Not so long ago I was sent an article by Niall Ferguson entitled The origins of the Great War of 2007 and how it could have been prevented
The article relies heavily on the trite argument that a reluctant attitude to engaging in conflict with oppressive regimes is appeasement and has the potential for erupting into a ‘great war’. In effect, Ferguson is advocating a war against Iran in the name of spreading democracy, Iraq – part two. He’s a firm believer and does not seem to accept any other reality, like the descent of Iraq into civil war, the reluctance and obstruction of the US to allow democratic elections in Iraq and so on. Somehow I’m fascinated by such blind faith that sees no evil (in one camp at least) and reiterates its basic tenet of democratisation through the war on terror now re-branded ‘the long war’. Ferguson, alongside his neo-con friends, gives signs of paranoia. Unlike them, however, he’s an historian and historian should refrain from playing politics. His call to arms (against Iran) erases complexity from past and present reality with the brush of ideology. Ferguson argues in his work for a liberal empire (read USA) spreading democracy to oppressive regimes (albeit not those with nuclear capability) through active engagement (read ‘bombs’).
To spread democracy by waging war delegitimises democracy and takes away its very meaning. Democracy is founded on civil and political rights such as free speech and freedom of assembly; on a free press and an exchange with the outside world, and is exercised by civil society.
The ugly reality of oppressive regimes makes the process of democratisation difficult and particularly slow. Democratisation is not, alas, for the impatient or the obstinate. Ferguson is to historians what celebrity chefs are to professional chefs, they make up for their lack of talent with shouting.
If the neo-cons, like Ferguson, opened their eyes, they would see the discontent and frustration of Iranian youth, their aspirations for freedom, and the democratic reforms and moves (albeit weak and patchy) achieved in Iran in recent years, partly due to the efforts of the EU.
In fact, if European member states worked together in foreign policy instead of against one another, much more progress would have been made by now through ‘soft power’ to spread democracy. Iran has a complex reality (see article on Prospect) that needs not radicalising, but Ferguson likes simple ideas like the one of pre-emption to be implemented more or less only by the US on the alleged grounds of being a ‘liberal democracy’.
Simple ideas are dangerous. They essentialise certain aspects of reality while obliterating others. All is seen through the kaleidoscope of ideology with no regard for complexities, contradictions and plurality, the very essence of democracy. I’m reminded of a parable, of Nimrod wanting to build unity through dominance and control, through the tower of Babel. The only way out of anarchy was the annihilation of diversity, of different points of views and lifestyles. And God intervened and confounded their speech.