Thursday, April 28

Making Bush democracy doctrine work and a visit to the Russia House

"Dear Pundita, I grew up hating the Soviet Union but I'm beginning to see what you're saying about Russia. The [US] government is practicing a double standard in their dealings with Russia and Saudi Arabia. This is hurting the democracy doctrine."
[Signed] Ernest in Miami"

Dear Ernest:

To be a government is to practice a double standard when it comes to strategically important foreign relations. However, even double standards have a code. If you break the code--make it so fuzzy and full of exceptions that nobody can predict what you'll do, you're in trouble. This is why the State Department is very unhappy with Bush's war on terror and his democracy doctrine; they are messing up the code.

State has their own democracy doctrine, which served them very well, thank you, in peeling former Soviet republics away from Moscow's influence.

On paper, both doctrines are the same. In practice, State's version leaves nothing to chance; i.e., the idea that the democratic process will produce a staunch US ally. In short, the State version of democratic government is a carefully managed stage show. Bush's version, as he has spelled it out in speeches, clearly interprets genuine democracy as the best friend of the USA.

A quarter century ago, one could argue that Bush's view is idealistic but impractical when applied to real-world situations, of that kind the Soviet Union represented. Today, Bush's view is not only practical but also the best informed. But George W. Bush is standing at a bend in the road that the rest of Washington and the academic/policy establishments have not yet reached.

This is partly because the dominant American philosophy schools are stuck at the place called post-modernism, which means an endless recycling of ideas that came before. This applies as well to foreign policy philosophy.

That is why the completely uninformative term "neoconservative" gained coin, why "progressive" thinking is a rehash of old discredited socialist ideas, why "realist" schools can only root around in the history of American presidents for different ways to say the same old things, and in general why clear thinking has ground to a halt in Washington.

The other part is that Bush's clarity of thought about democracy is matched only by his difficulty at explaining his thought processes. Thus, State has an excuse for their muddle: they're not mind readers.

The key to understanding the Bush democracy doctrine is to realize it didn't evolve from a love of democracy--even though Bush, as with most Americans, does love the concept. The doctrine emerged from his reading of how to stop terrorism.

How Bush got from point A to point B in his thinking is a story for another day. For now--State can dredge up examples to shore the argument that left to their own devices people can vote in governments that are very unfriendly to the USA. The US foreign office is charged with looking out for America's best interests, so their version of the democracy doctrine has history on its side. But it's in the practice of the historical US double standard that State's present view is muddled and counterproductive.

For example, Saudi Arabia only supplies roughly a quarter of America's petroleum needs, if memory serves. But Saudi Arabia, as the largest oil producer, dominates OPEC. So State's reasoning behind applying a double standard to Saudi Arabia's lack of democracy is that an unfriendly leader at OPEC translates into very serious problems for the USA.

Ergo, don't push the Saudis too hard and too fast to adopt democracy. But it's okay to read the riot act to Putin because he suspended rigged elections for governors and shut down media outlets owned by tax-evading oligarchs perched beyond the reach of Russian law.

What's wrong with that picture? What's wrong is that it's no longer OPEC that dominates the petroleum business and thus, world trade. It's demand for oil that dominates it. OPEC can only hang on for the ride.

The cartel is now under constant and steadily increasing threat of disintegration. The threat comes from deals cut by oil producing countries with governments that are trying to keep up with their skyrocketing demands for petroleum.

Going back decades, the Saudis have warned a succession of US administrations that this day was coming. Well, now it's here and nobody's ready for it. That's a good way to summarize foreign policy thinking, as well. The playbooks treat situations that no longer exist.

So how do we get from here to that place on the road where Bush is standing and pointing at a dot on the horizon? The way is to organize into a school of policy certain observations that have been floating around for years in various quarters, including the IMF, USAID, and Putin's government. Bits and pieces are also found in Hernando de Soto's observations about the black-market economy and in writings by other informed observers (including some of de Soto's critics).

The observations derive from analyzing mistakes that governments and development banks have made while trying to promote democratic reforms in developing countries and FSU countries, including Russia.

What stands up and shouts about the mistakes is that they come from the attempt to institute democracy as a finished product rather than an evolutionary kernel. In this, the democratic reforms fly in the face of the way mature democracy came about in Western countries.

So instead of talking about "democracy" as a monolithic phenomenon, it helps to divide it into two categories: Evolutionary Democracy and Imposed Democracy. I'm sure someone could think up better names for the categories (and maybe already has) but for the purposes of this discussion, they're in the ballpark.

