Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Yemen

The Washington Post runs the first of three articles on "Yemen: Exporting Democracy." It is a good read, but I am critical.
David Finkel is the author, and once again the question of tribes and anthropologists (see below) comes up. Of course, this being the WaPo, we can’t have any notions like idealism, justice, doing good in the world, or anything that smells interesting, if not positive. Nor can we have, for that matter, any historical understanding. It would be nice to be told that Yemen’s population is almost the size of Saudi Arabia’s, or that "yaman" means "right hand", etc. Or, what about Reagan’s "campaign for democracy" announced in 1982? The author thinks that democracy promotion jumped from the head of Bush unannounced and without precedent. Of course, that’s not true. There were 54 democracies in the world in 1981, and there were 99 by 1992, with another 30 or so in transition. Maybe what irks Liberals is that the campaign for democracy now has some concrete connection to national interest and strategically important places. They seemed to like the idea of human rights when Carter used the words, but then there was no hardness attached to it. We are doing the hard part now.

Finkel talks about the program of the National Democratic Institute (created under Reagan, by the way) in Yemen--run by one Robin Madrid--as a way "to reform the world", turning "democracy into something exportable, much like food aid, as a way to fight terrorism," it perfectly reflects the "momentous, even radical" notion that Bush put forward in his Second Inaugural; "democracy as commodity," "the commodification of democracy into something suitable for export," and "democracy promotion has evolved from a theory into an industry." You get the gist. Now, this doesn’t mean the story isn’t worth reading. It is, even though David Finkel is no Robert D. Kaplan. It was Kaplan who called the Yemenis warriors out of the Illiad, but with guns and cell phones.
The government is not as strong as the tribes and can only exist because the tribes are divided; and sometimes things get so bad that the tribes themselves want to put an end to revenge killings, ("suffering has brought us together"), begin to institute something like the rule of law, and that’s where the NDI program comes in. Weird stuff, I admit, female anthropologists thrice divorced using the latest social science schemes of conflict-resolution to make peace between tribes, U.S. government sluggishness and stupidity, and in the meantime hard-boiled Hobbesian men pushing and shoving and killing. Many bad guys go to ground in a fringe place like this. But there are some good guys who just keep looking for needles in haystacks, not even regime change. A little perspective, never mind depth, would have been nice from Finkel, and refreshing from the Washington Post.

Discussions - 3 Comments

How long did that post take you to type? About two hours?

In all seriousness, a good post. I especially like the line "They seemed to like the idea of human rights when Carter used the words, but then there was no hardness attached to it. We are doing the hard part now."

Yeah, I agree, John. So John, will you be reporting from Iraq soon? Did you opt to sign up with the Marines or the Air Force? It would certainly be refreshing to get a level-headed, conservative take on things straight from a soldier, instead of some liberal "journalist."

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