Day: July 29, 2006

Missing the point on democratization

Steven Cook (who holds a PhD from my department I might add) argues in the Washington Post this morning that the current problems in the Middle East are not to be blames on President Bush’s democratization strategy. It isn’t that there has been too much democratization to-date, but rather too little. Unfortunately, his analysis suffers from a number of problems: a rather weighty faith in the power of democratization and ignoring the more substantial causal power of state capacity.

Cook’s argument boils down to this:

You cannot blame the current crisis in the region on democratization because a) Hamas and Hezbollah are not truly ‘democratic’ actors; b) Hezbollah has been part of the government in Lebanon for over 14 years, well before the current administration’s policies took effect; and c) both militant groups have long used the abduction of Israelis to either create a military response or to negotiate the release of Israeli-held prisoners.

Cook is most certainly correct about c). However, this does little to bolster his defense of democratization.

Regarding points a) and b) above, it does not matter whether Hamas and Hezbollah are truly democratic actors (whatever that means). The point of most critics when it comes to aggressive democratization is that holding competitive elections (defined as those where the outcome is in question) is that you do not know what actors will come to power as a result. Democracy does not guarantee that only ‘democratic’ actors will win (note: I think Cook here is confusing democratic with liberal, but you can read his column and decide for yourselves). Minimally speaking (and I tend to follow Schumpeter here), democracy is simply a process (one of many) for selecting who gets to rule. Even with repeated elections there is no guarantee that the values Cook speaks about will be instilled and/or respected by those elected. Take a quick look-see around the globe and one finds a great number of “illiberal” democracies. Rather than bolster his case, the fact that Hezbollah has been elected to seats in the Lebanese government since 1992 should give all policymakers pause when considering policies of democratization. If one is trying to absolve the current administration of blame that’s fine; if you are trying to defend democratization in general this seems a self-defeating example at best.

Cook and I seem to be in agreement that one significant step towards ending the cycle of this conflict is the elimination of actors such as Hamas and Hezbollah. It is the “how” and not the “what” where we part company.

Cook dedicates the rest of his column to discussing why more democracy would have accomplished this, specifically with regards to Lebanon. I find his logic wholly unconvincing. He states:

The real problem in Lebanon is not too much democracy but too little. Had Lebanon emerged from its spring 2005 “independence uprising” as a democracy, Hezbollah could not have continued to operate as an armed and thus autonomous faction. Lost in almost all of the commentary about the fighting in Lebanon is the fact that many Lebanese who do not support Hezbollah wish that the organization could be disarmed. Thus the best way of dealing with the Hezbollah problem is not by Israeli arms but by Lebanese public opinion.

Exactly how? Cook here is engaging in “faith-based” commentary—believing in the power of democratization to simply overcome the realities on the ground in Lebanon. I am sure he is right that many Lebanese despise Hezbollah (although the poll numbers are shifting as a result of the conflict). However, public opinion cannot substitute for state capacity. How exactly is the government supposed to disarm and domesticate Hezbollah? By asking politely? How are elections going to substitute for the massive social services that Hezbollah provides to the southern part of the country? Ignoring the influence that the latter has on public loyalty to Hezbollah (or any other group for that matter) is unwarranted.

He finishes by stating that:

…only authoritarian leaders can inflict damage on their societies with confidence that they will not be held accountable. Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas is democratic, and both rely on non-democratic governments in Damascus and Tehran to pursue objectives that majorities of the Palestinian and Lebanese populations do not necessarily support. If Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Iran were truly democratic, it is unlikely that Hezbollah and Hamas could engage in irresponsible policies that bring only pain to their people.

Again, I think this is an empirical question. But placing that aside, Cook fails to consider the possibility that authoritarian states, while despicable in many ways, may have an advantage over democracies in one area—state capacity. Such a relationship is not guaranteed. But certainly democratization does not magically endow a state with a monopoly on violence within its territory as well as the ability to deliver critical social services to its citizens (which always goes a long way towards wooing public opinion).

I sympathize with Cook’s perspective but by focusing on (liberal) democracy and not on the more critical issue of state capacity he misses what I see as a key cog in the machinery of change in the region. The proper recipe is still unknown—how much state capacity? How much democratization? What is the proper ratio between the two? What is the proper sequence? But what should be unmistakable by this point is that ignoring the importance of state capacity (and overemphasizing the power of democratization) is a recipe for disaster.

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I’m definitely not a lawyer

I’ve been skimming the Washington State Supreme Court decision (PDF) on gay marriage (via Andrew Sullivan), and I’m pretty appalled. My jaw started to drop when I read this line:

Finally, DOMA does not violate the state constitution’s equal rights amendment because that provision prohibits laws that render benefits to or restrict or deny rights of one sex. DOMA treats both sexes the same; neither a man nor a woman may marry a person of the same sex.

We’ve heard that before, obviously. It was the rationale used to uphold bans on inter-racial marriage. So what does the opinion actually say about Loving? That because the Court looked to changing social norms–a minority of states banned inter-racial marriage at the time–that the Washington State Supreme Court would look to social norms as well. Since an overwhelming majority of states ban gay marriage and since same-sex marriage has long been prohibited, it follows that no fundamental right is at stake.

The WSSC also argues that the marriage right is tied to procreation. Oddly, it blockquotes Zablocki in a way that suggests a distinction between the right of procreation and the right of marriage:

[i]t is not surprising that the decision to marry has been placed on the same level of importance as decisions relating to procreation, childbirth, child rearing, and family relationships. . . . [I]t would make little sense to recognize a right of privacy with respect to other matters of family life and not with respect to the decision to enter the relationship that is the foundation of the family in our society.

