Man Without Qualities

Friday, December 27, 2002

Learning From The Saudis?

InstaPundit writes:

[I]n countries where there's a substantial Islamic population ... the Saudi money is there year in and year out. The U.S. may come in and do things for a few years, but we get distracted and our interest dries up. The Saudis' interest doesn't. They build mosques, they build schools, they provide a lot of medium-influential folks with a secure livelihood and some money to spread around that lets them build up local patronage webs of their own. We could learn from that. Not only should we work to formulate a reputation for steadfastness instead of flightiness (which we'll have to do, over time, by actually being steadfast instead of flighty) but we should also seek to make the Saudi money less reliable by interdicting it -- either at the source, or somewhere along the line.

Professor Reynolds may be right - and his approach evidences his customary and admirable sifting of flawed ideas for whatever grains of gold they may contain. But it is far from clear to the Man Without Qualities that such a model of using American foreign aid money to "provide a lot of medium-influential folks with a secure livelihood and some money to spread around that lets them build up local patronage webs of their own" is itself a very good idea, or that the United States has much to learn from such a model - other than as mostly something to avoid.

Yes, Saudi money does build mosques and schools, as noted in this article from the Washington Times:

[F]or years Saudi petrodollars have financed thousands of madrassahs, the "schools" that have radicalized Islamic students by relentlessly preaching "jihad" (holy war) against Christian and Jewish "infidels." Saudi money has spread the hateful message of Wahhabism throughout Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. In fact, the vitriol that pollutes the Saudi landscape has even found its way to Saudi-sponsored Islamic schools in Virginia.

If this is the kind of "school" the Saudi's are building, it seems likely that the mosques also have a rather politicized and harsh aspect - and, indeed, there is no shortage of reports of radical Islamic clerics holding forth from Saudi-sponsored mosques around the world.

All of this Saudi activity is quite consistent with the current domestic Saudi uber-welfare state, and also quite consistent with Mickey Kaus' observation that such uber-welfare breads uber-terrorism - in France, the middle east and elsewhere. There is substantial agreement now that Saudi Arabia's actions are conducive to terrorism. In my opinion, that is largely structural - not just a matter of who one chooses to subsidize. In any event, creating and financing a large class of influential locals dependent on foreign (that is, United States) government handouts hardly seems a natural way of encouraging democratic capitalism.

Instead, it seems to the Man Without Qualities that the American focus should be on the development of private commercial interests in Third World countries through various free market friendly efforts. One of the most important of those efforts should be a termination of direct and indirect trade barriers and subsidies that impede exports from Third World countries to the developed world, obviously including the United States. Such goods are largely - but not exclusively - agricultural in nature. Everything from EU agricultural policies that irrationally subsidize European farmers to lingering efforts of former imperialist nations to cultivate relations with their old colonies to naked American protectionism - some of it promulgated by the current Administration - should go to the extent possible.

International terrorism strikes at the structures that support democratic capitalism and the efficient operation of its markets. Our reputation for steadfastness should be our reputation for steadfast commitment to allowing economies to exploit their comparative economic advantages, not a reputation for steadfastly being there to finance what seems like a nice project to some government or international agency. The medium-influential folks with a secure livelihood and some money to spread around that lets them build up local patronage webs of their own should be small and medium private businessmen engaging in efficient economic activity - not some crowd on a foreign aid dole. This is all only to state my opinion, and I do not pretend to have provided a full argument supporting that opinion, although I do believe that in large measure to state it is to prove it.

As for interdicting Saudi money - yes, of course. Another argument against the Saudi model is that it has not really worked to the benefit of the Saudi's. These massive Saudi expenditures have probably on the whole reduced Saudi security. Indeed, the Saudi's seems acutely aware that without American support - including military support - the Saudi government would soon reap the whirlwind they have been sowing so steadfastly. The United States should explore ways of using our leverage, Saudi dependency and common sense to argue within the Saudi government and to act through mechanisms outside or even opposed to the Saudi government, to stop that flow of money.

And more efforts should be made to open up the information markets in Third World countries - with private satellite news and the Internet being leading candidates. But China's remorseless efforts to contain and control such outlets are some indication of how hard this path will be.

But the most important American project should be cultivation of electoral democratic forms of government in Third World countries. Democracy is no cure-all and Twentieth Century political experience has shown fairly conclusively that sustainable democracy requires extensive, reliable individual property rights - and therefore some form of capitalism (if only of the attenuated Scandinavian variety). Russia, for example after a long bout of corrupt collectivism followed by a nasty jolt of kleptocracy, seems to have recently convinced itself of the necessity of such things. Government structure - as opposed to local economic and social policy - is something another government is more able to get more right.

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