wilsonianism on steroids." In a world where nuclear weapons are proliferating, the neoconservatives argue, you can no longer put the genie back in the bottle. "The hard truth is that unless you change some of these regimes, you're going to be hard-pressed to get rid of the threat," Schmidt noted. "Liberal democracies don't go to war with each other." The theory behind this, developed by Michael Doyle, professor of international affairs at Princeton University, is that democratic governments are reluctant to go to war because they must answer to their citizens. And the history of liberal democracies, though comparatively short in the grand scheme of history, tends to buttress his point. PNAC is arguing that America should force other countries into democracy, possibly at the point of a gun, so that they will be less likely to attack their neighbors. Yet they fail to note the irony that this might require America, an alleged "liberal democracy", to attack its neighbors. Does this disprove the PNAC thesis that "liberal democracies don't go to war with each other?" Or does it show that, in order to use the might of the United States to force "liberal democracies" on other nations, it will be necessary to undermine our own "liberal democracy"? But for critics such as Hulsman, democracy arises from the bottom up and is "intimately connected with local culture and tradition. It can almost never be successfully imposed from the top down," he contends. Neoconservatives cite Germany and Japan, but Hulsman noted that Japan is "98 percent ethnically homogenous," unlike Iraq, which is split among three major groups. Yet Japan still required five years of American occupation after World War II before it became an independent democracy. The mission of democratizing the world may have no end, Hulsman says, because "there are always barbarians to convert." But whatever his disagreement with it, Hulsman called the neoconservatives' approach "the first new thought in foreign policy for some time." Is it really that new? Or is it just a repackaging of the old idea of "the white man's burden"? There is a missionary component to the PNAC program, with Democracy being the religion the conquerors will bring to the heathens. The trappings of this philosophy are new but the idea is as old as the idea of nation states. Every dominant power goes through a phase where it thinks it is the standard-bearer of civilization and therefore has an obligation, perhaps even a holy commission, to bring that civilization to the lesser souls around it. Unfortunately, as in all past experiences with imperialistic missionary spirit, that mission is often used as a mask to obscure what really happens: the exploitation of the people and resources of the conquered territories. While the missionaries preach to the heathens the leeches work in the background to suck the country dry. The difficulty in fighting this philosophy is that many of the chief proponents may actually believe what they are saying. Wolfowitz, Pearle, Bush and the others may truly see themselves as liberators. The part of them that knows what is really going on behind the curtain is safely locked away in a little part of their minds, never to be examined. You can accuse them of being perfidious, but they will be able to defend themselves, in all honesty, against the charge because they simply don't see themselves as doing what you are accusing them of doing. And the American people are willing participants in this delusion. They want to feel that they are doing right in the world and the Good News of the PNAC mission is that America is bringing Democracy to the lowly savages and that cannot be anything but a good thing. Right? You're not against Democracy are you?


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6:34 PM  

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