The Freedom Agenda Since 9/11
This panel addressed a critical issue in US foreign policy, namely how do we promote freedom in closed societies? The Aspen Ideas Festival assembled a highly distinguished panel to address this issue: John Negroponte, Jane Harman, and surprise guest Sir Nigel Sheinwald, UK Ambassador to the US. The moderator was Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post.
John Negroponte asserted that America has always stood for freedom in the rest of the world, at least since Woodrow Wilson. Furthermore, the direction of history is towards ‘the universalization of Western liberal democracy,’ as Francis Fukuyama says. FDR, anxious not to repeat some of the mistakes of Wilson after World War I, used Bretton Woods to create institutions like the IMF to promote financial stability. Today, the best thing that America can do is ‘foster a secure and prosperous international system.’ (One wonders if Wall Street ever got this memo.)
The problem, as Fred Hiatt pointed out, is that US interests sometimes conflict with the march of democracy. To his credit, Negroponte cut to the chase by acknowledging that we are sometimes forced to strike a Devil’s bargain, e.g., treating Stalin as an ally in World War II. (The crucial role played by the Soviet Union in the defeat of the Axis powers is undeniable, regardless of other considerations.) But he also acknowledged that, from time to time, the US may need to intervene militarily, whether or not our interests are involved.
Jane Harman admitted that she voted for intervention, in the form of the Iraq Resolution, because of the WMD theory. The subsequent explosion of that theory now leads her to question the invasion of Iraq. But she applauds the shift from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism, and sees the freedom agenda now playing out in the so-called Arab Spring. We have seen Act I; Acts II and III are unpredictable. Negroponte said that regardless of the WMD problem, there is still a possibly good outcome in Iraq, as far as democracy is concerned.
Nigel Sheinwald stated that terrorism comes from closed societies, citing the Arab Human Development Report from the UN, which examines topics such as individual freedom, women’s rights and human security in Arab countries. Elections alone don’t equal democracy. The US also needs to help with the mechanics of an open society, such as establishing political parties and processes. ‘Principle and pragmatism need to go hand in hand.’
Panelists seemed to agree that some of this confusion of interests and democracy is really just the avoidance of uncertainty. It is hard to know what the immediate fallout of a regime change will be, even if the long-term direction might be more desirable. Nonetheless, as Jane Harman said, it would be nice if we could stick to our values, and value justice and the rule of law over stability. One simply wonders how realistic that is.
Sheinwald insisted that we need to stick to the broad planks of our public policy and hope that things will develop to our advantage. There was a brief but lively discussion around whether or not the US should explicitly call for Bashar al-Assad to go, since he is no better than Kaddafi. Harman felt that the citizens of Syria should make that call, not the US, and suggested that US involvement in Libya was a ‘shaky call’. Sheinwald pointed out that there was prospect of getting the UN to support military action in Syria, neither would there be any buy-in from other Arab countries.
At question time, I asked about economic sanctions. What is their role going forward, and how do you sanction an oil-rich country? The panel argued that they have worked in Iran somewhat, e.g., by making it harder to raise capital, and also in Serbia. Sanctions also demonstrate international solidarity against some country’s actions, e.g., Iran’s nuclear program. Obviously, other applications of sanctions have been total failures, e.g., Cuba and Zimbabwe.
Another question asked if we will have to get used to Iran having nuclear weapons. The panel agreed unanimously that this was unacceptable, although it was unclear what recourse the rest of the world would have if such weapons were developed in spite of UN Security Council resolutions. Otherwise, this was a satisfying session, with plain speaking from a couple of career diplomats and a former US representative.
Peter Jackson is chief scientist and vice president of Thomson Reuters, where he’s been since 1995. He has built a group of 40 research staff with expertise in the areas of document search, text and data mining, and machine learning. Jackson is also responsible for university collaboration with respect to joint research projects. His most recent book, Natural Language Processing for Online Applications, came out in a second edition in 2007. From 1992 to 1995, Jackson taught post-graduate classes in artificial intelligence and parallel computing at Clarkson University in New York and was a visiting professor at Singapore Polytechnic. In 1988, he moved to the US and became a principal scientist at McDonnell Douglas Research Laboratories. Before coming to the US, he taught in the Department of Artificial Intelligence at Edinburgh University from 1983 to 1988 and wrote the textbook Introduction to Expert Systems.