Thursday, June 10, 2010

Judt on Israel

A friend kindly draws my attention to Tony Judt's NYT op-ed column today, which is worth reading. I would quibble with only a couple of his points, one of which is the statement that "Israel belies the comfortable American cliché that 'democracies don't make war.' "

First, 'democracy promotion' has taken a back seat in the Obama admin's foreign policy compared to that of G.W. Bush (type "democracy promotion" into the search box, top left-hand corner, if you want to see my earlier post on this), so it's not clear that "democracies don't make war" is still considered a truism in official circles, if indeed it ever was. (I haven't read the Obama admin's recently released National Security Strategy, which they're required to churn out periodically, so I don't know what the new NSS says about this, if anything.)

Second, insofar as Judt might perhaps be trying to make a reference to what IR types know as "the democratic peace," he's garbled it. The 'democratic peace' theory (DPT for short) holds that 'mature' or established democracies do not make war with each other. It does not say that democracies are peaceful; it only says they are peaceful in their relations with each other. Thus only a war between two countries that are both considered (or coded) as democratic contradicts DPT. Indeed a whole body of contested research maintains that democracies not only make war, but tend to do so more successfully than non-democracies. This controversy in the literature couldn't exist if there were not a full historical record of democracies' involvement in wars.

OK, so much for the pedantic side-excursion. Judt's main points -- including that Israel should be willing to negotiate with Hamas before Hamas meets all of Israel's current preconditions -- seem right to me.

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