Thursday, March 20, 2003

Robert Kaplan Makes Sense

I had a strong suspicion that I was going to like Kaplan, author of Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands A Pagan Ethos. What I didn't expect was that I'd lead the standing ovation we gave him at the end of his 40 minute talk today at NMH. I felt good about what he had to say -- he made, in a much more organized way, the same case for war that I think/hope I was making earlier this week. I now feel like I understand why Iraq is the worst totalitarian regime out there, for example, and why that was inevitable, and why stopping Saddam as soon as possible, even if we leave only a vacuum in place, is better than leaving things be. I also realize that pretending that we're going to leave them with a democracy is silly, and that any new leadership would be much, much better for the Iraqi people than what's there now.

Where Howard Zinn appealed to our emotions, Kaplan appealed to our logic. Yet it was clear that, like any good thinker-historian, he, too, has a fundamental assumption at the heart of his arguments, an assumption that what the people of the world need is, ultimately, to live in a governmental structure which is both stable and preserves basic rights, such as those of the US Bill of Rights. According to Kaplan, this war is not really prompted by an issue of international security. It's a case based on humanism, on trying to engender a stable life for Iraqis, to lead them to a place where they can begin to lead themselves, a longer process than most believe. In other words, his long-term desires are about the same as anybody's -- peace, justice, and basic freedoms for all. I just think he's more a realist, like me, than an idealist like Zinn.

But Kaplan's ideas speak for themselves better than I ever could, and his argument is linear, so it's best presented in the same exact order that I heard it. Thus, what follows is a verbatum transcript of my notes from Kaplan's speech today. It's long, but worth reading, especially if, like too many people, you persist in the belief that this war is about oil, daddybush, or even -- surpise, surprise -- about trying to impose our own standards of democracy wholesale on other countries. As best as possible, it uses the actual phrasing Kaplan used.

Notes On Robert Kaplan's Speech to the NMH Community 3/20/03

Historically, always true that development (centralization, social change, etc.) escalates and diversifies demands on govt. beyond the capability to serve those demands. Because of this, development inherently leads to increasingly shaky social infrastructures -- and most collapse. Also, in the process of migrating into cities, religion refocuses ideology, compensating for a lack of social governance. This also, however, becomes a petri dish for the development of extremism, like that which engenders terrorism.

Therefore, periods of growth are always followed by periods of upheaval. AND, when small places change, big places change in response (development in small countries leads to increased emigration, for example). Interconnectivity.

"I'm only interested in one kind of population statistic. Political upheaval is always instigated by young males..." Therefore, "youth bulges" are a solid indicator of impending growth pains in developing nations/regions. The top ten youth bulges right now are sub-saharan, but the NEXT ten are all middle eastern, and middle eastern countries are so small that their growth is much more ccentralized (one city per country; the country becomes an extension of the city). We're entering an era where the middle east is becoming urbanized, and literacy is rising, so look for increasing unrest from the middle east. Leaders will need to be more like big-city-mayors, Giulliani-like, as small countries become citified.

Urban populations are harder to govern. More management, less opportunity for families and individuals to solve sustenance issues on their own (no urban agriculture for family food, for ex.). Their needs are interconnected; they are more dependent on / suceptible to supply/demand, etc. For example, in ten years, the amount of clean water per person in the middle east will be half what it is now.

"Newly formed, mostly-finished democracy is the MOST destabilizing element out there." Because when you have a crisis, you want to act, not discuss and consult. "So we preach democracy, but rely on autocrats." A condensed, literate population is less likely to tolerate autocracy. Thus, developing countries don't handle crises well at all. Our difficulty with Turkey, then, is BECAUSE there is a committee, not just a president, to convince and work with. You get, in the formative stages of democracy, neither a decisive democracy nor a decisive autocracy. "If we're frustrated with Turkey and the palestinians now...well, welcome to the future of our relations with the middle east over the next generation."

Big idea/thesis: What we're striving for, then, is NOT democracy in the short term -- democracy will need to spring from the people of Iraq if it is to take hold well. We're striving for "historic liberalism", by which we mean a civil society which supports basic rights and freedoms, like free press and speech, freedom to own property, basically the whole idealized Amnesty package.

But here's the problem. The world is a big and diverse place. In many places historic liberalism is traditionally furthered by mature democracies. BUT in many places, benevolent dictatorship provides better historic liberalism than a popular election would produce. Tunisi is a perfect example: their current benevolent dictatorship provides a strong foundation for civil society and fundamental rights, but a popular vote at this time would produce a restrictive fundamentalist society with hardly any rights for the people at all. This is also true of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine at the moment. You'd get worse rights preservation with voting. The benevolent dictatorships / autocrats need to be supported until such time as they can be sure that basic rights have taken root, and that elections would further those rights. That's coming, but not yet.

Now to Iraq. Iraq is "the last of the cold war regimes," by which we mean Stalin-era. Worst case scenario of basic rights -- none for people at all. The most centralized respressive kind of regime there is. Almost anything that replaces it would be dramatically better for the people. Even a general would produce a military regime like that of Morocco or Tunisia, where distribution of goods would be better (assumption -- no-longer-hungry people then can better advocate for rights, higher on maslo's pyramid)

"So I plead: don't expect absolute results. Even a measurable change in leadership is significant to the human freedom and rights of the average Iraqi family" (asumption: even if we take into account some deaths in those families in forcing a regime change, since there is no potential for regime change otherwise, deaths will be equivalent or worse as people starve slowly). "If Iraq isn't a democracy next year, then by no means can we conclude that the war was wrong."

Yes, expect it to be messy and brutal. War isn't pretty. But it seems necessary. IF we can carry this through, existence in the entire region will improve immeasurably. And there was, and is, no better way to do so. The Hussein regime was, and is, an evil, oppressive, narrow dead end. Only the creation of a vacuum will/is the way to help the Iraqi people.

Finally, in answer to the question "but should we have acted without the "proof" the UN was asking for?", I say this: Philosophically, the greater the danger, the less evidence you need to act. If you knew I was going to kill three people, you might wait to act until you had some evidence; if you knew I was going to kill thirty thousand people, you'd probably call me in for questioning, at least, with little proof. Therefore, in this conflict, virtue comes on acting on probable evidence. And, if the danger to the Iraqi people and to the world is great enough -- and it is -- we cannot wait IF waiting would continue to escalate a danger of that scale and scope.

And so it ended, and we filed out of the auditorium, swarms rushing into the beginnings of the first rain of spring.

Let the criticism begin.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:52 PM |

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