Spillover effect

Kevin Drum has an interesting post about further investigating the democracy 'spillover' effect which I've mentioned before (here). He quotes an LA Times oped that shows countries in which the U.S. has intervened are actually less likely to make democratic improvements than their immediate neighbors. The question then becomes twofold: are countries in which the U.S. has intervened slower to gain democracy than their neighbors because of the immediate effects of intervention? And, how much cause and effect can we see in the neighboring countries, i.e., were they on a path to democracy that wasn't necessarily affected by the U.S. action? These questions are probably too difficult to answer based on evidence--the variation of experience among the 35 countries with histories of U.S. intervention the study examines are most likely too different to make concrete conclusions about. However, it brings up the interesting idea that perhaps the "we need to smash the terrorist state, its the only way to effect change" and the "give the Middle Easterners a clean slate and they will go democratic" arguments are at odds. As far as the Iraq goes, specifically, citizens are no doubt better off than they were under Saddam Hussein. But we know this. If that was our rationale for going to war there are a slew of other countries we should be hitting, too. What was special about the grand argument for Iraq invasion had to do with the 'reverse domino effect' Iraq's liberation would have on the culture of terror and fundamentalism that has grown up in the Middle East over the past decade and beyond. But the LA times op-ed goes to show that in the long run, these actions aren't decidedly correlated with democratic outcomes. One especially important point involves the fact that warmaking has to take into account strategic aims. Its just useless to advance major military action without thinking that the balance of power it provokes will be good for the provocateur. However, that tactic has some fundamental differences with the sort of principles and power relations fundamental to a democratic state. Namely, we can't help but promote a government with our interests in hand (as long as we can exert meaningful pressure) and that, in and of itself is jeopardizing the legitimacy required for a meaningful democratic debate. Again, I'm not saying there aren't arguments for this, or that these arrangements can't sometimes be more useful. But if the Bush administration is going to throw the WMD rationale out the window and focus on the human rights benefits, a calculation of those risks and rewards is more than warranted. Indeed, the issue deserves special scrutiny precisely because it is such a qualitative mission.

And another thing. Its all well and good to say you'll see this experiment through, but from the groveling Bush and team have been doing before the UN lately, it looks like they are banking on getting Iraq out of the headlines before the November election. The sad truth is, if American soldiers start leaving and the UN takes over, Iraq coverage may go the way of Afghanistan. Hard to believe, but its quite plausible now, and the Democratic candidate will have to stay tough on this point through to the bitter end or risk losing all on national security issues.


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