December 13, 2006

Jefferson Would Be Ticked...

Hatched by Dafydd

...And he's a bad-ass you don't want to mess with: he was 6'3" at a time when the average height of a man was closer to 5'3"; that would be rather like being 6'10" today -- and he was no wimp, either.

There is a phrase that grates on my eye every time I read it... and that seems to be quite a lot anymore.

The most recent use was by Dean Barnett, an intelligent guy, even by my exalted standards, whose blogposts on Hugh Hewitt's blog I normally read with pleasure. But in the midst of one of Dean's infamous Q&A posts, he wrote the following (the boldface and numbering are Dean's):

11) So, the big question: Can the Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis live peacefully alongside each other?

It depends on how fundamentalist and radicalized each sect in Iraq is. We know each sect has its elements that are bent on violence. The question is whether these elements are fringe groups or the mainstream. If they’re fringe groups, they can be destroyed and peace could break out. If they’re the mainstream, there’s no hope.

12) So what if they’re the mainstream? Then what?

Then the country has to be broken up, with the Sunnis getting a piece and the Shiites getting a piece and the Kurds holding onto their piece.

13) That’s disappointing. It doesn’t quite match the original vision of an Islamic Jeffersonian democracy that swirled about our heads three years ago, does it?

Radical Shiites and radical Sunnis have as much interest in living in a Jeffersonian Democracy as the typical American has living under Sharia. The quicker we come to peace with that fact, the better.

The question is, can any of you figure out what particular phrase leapt out at me as something that makes me want to go to Dean's house and run my fingernails across his chalkboard, so he understands how I feel?

And guess what? I'm going to be a total jagoff -- and not tell you the answer until you click the "Slither On" button. Hah. (But please take some time first, and get your guess firmly in mind.)

I suspect all but three of our regular commenters (you know who you are!) will have correctly picked out the phrase "Jeffersonian Democracy" as the offender. It's just about the biggest straw-man argument lobbed against Bush's Iraq policy, used only by right-wingers and libertarians who want to heap scorn upon the very idea that non-Europeans could possibly have a functioning democracy... and I sincerely believe it to be racist in its very essence.

First, nobody has ever used that phrase except those who oppose the very idea of trying to plant a democracy in the Middle East; I support the policy of Iraqi democracy... but try searching on "Jeffersonian" on Big Lizards and see how many times the phrase "Jeffersonian democracy" is used: until this post, the score was 0.

Second, nobody in the Bush administration has ever said he expected to see a Jeffersonian (that is, "perfect") democracy in Iraq. All any supporter of the policy has ever said is that a democracy could be set up there -- and it's obvious from context that the example they had in mind was the democracy (and it is one) in Turkey, another Islamic country.

Turkey is not a nice place (by European standards); it's violent; there are clashes between ethnic groups that result in dead pickles. There is terrorism. There are Islamists, and in fact they won the last elections.

But it is, by Allah, a functioning, secure, and honest democracy. For eight decades, they've had civil rights; they've had real elections; and they've generally abided by the results, even when the ruling party is ousted... even in spite of at least four coups d'état: in each case, after a few years, the ruling military relinquished control to civilian authorities again (most recently following the Islamist victory in 1996).

In Turkey, the army frequently acts as a "moderator," preventing any swings too far to left or right: when they intervene, it's generally to oust an extremist government in favor of moderation. I fully expect the American-trained New Iraqi Army to serve the same function, preventing either a Muqtada Sadr or a Musab Zarqawi coming to power.

Despite such military intervention, to quote that bastion of 100% perfect -- dare I say Jeffersonian? -- information, Wikipedia:

Turkey is a democratic, secular, constitutional republic whose political system was established in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk following the fall of the Ottoman Empire. It is a founding member of the United Nations, the OIC, the OECD and the OSCE, a member state of the Council of Europe since 1949 and of the NATO since 1952, and is currently in accession negotiations with the European Union, being an associate member since 1964. [I excised all the footnotes: they looked silly, and I wasn't about to insert seven links into one paragraph.]

I agree that Iraq started off on the wrong foot by adopting a European-style parliamentary system, rather than becoming a constitutional republic like the United States; but with as many parties as they have (dozens), it was probably the only system that would get a majority of Iraqis to support it. Nevertheless, three elections later, it's frankly ridiculous to argue that democracy isn't "working" in Iraq.

It's violent and bloody; but so was Greece during their civil war from 1946 to 1949, during which they finally crushed the Communist insurgency. The Britannica says that more than 50,000 combatants were killed during those three years, plus many tens of thousands of non-combatants who got in the way -- and that may not even count those who died in the first phase, 1942-1944, during which the right-wing socialists (quasi-Fascists) fought the left-wing socialists (Communists) to see who would lead the resistance to Nazi occupation of Greece. (Hugh Hewitt was just talking about it on his show today, which sparked my curiosity, causing me to look it up.)

