Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Marketing Democracy, Supplying Dictatorship?

How good is the U.S.'s track record in supporting and nurturing democracies worldwide?

Nonexistent, according to Chalmers Johnson.

Worse, much of our foreign policy since the WWII has supported the worst violators of democratic norms and processes. The list is not pretty.
The United States holds the unenviable record of having helped install and then supported such dictators as the Shah of Iran, General Suharto in Indonesia, Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and Sese Seko Mobutu in Congo-Zaire, not to mention a series of American-backed militarists in Vietnam and Cambodia until we were finally expelled from Indochina. In addition, we ran among the most extensive international terrorist operations in history against Cuba and Nicaragua because their struggles for national independence produced outcomes that we did not like.
Johnson here is taking a page out of Noam Chomsky's devastating Deterring Democracy, a book I encourage everyone to read.

Naturally, Johnson astutely puts this into the Iraqi context, where democracy was deterred, because as always, "The wrong people could win." Yes, some semblance of democratic processes (although not norms)have been instituted in Iraq, but we can credit the Iraqis themselves for this, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

After looking closely at U.S. foreign policy for the last seventy years, it's hard to argue that the U.S. is the bumbling, good intentioned superpower whose good intentions blow up in its face. Much of our foreign policy is the product of realpolitik that understands where we generate our power from: The exploitation of resources and markets that keep foreign countries mired in underdevelopment or semi-development. The U.S. usually achieves this through the international organizations it creates -- i.e. the Bretton Woods agreements that gave us the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-- which peddle money as long as countries liberalize their economies in the interest of foreign investment. Yet when countries' wouldn't submit to this new economic order and tried a different path to development (e.g. essentially the whole of Latin America as well as many east Asian countries) our robust military came to the rescue -- whether directly (Vietnam) or indirectly (Latin America).

These are the uncomfortable facts Americans need to come to terms with if we are truly ever are going to change direction and be a genuine force for liberal democratization. It also begs the question whether the U.S. government will ever be able to privilege democratic principles over material interests. Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not sure, considering our foreign policy has been strategically and materially oriented throughout our history. Is this culture of realipolitik ingrained so thoroughly that it's only wishful thinking to think we can extricate ourselves from it?

I hope not. What we need is a new generation of scholars, writers, political philosophers, and day-to-day bureaucrats who cherish liberal democracy, if not social democracy,based on individual rights, as both a means and an end of U.S. foreign policy. I don't know if I believe the Bush Administration truly believes that all people want freedom, but I do. The horrifying thing is that in many instances the U.S. has been the barrier to democracy. Maybe the best thing for global liberal democratization isn't a pro-active U.S., but a U.S. that stands aside and allows the democratic aspirations of the bottom to rise up and engulf the authoritarians in their midst. Maybe the U.S. should follow the Hippocratic oath in regards to liberal democratization and first adhere to the principle, "Do no harm."

Do we believe in liberal democracy enough to take a material hit in the interest of our supposed principles?

Color me cynical.