When does universal improvement get in the way of the national interest?
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But such a class act should not be an invitation to extreme moderation. You can go too far in the direction of “best is enemy of acceptable” kind of thinking. By looking the other way during 20 years of questionable procedural practices in Mali, not just at election time but in the whole way the state functioned, up to and very much including the manner in which its high officials “administered” foreign aid, neither we nor the French, who were with us probably the Western power most invested in the idea of the “Malian model” of liberal democratic development in West Africa, we contributed to turning Mali into a Pokemkin village, behind whose democratic papier mache sets were the far more consequential practices of a corrupt state.
This state was rescued in the eleventh hour from the jihado-criminal gangs whose activities it had tolerated if not enabled by our gallant French allies, with some background help (logistics, transport, aerial surveillance from us) and the tactical knowhow and desert toughness of the thousands of troops from Chad brought in to reinforce French forces. Thus the grandsons of men who joined Leclerc’s tank columns in the epic of Free France more than half a century ago and made their way north to rendezvous with Montgomery and trap the Nazi desert fox in his lair, now are battling the Sahara radicals in the Ifhogas mountains of Mali’s northeast, once again under French leadership, if not formal command.
The French have stated they cannot stay indefinitely, though they have been flexible in defining their return date. Our own position is that our aid to Mali depends on the resumption of democratic procedures, and specifically the holding of a presidential election — the one that should have been held last April but was spoiled by a putsch led by a U.S.-trained captain — as soon as possible, the current target date being July.
It is, be it said parenthetically, interesting how our democratic scruples evaporate the moment the damn thing known as the will of the majority becomes inconvenient. In the Falklands, an ancient English land off the coast of South America, the population recently affirmed overwhelmingly, in a free and fair election, its allegiance to the Union Jack. Yet in the face of huffing and puffing from the Peronist ruling clique in Argentina regarding spurious claims to what they call the Malvinas, our government — our administration, more exactly — chooses to ignore the democracy it invokes elsewhere — in Mali for example — and hems and haws about divergent interpretations as to the islands’ status. What the islanders actually want and have made clear they want, the Obama administration views with contempt. But I digress.
However, the French, too, are susceptible to democratic scruples. After all, they are a democracy. Their republic is a democracy. It might be well for conservatives to think about this when they can get their minds off the what-ifs and what-nexts that filled their minds during the warm and good-natured CPAC weekend. Are we a republic or are we a democracy? Is our democracy undermining our republic, or would republican virtues be too austere for our democratic appetites? Do you conduct foreign policy as a democracy with moral principles or as a republic with national interests?
Republicans abroad and democrats at home, the French sent their own and Chad’s finest into Mali’s embattled north and chased out of it the katibas of the terrorist internationale. They took no prisoners. They permitted no press. The first condition depends on the second, due to democratic scruples in France. In France, the ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who once allowed as how being president of France was a pain because the money was not good enough. The current president, François Hollande, could have answered, in republican fashion, using tu not vous, Robespierre speaking to Danton, On y est pour nettoyer la chienlit que tu y a mis en allant chercher la gloire en Libye. We are cleaning up the mess brought on by your glorymongering in Libya. But he did not. He said, like a democrat, We are there because the north of the country has been taken over by men who oppress women.
Note that we did the same. Why are we still fighting in Afghanistan? Because we want to end the oppression of women, put a halt to fraud at the polls, and give the National Endowment for Improvement something for which to claim credit. I do not equate oppression of women with fraud at the polls. Maybe there is a correlation and we cannot fix one without fixing the other.
Northern Mali, which fell under the sway of Islamic yahoos last year due to the ineptitudes and shortcomings of the Malian leadership, has not been a good place for a woman to live lately. But then it has not been a good place for a woman to live ever. Mali in general, not only in the north, is one of the places where what they call female genital mutilation is widely practiced. Universally? No, but widely. It is impolite to ask, but doctors and human rights activists give you their estimates, and they are alarming. Reportedly it got worse last year, and now it is back to what would be considered normal, but their normal is not our normal.
Has it become impossible to say — as a matter of fact, not of political preference — that their normal is not our normal? Or is the aim of our foreign policy to make our normal — which keeps changing — everybody else’s normal?
Democracy in Kenya is applauded, notably by our new secretary of state, who sent a message of congratulations to the voters. He did not send a word to the putative winner. It could have been tact — knowing there was a challenge underway, it might be well to hold back until you are sure who is in.
However, it is also a fact that in 2007, then-Senator Obama and at present Mr. Kerry’s boss and benefactor, visiting Kenya, spoke in favor of his cousin Raila Olinga. This was altogether unprecedented in the history of senatorial political tourism. It is one thing for our solons, whether or not they are considering runs of the White House, to visit the three I’s and taste the humus, the pasta, and the cabbage; it is, or was, quite another thing to inject themselves into another country’s political campaign. We do have some traditions of doing it on the sly — the famous help brought to the Christian Democrats in the 1948 Italian elections, or the clean election seminars brought to such countries as Egypt by our democracy missionaries (well, if we can help get the Catholic party into power in a Catholic country, why not help the Muslim party get into power in a Muslim country?) But the 2007 campaign in Kenya took the notion of playing favorites to a new level. It is not completely unreasonable to think that one reason Raila cried foul and sent his people into the street was that he had been given to think that “the Americans” — we were still an awesome power then, with a reputation for getting things done — would intervene.
We did not, and the winners struck back with the full force not only of the state but of their own tribal militias, so it is alleged, and this on the strength of Mr. Kenyatta’s mobilization and incitement of same. This is why the prosecutors of the ICC indicted him. You have to be careful of what you say to people, they take words as promises. You cannot help yourself sometimes. Peace in our time. Korea outside our defensive perimeter. Hungary shall be free. Words. Terrible consequences.
The Odingas were and are, since independence, the limousine liberals of Kenyan politics, and it should be recalled they took this trait to dangerous lengths, flirting with the Soviets when the latter were players in the African great game. Their footsie-play with East Africa’s Islamist movements never has been explained satisfactorily. Maybe it was just a matter of two outs joining against the ins. It could have been a case of épater le bourgeois, the sort of political recklessness that explains, though only up to a point, the Western left’s occasional infatuation with overtly anti-Western causes. Then, too, if you are anti-bourgeois to the extent of having played games with the Soviets, why not continue the game by other means? At any rate, to the degree radical Islam has a wire into Kenyan politics, it is via the Luo, who like other Kenyans are predominantly Catholics and Anglicans.
Raila played all this down, to be sure, during his premiership and during the recent campaign. In a democracy candidates present themselves as they are, or as they wish to be, or as they wish to be perceived. The voters choose. It is tough enough making the system work, as a way to pick a government, when you speak their language and have some understanding of their family backgrounds. Whether we should factor into our strategic decisions how well we like the way the system works in a distant country is a tough question. Which may be why we seldom talk about it.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online