Michael Ledeen has an intriguing article that touches on a host of important points. His central thesis:
“The headlines are grim, the pictures from Syria, Venezuela and Ukraine are blood-chilling, executions and demonstrations are mounting in Iran, and Obama doesn’t know what to do about anything. …
And yet, our enemies may be on the verge of losing. Big time.”
His data points:
“He [Putin], along with the Syrian, Iranian, Nicaraguan, Honduran, Venezuelan, Cuban, and Bolivian dictators and would-be dictators, was forging a global alliance aimed against the West, and nobody in the West seemed to notice, let alone take steps to combat it….
That alliance is cracking, because many millions of people are fighting the anti-Western tyrants. They aren’t pundits, and they haven’t calculated the odds on success. They just fight.”
What are their accomplishments?
“For those keeping score: the enemy alliance has lost in Egypt and Tunisia, is losing Ukraine, is in great peril in Venezuela, is losing men and money in significant quantities in Syria, and faces determined opposition inside Iran.”
Why are the people defying the odds?
“It’s like the case of the bumblebee, which, the engineers patiently explained to us, cannot fly (wrong ratio of wingspan to body mass, etcetera). But the bumblebees don’t know that, and so they fly. And even make some honey.”
This is a very salient point, often forgotten by foreign policy ‘realists’. A lot of the time freedom fighters fail. But some of the time they succeed, and against incredible odds. In my own homeland of Estonia, independence was won in 1918 against Bolshevik Russia. The leaders of our independence movement were for the most part intellectuals with little experience in governance, and with no money or military experience. The first item on the agenda? Militarily defeat a foe 100 times in size. Who in February, 1918 would have predicted that they would succeed? But succeed they did, while defeating the German Landeswehr and helping to liberate Latvia from the Germans as side tasks. Take that foreign policy realists!
According to Ledeen, the fact often overlooked by foreign policy experts is:
“Tyranny is the most unstable form of government.”
This is a point I have been making for a while. Dictatorships only seem stable because all their rifts and problems and inadequacies have been papered over. Communist China is not nearly as powerful as it now seems.
“The air can go out of tyrannical balloons with amazing speed.”
While dictatorships can break apart very quickly, the event is impossible to predict because all the crucial information is concealed, from both outsiders and the tyrants themselves.
“The flip side of that coin is that democracies and republics are far more durable, even though (maybe even because) they are fractious, sloppy, inefficient and, especially in foreign policy, typically indecisive.”
What makes free societies so durable is what makes them appear so shabby. We air our laundry in public all the time. But in doing that, we prevent the inevitable problems that every society faces from quietly metastasizing into regime-toppling crises.
“Rule number two is that the world is slow to change. Except when the world is seized by convulsions and rapid change is the order of the day. We’re currently in a period of profound change, from the bipolar Cold War world to…we know not what. But all those who advocate “stability” have failed to understand this moment.”
This is a point that Mark Steyn often makes, stability is a fetish of foreign policy realists that is anything but realistic.
“Rule three is that this world is tailor-made for the American mission, which is to support freedom."
This is where I depart company with paleoconservative isolationists. Like them, I believe the nation-state based on shared culture and values is, or should be, the basic building block of world order. Unlike them, I also believe that nations governed by liberal democratic principles, rule of law and property rights, with a free enterprise economy are a very precious thing. Historically speaking, they are also rare. Somalia, Syria and Putin’s Russia are the norm for humanity. We are the freaks of nature.
Therefore it is incumbent on all people who do enjoy free government to do what we can to nurture and protect freedom. If we don’t, all the liberal democracies of the world, or budding liberal democracies of the world, will be swallowed up whole by the world’s dictatorships. This does not mean we need to build nations in every third-world hellhole we set foot in. Or invade every dictatorship we see. Nor does it mean that we shouldn’t make temporary accommodations with unsavoury regimes, if practicality requires it. But it does mean that if a small country – like Georgia – is invaded by a large authoritarian regime, we must do what we can to help. And if an oppressed people rises up, like, say, in Venezuela or the Ukraine, we should also do what we can to aid them in their struggle. It may be that all they require is a little moral support, or some covert aid to put them over the top.
It is my firm belief that years from now, when the foreign policy of Barack Obama can be judged dispassionately and objectively, his greatest failing will be found to be standing by while the Green Revolution in Iran rose up and almost, but not quite, toppled the Iranian theocracy.