I don’t know the full context, but this strikes me as an argument that family serves multiple functions, only one of which is actual procreation between spouses.

(I should also note that all of the sterling rhetoric about the centrality of marriage to human survival and progress–including an 1888 decision which notes “that marriage is ‘the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress'”–deserves a great more empirical scrutiny. Just because the Courts have asserted this relationship for some time does not make it true.)

I also don’t understand the WSSC’s answer to Turner v. Safley

In Turner, the Court invalidated a regulation that prohibited inmate marriage absent compelling reasons for marriage, holding that the fundamental right to marry was impermissibly burdened. Rejecting the contention that the interest at issue was inmate marriage, the Court said that inmate marriages were, like others, expressions of emotional support and public commitment, and may for some inmates be an exercise of religious faith as well as an expression of personal dedication. Turner, 482 U.S. at 95-96. In addition, the Court said, most inmates would eventually be released and thus most inmate marriages were formed in the expectation they would be fully consummated. Turner, 482 U.S. at 96. Finally, the Court noted marriage often is a precondition to government benefits, property rights, and other benefits such as legitimation of children born out of wedlock.

Like Skinner, Loving, and Zablocki, Turner involved burdens on individuals seeking opposite-sex marriage. While the Court did not expressly link marriage to procreation and other rights related to procreation and children as it had in other cases, we also do not find in Turner any signal that the case marked a turning point in the definition of marriage as a fundamental right. We do not agree that the Court in Turner intended its analysis to mean that marriage as a fundamental right is no longer anchored in the tradition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

But of course it didn’t. If it did, we would have same-sex marriage (or a Constitutional amendment banning it). Instead, the opinion suggests that marriage serves a broad variety of functions and that to prohibit a prisoner from receiving them constituted a violation of their rights. Prohibiting same-sex marriage denies these functions to gay men and women. This doesn’t seem like rocket science, and the WSSC looks to me like it is tying itself in knots trying to deny the obvious.

I know that there are issues of legislative deference at stake, but I find it troubling that the WSSC uses, in effect, a history of discrimination and faulty reasoning by legislatures as a basis for carving out what appears to be a “same-sex exception” for equal protection as applied to marriage rights.

So please, legal eagles, help me understand this one.

Okay, I suppose this makes some sense. But I’m still not convinced.

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Wanting to be wrong

I really, really hope that today’s developments prove my skepticism about the efficacy of Israel’s coercive pressure on Lebanon wrong.

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Hezbollah politicians, while expressing reservations, have joined their critics in the government in agreeing to a peace package that includes strengthening an international force in south Lebanon and disarming the guerrillas, the government said.

The agreement — reached after a heated six-hour Cabinet meeting — was the first time that Hezbollah has signed onto a proposal for ending the crisis that includes the deploying of international forces.

The package falls short of American and Israeli demands in that it calls for an immediate cease-fire before working out details of a force and includes other conditions.

A big caveat. One that raises some significant questions.

First, will a ceasefire disproportionately benefit one side–say, by giving Hezbullah a breather to redeploy?

Second, do the Israeli’s have reason to believe that Hezbollah’s agreement is credible? After all, the agreement calls for them to disarm, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to come up with ways that Hezbollah could scuttle the post-cease-fire negotiations to get out of having to do so. Even if they agree to disarm, one has to have doubts about the UN’s and Lebanese army’s likely effectiveness as monitors and enforcers of the settlement?

But European Union officials said Friday the proposals form a basis for an agreement, increasing the pressure on the United States to call for a cease-fire.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday they too want an international force dispatched quickly to the Mideast but said any plan to end the fighting — to have a lasting effect — must address long-running regional disputes.

“This is a moment of intense conflict in the Middle East,” Bush said after his meeting with Blair in Washington. “Yet our aim is to turn it into a moment of opportunity and a chance for broader change in the region.”

By signing onto the peace proposals, Hezbollah gave Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora a boost in future negotiations.

Going into Thursday night’s Cabinet session, Hezbollah’s two ministers expressed deep reservations about the force and its mandate, fearing it could turn against their guerrillas.

“Will the international force be a deterrent one and used against who?” officials who attended the Cabinet meeting said in summing up Hezbollah cabinet ministers concerns. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the debate.

This kind of statement should set off alarms. If Hezbollah is, in fact, willing to disarm, then why would they be concerned about the international force being “used against” them?

But afterward, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi announced that the package had been agreed on by consensus in a rare show of unity by a divided administration.

I’m not sure why the consensus agreement should lead us to discount what I just wrote. It is one thing to agree to back the proposal, another to desire to see it actually implemented.

While all sides seemed to be looking for a way to stop the fighting, details of plans taking shape on all sides were still fuzzy. And it was not at all certain Hezbollah would really follow through on the Lebanese government plan that would effectively abolish the militants’ military wing. It may have signed on to the deal convinced that Israel would reject it.

If Hezbollah, as the reporter suggests, might be backing the plan as a public relations move and hoping to reap the rewards when Israel rejects it, should Israel take the bait?

Interestingly, I can’t find any indication of the story right now (10:09 PM, EST) on either the Jerusalem Post’s or Ha’aretz’s website. I know its very early morning, but surely one would expect some sort of report.

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