Kurtz gets it right, but where has he been?

We know from ample experience, even if George and Condi and Karen and Laura and Harriet don’t know it, that democratic elections in Muslim countries will tend to elect jihadists—who are, after all, the Muslim true believers. But here’s another angle on the Muslim democratization problem that has been brought out by Stanley Kurtz today at The Corner. Kurtz has some credibility on the issue, having warned in spring 2003 that the successful reconstruction of Iraq as a self-governing society would require that America take over the country for at least a generation, not just hold a couple of elections. If, Kurtz now writes, democratic elections are held in countries where the government does not already exercise a monopoly on the use of force, then the parties for whom the voters are voting will tend to be armed entities outside the government. Elections in such cases are elections for national disintegration. Kurtz continues:

The notion that elections bring democracy by teaching people to be responsible for their own bad choices simply cannot work in a totally illiberal environment. Our military commitment has been far too small to support our political ambitions. We haven’t disarmed the militias and we haven’t held the territory we’ve cleared. Because we haven’t established security or handed a central power a monopoly of legitimate force, elections have backfired. We’ve been hoping that elections themselves would do the work that only a government monopoly of force and long-term cultural change can do.

Though Kurtz seemed to understand this problem very well before the invasion of Iraq, he has not, to my knowledge, been saying it in the three and a half years since the invasion and its disastrous aftermath, the very period when we desperately needed rational criticism from mainstream respected writers of our mindless and dishonest Iraq policy, which Kurtz could have provided. (Similarly, Kurtz, a vocal opponent of racial preferences, suddenly went totally silent on the issue for months following the disastrous Grutter decision, so depressed was he by the outcome, as he later explained. Kurtz is a smart guy, but, in all fairness, not someone you can count on when the going gets rough.)

I, of course, have been pointing to the democratization problem ad nauseam. Thus I wrote at FrontPage Magazine on April 20, 2004, in words almost identical to what Kurtz is writing now:

What has gone wrong? As I’ve been saying since last summer, the erection of a new government in Iraq presupposes the first law of all governments, that it have a monopoly on the use of force. Yet instead of focusing on the need for such a government and on the practical requirements for creating such a government, we’ve been pouring most of our energy and hopes into creating the mechanisms of democratic elections—imagining, in excited reverie, that the cart of universal rights and democratic proceduralism could pull the horse of sovereign national existence.

- end of initial entry -

Randall Parker writes:

“Kurtz is a smart guy, but, in all fairness, not someone you can count on when the going gets rough.”

This is a big problem. We don’t need fair weather realists. We need realists who speak their minds when the weather is blowing heavily against speaking the truth. In my view people who won’t speak their minds on issues of enormous importance to the nation are simply unpatriotic.

Kurtz is probably sensing that his own intellectual tribe has become sufficiently disillusioned that he can risk being more frank. Well, one can learn useful things from such people when the coast is clear. But for some topics the risks of revealing one’s thoughts last for decades (e.g. race and IQ) and the problems caused by suppression of the truth last for decades too.

* * *

In the original posting of this entry, the sentence which now reads, “Kurtz is a smart guy, but, in all fairness, not someone you can count on when the going gets rough,” had read, “Kurtz is a smart guy, but, in all fairness, not someone you’d want to share a foxhole with.” Mark J. had written to me and, after warmly complimenting VFR, said:

… But why is it necessary to include such a gratuitous insult in your commentary on Kurtz? Not everyone is perfect and tuned in exactly where you are. Some people are in a process of evolution towards the traditionalist conservative position. Sometimes they might not speak up when they could have, sometimes they don’t draw the conclusions they should.

But here a writer says something you agree with and you attack him for not saying it sooner and effectively call him unmanly and a coward. How is that constructive?

I don’t think you have a clear sense of how gratuitously antagonistic you can seem. And I am a guy who is behind you 100 percent. I understand the need to point out where other conservative writers are mistaken, but there’s no need to deliver insults like that. You can come off kind of like the smart kid in class who ridicules other kids when they make a spelling mistake.

Otherwise I am enjoying your posts as always.

LA replied:

I appreciate your thoughts and comments.

I meant that he doesn’t stay steady, that he disappears from an issue when it looks difficult. I can’t overstate the impact it made on me when, in summer 2003, the most important court decision on race preferences in 30 years came down, this horrendous event, and suddenly all the neoconservatives, the people who had said this was the most important domestic issue and the defining idea of America, went into complete silence. Kurtz was among the ones who went silent. then, six months later, he came out with a column at NRO saying he had been so discouraged by the decision that he gave up. Instead of being outraged by the decision and calling the country’s attention to it and attacking it (as I did in piece after piece at VFR and in a big article that was eventually published in Ward Connerly’s newsletter and at FP), he disappeared from the scene.

I was powerfully reminded of that today, when I saw his good piece on Iraq, and remembered a good piece he had written on Iraq in March-April 2003, and then he had disappeared on the issue. And now that it’s become fashionable among the mainstream conservatives to attack Bush’s policy, after three years of this madness, he comes out again with an article attacking Bush’s policy. And I’m thinking, where has he been? So it was like a replay of the Grutter business.

The “foxhole” comment is not intended to mean that someone is unmanly or cowardly. It’s to say that someone cannot be counted on. I find this to be true of the neocons generally. They have taken positions, important positions, that I thought mattered, positions on the culture, positions on race preferences, and then they abandoned them and went over to the other side.

That’s the background of my comment. Saying you wouldn’t want to share a foxhole with someone is strong, but sometimes strong things need to be said. If you think I’m wrong for saying it in a published article, and that it’s a gratuitous insult and unconstructive and I’m acting like the smart guy and so on, you have a right to your opinion and you may be right. I take your opinion seriously.

LA, still thinking, continued:
Kurtz did an incredible thing in 2003. He went AWOL on a topic to which he was devoted, at the moment when it was most important for him to be standing his ground against Grutter and awakening people to what had happened. Then months later he comes out with an article telling us that he had been so bummed out about Grutter that he didn’t have the heart to write about it. Frankly, if he felt that way, he shouldn’t have said it. It was like announcing to the world, “I’m a weakling, don’t depend on me.”

And the same with the Iraq and democracy issue. For three years I’ve been repeating like a maniac, “Where is the debate? Why is no one in the rational mainstream forcefully challenging these absurd statements from the Bush supporters such as that elections equal the successful creation of a democracy, and that we’re winning in Iraq because we’re building schools?” I repeatedly referenced Kurtz’s Spring 2003 article about how long it would take to change Iraq, from which it followed that if a generations-long stay there in order to achieve profound cultural change was not practicable, then the whole idea of what we were trying to do there was highly questionable. But he himself did not follow through on his own insight from 2003. He was nowhere to be seen on the issue. He was AWOL, most likely because it would have cost him too much to have challenged the pro-Bush orthodoxy of mainstream conservatism. And now, when it won’t cost him anything, he comes out with this article.

So I think it’s correct to criticize him. However, this does not address the question of whether I make myself look bad with the “foxhole” comment.

After sending that e-mail, I came to think that the “foxhole” comment was, as Mark J. had said, gratuitously strong, and I changed it to something softer. At the same time, I felt that my explanations of why I have such passion on this issue and had initially used such language, and why I finally changed it, would be worth posting, and so I’ve done so.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 28, 2006 12:49 PM | Send

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