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Sometimes geopolitics make strange bedfellows: Appreciating the allies you have

By H. Scott Shore
web posted October 1, 2012

It should not come as a great insight to anyone that we live on the precipice of a global, geopolitical crisis for the free world which could lead to a worldwide war in much the same way as miscalculations led to the First World War and a century of bloodshed.  After the fall of the Soviet Union we all had a temporary respite from the threat of mass destruction and a glimmer of hope that liberal democracy would become the inevitable result.  Some thought that the Western democratic model was so triumphant that we were witnessing "the end of history."

Unfortunately we woke up from our slumber to learn of an ancient and yet new phenomenon of Jihadist Islam. During the 1990's there were plenty of signs including terrorist attacks against American embassies, American citizens living overseas, U.S. military facilities---most notably the U.S.S. Cole and even an unsuccessful attempt to attack the World Trade Center. Pundits and most of the State Department analysts believed that "Jihadism" was  a fringe, marginalized faction in the Islamic world and one that could either be managed or was a passing phase that could be reformed by exposure to Western ideas of democracy and liberty. 9/11 was a terrible tragedy that made us aware of a new threat and one that in certain respects was more irrational and thus more terrifying than Soviet aggression. Even our aspirations for Eastern Europe and Russia, in particular, turned out to be naïve.  Our belief in elections as the ultimate panacea for oppressive regimes got a reality check when Hamas won the Palestinian elections.

We saw the fall of the Shah of Iran only to be followed by a jihadi regime of the Ayatollahs. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has been ultimately replaced by the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed the entire "Arab Spring" has turned out to be anything but the budding of freedom and democracy in that part of the world. We need to understand that Islamic Jihad has the same sense of inevitable world domination as Communism combined with the same desire of a "new world order" as the National Socialism of Adolf Hitler and the fanatical national-theological faith of Japanese Shintoism under Hirohito. This is a lethal combination and a deadly ideology. Adolf Hitler was elected in Germany. There weren't many elections after that. True democracy and freedom is based on a deep and profound set of values and history. We can't simply graft Freedom onto unfree societies. Democracy in the form of mere elections is not the answer in these societies. In fact, "elections" empower totalitarians along with their ruthless mobs and thugs. These elections give legitimacy to those who deserve neither respect nor haven nor a platform.

This may sound like a new and outrageous position for the United States and the West. History suggests otherwise. An earlier generation learned the perils of trying to appease elected tyrants and demagogues.  Once the world had been thrown into the Second World War and millions of innocent civilians were slaughtered, America had a very clear understanding of the right of a free nation to assert its right to rule in the face of dangerous people and ideologies. The United States and its allies occupied former Nazi Germany. German democracy excluded Nazism and before we gave autonomy to Germany we demanded de-Nazification. With Japan it took two atom bombs to end the aggression of Imperial Japan. The United States actually required the newly occupied Japanese government to change their religion by specifically disavowing the idea in Shinto that the Emperor was a Divine Being! We understood that not every political movement deserved legitimacy and even religious ideas could place a country outside the community of civilized people.

We must not live under the false belief that we can easily "export" democracy like consumer goods. We must take certain societies as they are. There are sadly millions of people who live in cultures and regimes who are beyond the pale of civilization and whom free societies must manage or contain by deterrence or force for the good of humanity and future generations. This may require having allied leaders who are far from our ideal. This may mean working with the Shah of Iran or backing Hosni Mubarak. FDR once spoke of working with conservative, southern Democrats in spite of the great differences between him and their aspirations. He famously said, "They may be S.O.B.s but they are our S.O.B.s"

Friendly dictators are not our ultimate goal in foreign policy. They are distasteful and we should try to minimize their brutality or corruption. Nevertheless, one option we should not leave off the table in foreign policy is the choice to make an alliance with authoritarian leaders as a viable transitional strategy until conditions change. Belief in an election or "democracy" without an infrastructure of freedom and liberty is a false idol. We worship it at our peril. ESR

H. Scott Shore is a former Ambassador-at-large of OPIC under President George H. W. Bush and is currently an economist and educator. He was also a strategy consultant at Bain & Company and Booz & Company.

 

 

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