I agree, to a point– Ashdown’s second principle is the most important and, arguably, the most overlooked. In every liberal project there’s a great danger of pushing democracy before its institutional prerequisites– such as the rule of law or a market economy.

But I also think there’s a danger in thinking that the rule of law is something that can be established “quickly.” The United States enjoyed the great and unusual luxury of developing democracy and the rule of law in a relative vacuum. Other than the customs of various Native American tribes, which were, to be sure, quite disparate, there were no existing institutional norms with which American-style liberalism had to contend. In cases like Iraq, we don’t have the luxury of an institutional vacuum. Indeed, there is a whole raft of political, cultural, and religious traditions that may (of necessity?) but heads with liberalism. We must be careful, though, not to let this fact lead us down the garden path toward fatalism. Indeed, we have many good reasons to want the rule of law and democracy in other parts of the world. But we must be careful to exercise patience in our push for these institutional goals.

At the end of the day, security alone is not the answer. When generation after generation has been taught that force is the best method for resolving political differences, it won’t matter too much how many tanks we can put on the streets.

Institutions by nature evolve, and are never easily imposed. Maybe the best we can do is sit back and see if our ideas take hold.

That aside, it’s a great book, isn’t it?
Daniel Corbett