Sunday, February 6, 2011

The end of history comes when it's revised: Neo-cons claim credit for democracy in the Middle East

Its been interesting to see the scrambling of the neo-cons as they try to make sense of the current situations in the Middle East and what this means for their ideological project. In a op-ed for the Washington Post, Elliot Abrams starts the neo-con revisionism of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

All ideologies engage in this sort of historical revisionism - but the neo-con ideology is virtually built on it, you only have to read Fukoyama's "End of History" tripe to see it in full action. So with this in mind, its unsurprising to see Abrams touting the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia as a vindication for the Bush "freedom project" and a condemnation of the Obama administration's move towards a more realist foreign policy.

In his response to Abrams' selective sampling of history, Frank Kaplan, completely debunks the thesis that the Bush "freedom project" is in any way responsible for the current events in the Middle East. One of the points that is made by Kaplan (and the one that's the focus of this post) is that its not just a matter of supporting a vague notion of "freedom" that encourages transition to a democratic State, but having the institutions of democracy.

"...the annals of history show that democracy is hard to achieve and even harder to sustain; that it requires not just the expression of a human desires, but also the creation of political entities and social institutions—courts, legislatures, organized interest groups, and a free press—that can mediate conflicting desires with an aura of legitimacy and thus with minimal violence."

And it is this point that the neo-cons consistently fail to understand. I think that this policy blindness actually comes from the neo-con ideology itself - that to the neo-conservative these institutions are not necessary and are even a hinderance to their view of a liberal democracy. Their obsession with devolving social institutions into mere functional elements of the free market economy - such as the privatisation of education, medicine, removal of any sort of social safety net and deregulation of the economy belies the neo-con view that social/political institutions are merely economic ones.

The privatisation of Iraq is a case in point1. The Coalition Provisional Authority dismantled any social/political institutions under the guise of removing Ba'athist elements and reoriented the entire Iraqi economy to a neo-con view of economic liberalism - privatise everything and remove any regulation of foreign investment (including allowing foreign entities to remove all profits from the country). These sets of orders have virtually made the Iraqi government and people completely subservient to foreign transnationals - hardly democratic institutions. It is interesting to note that one of the only laws to survive Saddam's regime is the one banning trade unions - organised labour is obviously bad for neo-con "freedom" as it may lead to people forming a social institution that could challenge their economic orthodoxy.

So it's not surprising  to see the neo-cons back to their old tricks of historic revisionism to suit their own ideological views. One would imagine that the rise of any new autocratic regimes from the current turmoil in the Middle East with any veneer of democracy would suffice for Bush's "freedom project" to be vindicated - so long as they're open for business.