Thursday, July 21, 2005

Alliances with the Devil, in Order to Fight the Greater Evil — Partnerships that Are Necessary and Temporary

Charles Krauthammer has
tried to draw a distinction between a more expansive and a more restrictive neoconservative foreign policy. I [call] the two types, respectively, democratic globalism and democratic realism.

The chief spokesman for democratic globalism is the president himself, and his second inaugural address is its ur-text. What is most breathtaking about it is not what most people found shocking--his announced goal of abolishing tyranny throughout the world. Granted, that is rather cosmic-sounding, but it is only an expression of direction and hope for, well, the end of time. What is most expansive is the pledge that America will stand with dissidents throughout the world, wherever they are.

This sort of talk immediately opens itself up to the accusation of disingenuousness and hypocrisy. After all, the United States retains cozy relations with autocracies of various stripes, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Russia. Besides, if we place ourselves on the side of all dissidents everywhere, must we not declare our solidarity not only with democrats but with Islamist dissidents sitting in Pakistani, Egyptian, Saudi and Russian jails?

But we do not act this way, and we need not. The question of alliances with dictators, of deals with the devil, can be approached openly, forthrightly and without any need for defensiveness. The principle is that we cannot democratize the world overnight and, therefore, if we are sincere about the democratic project, we must proceed sequentially. Nor, out of a false equivalence, need we abandon democratic reformers in these autocracies. On the contrary, we have a duty to support them, even as we have a perfect moral right to distinguish between democrats on the one hand and totalitarians or jihadists on the other.

In the absence of omnipotence, one must deal with the lesser of two evils. That means postponing radically destabilizing actions in places where the support of the current nondemocratic regime is needed against a larger existential threat to the free world. There is no need to apologize for that. In World War II we allied ourselves with Stalin against Hitler. (As Churchill said shortly after the German invasion of the U.S.S.R.: "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.") This was a necessary alliance, and a temporary one: When we were done with Hitler, we turned our attention to Stalin and his successors.

During the subsequent war, the Cold War, we again made alliances with the devil, in the form of a variety of right-wing dictators, in order to fight the greater evil. Here, again, the partnership was necessary and temporary. Our deals with right-wing dictatorships were contingent upon their usefulness and upon the status of the ongoing struggle. Once again we were true to our word. Whenever we could, and particularly as we approached victory in the larger war, we dispensed with those alliances.