Across the Bay

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Frog Prince vs. Wolfowitz

Via Wretchard (Belmont Club) comes this post juxtaposing some of the views of Jacques "le con" Chirac and Paul Wolfowitz.

I'm not going to waste your time with Chirac's drivel, or his hypocrisy, ("the empowerment of the world's new poles by fully and wholly involving them in the decision-making mechanisms" = "I, Jacques Chirac, need to have a say on things, but since France is a nothing country, I need to construct a larger union based on anti-Americanism in order to be semi-relevant") as I'm more interested in turning your attention to Wolfowitz's views, which are almost always misconstrued as some evil plot against Arabs and Muslims in the service of Israel. Just read Juan Cole if you want to see cliché venom against Wolfowitz (peruse my blog, and his, to see several absurd examples). But read what Wolfowitz says, for instance, on Iran and contrast that with Cole's hilarious conspiracy theory accusations about Wolfowitz's barely restrained belligerence towards Iran (of course, in order to protect Israel and allow it to "ethnically cleanse" the Palestinians in peace!):

"One positive thing about Iran is that there's more room for political evolution in that country than in most comparable dictatorships. The trouble is that a few years ago they had an election in which three quarters of the population voted for the opposition candidate, but it turned out that winning the election didn't change the government. It is possible to conceive of Iran going in the direction where they have a government that respects the rights of its people and truly represents them."

This is consistent with his views on ME democratization. On that, the segments quoted by Wretchard are on the money:

"Export of democracy isn't really a good phrase. We're trying to remove the shackles on democracy. What you would hope is that governments can be encouraged on a path of gradual reform because that's the best way to avoid the sort of cataclysm that will come otherwise.  ... We're not trying to graft our system of government on to people who are different from us. We're trying to remove shackles that keep them from having what they want. And it's astonishing how many of them want something that's similar to what we in the west have.


After the second world war and the Korean war, we invested heavily in the defence and economic systems of countries like Japan and Korea - hardly an imperial undertaking. I would submit that we have benefited enormously from their strength and their ability to stand on their own feet. They're now contributing to the rest of the world. We're so much better off with a Japan as a strong trading partner than a Japan as a basket case. If people want to redefine the word "empire" to mean this as an empire, then it's just semantics. We are not trying to control these countries so we can exploit their resources. We're trying to enable these countries to stand on their own feet and our experience says that when they do so, we're better off. It's back to the absurdity of saying we're trying to impose our ideas on other people when we want to help them become democracies. There's more legitimacy to the question of whether we are really prepared to live with what they produce when they become democratic. There's an uncertainty about the democratic process and there's always a danger that bad people will get elected. But it's a funny empire that relies on releasing basic human desires to be free and prosperous and live in peace. One of the things about this moment in history is that nobody really thinks they can produce an army, a navy or an air force that can take on the US. That should channel human competitiveness into more productive and peaceful pursuits.

No wonder Azar Nafisi and other informed liberals in the ME appreciate Wolfowitz. He speaks to their brightest hopes, while Cole and the MESA-ites speak to the ME's darkest pathologies and deadliest romanticisms. I'll end with Wretchard's conclusion:

"History may remember Jacques Chirac as one of the most prolific institution builders of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The European Union and the United Nations are but some of the multilateral projects he sought to strengthen in the belief they would serve as a prototype for the future ordering of the world. Wolfowitz's vision seems altogether more complex. He seems unwilling to speak of institutions outside the context of empowerment, as if to speak of instruments of governance without freedoms was tantamount to prescribing tyranny. Their difference of opinion may be rooted, not so much in an argument over bureaucratic arrangements, but in their view of the nature of man himself."

Update: Martin Kramer, in a piece dealing with MESA, articulates the above-stated contrast between hope and pathological romanticism. This passage says it perfectly:

"[T]he Middle East has languished in the shadow of despotic regimes, intolerant nationalists, and religious extremists for as long as MESA has been in the business. Regrettably, none of this ever troubled MESAns to the point of bringing them out into the street. When they weren't looking away, they were explaining away, claiming that the benighted state of their region was really the fault of the West. In a profound sense, then, the entire guild of Middle Eastern studies has been gullible—an easily-manipulated fifth column for the most retrograde forces in the Middle East. That's also why the guild has been stuck in an epistemological median strip. The MESA presidential address that will bear these tidings won't be delivered tonight."

Update 2: Mr. Chirac would do well to read this Foreign Policy essay by Niall Ferguson. Ferguson counters "multipolarity" with "apolarity" and discusses such a scenario and its possible consequences. A very good read. Here's a sample:

"Those who dream the EU might become a counterweight to the U.S. hyperpower should continue slumbering. Impressive though the EU's enlargement this year has been—not to mention the achievement of 12-country monetary union—the reality is that demography likely condemns the EU to decline in international influence and importance. With fertility rates dropping and life expectancies rising, West European societies may, within fewer than 50 years, display median ages in the upper 40s. Europe's “dependency ratio” (the number of non-working-age citizens for every working-age citizen) is set to become cripplingly high. Indeed, Old Europe will soon be truly old. By 2050, one in every three Italians, Spaniards, and Greeks is expected to be 65 or older, even allowing for ongoing immigration. Europeans therefore face an agonizing choice between Americanizing their economies, i.e., opening their borders to much more immigration, with the cultural changes that would entail, or transforming their union into a fortified retirement community. Meanwhile, the EU's stalled institutional reforms mean that individual European nation-states will continue exercising considerable autonomy outside the economic sphere, particularly in foreign and security policy.


For all these reasons, the prospect of an apolar world should frighten us today a great deal more than it frightened the heirs of Charlemagne. If the United States retreats from global hegemony—its fragile self-image dented by minor setbacks on the imperial frontier—its critics at home and abroad must not pretend that they are ushering in a new era of multipolar harmony, or even a return to the good old balance of power.

Be careful what you wish for. The alternative to unipolarity would not be multipolarity at all. It would be apolarity—a global vacuum of power. And far more dangerous forces than rival great powers would benefit from such a not-so-new world disorder.