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Making the World Unsafe For Democracy

I’ve never heard of the concepts of “pacing yourself”, so here’s a third post. A lot of people more sanguine about the prospects for war in Iraq than myself (a quick reminder: I personally support a war against Saddam Hussein, but only once the Democrats are in power1) think that the post-war reconstruction of Iraq will be made much easier by the fact that there are masses of the populace who have been denied the sweet fruit of democratic rights, and will gladly co-operate with the US Army because they see the prospect of enjoying the freedoms taken for granted by us in the West. Extreme versions of this theory have the entire Arab world erupting into joyous revolution in sympathy with the victorious Americans, rather in the manner of Eastern Europe in 1989. I’m less than convinced.

Let us take the case of Vietnam for example (terrible taboo, I know, but it can’t be completely swept under the carpet). The Americans were in control of South Vietnam for a long time. There were elections; a bit corrupt, perhaps, but certainly more democratic than the Communist Party was proposing. There was more free speech, freedom of association, opposition parties, etc, etc. There was also much freer availability of extremely pure heroin, but that’s a topic for a different day. The South was also much more materially prosperous than the North, and the Americans would have been more than happy to extend these benefits to the whole of Vietnam. The USA would also have made a much better ally against the historical enemy of China than an always parlous and semi-detached relationship with Soviet Russia.

Did the Vietnamese population realise how good they had it? Did they hell. At the end of the day, the appeal of the VietCong was simple; they were Viets and the Americans bloody well weren’t. I could multiply examples throughout history, but the point is always the same. People, in general, value basic rights and freedoms a lot less than they value their national pride, where “national pride” means in operational terms, giving a lot of grief to people who aren’t the same as themselves. Even without the added factor of religion, I don’t see any future in which the majority of Iraq’s oil production is owned by non-Iraqis, as a future which holds any peace for anyone anywhere. People could set my mind at a heckuva lot more rest if they could reassure me that this wasn’t the plan …

In semi-related news, thinking about Vietnam reminds me of a point I’d like some views on from any passing neoliberals. Under the Vietnamese Communist administration, a decent primary education is provided to the majority of Vietnam’s children. That means, operationally, that when you open up a sweatshop, you’re not taking children out of a gutter, or out of worse employment. You’re taking them out of school. Would someone like to find fault with this argument, or am I correct in saying that in the specific case of Vietnam, “globalisation” in the form of Nike and related factories, is potentially a very great developmental evil, whatever its pros and cons elsewhere in the region>


1 No, really, this is a serious opinion. I’m convinced of the case for removing Saddam. But I’m not convinced that the world will not be made a much less safe and worse place if the United States of America decides to become an Empire, particularly if it tries to do so semi-consciously, with no real domestic political support for the expense or manpower commitment involved. That’s why I think that the French are playing an absolute blinder diplomatically, slowing down the rush to war and insisting that things take place on a multilateral basis, so that the aftermath of war doesn’t just look like a US colony complete with viceroy and disgruntled populace. I think that the temptations toward Empire are considerably greater for Bush (it is impolite to mention the word “oil” these days, but what else do you use to grease a slippery slope) than they would be for a US Administration with less obvious and deep-seated connections to an industry which (in a post-war environment) benefit greatly from an imperial US presence, so my compromise position is that I’ll support regime change in Iraq once we have a regime in Washington that can remotely be trusted not to fuck up the aftermath.

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