Immanuel Kant’s introduction of "democratic peace theory" into philosophical discourse held that a majority of people, when given the choice, would only go to war in self-defense. It was not until the 1970s that the idea became a topic of serious discussion in political science circles.
In reality, this is a shaky proposition whose modern trunk is rooted in a Cold-War world split in a way very different than today’s fractured planet. The widespread destruction caused by World War II appeared to many political engineers as a blackboard upon which to build better and more representative societies.
This Monday, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke in Independence, Missouri, home of Harry S Truman and just a few miles from where I grew up. Annan reminded us of Truman’s strong support of the UN, and the spirit with which the 33rd president approached foreign policy.
"No Nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others," Truman said.
While chauvinism may not have been its primary reason for success, the United States emerged from the Cold War as the world’s only Hyperpower. Economic strength and unparalleled military might sowed the temptation not just to democratize the world, but to Ameriform it.
Those Pesky Venusians
Back to science fiction and Verne’s ilk: The term "terraforming" has come to mean the crafting of hospitable, earth-like conditions on alien worlds. Interestingly, the first example of terraforming in sci-fi appeared in Olaf Stapledon’s 1930 book Last and First Men. In this novel, a six-fingered human species conquers and terraforms Venus after a long and destructive war with the native Venusians.
Now, though we United-Statians have only five fingers, our terrestrial adventures have created new political atmospheres based on devastating military victories. Germany and Japan are now the world’s second and third strongest economies, but were the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima necessary preconditions for prosperity?
Let’s not forget that Vietnam, abandoned to communism by the Americans in 1975, will join the World Trade Organization at the beginning of 2007.
Ameriforming, being the creation of America-like political and economic conditions in foreign lands, is an understandable inclination for any nation tempted by regional or global hegemony.
If this seems exaggerated, you need only read the Statement of Principles from the neoconservative think tank known as the Project for the New American Century, whose pundits were the intellectual architects of the Iraq invasion and are among the chief advocates of Ameriforming.
"We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership.
As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?
We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan Administration’s success: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States‘ global responsibilities."
Belief in one’s own superiority can be viral. China is currently pressing forward with an impressive campaign of "soft diplomacy" around the world, reminding Asian nationals of common Chinese cultural roots while establishing Confucius Institutes as far away as Kansas to project the benign power of the Waking Dragon.
Russia, a gargantuan country which, along with China, promises to drive much of the world’s economic growth in this century, is asserting its power through natural resource leverage and the polonium-tinged suppression of dissidents living abroad.
Even militant Islam aims to create a world in the image of the ancient Caliphate. Perhaps this is "terrorforming," but the phenomenon at the non-state level is comparable to the motivation of national actors.
Think about it: If you think you have the best game in town, wouldn’t you want everyone else to play?
Changing the Game
There are, however, unintended consequences of political transformation, especially when such change entails a switch from autocratic rule to representative democracy.
See, for example, the sweeping victory enjoyed by the radical Islamist organization Hamas in recent Palestinian parliamentary elections. "I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered in pathetic response. "It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."
What Ms. Rice (or whomever she chooses to blame) did not see coming was the powderkeg of the plebiscite. The strength of cell-based groups like Hamas rests primarily at the local level, where services provided lead to support among the resident voting base.
As Hamas-like groups grow in opposition to ruling parties such as the PLO-derived Fatah, they consolidate power.
Where totalitarian governments have suppressed fractious ethnic groups in places like the former Yugoslavia and Iraq, democratic reformers soon realize that men like Josip Broz Tito and Saddam Hussein were dictatorial crazy glue, uniting factions through fear.
Can the US afford more such experiments as long as it is expected to clean up the mess?
Perhaps some think that chaos and misery are catalysts of stable, peace-loving democracies. But there is no American taste for endless expenditures on dubious Ameriforming projects.
And maybe that’s why last week, just two days before the Iraq Study Group released its recommendations on how to remedy the failed US-led Mesopotamian project, NASA announced plans for a permanent base on the moon to be implemented starting in 2020.
As Jules Verne once wrote, "Science . . . is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth."
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