Debate ponders force, liberty

Can democracy spread via might?

Staff WriterSeptember 24, 2006 

Americans have long fought wars abroad in the name of spreading democracy. But should we?

That question summoned more than 100 people to the Exploris Museum in downtown Raleigh on Saturday to hear a panel of war history experts take sides. Tensions ran high as experts and audience alike hooted, heckled and applauded the range of viewpoints.

The debate drew college professors and intellectuals, high school students and an "average Joanne voter," as one woman described herself.

The free event, titled "Should the U.S. use force to establish democratic governments?" was sponsored by American Diplomacy magazine and the International Affairs Council. The purpose: Explore possible options for fostering Western-style democracy, from diplomatic "moral suasion" to all-out military invasion, with the war in Iraq as a backdrop.

The panel included U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Chapel Hill; James Lee, retired lieutenant general for the U.S. Army; Joseph Glatthaar, chairman of the Peace, War and Defense program at UNC-Chapel Hill; and Robin Dorff, executive director of the Institute of Political Leadership. Here's some of what they said about the event's main question:


"The answer is 'no' when one considers the blunders of this administration," Price said. "Doing so violates the tenets of our own American experience, mainly independence and self-determination."

Price, a member of the Homeland Security subcommittee and ranking Democrat on the House Democracy Assistance Commission, questioned whether military might can ever bring about a stable, functioning democracy. "Democracy means more than just holding elections," Price said. "It's hard to point to many examples of coerced democracy-building."

Price represents the Fourth District, which includes Durham and Orange counties and parts of Wake and Chatham counties.

Despite opposition to military intervention, he acknowledges the reality of world conflict and of U.S. military forces abroad. He urges U.S. policymakers to seek international unity and to commit more painstakingly to planning a rebuilding process before toppling a foreign regime.


"Force should be used overseas as necessary to guarantee the safety and freedom of the American people," Lee said. "Sometimes a regime change is necessary to do that, ... and it's always best to try and create a democratic government after the defeat of an old regime."

Lee had two tours of combat in Vietnam and later served as director of the Army General Staff in Washington.

"If diplomacy fails, and if national interest is at stake, then force is necessary," he said.


"I do not approve of using American lives to serve as the world's police force," Glatthaar said. "It smacks of extraordinary arrogance, and insensitivity to cultures and governments other than our own."

Glatthaar, author of several books on global politics, said Western-style democracy is fitted to serve our modern, capitalist society but is ill-suited to many other societies with different educational systems, literacy rates and social practices.

He said control by conquest will overextend American will and lead the nation to decay and crumble from within, as did the empires of Alexander and Rome.


"The use of force is and must always be a political act," as opposed to an economic, religious or conquest-driven one, Dorff said.

Dorff was chairman of the U.S. Army War College from 2001 to 2004 and has held several senior positions in war-related academia.

Dorff said a democratic government cannot be established, but is rather an outgrowth of prevailing attitudes, norms and behavior patterns in a given society. And democracy should not be considered a one-size-fits-all solution, he said. "If all you have is a hammer, then every problem starts to look like a nail," he said.

Nonetheless, "if you're going to use force to initiate [an attempt at democracy], you'd better have the rest of the equation in place before you decide to go to war."

Staff writer Frank Norton can be reached at 829-8926 or

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