Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sowell Reviews Agresto

One of the themes of this blog is that cultural change is a painstakingly slow process. As my masthead notes liberty – individual rights – was the result of a tradition going back millennia. This is why I questioned nations-building. In an early post, back in 2005, I noted that “the generosity of the American people is praiseworthy and the mission is honorable” but in nations-building “we are attempting a bold and radical change – one which is a long shot.” I argued that establishing an electoral process won’t change the culture. The problem is much deeper.

Last year I reviewed an article by John Agresto who learned the above lesson the hard way. Thomas Sowell reviews Agresto’s book, “Mugged by Reality,” on the same topic as the earlier article. Sowell distinguishes a proper criticism of “the mistakes of honorable people” with the vicious attacks from the left. Although this excessively defines ‘honorable’ in terms of a focus on ‘the other’, his point concerning the absurd criticism from the left is justified.

Here is the heart of the book review:

"However, as Agresto points out in Mugged by Reality, democracy has prerequisites — and those prerequisites are not universal, especially not in Iraq. … President Bush has rejected the idea that some peoples and cultures are not ready for democracy. He points to the large Iraqi turnout at the elections, despite the threats of terrorists. Everyone wants more freedom, he and his supporters say.

Wanting freedom, however, is not the same as wanting others to have the same freedom you have. Such tolerance is not the norm in Iraq. Nor was it the norm in Western civilization until after Protestants and Catholics fought each other for centuries before finally realizing that neither could exterminate the other. Sunnis and Shi’ites have yet to reach a similar accommodation in Iraq. …

What recent progress has been made in Iraq has apparently been made by mobilizing traditional local and regional Iraqi leaders and coalitions, not by relying on the democratically elected central government. There may be a lesson there."

It’s a start. Sowell has written on the importance of culture in the past. It’s surprising that it has taken him this long to address the topic with reference to Iraq. If Sowell can miss this until now, it is a symptom of a vast void in contemporary intellectual thought.


Blogger Always On Watch said...

Of the various governments in Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s regime was liquidated, he argues, the most effective was that of the American occupation authorities and the worst those elected by the Iraqis. Agresto spells this out in detail.

President Bush has rejected the idea that some peoples and cultures are not ready for democracy.

It's much more than "some peoples and cultures are not ready for democracy." In a true democracy, power filters from the bottom up; but in Islam, power filters from the top down. Not my own idea--I got it from conversations I've had with Mark Alexander.

I've never favored nations-building. In fact, my position on that subject is one reason I voted against Al Gore in 2000. If you recall, at the time, GWB was against nations-building. But after 9/11, he got advice to the contrary. Hence, we're in a mess in Iraq.

PS: Glad to see you back, Jason! I've missed your during your hiatus. Hope that all is well.

PPS: BTW, Cubed is posting again. And George Mason has done some updates as well.

9/19/07, 8:12 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

Yes, I was disappointed when Bush changed his foreign policy orientation. At first I thought it was only a ploy to maintain a “United We Stand” coalition with the Democrats and Tony Blair. I thought that after the 2004 election he would confess that the Iraqis aren’t up to it so we are leaving Iraq in the hands of a strongman or local tribal leaders. But he actually believes they are secretly “Jeffersonian Democrats” deep down.

It is interesting that the troops in 2003 and 2004 reported that they could succeed to stabilize Iraq if they deferred to local tribal leaders and respected their authority. They were overwritten by Washington policy which wanted a unified Iraq and a liberal democracy. Some have pointed out that the success in Anbar is essentially an abandonment of the social transformation of Iraq in lieu of working with locals to oppose a common enemy. That we have a common enemy shouldn't blind us to the fact they aren’t friends or that we share principles that form a basis for a long-term relationship.

9/20/07, 8:28 AM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

he actually believes they are secretly “Jeffersonian Democrats” deep down.

Yes, GWB really believes it. I'm astounded at his naivete (at best). Doesn't he ever check out things for himself?

9/20/07, 5:27 PM  

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