That is, more Greeks were butchered during that war than all but the most hysterical estimates of Iraqis killed since the liberation. Yet nobody today says that Greeks are incapable of governing as a democracy.

And certainly, many times more Americans died during our Civil War -- more than 800,000 -- than in Iraq; more even as a percent of our population then. Yet nobody would dare claim we were not a democracy in 1864, even in spite of the suspension of habeus corpus: for Abraham Lincoln had to stand for re-election right in the middle of the campaign... and he had to run against his former top general, George McClellan, whom he had dismissed for inaction!

Finally, the Iraqi democracy has shown a remarkable resilience: despite horrific attacks, deformations, and a campaign of mindless murder that beggars the imagination, not one single party has broken away from parliament and declared the democracy experiment dead. They're still plugging away. Even the attempt to oust Nouri al-Maliki is being conducted according to the Iraqi constitution: the SCIRI, the Kurds, the Sunni, and the seculars are trying to vote down Maliki's government with a "no confidence" referendum.

Thus, Dean Barnett's sarcasm notwithstanding, the Iraq democracy is faring far better than the pessimists (like Barnett) could have imagined. Iraq is not even in a civil war; yet Barnett has the bizarre idea that a functioning democracy somehow doesn't count if there are a lot of deaths... but only when we're talking about non-Europeans. When countries whose citizens are of European extraction experience years of violent bloodshed, we still allow them to be called democracies -- whether it's Greece, the United States, or Northern Ireland.

I suspect that Dean is not even aware of his double standard; he's a nice guy, with his head well-screwed-on anent other topics. But he just reacts viscerally (via the reptilian part of his brain) to the very idea of democracy in an Arab country.

I can't really fault Dean; my friend and worth co-conspirator Brad Linaweaver is exactly the same way: he understands and agrees that the "Realist" school of propping up a "friendly" dictator doesn't work and probably never did work well... but still he cannot wrap his brain around the idea that non-Europeans are advanced enough to create a functioning, stable democracy. (For some reason, Japanese and Koreans count as Europeans in this game.)

In Brad's case, he's more straightforward. Alas, Dean Barnett reacts by setting the bar impossible high: for God's sake, not even the United States is a "Jeffersonian democracy!"

So anyway, the next time you see that phrase... just bear in mind that it's a shibboleth of conservatives that serves no purpose but to mock the idea that Arabs can form a democracy -- and it's illogical, counter-empirical, and darned offensive.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 13, 2006, at the time of 4:02 AM

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Dafydd has a good post, where he lights into Dean Barnett for saying that Iraq doesn't have "an Islamic Jeffersonian democracy..." aside from the points that nobody claimed we going to have any such thing, and the the USA itself... [Read More]

Tracked on December 13, 2006 1:49 PM


The following hissed in response by: nk

If proof were needed that there is a Devil, the Greek Civil War of 1945-49 is it:

1. Entirely homogeneous people with the same language, religion and culture dating back to the Trojan War -- a culture which is one of the pillars of Western civilization.
2. As strong a national identity (as opposed to a tribal identity) as any nation in the history of earth.
3. A constitutional monarchy with a democratically elected parliamentary system of government in place since 1832.
4. Safety valves for unconstitutional acts by the monarch -- there had been four deposings of a king in the last 100 years.
5.a) The Balkan Wars of 1912-14;
b) The Asia Minor debacle of 1922;
c) The fighting against the Italians and Germans;
d) Half a million Greeks dead at Dachau and another million in Greece by SS machine guns and starvation during the German occupation;
so you would think that they had fill of dying.
6. An even freer and more democratic government than they had before the Axis invasions.

And still there were those who felt that more Greek blood needed to be spilled over an ideology created for starving Russian peasants.

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 13, 2006 8:09 AM

The following hissed in response by: LarryD

The Left (at lest in America) has categorized Asians (by which I mean Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, et al) as "effectively white". They're too successful, you see. Since the Left's taxonomy starts with whites and their victims, and the Asians stubbornly refuse to play victim and fail, they're white.

Since the Left controls the world view of the chattering classes, it tends to leak into everybody's thinking.

The Left is both racially bigoted and delusional.

The above hissed in response by: LarryD [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 13, 2006 8:14 AM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

Not even Thomas Jefferson believed in Jeffersonian democracy, if we are to use the standards of Barnett and others. They do not know their American history well enough to be making these comparisons. Jefferson thought the French Revolution was a good thing, because it shook things up. George Washington was very much in disagreement. Jefferson was very partisan whereas John Adams thought that partisan politics was a threat to the Republic. And Jefferson did not support the concept of a strong federal government holding sway over states.

Thomas Jefferson was a complicated man with a complicated legacy. He was a slave holding libertarian who wrote the Declaration of Independence..but when he talked of his country he was speaking of Virginia as much as the United States.

In other words, it is ridiculous to talk about Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq when so few people understand Jeffersonian democracy in our own history.

