Recently, Hamas won elections in Palestine. Freedom in the Middle East has been a popular phrase in Washington of late.
Now, suddenly the neocons want to tap the brakes. Apparently, freedom's now a bad thing...that is, it's bad when people make choices that neocons just cannot and will not abide.
However, the problem is not that democracy came 'suddenly' to Palestine.
The first problem is that it came, oh, about 38 years late.
The second problem is that it came with strings attached.
And we've seen the consequences of this sad attitude before -- in Iraq, and among some of the countries of the former Soviet Union and its sphere of influence.
Freedom, ultimately, is about setting people free to mind their own business. Alas, this is something simple that a lot of folks either cannot or will not abide.
Freedom (the introduction of a representative democratic regime)is best delivered suddenly, rather than measured out carefully, by doting transitional regimes. Two arguments are (1) the experience of the post-Soviet transition for cases, and (2) the statistics of regime persistency.
The Post-Soviet Experience
In a period from approximately 1989-1993, the several dozen countries of the former Soviet sphere of influence had a choice -- swift economic and political liberalization, or as little of it as was necessary to keep the creditors happy.
Separately, I had come up with a rule of thumb -- the persistency of a newly-established democracy, independent of national experience or temporal context, was 80% every 10 years. That is, 8 out of 10 fledgling fully free societies would still be fully free (to practice alliteration and tongue-twisting, among other activities) a decade later.
I tested this notion out on independent data this evening, compliments of Freedom House (see link to Excel table above).
First, I wanted to see how the various post-Soviet transitional regimes fared, 10 years down the road from their respective emergences.
What we see
- Free from The Word Go Wins: Of the 9 countries that went free from the get-go are are still free. Some are now EU, EU prospects, and NATO members. They are: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia Free, East (now eastern) Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovenia.
- Free, with Strings, Usually Loses: Of the 18 former Soviet Sphere countries that went to partly-free status (per Freedom House's codings), a whopping four (Ukraine emerged a year after this test was originally performed) are now fully free. They are: Bulgaria, Croatia, Mongolia, Romania
- Of the same 18, eight remain stuck in semi-freedom, semi-tyranny. Again, this was pre-Orange Revolution for Ukraine: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Macedonia, Moldova, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine.
- And six of our 18 tentative experiments in freedom, usually limited by some sort of unitary executive, fell back all the way to tyranny: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.
- Freedom First Denied: Only two former Soviet Sphere countries started the post-Cold War era fully nonfree: Bosnia (due to ultranationalist terrorism and genocide) and Georgia (where former USSR Foreign Minister Schevardnadze (sic?) did a good job keeping Communist control long after it passed away almost everywhere else in the northern Eurasia). Both are now classed as partly free.
And that's just the Former Soviet Sphere's experience.
Worth a second pass
In 9 out of 9 starts, a former Soviet-sphere country that began with full democracy still had it 10 years later.
In 4 out of 18 starts (22.2% of the time), a former Soviet-sphere country that began with partial freedom had full freedom 10 years later.
In 6 out of 18 starts (33.3% of the time), a former Soviet-sphere country that began with partial freedom had returned to tyranny 10 years later.
The other 8 (44.4% frequency) had mulled about in semi-freedom.
In 2 of 2 instances, countries beginning in nonfree conditions (Georgia and Bosnia) had attained partial freedom.
The Greater Historical Experience, 1972-2003
The following table is a transposition of an even more difficult-to-read table from the earlier diary. The purpose is to show the chances of attaining full Free status depending on the original transition of regime (ex, from Free to another Free, as in a change of governments in a stable(heh heh) parliamentary system, or from Nonfree to Free, as in a sudden transformation, no
safety net, not friendly occupation armies, etc.)
The chances listed apply across the worldwide experience across all conditions of national integration, development, race, religion, security circumstance and environment. Presumably, there is much quite a variance in the experience...and yet one finds an abundance of counter-examples to deny the naysayers.
Botswana, for example, is dirt-poor, lived in grave danger of a spillover war from South Africa for much of its existence, and is one of the hardest-hit victims of HIV. That, and it's not the best real estate in all Africa. Regardless, Botswana has never enjoyed anything but functioning representative democracy.
The 'problem' is that people from circumstances alien to one's own are very likely to use their freedom to make their choices to suit their wants and needs...but the whole idea of freedom is that it is their business...or at least, that's what the Revolutionary War generation thought.
On to the numbers.
Worldwide, across the 4,962-strong sample of two-year regime-type pairs (ex. Free-to-Free, Free-to-Nonfree, Nonfree-to-Free, PartFree-to-Nonfree, etc.), here's what we see about the chances of freedom taking root:
Free, Remaining Free
Democracy, once in place, is pretty darn persistent.
