Ross Douthat lets a very nasty cat out of the bag in his response to a Corner post by Michael Ledeen in which Michael applauds the American involvement in the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, small as that involvement was, as an example of what we can do in behalf of democracy. Douthat doesn’t see the parallels in other situations:
Finally, and not to get too old-fashioned-realist here, but . . . the Iranians are not “our people.” Neither are the Syrians, the Saudis, the Chinese, or the North Koreans. And they do not become “our people” just by believing in democracy, or even by establishing democratic self-government. An Iranian democracy would be a good thing in countless ways — but it would also probably be just as hell-bent as the current regime on acquiring nuclear weapons, flexing its muscles in Iraq, and perhaps even sponsoring anti-Israeli terrorism. As such, it would be our strategic rival, not our brother nation, even were its constitution copied word-for-word from ours.
Although Michael is my friend, I certainly don’t need to do his battles for him. Indeed, we don’t agree on everything. But this statement by Douthat seemed peculiar–and not just because of the off-puttingly racist locution of “our people,” made espeically so in the light of the horrendous tsunami disaster in Asia. (Are these people our people?) And without rehearsing the WMD argument,which in terms of all these nations (and Iraq) should encompass the hugely dangerous proliferation issue, vastly more important than whether Saddam had gas canisters lying around or whether he destroyed them or hid them under some Syrian sand dune (who knows and finally who cares?). Anyone who doesn’t think Saddam would have delighted in nuclear weapons and in the post A. Q Khan world was only a phone call or two away from them is not thinking straight. Who does Mr. Douthat believe was going to monitor those calls? The United Nations?
The problem is that Douthat et al have no answer other than the snide to Ledeen’s optimism because they have no answer, no proposal, at all. They offer fashionable hard-boiled realism which, in the end, is only laziness. Whoever said democracy would be easy in those places? (Maybe some did, but they were wrong in that. But that doesn’t make them wrong in their intention.) We are in this for the long haul, the very long haul. I would suggest Mr. Douthat suck it up and give the optimists their due. They’re the ones driving the car forward… unless he has a better concrete suggestion.
Special note to Mr. Douthat: I was fairly involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties, went down South on all the Freedom Ride stuff. (Yeah, I’m that old.) As I recall that took a long time, but it was worth it. Give the Iranians a shot too. They’re worth it. Remember John Donne… No Man is an Island… I know it’s optimistic, but think about it. Or as they say in zen–you don’t get there by trying, but you can’t get there if you don’t try.
UPDATE: Apparently Mr. Douthat thinks I misunderstood him. If that’s so, I apologize, but would point out that many did also. I notice too that he seems most concerned that someone in the comments called him the “L” word. As one who has been called a liberal, conservative, communist, neocon, etc., ad nauseum at various times in his life and sometimes all at once, I used to be pretty upset about that form of mischaracterization as well. Now I take it as a badge of honor.
MORE: Ledeen replies eloquently.