In truth Bush said we would help the Iraqis create a representative government..that is not the same thing as Colonial America.

So yes, the argument that the Arabs are savages or barbarians incapable of anything other than butchery and mayhem is a racist concept and one I do not want to be associated with.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 13, 2006 8:41 AM

The following hissed in response by: Pete S

I think you've read a little more into Barnett's comments that is really there. I don't see him saying that democracy can't work in Iraq, but rather that the radical elements, Al Qaeda and Iran's proxies, aren't interested in a functional democracy. We can't hinge the whole enterprise on reconcilling those groups.

But other than that, nice post!


The above hissed in response by: Pete S [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 13, 2006 11:19 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Pete S.:

I think you've read a little more into Barnett's comments that is really there. I don't see him saying that democracy can't work in Iraq, but rather that the radical elements, Al Qaeda and Iran's proxies, aren't interested in a functional democracy. We can't hinge the whole enterprise on reconcilling those groups.

Barnett says that the radicals have no interest in democracy, which is true; but he uses the phrase "Jeffersonian democracy" to supposedly describe what the Bush administration is trying to do -- which is flatly wrong and is only used by certain conservatives and libertarians who attack the entire policy of the democratization of Iraq.

(And note that he does not, in his answer, go on to say that other Iraqis do believe in democracy, and that it is of any importance in defeating the extremists on both sides.)

An analogous term is "trickle-down economics;" proponents of tax cuts for business never use that term.

Its use is a dead giveaway that the speaker is a liberal Democrat who completely opposes tax cuts in general and utterly rejects the idea that taking less money away from companies via taxation will result in more jobs.

Similarly, anyone who uses the term "amnesty" to describe Bush's immigration proposal doesn't support it. This can include not only right-wingers who want an enforcement-only system but also Democrats who want real, actual, honest-to-badness amnesty, flat amnesty, for all illegals: they also refer to the Bush proposal as "amnesty" because they know that enrages the base and they want it (and Bush himself) to fail.

So calling the immigration proposal "amnesty" is an unmistakable sign that the speaker opposes the proposal.

We all use word-choice to try to shape an argument; for example, I typically refer to the People's Republic of China as "Red China," because I want no one to forget that it's run by a Communist Party. And I reject the term "Islamofascist" (and especially Michael Medved's linguistic atrocity "IslamoNazi") because the shout-word "-fascist" turns the rest of the word ("Islamo-") into a whisper... thus obscuring the most dangerous aspect of militant jihadism: its fanatical religious origin.

The phrase "Jeffersonian democracy" has one major effect: it tends to make readers more skeptical that people not of European descent can support a democracy. There is no other reason to use such a term in this context, where nothing of the sort has been proposed or argued.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 13, 2006 2:23 PM

The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz

And Then There Are the Problems No One Wants To Talk About:

Calls for American troops to put more emphasis on training Iraqis, ignores the dismal results of over three years effort in that department. In this case, it's not entirely the fault of the Iraqis. Saddam's government depended on the Sunni Arab minority to provide nearly all the officers and NCOs in the military, as well as officials in the government and secret police. Few of these Sunni Arabs are working for the government these days. Not because many Sunni Arabs don't want to give democracy a chance, but because the diehard Sunni Arab nationalists have used terror (including murder and kidnapping) to persuade Sunni Arabs to not work for the democratic government.

This leaves the Shia Arabs and Kurds to staff the new Iraqi army and police force. But as we have reported here over the past three years, that's a time consuming process. And it is made more difficult by the culture of corruption and tribalism (family and tribe come before loyalty to the nation). Year by year, there are an increasing number of competent officers and NCOs, but it's still not enough to enable U.S. troops to go home. But the trend is clear. If American troops suddenly disappeared by the end of 2006, the Iraqi security forces would be able to cope.

The Sunni Arab terrorists never really had a chance of regaining control. What chance they did have, went down steadily over the past three years. Currently, the Sunni Arabs are outnumbered, in terms of population, by about eight-to-one. In terms of people with guns, they are outnumbered about five to one. The Sunni Arabs still have an edge in skills (and education), and attitude. Many Sunni Arabs still believe they will prevail because, well, because they believe Sunni Arabs are simply superior to those Kurd and Shia scum. But in a fight-to-the-death, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq are a very long shot to win.

The Shia and Kurds also have a secret weapon; hatred of the Sunni Arabs. The Shia and Kurds want revenge. What no one wants to admit out loud is that the Shia and Kurd population are very much in favor of doing a "Bosnia" or "Rwanda" to the Sunni Arabs of Iraq. The Iraqi government won't touch this one, because they know that it would cause their Sunni Arab neighbors to start talking openly of intervention. This is what the Iraqi Sunni Arab terrorists want. This is what all Sunni Arabs in the region want. That's because the Sunni Arabs do not want an Arab state controlled by Shia.

The above hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 13, 2006 10:07 PM

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