Americans spend little time remembering our history, preferring to focus on current and future accomplishments. That attitude gives us a bit of attention-deficit disorder when it comes to judging other countries' political evolutions. We simply cannot understand why they shouldn't be able to quickly put together a democracy like our own.The piece reminded me of Roland Paris' great analysis of international peacebuilding and the 'mission civilisatrice' of 19th century colonialism. The whole article is here, in pdf. First, the abstract, and then a bit from the introduction:
The harsh truth is that most developing countries that embrace markets and globalization do so as single-party states. Sure, many feature a marginal opposition party, just like the Harlem Globetrotters always play -- and beat -- the Washington Generals, but they're still single-party states. Mexico was like this for decades, as was South Korea and Japan. Once economic development matured enough, a real balance took hold and power started shifting back and forth between parties. Malaysia heads for the same tipping point today.
Americans, especially experts and politicians, typically view these regimes with a certain disdain, wondering how a public can put up with a manipulative political system where elites decide who runs for high office and only a tiny fraction of the public has any real influence. We demand more competition, more suffrage, and freer elections -- now! (...)Remember this: Our country was born of revolution, including a nasty guerrilla-style war waged by a ragtag collection of militias against the most powerful military in the world at that time. (...)
Finally, a whopping 48 years after we issued our famous Declaration of Independence declaring all men equal, we conducted a presidential election in which three-quarters of the states let their citizens vote directly for candidates. (...)
This was the first half-century of American political history. It took us 89 years to free the slaves and 189 years to guarantee blacks the right to vote. Women waited 144 years before earning suffrage.
I know that's all in the past, but that's my point: It took America quite some time to develop this democracy we cherish. Remember that when you decry "sham" elections abroad or declare single-party states "dictatorships." Because if mature, multiparty democracy was so darn easy, everybody would have one.
International peacebuilding operations seek to stabilise countries that have recently experienced civil wars. In pursuing this goal, however, international peacebuilders have promulgated a particular vision of how states should organise themselves internally, based on the principles of liberal democracy and market-oriented economics. By reconstructing warshattered states in accordance with this vision, peacebuilders have effectively ‘transmitted’ standards of appropriate behaviour from the Western-liberal core of the international system to the failed states of the periphery. From this perspective, peacebuilding resembles an updated (and more benign) version of the mission civilisatrice, or the colonial-era belief that the European imperial powers had a duty to ‘civilise’ dependent populations and territories. (...)The point here is not that peacebuilding is wrong, but just that without realising - just like Barnett argues - what glasses you are looking at the world with, you'll have a lesser chance of getting it right. Just take the question of finding a viable version of the modern state in Pastho country. Or dealing with Hamas. And that understanding necessitates a sense of the history of the West and the Rest in terms of first functional state-building (churches, taxation, armies) and since functional nation-building (schooling, citizens, conscription, suffrage, rights) over the last 3-4-500 years.
This article argues that peacebuilding missions are not merely exercises in conflict management, but instances of a much larger phenomenon: the globalisation of a particular model of domestic governance—liberal market democracy—from the core to the periphery of the international system. Most international organisations engaged in peacebuilding have internalised the broadly liberal political and economic values of the wealthy and powerful industrialised democracies (which comprise the core of the current international system), while nearly all of the countries that have hosted peacebuilding missions are located in the poor and politically weak periphery. Without exception, peacebuilding missions in the post-Cold War period have attempted to ‘transplant’ the values and institutions of the liberal democratic core into the domestic affairs of peripheral host states.