Friday, January 21

Is it do-able?

"What do you mean Americans are practical-minded people? Bush's speech yesterday was more proof that Americans are crazy to listen to him. He is trying to make a religion out of democracy.
[Signed] Pierre in Montreal"

Dear Pierre:

Let us choose not to frame foreign policy discussions as a mental health issue. Practicality is indeed a characteristic of Americans, which plays a significant role in the Bush administration's discussion about the direction of US foreign policy.

In support of this observation, I direct you to the poll conducted by Chris Core during his call-in radio show last night. In case the page link doesn't work after 24 hours, the poll question and two possible answers are:

"Do you believe President Bush's speech today calling for freedom everywhere in the world is an achievable goal?

"Yes, it's not only do-able, it's absolutely necessary.

"No, it's pie in the sky dreaming, not the real world."

When the poll closed, 81% of respondents answered yes with 19% in the nay category.

A close look at the WMAL-AM website tells the sharp observer that Core's audience is probably weighted with Republicans. But Core's show is a Washington institution; he deals nightly with local issues that cut across party politics. So the opinions of Democrat listeners are also strongly represented on Chris's call-in line. And Chris is widely listened to in the Greater Washington, DC region, which includes the District of Columbia and parts of the states of Virginia and Maryland. This means Chris talks nightly with many Real People who live Inside the Beltway or Not Far Outside. ("Real people" as distinguished from the lobbyists and other members of the political industry.)

Thus, Core's initial response to Bush's inaugural speech supports my observation that Americans are practical people. Straight off the bat, Core asked his audience whether they thought aggressively promoting democracy in the world is a realistic policy.

Core's question reflects the initial reaction of many Americans who listened to Bush's inaugural speech. Americans tend to ask, "Is it do-able?" when first considering any idea. Indeed, Core's poll explicitly calls up the question of "do-ability."

Now if you still don't believe that Americans think first and foremost in terms of do-ability--I doubt you get the PBS NewsHour in Canada, but that's America's "high end" mainstream broadcast news show. To analyze Bush's speech, Margaret Warner corralled two of her favorite Washington Wonks, Zbignew Brzezinski (Center for Strategic & International Studies) representing the Democrat camp and Walter Russell Mead (Council on Foreign Relations) for the Republican side.

Brezinski creamed Mead by asking repeatedly, "And just how do you plan on carrying out these ideas?" Mead was reduced to saying that it was still unclear but we'd figure out something. Zbig sat there and literally cackled in triumph.

I am making a point of practicality because I venture that peoples outside America are behind the curve of the discussion that's been building inside Washington since 9/11. Americans have always been big supporters of the ideal of democracy, but it's a leap to argue that democracy is the only practical form of government. (There's that word "practical" again.) You might wish to read The Central Debate , if you want to get oriented to the discussion.

To boil it down, if it is true that democracy is the only practical form of government, then democratic governments need to greatly revise their foreign policy, which includes foreign aid.

During the past century governments in developed nations tended to look the other way when dealing with despots who don't pose a military threat to the developed nations. Thus, expediency ruled much of foreign policy in democratic nations. The 9/11 attack, coming on top of many Cold War situations, eloquently made the argument that such expediency only extends to the shortest run--and only during eras when nukes couldn't be hauled around in a suitcase.

US citizens are now having to spend blood and umpteen billion dollars to clean up a century of expedient Western approaches to dealing with nondemocratic Middle Eastern governments.

The big question is what kind of policy the democratic governments should develop to implement ideas that Bush articulated yesterday. Last night Chris put that question as well to his listeners: If they agreed that Bush's idea is do-able, then--how to do it? Again, this kind of question is characteristically American.

Some do-able strategies have already been implemented. The Bush administration's Millennium Challenge Account initiative is one of them. Yet this is one task Americans can't do alone. It will take a paradigm shift, which is not here yet, before a solid majority of the world's democratic governments "get" Bush's main points. What they need is a crash course in American-style thinking. Pundita will do her best to oblige in her next post, "The Bush Democracy Doctrine, Simply Explained."

For now, I leave you with these thoughts: Once citizens in democratic nations get it--Americans don't have a corner on creative ideas. Humanity needs all the do-able strategies we can muster, if we're to pull off what many think is an impossible dream. As a spur to creative thinking, the dream masks a hard reality, which is that dire consequences attach to pandering to nondemocratic governments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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