Trade, not democracy

Few but Mr. Bush’s dogged 29% now believe spreading democracy by force was a good stabilization strategy.

Can we find any useful insight at all, lost in the neoconservative disaster that is Iraq? Well… almost. OK, they were wrong about democracy, and wrong about using force, so their wrongness is at least 99.7% pure. But there is something rich countries can spread, by policy and by example, that automatically creates stability.

Trade and investment.

Why is this stabilizing? Because economic interdependency complicates projection of military power. Governments and citizens (particularly merchants) depend upon stability of input supplies and investments, and don’t want to rock the boat.

It’s no accident that the “axis of evil” happens to be a group of relative outcasts from the global trading system. In a confrontation between one of them and the U.S., both sides have less money to lose in a confrontation, and thus war becomes more likely.

Among the three, Iran is the most economically integrated, and thus least likely to be a threat. Look at Iran’s incentives. They are one of the more economically isolated countries in the world, and yet are absolutely dependent upon the price of oil. Could they use a proxy army (aka terrorist) to plant nukes in U.S. cities right now? Yes. Will they? No. Why? The price of oil would collapse, and with it their own economy. Even Iran’s hands are tied by its limited participation in the global trading system.

Viewed this way, it looks mistaken to economically isolate countries whose policies we don’t like. Yet this is consistently what we do. The right answer is the opposite: kill them with kindness, by throwing the trading and investment doors wide open.

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