In justifying the War in Iraq, it has been continually maintained by the United States that violent regime change in Iraq to install a democracy will not only produce a peaceful, democratic Iraq, but also provide an “inspiring example” for other such rouge nations. A clear example of this rhetoric turned to policy can be found in an executive memorandum by the Heritage Foundation’s James A. Phillips, in which he says the post-Saddam goal for the United States in Iraq is that of “building a stable, democratic, pro-American Iraqi government.” These claims are based on the democratic peace argument, which maintains that democracies do not go to war with one another. Arguments such as this, which propose security through homogeneity, though initially compelling and appearing to be inductively justified, when analyzed are categorically dubious. Moreover, if the US truly waged war on Iraq -- a substantial political and financial investment -- on the grounds that installing a democracy would be in its best interests as well as a move towards a greater peace, it did so either foolishly or to serve other interests. As I will show -- and I expect top-level officials already know -- arguments proposing security through homogeneity (STH) are fatally flawed except as a means to rhetorically justify further systemic hegemony or promote other interests.
Today, the STH argument can be found everywhere in the form of “democratic peace” arguments, like the one being used to justify nation building in Iraq. Francis Fukuyama in his famous End of History spiel argues that liberal democracies are the highest possible form of human governance and that we should not expect to find any better system. Rather, we should promote democracy as a means of enlightening the world and bringing peace. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argues generally the same line, but using McDonald’s fast food restaurants as the beacon of hope, rather than directly appealing to political institutions as evidence. He argues that two countries that both have McDonald’s have never, after getting those McDonalds, waged war with one another, and thus, never will as long as they have a McDonald’s. McDonald’s represent a level of economic liberalism the people of those countries expected their government to provide. Consumerism at that level, Friedman claims, cannot afford priorities being shifted from economics to war. Ideas about liberal peace such as these are nothing new however. Some date liberal STH arguments back to Immanuel Kant’s 1795 essay, “Perpetual Peace,” in which he outlines the articles by which states should abide to insure perpetual peace. All three of these variations, however, make the same general claim: liberal democracies do not make war with one another, so thus, to insure world peace, promote liberal democracies – much like what the United States purports to be doing in Iraq.
STH arguments are not isolated to liberalism however. It is not uncommon for proselytizing a given religion to be justified as practical means of promoting peace. Some missionaries believe that if the entire world were Christian, submitting to one ruler, then world peace could be achieved. However, these arguments do not stand up to historical evidence where for centuries in European Christian nations constantly waged war with one another, even those of the same denominations. The same can be said for Muslim nations and other religions. Trotsky in The War and the International and Lenin in Socialism and War claim that Communist countries, being run by the proletariat of each nation, will never war with another. Because the proletariat, they suggest, will understand each other’s pain of subjection, they will have no desire to oppress one another. So, once the revolution happens in all countries of the world, war will cease for all time. Substituting the specifics of STH arguments, one can generalize these arguments into an analytical philosophical form:
(1) Members of Ideology A do not wage war with one another.
(2) For some country x and for another country y, x is a member of ideology A and y is a member of ideology A.
(3) So x and y will not make war with one another.
(4) Thus, if all countries were members of ideology A, then no country would make war with another.
Put this way, we can see how to falsify the arguments simply by providing a counter-example. If we instantiate the argument with the USSR and communist China as our countries and communism as our ideology, as Joseph Nye implicitly does in his book Understanding Global Conflicts, then it would go as follows:
(1) Communist countries do not go to war with one another.
(2) The USSR is communist and China is communist.
(3) So the USSR and China will not go to war with one another.
(4) Thus, if all countries were communist – like the USSR and China, then wars would cease.
However, we need to add to the argument an empirical fact: the USSR and China did wage war with another, in 1969. So, to our argument we have to add the following premise, which denies premise (3):
(5) The USSR and China did go to war with another.
As this is contradictory to (3), it provides a sufficient counter-example to bring down the entire instantiated argument.
When an entire theory can be brought down with one counter-example, obvious defenses present themselves. One can object in two ways. One, by denying that at least one of the said countries was truly a member of the given ideology. Communists, defending Trotsky or Lenin, might argue that perhaps either the USSR or China was not really ‘communist’ in their actions leading up to the war. Just like in the case of a Christian world peace argument, one can claim that if two Christian countries wage war with one another, at the time, at least one of them was not really Christian, but just purporting to be. In the case of communism, it is often argued the Soviet Union was acting imperially, not communistically. When faced with a counter-example, one can simply deny the truth of instantiating the argument with said countries. But, often redefining terms is a difficult undertaking. Saying the USSR was indeed acting imperially -- the ideological opposite of communism -- it forces both Marxists and capitalists authors to substantially readjust their views. Many capitalists point to the USSR as an example of the failures of communism, but if they accept that the USSR was only quasi-communist, they no longer have a “failure” to point to. And, for Marxists, if the USSR is not to be considered a true communist country, they have the substantial task presented then to point out what went wrong both in theory and in practice after (or perhaps during) the revolution. Choosing to redefine terms is often makes the problem much more complicated than most people would like. One is also faced with convincing others that a redefinition is in order.
