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Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Months ago, I asked these questions:
Can a nation like Iraq be democratized by toppling a despotic regime and "building" a new nation from the rubble?

Was military force the best way to do this?
Today, on the beach, I read a piece that addresses these points pretty directly.

Former General Wesley Clark, in the May 2004 Washington Monthly:
[In the Foreign Affairs X article, George] Kennan argued that the Soviet system contained within it "the seeds of its own decay." During the 1950s and 1960s, containment translated that observation into policy, holding the line against Soviet expansion with U.S. military buildups while quietly advancing a simultaneous program of cultural engagement with citizens and dissidents in countries under the Soviet thumb.

These subtler efforts mattered a great deal. The 1975 Helsinki Accords proved to be the crucial step in opening the way for the subsequent peaceful democratization of the Soviet bloc. The accords, signed by the Communist governments of the East, guaranteed individual human and political rights to all peoples and limited the authority of governments to act against their own citizens. However flimsy the human rights provisions seemed at the time, they provided a crucial platform for dissidents such as Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov. These dissidents, though often jailed and exiled, built organizations that publicized their governments' many violations of the accords, garnering Western attention and support and inspiring their countrymen with the knowledge that it was possible to stand up to the political powers that be.

With the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, it became clear once more that it would be the demands of native peoples, not military intervention from the West, that would extend democracy's reach eastward. Step by step, the totalitarian governments and structures of the East lost legitimacy in the eyes of their own citizens and elites. The United States and Western Europe were engaged, of course, in assisting these indigenous political movements, both directly and indirectly. Western labor unions, encouraged by their governments, aided the emergence of a democratic trade union movement, especially in Poland. Western organizations provided training for a generation of human-rights workers. Western broadcast media pumped in culture and political thought, raising popular expectations and undercutting Communist state propaganda. And Western businesses and financial institutions entered the scene, too, ensnaring command economies in Western market pricing and credit practices. The Polish-born Pope John Paul II directed Catholic churches in Eastern Europe and around the world to encourage their congregants to lobby for democracy and liberal freedoms.

Such outreach had profound effects, but only over time. In his new book, Soft Power, the defense strategist Joseph Nye tells the story of the first batch of 50 elite exchange students the Soviet Union allowed to the United States in the 1950s. One was Aleksandr Yakovlev, who became a key advocate of glasnost under Gorbachev. Another, Oleg Kalugin, wound up as a top KGB official. Kalugin later said: "Exchanges were a Trojan horse for the Soviet Union. They played a tremendous role in the erosion of the Soviet system...they kept infecting more and more people over the years."
The entire piece is good.

Here's another strong excerpt:
Of course, military pressure played a vital role in making containment work. But we applied that pressure in concert with allies in Europe....

It was popular discontent with economic, social, and political progress, and people's recognition of an appealing alternative system, that finished off the repressive regimes of Eastern Europe, and eventually the whole Soviet Union. No Western threat of force or military occupation forced their collapse.
The Bush administration's approach, even outside Iraq, is quite heavy-handed and unlikely to work.

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