America and West Europe (including the UK) represent evolutionary democracy. They had centuries to perfect their systems of government. The end product is offered by the West to peoples who don't have that evolutionary history with democracy.

But democracy isn't a gizmo that you plug in and get great reception. So if you want to bring in democracy as a finished product--leapfrog the evolutionary process--then you have to identify and break down the evolution into steps. Then ask how to apply the steps of evolutionary democracy to procedures for making imposed democracy work.

That question is the path out of the post-modernist corner into which US policy thinkers have painted themselves. And it's the way to catch up to the place on the road where President Bush is viewing the need for genuine democracy.

Genuine democracy is the best insurance against state-sponsored terrorism and conditions that birth terrorist fervor. However, there has to be a systematized way of compensating for decades and even centuries of evolutionary development. Just getting people to the voting booth and throwing them into the water of democratic government doesn't hack it in most cases.

The upshot is disillusionment with democracy and/or a 'rescue' for the democracy that amounts to a stage show: Bring in Western experts, impose reforms from the outside (e.g., via IMF edicts), and 'manage' the outcome of an election to insure that the winner will follow the outside experts' instruction.

So, behind the stage trappings is the rule by a small elite. That guarantees the majority of people under rule don't get enough experience with real democracy. So if they throw out the administration and advisors, their idea of government is right back where they started from, which can be somewhere around 1450 or much earlier.

This is just the situation Putin and his band of young technocrats are trying to avoid. Whether or not they've formalized the ideas I've sketched above, they are attempting to abstract the elements that make democracy successful, and build from there.

As to how successful they've been--considering where they started from, they've made progress in fits and starts. It's a shame Putin or someone in his administration hasn't written a book about the efforts so far. The document would be very valuable to people all over the world who are trying to formulate development and aid policy for the modern era.

But the problems that the Russian government faces are huge. Mark Safranski, an American Russia expert, is helping to educate Pundita to the scope of the problems. It was time for another lesson when he used the Russian word 'muzhik' in his ZenPundit essay about Putin's Monday address to the Russian nation.
These Russians, muzhik-descended, second-generation urbanites, older for the most part and living in outlier cities and towns are Putin's equivalent of Nixon's " Silent Majority" and Putin plays to them in a similar way.
That brought forth my request to know what a muzhik is. Mark's reply, which I publish here with his permission:
A muzhik was a peasant, particularly the unlettered, poor, kind that lived in the old village communes in Tsarist days. Prime Minister Petr Stolypin managed to free the peasantry, at least some of them anyway, from this particularly stupid form of post-serfdom by breaking up the village collectives, at least in terms of law.

(To understand the collective landholding, think medieval serfs being allotted several noncontiguous plots of land each several miles from the other. [Then you] understand why Tsarist Russia had famines despite the black earth region.)

Uneducated, superstitious and ignorant, the muzhiks were also sometimes called "the dark people" and feared for their occasional incredibly savage, mass rebellions...which would kill tens or hundreds of thousands of people.

The peasantry who escaped the tyranny of the village and became prosperous private farmers later became known to history as "kulaks" ( the fist --"the greedy hand"). Being the most productive, efficient and successful, the kulaks were of course killed by Stalin during collectivization.

The poor and middle peasants were then shoved by the Soviet state onto Sovkhovs (State farms) and worst of all, Kolkhozs (Collectives) and given internal passports, which prohibited them from leaving and relocating to towns or cities. And so of course, Russia again had famines.

Stalin let them starve, Brezhnev bought imported grain. Ninety percent of the Russian people are of recent peasant descent. They don't live particularly well or expect to--Moscow is a showcase of the elite by the way. Most urban Russians live in towns that would make Detroit look like Disneyland.
That last sentence instantly conveys many things to an American about today's Russia. To get more understanding of what Putin is grappling with, I recommend plowing through his entire Monday address to the Federal Assembly, then reading two excellent analyses of the address--one by Mark and the other by Peter Lavelle, the UPI senior analyst for Russia affairs.

All that reading will stand you in good stead, for the problems that Russia faces are shared, to one degree or another, by the world's most underdeveloped nations. Before rushing in with more aid and development loans, Americans need a better picture of the terrain.

Vladimir Putin's speech
ZenPundit's Russia House
Peter Lavelle's Putin's Catechism

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