The second way to avoid defeat by counter-examples is by further qualifying the argument given. Neo-liberals are experts at this. Thomas Friedman puts an indefinite timeline on how long the Golden Arches Theory will actually hold true, saying that indeed it will some day be proved wrong. This amounts to more than a nod in the direction of geopolitics, but he presents the Gold Arches Theory as a means of proving the irrelevancy of geopolitics. Which is it, Tom? He also qualifies his argument by saying countries can regress into their post liberal forms and that NATO, which is not actually a country, can wage war with McCountries without undermining his theory. When faced with the Kosovo War, in which NATO bombed Yugoslavia, Friedman simply elaborates on these vague qualifications. Fukuyama also offers an indefinite time limit to application of his argument as well, saying it only makes predictions for the long run -- how ever long that is. And, of course, also permits regress from liberalism and “cultural” incompatibilities with liberal democracies to cause conflicts, again two very vague factors. While qualifying an argument for the sake of clarity and nuance is vital to any good essay, vague and general qualifications serve not to enlighten the reader so much as to prove the author correct.
What the failures of vague qualifications and redefining terms amounts to is that STH arguments cannot stand up very well to the abundant counter-examples world events offer us, as well as point out how flimsy the notion of ideologies are in the first place. These arguing tactics make the ideologies extremely porous by elucidating the conceptual failures requiring patchwork. When arguing against Marxists theories of war, nearly every author coming from the right of Jimmy Carter points to the Sino-Soviet conflict as an indisputable refutation of communism. Friedman says when the Kosovo War happened, out from the woodwork came all sorts of realist and Cold Warrior critics to challenge his theory. These critics, he claims, are stuck in Cold War era of the West versus the rest, who obviously do not buy into his neo-liberal ideology of markets before nations. What Friedman and the Marxists who continue to defend Leninist and Trotskyite theories of war fail to realize is that their critics are indubitably pointing out holes in their respective ideologies. One must realize that ideologies have no metaphysical reality of their own and cannot exist as real entities in any way outside the policies of a state and the recommendations that go into forming those policies.
I am not trying to argue against the importance or relevancy of ideologies -- they continue to shape political events today and offer vital insight. But, politicians, policy-makers, and world leaders do not act solely on ideological tenets, and nor do they constantly act outside of an ideology. Karl Marx wrote not because he believed so heavily in his own ideas (As a matter of fact, Marx has been quoted as saying, “All I know is I’m not a Marxist”) but because he thought oppression was something worth fighting against and, like any author, he thought his ideas were worthy of being published. The point I wish to make is that though he created the most discussed and debated political ideology of all time, he was not an ideological thinker. Realists today usually are synonymous with conservatives and Republicans, but Marx is also considered a realist in so far as he committed himself to practical political concerns. Ideologies, as Marx knew, are created by people, not discovered. Carl von Clausewitz, generally considered the most influential military theorist to date, and who also heavily influenced Marx, laid down a practical answer for why countries go to war. War, he claimed, is simply a matter of pursuing national policies through other means. Those who wish to truly understand international conflicts only foolishly ignore Clausewitz and place too much importance on ideological underpinnings of war -- whether that ideology be liberalism, communism, or an “ideology of hate”.
Ideologies, including the one currently being pushed on the Iraqis by the US, often serve more to justifying actions, than they do to actually create just actions. While some ideologies may be more just than others, it is very rare that people actually choose to adhere to one for the sake of its justness, rather than choose to adhere to that ideology because it serves their interests. In this country, conservatives are more apt to enforce “deregulation” policy, while liberals are more apt to better fund universities. Is it any wonder then, that wealthy business owners who benefit from deregulation are often Republicans and academics who benefit from better funding are often Democrats? In Iraq, the US has a lot to gain by opening up their markets to our oil barons. If the US can open Iraqi markets by pushing a neo-liberal governmental institution on them -- while at the same time, arguing they waged war to insure a democratic peace -- they appear to score twice. Likely though, the rhetoric about democracy surrounding Middle East policy serves more to convince people to favor the war who, if were told the war is simply about US hegemony and oil control, would be outraged. Ideologies are used first and foremost to mobilize people around a general cause --– liberation of the proletariat or the market place -- but none are without holes, and no ideology can prevent or stop war, only people can do that.
Adam Williams studies Political Science and
Philosophy at Indiana University, and works part-time as a computer
programmer. He is currently finishing his senior honors thesis about
Chomskyan nativism. He can be reached at: