[Ilya Somin (guest-blogging), March 28, 2006 at 6:51pm] Trackbacks
Promoting Democracy vs. Promoting Human Rights II:

A few points building on my earlier post on this subject:

1. Does my claim imply that we are worse off for having occupied Afghanistan and Iraq?

I think not. Despite very serious flaws (and major errors by the Bush Administration), the new Afghan and Iraqi governments are greatly superior to the predecessors - both from the standpoint of US interests and from that of their own people. Being better than the Taliban and Saddam Hussein is not a high standard to shoot for, but it is still an important achievement. However, failing to pay adequate attention to promoting liberal values as well as promoting democracy is likely to both reduce the extent of our success and imperil its longterm viability.

2. Is liberalism harder to promote than electoral democracy?

Many commenters, and some scholars, such as Fareed Zakaria, claim that it is. I am not so sure that this is universally true. Unlike electoral democracy (which usually takes years to provide any real benefits to the population), individual rights provide immediate and tangible benefits to a large number of people. The most dramatic recent examples are Afghani women who can now work outside the home, attend schools, and not wear burkhas. But there are many smaller, but still significant examples, such as the fact that 62% of Iraqis now have cell phones, which were forbidden under Saddam Hussein. Such benefits can be used to strengthen public support for individual freedom. Obviously, radical Islamists will resist efforts to promote individual rights, but they are not exactly big on democracy either. I am not suggesting that promoting individual rights will always be easier than promoting democracy. But there is no reason to believe that the reverse is true, or anything close to it.