February 07, 2005

From Pew Polls To Realism

Two very, very quick observations on this Pew Poll about Muslim attitudes towards democracy. The first is the rather odd fact that so few Jordanians really want anything to do with democracy, when it comes down to it. Oh sure, 68 percent think democracy could work at home. But only 32 percent think its important to live in a country where "people can openly criticize the government," 28 percent value "honest, two-party elections," and a mere 35 percent value a free press. This seems to be an inverse of Russia, where citizens generally have an allergic reaction to the word "democracy," but when you start digging, you see that they place a good deal of importance on free elections, a relatively open press (albeit with Ralph Reed-style moral regulation), etc. But what's up with Jordan, anyway?

Second peculiarity, from the poll summary: "There is no evidence, however, that support for democracy will necessarily do much to diminish the extensive anti-Americanism throughout the Muslim world." Indeed, in Pakistan, anti-Americanism runs highest among those who strongly favor democracy.

Time to nod and launch off on a bit of a pet theory. The big foreign policy idea right now, lauded especially by Thomas Barnett, is that "connectivity" will solve our security problems throughout the world. Turn a country into a democracy, bind it with trade agreements and multilateral institution memberships, wrap it tightly in a web of horizontal government networks, and voila! Dude's no longer a threat.

Ah, but at this point it's good to note that interdependency has not always proved so successful. The famous line shortly before World War I was that Europe was so economically interrelated that it would never go to war. Too much to lose! Ha, ha. Let's also stress another point here: The only truly global, supra-national part of globalization today are the money markets. And yet financial markets aren't that much more integrated today than they were in the 1900s! Sad to say, but Tom Friedman's grand vision of globalization may mostly be old fodder. (I'm hardly the first to say this, but hey, it's my blog, so what.)

All this means that the nation-state is still alive and well. And here I think it's appropriate, maybe, to declare that what matters might not be connectivity between states. What matters might be inequality between states—inequality of wealth and inequality of power. Let's face it, the U.S. and Western Europe use trade agreements and institutions for its own, essentially realpolitik, ends. Robert Zoellick was and is particularly egregious about all this. No one's under any illusions here. We may not always realize it, but millions if not billions around the world get exercised over our ridiculous agricultural subsidies. Inequality fosters resentment. Resentment fosters conflict. Or… terrorism. Whatever.

So yes, I think a Muslim democracy subservient to the Great Powers in certain ways, shapes, and forms—be it economically, or diplomatically, or even militarily—is going to continue churning out terrorists. Maybe at a faster rate than ever before. The observation that Islamic terrorists are mostly relatively wealthy and well-educated fits in here, perhaps. And perhaps this will continue until we find some international arrangement—and maybe this means restraining U.S. power abroad, I don't know—that eliminates the sort of disparity in state capabilities that produce resentment.

We take the benignity of democracies for granted only because it's worked out that way so far; but perhaps it's worked out that way only because of the Cold War—an anachronistic reason at best. After all, South Korea has certainly stoked the fires of resentment over recent years, to the point where it's aggressively pursuing its own economic interests (via engagement with North Korea) to the detriment of the Western World's broader security interests.

Anyway, I haven't really fleshed this out. The full argument would note that the world isn't really all that globalized, that as Franklin Foer says, crude nationalism is thriving, that economies remain mostly local, that states will continue to look after their own interests. Perhaps I've taken this neo-realist stuff way too far. But I think there's still reason to be very skeptical of the "awesome power" of liberalization—at least within the world order as currently structured. (That last clause is an important caveat.)
-- Brad Plumer 11:33 PM || ||