Democracy: A foreign policy fable

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Once upon a time, the world’s military superpower went to war against a smaller, poorer country. It won the war in a couple of weeks–won every battle, blew the enemy away.

But then we discovered that this country already had people in it–not just a government–people very much like us. People with their own resentments, vendettas, bigotries, faiths, politics, goals, ethnicities, ideologies, economic claims, geographical oddities, and history.

In fact, they had had all problems and conflicts we do–rich vs. poor, labor vs. management, liberal vs. conservative, religion vs. religion, race vs. race, and indeed all the little disputes that arise from day to day–but without the institutions and mechanisms we have for resolving them. Instead, they had their conflicts cruelly suppressed, decade after decade, by warlords and strongmen from one faction or another.

Into this environment steps the ignorant, blundering superpower–ignorant not only about the history and institutional ecosystem of the country it is invading, but, even more unforgivably, of its own. It destroys the authoritarian power structure of the little country, replacing it with a nominal democracy–somehow forgetting that voting on who is right neither satisfies the loser, nor resolves the underlying issue, nor chooses decent, wise, or inclusive leaders.

No longer suppressed, the age-old conflicts and bigotries boil over, and the superpower is left in the uncomfortable position of backing whichever bigotry wins the vote, so as to support the election’s “credibility” and promote “stability in the region.” Eventually it turns out that the moderates aren’t so moderate when they win, and after a bloody and endless sectarian conflict, we realize we have to toss democracy out the window when it chooses governments so oppressive and divisive that not even the backing of a superpower can sustain them.

The government losses whatever shred of support it had with population when majority realizes that even its will–generally, to suppress the minorities–is also irrelevant. The country devolves into brutality and factional conflicts, and the superpower is left presiding over a failure so complete that it has to invade the country again to suppress the violence.

Twice upon a time, the world’s military superpower went to war against a smaller, poorer country. It won the war in a couple of weeks–won every battle, blew the enemy away…

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Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the executive editor of The Skeptical Libertarian.

View all posts by Daniel Bier

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