Democracy and Open Markets

A Review of:
Ikenberry, G. John. “Why Export Democracy?” Wilson Quarterly, Spring 1999, pp. 56-65.

In general, I accept John Ikenberry’s arguments. It gets right to the debate of whether Bush-43 is a Wilsonian liberal who act like a Realist or a Realist who talks like a Wilsonian Liberal. I am mostly convinced that Mr. Bush is part of a grand liberal strategy. However, I accept this with the understanding that, as Ikenberry states, the liberal grand strategy is a composite of liberal internationalism and European realism. Ikenberry himself has serious problems with Bush43’s foreign policy:

Though it may seem trivial, it also seems to me that we could do better than the “American liberal grand strategy.” Its been mentioned that there are too many uses of the word ‘liberal,’ so why doesn’t someone come up with something distinctive? It’s too easy to confuse Classical liberalism, Economic liberalism, Wilsonian-International liberalism, American domestic liberalism, and now this “American liberal grand strategy.”

Back to the original question about the connection between democracy and open markets: Again, I accept most of what Ikenberry has to offer, but I think he glosses over some inconvenient facts. He makes an excellent case for this “American liberal grand strategy” as the hidden foreign policy of the past century. I was especially taken to the point in paragraph 31 on how multilateral institutions “concentrate resources, create continuity of American leadership, and avert the political backlash that would otherwise be triggered by heavy handed American foreign policy unilateralism.” Ikenberry wrote this way back in 99, but more recently he wrote that all world institutions are weakening: On the one hand people can certainly make the argument that America has been heavy-handed and that there has been a backlash, but I wonder if you could also make the argument that –without multilateral institutions and the existence of “the Hidden American liberal grand strategy”- it could have been or could be worse? Perhaps, this is as realist as an American President can get, yet when you compare it to European realism or Kissinger’s dreams, then its still on the Wilsonian side of the pendulum?

I was also impressed with the argument in paragraph 29… the idea that institutions are a uniquely American contribution to internationalism and that it stems from the belief in checks and balances and “constitutional device…to limit power.” This brings us back to the debate on the essence of regimes…are regimes tools of power or international organs that help manage the international system?

I could keep going on about what I liked about Ikenberry, but I also wanted to touch upon some of my concerns: First of all, I’m sorry, but I’ve been bottling this in for three semesters…I’m getting tired of everyone patting Wilson on the back. Yes, his vision of a new world order is important, but everyone lauds him for being pro-democracy (in this piece Paragraphs 6 & 9), yet domestically he was NOT pro-democracy. He continued to disenfranchise most of the American population: Black men and all women. To give him credit for being ahead of his time in international affairs means one must also give him blame for not being as ahead of his times in terms of domestic equality. He wanted all people to have self-determination, yet wouldn’t recognize women’s right to self-determination… that seems to be quite the contradiction to me. Wilson also was anti-immigrant and bitterly blamed Irish and German ethnic groups in the US for the failure of Versailles. All of these characteristics could be explained away by saying poor Wilson was a man of his times, its not his fault, but then isn’t it equally possible that his was a man of his times in terms of his international political views… Maybe The League was nothing more than a dressed up reinvention of the Congress of Vienna? After all, self-determination within the victorious states was ignored (Irish, Scottish, Basque, Philippines, etc) and was only imposed on the defeated states, especially Austria-Hungary, just like Greater France was broken up at the Congress of Vienna. Maybe it’s more Mills/Rousseau, and less Wilson? Maybe Wilson is just the face and name given to a concept that is really more appropriately credited to others? OK, I know I’m going overboard, but I just wanted to bring Wilson down from deification and back to mere mortalness.

Secondly, in his attempt to create a uniform “Hidden American liberal grand strategy” Ikenberry is selective about what history he includes. In paragraph 41, he champions Reagan as a defender of democracy and the rule of law, yet Iran-Contra, Nicaragua v. USA, the training of death squads in El Salvador… these don’t sound like expansions of democracy and the rule of law.

Thirdly, Paragraph 26…Is Clinton’s statement still accurate in light of China’s ability to censor Google and yahoo? How much is really getting in if it’s filtered?

Next, paragraph 17… if economic development creates a rising middle class, then how do you explain the disappearing American middle-class? Is the US no longer economically developed or is it possible that economic development creates a temporary middle class and then the system collapses back in on itself in a kind of oscillating economic theory?

Finally, the third sentence…how many times did Ikenberry and his editors read this and we have ‘loins’ instead of ‘joins’? Ok, that was a cheap shot…

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