1 year out: 96.9%
5 years out: 90.2%
10 years out: 86.1%
20 years out: 80.6%
30 years out: 76.7%
It takes a lot more guns to hold a coup d'etat against a popular government than one dependent on the vigilance of a partisan, professional, theocratic or criminal elite. For starters, the electorate and its delegates can more easily cover all the vulnerable spots, and (via taking shifts) sleep nights. :)
Partly Free, Becoming Free
1 year out: 4.7%
5 years out: 15.8%
10 years out: 22.1%
20 years out: 30.1%
30 years out: 31.4%
It happens that countries that 'experiment' in partial freedom, in order to manage the range of choices or protect the security of the nation-state at large, do indeed become fully free someday. It just doesn't happen soon...or usually. What often occurs is a succession of competing forms of semi-freedom, a malaise of competing strongman, praetorian, quasi-religious, ethnic and ultrapartisan factionalism, that tends to weaken and destroy the very central institutions and icons that a common and free identity rally. To be loyal becomes a question of devotion to one's faction, and the question for dominance vis a vis others. It is not a circumstance that is amenable to tolerance, negotation, compromise -- or coexistence.
Per the Soviet experience, so far, the malaise prevails, since the people want freedom after lacking it for so long, and no movement dare openly challenge that desire.
The other part of this question is how often do Partly Free regimes switch to Nonfree ones?
Partly Free, Becoming NonFree
1 year out: 6.0%
5 years out: 16.0%
10 years out: 21.9%
20 years out: 24.2%
30 years out: 17.1%
Based on the wider world experience, the good news is that the chances of falling back to nonfree status are less than making the jump to full freedom...but not by much.
Nonfree, Becoming Free
There is a running argument that it's better to force liberation, than to just sit back and let it happen.
Okay...let's give that bad boy a test drive.
1 year out: 0.2%
5 years out: 3.3%
10 years out: 8.4%
20 years out: 20.4%
30 years out: 31.7%
Well...not gonna lie to you. If promoting freedom and representative democracy are valuable end goals, the question being one of the methods used to attain them, just sitting back and waiting for it to happen doesn't look very effective.
What it sounds like I just said...
Is that it's better to invade dictatorships willy-nilly, than tolerate their continued existence.
...but that's just not so.
What I just said was that if you want freedom to flourish, the last thing you want to do is replace one form on nondemocracy with another, even if it's yours..
Unless I am mistaken, a military dictatorship, benign or no, does not qualify as a Free regime.
And that situation persisted in Iraq for several years...and in Palestine for several decades.
There are consequences to the emergence of freedom, when this sort of thing is done: it quashes the chances of it ever emerging.
In the case of Germany and Japan, both cases, the occupation ran its course, the soldiers withdrew from civilian governance, and the Germans and Japanese under their new and hopefully-improved constitutions began to manage their business in their fashion in answer to their wants and needs.
There was a strong incentive at the time to let this take its course: it was called the Cold War. We needed allies versus the USSR, not quagmires, and we treated with the Germans and Japanese as such...and the reward of that magnanimity has repaid us fiftyfold at least. The reconstructed Germany and Japan are easily the strongest allies America has had in the last fifty years, and the next two (not quite, China) strongest economies on the planet. Granted, both were mighty powerful even prior to World War II, certain more powerful than right after the war.
There is no guarantee this might not have gone the other way; there was violent resistance (cheerfully underwritten by the USSR and allies) against the U.S. presence in both countries, though on a far smaller scale than against the American presence in Iraq.
Once reason is that by the time the Red Brigade and Red Army, respectively, showed up, both Germany and Japan were fully functioning democracies that recognized a strong self-interest in keeping the Cold War alliances going. From that sprung the legend (very much internalized by American culture now) that there are many worse things that could happen to a country than to be
bombed and invaded and occupied by the United States of America. It was such a popular myth that a movie called The Mouse That Roared might light of it.
Why Germany and Japan worked, and Iraq not, is something worth closer, sober inspection.
You have to ask yourself if the current occupant of the Oval Office is that sort of guy...then ask again what went wrong in Iraq.
The first wrongness, in my opinion is that we went, given we had an ongoing occupation and liberation project of far greater, and far more popular, importance in Afghanistan, with an arrow pointed at repeating, as best as practicable, the exercise with cooperation (preferably) or confrontation (if needs be) with the government of Pakistan.
However, if Iraq was unavoidable or the admnistration intractable in its desire to invade Iraq and replace Hussein with new management, then the exercise should have been performed even more precipitately.
It worked amidst the flywheel breakup of the USSR. So what if Iraq became three countries? Three more countries with a chance to be free, each piece more susceptible to diplomatic and economic pressure to shape up, no persistent occupation to incite and empower radical factions of all sorts.
I think it comes down to not only incompetency, but a willful ignorance, a messianic belief that the tried and true rules simply do not apply to revolutionary and righteous leadership, therefore that the times were different, the target different, the Arabs/Muslims different from not only persons of European but of Asiatic stock, as well.
It really could not sink in to the Bush administration that human beings who smoke, and read newspapers, and drive cars, and watch television, and go to work, get married, raise children and love their country were human too, if they went to mosque instead of church...and that perhaps the rules that applied to humanity applied to both the putative beneficiaries of liberation...and to those who would be called liberators, as well.