Monday, August 19, 2013

US Drinking Its Own Whiskey... Again




My dad used a lot of Cowboy Logic to explain things.  One of his favorites:  "Don't get drunk on you own whiskey."  Sadly, that's something we do quite a bit as Americans.  The success - or failure - of US foreign policy around the world will have a profound impact on the built industry as peace and stability lead to investment in facilities and infrastructure while war and economic uncertain destroy facilities and infrastructure.  Thus, it behooves us, as forward thinking advocates of innovation in the built industry to pay attention to the geo-political reality around us. 

The turmoil in the Middle East - especially in Iraq, Syria and Egypt - provide a sad and brutal reminder that US foreign policy "experts" tend to drink a lot of their own whiskey.  My heart goes out to the victims of the violence in those countries, but democracy is no panacea and too often tyrannical majorities ignore the rights of the minorities.  Minorities fight back and violence ensues.  A Constitutional Republic, with appropriate checks and balances,  provides some protection to minorities, but only in societies where the rule of law controls and key stakeholders in society agree to transfer power peacefully.  Sadly, that is not the state of affairs in the Middle East at the moment.

The article by Professor Meade quoted and linked below provides additional insights.  The list of US politicians who succumbed to the conceit that US style democracy and capitalism would transform other societies struck a chord with me and prompted this post.  While the article is particularly critical of President Obama's failed "Smart Diplomacy" policy in the Middle East he touches on the historical nature of the conceit that causes us, as Americans, to think we've got all the answers and that new day will dawn where ever we sprinkle the fairy dust of democracy.

As Professor Meade says:
Unfortunately, much of our political and policy class, both on the left and the right, shares an unfounded confidence that liberal capitalism is going to triumph tomorrow. They are the secular, liberal counterparts of Christian fundamentalists waiting for the Rapture, a near-magical translation to a better world. This is what most American policy makers believed about Russia in the heady years after the Soviet collapse. President George W. Bush bet the ranch on the imminent democratization of the Middle East. So did President Obama. 
This is not a new mistake. Thomas Jefferson was sure that the French Revolution heralded the dawn of democracy in 18th century Europe. Henry Clay thought the Latin American revolutions against Spain would create stable democracies across South America. Many Americans thought the 1848 revolutions in Europe would establish true freedom in the Old World. Many Americans thought that Sun Yat Sen’s revolution in China would establish democracy there back in 1911. Alexander Kerensky’s Russia was hailed as an ‘emerging democracy’ in 1917. Woodrow Wilson thought he could kill history with Fourteen Points and a League. It was a thought crime among liberal and progressive people to doubt that Africa would race ahead to democratic capitalism in the 1950s and 1960s as colonialism ended. 
We are not always wrong. Germany, Japan and, in its own eccentric way, Italy all became liberal capitalist states after World War Two. Most of the Warsaw Pact countries signed up to the program in the 1990s. Much of East Asia has been moving in a liberal direction as its prosperity has grown. Mexico, Chile and Brazil, among other Latin states, are looking more like Henry Clay once hoped they would.

Evil triumphs when good men stand down.  Don't stand down.



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