Thursday, December 16, 2004

On Arab Reform: Nothing for the Palestinians!

Responding to Thomas Friedman's article Nicolson04 at The Diplomad asks How do you press Arab governments for reform, short of invasion?

Stop. There are several assumptions and limitations built into this question that need to be addressed:

1) Why is it Arab governments that need to be addressed? 9-11 was not sponsored by any Arab government. It is therefore illogical to assume that changes in government are sufficient to prevent more mass-terror attacks (though such changes may be necessary).

2) Why not mention the threat of invasion when pressing Arab governments to reform? Most of them are artificial entities created by the collapse of the Ottomans and the rivalry between European powers at the end of World War I -- and they know this. Why rule out such fears?

3) Why should diplomacy limit oneself to only dealing with governments? Is it not Arab society that the West wishes to change?

4) The remaining items in Nicolson04's list all deal with government-to-government activity. Do we not wish to engage Arab citizenry as well? And not just the jihadis who attack us, either.

A further question: Not long ago, Western governments used to consist of absolute monarchies or robber-baron statelets -- what changed this? Lots of things, yes, but they almost all relate to political rearrangements created by the friction between the rulers and the ruled. Foreign invasions helped create or re-create democratic régimes, but the ideas had to be there first: Napoleon realized his "democratic" revolution could not succeed in Russia when the peasants asked who would feed them now that the nobility was gone.

My point: Representative Democracy was the fruit of the Enlightenment and economic development (rising bourgeoisie, organized proletariat) of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And it mostly happened because the rulers needed money, and Democracy was the way to get it.

Ancient Greece and Rome had their philosophers but labor was cheap. Successful looting of surrounding countries temporarily relieved ancient citizens of tax burdens and the dole permanently relieved the proletariat of a sense of responsibility. Democracy did not succeed in societies when this stage was reached.

Nor does Democracy succeed today in countries where an unelected minority succeeds in gaining control over windfall revenue - like oil. In those countries, hardly any of the citizens pay taxes.

Parliamentary supremacy was achieved in England because the Parliament had the final say over financing armies. The Thirteen Colonies gained their independence over the issue of tax collections to pay off debts from a previous war. Bourbon France collapsed because its debts forced the King to ask the people for more taxes...

I put it to you that these old régimes were not replaced by simply swapping absolute rulers because the ideas of democracy had greater legitimacy among the people, for everyone knew they had to pay taxes whatever else happened, and democracy was seen as the best way for the rulers or ruled to direct this.

I paint history with a broad brush, but why should the Democratization in the Arab World not include this process? So:

1) Cut off all economic aid to truly undemocratic regimes, entities, and organizations. None for Egypt. Nothing for the UNHCR. Nothing for the Palestinians. If it hasn't worked in fifty years, why should it work now? (Poverty does not cause terrorism, though lack of jobs makes it cheaper to fuel and fund terrorists.) No debt relief.

2) Encourage the organization of the proletariat, dissidents, and the middle classes, all protected by the rule of law. Easier said than done, of course, but consider the role the Helsinki Accords played in ripping down the Iron Curtain. No big economic aid to make their growth easier, though micro-loans may be deemed useful: people may then realize that it's their government, not the West or their own lack of skills, that holds them back from further economic gains.

3) Diplomats have to prove themselves braver than the Arab street by walking it themselves and engaging the masses. I'm not kidding. The West has a lot on its side if it would only advertise -- in person, not the media. Next time an anti-Western interlocutor starts talking about oppression and double standards, why not start talking about Locke and Montesquieu? To him, not just to the TV camera. Throw them on the defensive; they have a lot to be defensive about.

And yes, we will lose some diplomats to angry mobs, terrorists, and individuals protecting their "pride" and "honor." Holing up isn't much safer. Did your colleagues who were bombed in their embassies die for nothing? Did you care about them? (I suggest marrying, having kids, and good life insurance for those trying this policy.)

4) Openly question the legitimacy of current governments and question what one should put faith in a political ideology most strongly advocated by those with despicable qualities. Why should anyone have anything to do with such people? Are you serving the cause such despicables espouse, or are you just serving them? Remember the captured video of Bin Laden eating dinner and laughing at his fools who crashed the airplanes? Force your interlocutors on the defensive, in public, and as noisily as possible.

All these three things assume that pro-democracy diplomats give up an important habit: (5) Stop trying to be liked, regardless of your interlocutor. It is a great weakness, always wanting to be liked, and not caring just who you are liking, and who likes you. Give it up, and you rob oppressive régimes of a weapon they can use against you. (Don't give up good manners, but assertive qualities are essential.)

I suggest that to combat the creation of an "ugly American" image, use strange weapons: (6) truth and humility. Point out that the West doesn't know everything, and quote Churchill: "Democracy is the worst form of government, save for all the rest." Point out that the terrorists could strike and damage America again. Point out that America may not be able to succeed alone. And point out that the world economy and polity would probably collapse if another mass attack succeeded, and be sure to identify how your interlocutor would be personally affected. Finally, tell your interlocutor the qualities you value in him and ask (beg) for help.

In this fashion, perhaps one can break through the angry wall and successfully engage the personal warmth, curiousity, and even the sympathy of one's interlocutor.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Snowblower Diplomacy

Solomon, Solomon, there's hope for peace in the middle east after all!

Because Arafat is now dead and buried?

No, not that. I just went to Sears to buy a snowblower --

What can THAT possibly have to do with mideast peace? Did you think you could use it to move sand off a diplomat's front porch?

Shut up and listen to me! I had just signed the contract and was examining my purchase when another shopper, totally unknown to me, walked over and said, "You don't want to buy that snowblower; it's garbage! Look at those handles, and the plastic blades! I got one for free from one of my customers and it wasn't worth the price! I'm telling you, as a Palestinian to a Jew, don't buy that machine! For thirteen dollars more you can buy a much better one at Home Depot!"


Yes! I checked out everything he said was wrong with the machine, and, sure enough, he was right! What he was trying to tell me, I think, was that no matter how much he hated me as a Jew, he hated that Sears Craftsman snowblower even more!

Yes, but he couldn't quite put it into those words now, could he? What happened next?

I did just what he said: I cancelled my purchase and went to Home Depot to buy the snowblower he suggested --- a much more sturdy model.

You blew it. You should have bought the first machine after all.

Why would I do that? Out of spite for the man?

Not at all. So you could discover just how bad a Sears Craftsman snowblower has to be to make a Palestinian hate a mere machine more than he hates a Jew.