FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

"Go Get Yourself Some Democracy!"

by GREGORY R. WEIHER

The Bush administration and its fellow travelers struggled to make the case for war against Iraq. They tried and retried various arguments including Iraq’s supposed development of weapons of mass destruction, its violation of U.N. resolutions, its hypothesized links with Islamic terrorists, and the nefariousness of Saddam Hussein’s regime. None of these rationales proved very compelling and some, of course, were simply false.

Now President Bush has chosen to focus on the quirkiest justification of the bunch. This is the idea that waging war against Saddam Hussein would somehow bring democracy to the Middle East. We had to fight Iraq because Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator. And we had to install a democratic government, reducing terror by reducing the “democracy gap.”

Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, took this argument to extraordinary lengths when he asserted that attacking Iraq would encourage other Arab and Muslim countries to become democratic. Democratization was seen as both cause and consequence of a war against Iraq.

President Bush seems blissfully unaware of the thin ice he treads in this area. If Arab and Islamic countries are undemocratic, the West, with its manipulation of borders and national aspirations, must accept a great deal of the blame. Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon exist within their present boundaries because of political deal-making by western powers. It was the United States that deposed Mossadeq and propped up the Shah, that backed fundamentalist Islamic factions against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and that aided Saddam Hussein’s growth into the heavily armed monster it then so noisily deplored — and all with an eye to its own interests rather than the building of viable civil societies. It is with the support of the United States that undemocratic governments in Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaizhan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan continue to govern. When the U.S. unfurls the democracy banner to justify its designs on Iraq, it is no surprise that few in the region stand and salute.

As Friedman told the story, removing Saddam would force other regimes to reconsider their antiquated, rapacious, and non-representative ways. “It is not unreasonable to believe that if the U.S. removed Saddam and helped Iraqis build not an overnight democracy but a more accountable, progressive and democratizing regime, it would have a positive, transforming effect on the entire Arab world.”

Ironically, “helping” the Iraqis to build such a regime meant dropping 3,000 bombs on them in 48 hours, assailing them with cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions, unleashing hundreds of thousands of troops, carting them off wholesale into the night, and locking them indefinitely into prisons where they could be, at best, forgotten, or, at worst, brutalized by their American and British liberators.

This recalls Rousseau’s dictum for those who will not help in “discovering the general will” — they must be forced to be free. To date, it does not appear that other nations in the Middle East are rushing to embrace this model of democracy.

These arguments repeat an old error in American foreign policy that goes back to the sermonizing of the Wilson administration and continues through the Cold War to the present day. The problem with so much of the world, this way of thinking goes, is that it does not have democratic government. The solution, therefore, is for it to acquire same. (Under Bush and the Neo-Cons, of course, this argument has morphed into a neo-Liberal orthodoxy, devoid of any real democratic content.)

Those who favor such a notion rarely consider the complexity of the transition to western style democracy. History indicates that democracy emerges in specific parts of the world under specific economic, social, and historical circumstances. Where such circumstances are not present, democracy does not emerge. Such circumstances are not present in most of the nations of the Middle East. Indeed, the West often expended great effort in the Twentieth Century to insure that such conditions, and the institutions they might foster, were not present. Wishing now that conditions conducive to democracy were present will not make them so, even if our wishes are supported by military might.

If we are truly concerned about the emergence of representative institutions in the Middle East, we should nurture the circumstances under which democracy thrives rather than exploiting the area for its resources and engaging in divide-and-conquer power struggles. And, one feels compelled to say, just so the Bush administration gets the point, this would not include additional adventures in democracy by detonation.

GREGORY R. WEIHER is associate professor of political science at the University of Houston. He can be reached at gweiher@uh.edu.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 30, 2016
Russell Mokhiber
Matt Funiciello and the Giant Sucking Sound Coming Off Lake Champlain
Mike Whitney
Three Cheers for Kaepernick: Is Sitting During the National Anthem an Acceptable Form of Protest?
Alice Bach
Sorrow and Grace in Palestine
Sam Husseini
Why We Should All Remain Seated: the Anti-Muslim Origins of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Richard Moser
Transformative Movement Culture and the Inside/Outside Strategy: Do We Want to Win the Argument or Build the Movement?
Nozomi Hayase
Pathology, Incorporated: the Facade of American Democracy
David Swanson
Fredric Jameson’s War Machine
Jan Oberg
How Did the West Survive a Much Stronger Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact?
Linda Gunter
The Racism of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Bombings
Dmitry Kovalevich
In Ukraine: Independence From the People
Omar Kassem
Turkey Breaks Out in Jarablus as Fear and Loathing Grip Europe
George Wuerthner
A Birthday Gift to the National Parks: the Maine Woods National Monument
Logan Glitterbomb
Indigenous Property Rights and the Dakota Access Pipeline
National Lawyers Guild
Solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against Dakota Access Pipeline
Paul Messersmith-Glavin
100 in Anarchist Years
August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail