I'm a fan of Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright mainly because I think she strikes the right balance between realism and idealism that is so crucial to foreign policy. In this Washington Post essay, Albright hopes to find that same balance in whoever succeeds Condi Rice when President Bush's term is mercifully up. She also takes defeatists to task for their cynicism in regards to democracy in the Middle East. She gets it mostly right—mostly.
Albright begins her essay with a warning to those of us who despise the Bush administration so much that we lose sight of our own ideals in the failures of his actions. She warns that the disaster in Iraq will create, "a new conventional wisdom will emerge that promoting democracy in the Middle East is a mistake." But I think Albright mistakes most progressives' dismay with Bush's "promotion of freedom" through force with the idea that we don't think it should be promoted at all. It's not so much the "if" but the "how" and also the "why" that have realists sick to their collective stomachs.
It's easy to dismiss Bush's simpleton declarations that all people deserve freedom as so much dopey evangelizing, but only the most cynical bastard would argue against that point. If you respect humanity you must support the notion of freedom for all. But freedom is hard fought, not given and certainly not imposed. Freedom given leaves the receiver beholden. Freedom imposed is cultural imperialism since we all define freedom differently. Freedom allows the people to decide for themselves.
But where does that leave us when cruel dictatorships strangle dissent and any semblance of real choice? Albright says that the only alternative to supporting democracy is "complicity in backing governments that lack the blessing of their own people." Is it? Isn't it just as possible to assume a hands-off approach to foreign policy in the Middle East, or at least a more equitable one? To paraphrase David Cross: You know how I know the terrorists attacked us because of our bases in Saudi Arabia and our one-sided support of Israel? Because they fucking told us.
Albright's right to point out that the developing notion that Middle Eastern nations can't support democracy "betrays Arab democrats and smells of hypocrisy." It is hypocritical but it's naÔve to believe the installation of democracy, which Albright correctly identifies as simply a form of government and NOT a ticket to "some heavenly kingdom where evil is vanquished" won't sometimes result in decisions incapatible with our own notions of a free society. And that is the failing of the neocon ideology.
It was the neocon ideology, and not WMD or al-Qaeda links as publicly stated, that led the US to invade Iraq. Anyone who believes otherwise is either too dense to literally read the writing or are not drinking the Cool Aid, but bathing in it. Albright is too kind to this band of criminals who undermined our Constitution and suckered a dull president into doing their bidding. She says that, "the failures [in Iraq] were of leadership, not a too-fervent commitment to democracy." That's giving them a pass. The failures are rooted deeply in the broken philosophy of the Project for a New American Century. The authors believed that simply installing democracy was the ends, but de ocracy,as a form of government, is a means. The result is the people's will and do you think people thousands of miles away mght have a different desire for their culture and identity than we have here in the west?
Make no mistake though, I am a fan of Albright's and she comes through with brilliant insight on the Hamas affair. She says, "elections did not create Hamas...[but] precisely because of elections, Hamas will be tested as it has never done." That is the even-minded thought that makes for great diplomats. Democracy is giving the people a voice and in the Palestinian territory the people chose a terrorist organization over the ineffectual and impotent "leadership" of what is left of the PLO. Now, Hamas will be forced to put its money where its mouth is and if they don't deliver (and democracy remains, which isn't a guarantee), they'll also be shown the door and discredited as all blow and no go. As Albright says, the elections "will cause Hamas to change—or to fail. Either outcome would be an improvement on the status quo."
Madeleine Albright sums up in one sentence the essence that made her a great diplomat in that we "must begin with the world as it is but also work for what we'd like it to be."
I heart her.