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The Disastrous Foreign Policies of the United States

Fit for Democracy vs. Fit through Democracy

by Bill Christison

former CIA political analyst

A 277-page U.N. report published in late July–you know the kind, overflowing with tables, charts, and obscure acronyms–turns out to be more useful and valuable than most other books I’ve read in the past few years. Unfortunately, few people will hear about it and fewer still will read it. The Bush administration has ignored it and undoubtedly hopes nobody will read it. The administration will probably be lucky. In the days following publication of the document, the nation’s foreign policy cadres have been churning wildly over the Bush administration’s views on Iraq, Sharon and Arafat, terrorism, and preemptive war. Even most of us rebels who see Bush’s views on these issues as appallingly deformed obsessions will not want to focus on other matters such as this very important report. Nevertheless, here is one small effort to do so.

The title of the U.N. document in question is Human Development Report 2002: Deepening Democracy in a Fragmented World. It is well written, definitely not the turgid boilerplate you might have expected. It will tell you how the U.S., other national governments, and the presently muddled world governance institutions of the U.N., IMF, World Bank, and WTO, are screwing up the further spread of democracy and justice.

The U.N. has published "human development" reports fairly regularly since 1990. They have usually emphasized economics, health, literacy, and environment as major factors influencing social change. The report for 2002, however, concentrates on the contribution that an expansion of real political democracy might make to human societies around the globe, and the problems, difficulties, and pitfalls facing such an expansion.

The "Director and Lead Author" of this year’s report is Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, a Japanese national who has, sometimes gently and sometimes bluntly but always brilliantly, criticized U.S. anti-democratic foreign policies around the world. The report gets away with such brazenness by carrying a disclaimer by the U.N. Development Program’s administrator, who labels it "an unapologetically independent analysis aimed at advancing the debate on human development. As such, it is not a formal statement of U.N. policy." Earlier reports in this series have contained statements that they do not represent the official views of the U.N., but rarely have they been so direct in their transgressions of political correctness. "Unapologetic" is indeed the right word.

The dominant U.S. philosophy–or religion perhaps–emphasizes that democracy results automatically from free markets, free trade, and an ever-expanding plethora of things one can buy and consume. "Democracy needs nothing else", is the claim. The underlying dogma rests on three assumptions:

First, that all, except perhaps for the physically or mentally disabled, can progress from dependence and poverty into the middle class through their own efforts.

Second, that one should simply ignore evidence to the contrary, which in any case only benighted liberals believe, and

Third, that many countries are simply not "fit for" that other kind of democracy–the kind in which elections are important and in which a principal objective is to move closer to one-person-one-vote rather than one-dollar-one-vote. Such political democracy is seen in any case as unnecessary by supporters of the newer, and in their view better, consumer democracy.

Without explicitly defining such false notions as having originated in the U.S., Fukuda-Parr and her team devote much of this book to rebutting them and demonstrating the efforts various developing nations are making, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to move closer to the true one-person-one-vote concept of democracy. A quotation from Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen prefaces this part of the book. Sen writes–

In earlier times there were lengthy discussions on whether one country or another was yet "fit for democracy". That changed only recently, with the recognition that the question itself was wrong-headed: a country does not have to be judged fit for democracy, rather it has to become fit through democracy. This is truly a momentous change.

Now that’s a skillful, nicely low-key but pointed slap in the face of the world’s most arrogant government–a government that seeks to make a new colony of Iraq, to dominate other nations, and to extend this domination for the benefit not of its average citizens but rather in the interests and for the profit of the corporate structure that controls most of its politicians.

The rest of this U.N. report lays bare other areas where developing nations might have made more progress toward meaningful democracy over the past decade. But the U.S. has often hindered such progress in the belief that it was harmful to Washington’s own drive for global hegemony. For the same reason, the U.S. government has opposed proposals to introduce more democracy into international institutions such as the U.N., the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

With respect to the U.N. Security Council and the undemocratic veto power enjoyed by the five permanent members, the report spells out how, over the past 25 years, the U.S. has used the veto more than any other permanent member. A table in the report also makes clear that in the past decade the U.S. has issued most of its vetoes in support of Israel against the Palestinians–a subject not directly related to U.S. global hegemony. These vetoes are, however, yet another example of arrogant disregard for democracy by the U.S., since they encourage Israel to continue its 35-year occupation and expand its colonization of territories inhabited by three million Palestinians to whom Israel grants absolutely zero democratic rights.

To repeat, this U.N. report is a very fine piece of work that will give readers a better understanding of the state of democracy around the world than anything else this reviewer has seen in recent years. Fukuda-Parr and her team deserve high praise.

[You can download the complete report from http://www.undp.org, or you can buy it from Amazon for $22.95 plus S&H. The actual text is only 122 pages long, with an Overview or executive summary taking up the first 12 of these pages. My advice: skip the Overview and read the other 110 pages. ]

Bill Christison joined the CIA in 1950, and served on the analysis side of the Agency for 28 years. From the early 1970s he served as National Intelligence Officer (principal adviser to the Director of Central Intelligence on certain areas) for, at various times, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa. Before he retired in 1979 he was Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis, a 250-person unit. His wife Kathy also worked in the CIA, retiring in 1979. Since then she has been mainly preoccupied by the issue of Palestine.

Other CounterPunch articles by Bill and Kathleen Christison:

Bill Christison: Disastrous Foreign Policies of the US Part 3: What Can We Do About It?, July 8, 2002

Kathleen Christison: The Story of Resolution 242, How the US Sold Out the Palestinians, June 28, 2002

Kathleen Christison: Israel and Ethics, May 11, 2002

Bill Christison: The Disastrous Foreign Policies of the United States, May 10, 2002

Kathleen Christison: Before There Was Terrorism, May 2, 2002

Bill Christison: Oil and the Middle East, April 6, 2002

Bill Christison: Why the War on Terror Won’t Work, March 5, 2002