Mark Solomon / Portside – 2005-03-23 09:40:49
With the blowup of all previous rationales for its miserable Iraq adventure, it appears that Washington, at least for the moment, has found a way to bamboozle some administration critics, including clueless Democratic politicians and a portion of the public by proclaiming that its overthrow of Saddam Hussein had unearthed a great democratic tide over the region and the world.
Bush’s latest threats and pressure aimed at Syria and Iran and his more velvet-gloved suggestions that autocratic states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia adopt less overtly repressive internal policies have nothing to do with spreading democracy – anywhere. They have everything to do with realizing the neo- conservatives’ long-stated ambition to impose upon the Middle East (and the rest of the world for that matter) their own economic, political and strategic objectives aimed at long-term domination of the region and its populations.
Actually, Bush and his neo-con handlers are exploiting some aggressive cultural traits embedded in the nation’s history. The Puritan founders of Boston declared that they were not simply carving out space to freely practice their religion, but were building a biblically defined “city upon a hill” as a shining beacon for all humankind to emulate.
While territories were absorbed for the advance of the most powerful capitalist society in history, the systematic destruction of native populations was heralded as a glorious manifest destiny. From the late 19th century, imperial expansion, no matter how bloody and repressive, was represented as a cleansing advance of democracy and civilization.
In the midst of US entry into World War I, Woodrow Wilson added the paradigmatic “liberal” touches to this mythical portrait of US power as a mighty force for bringing freedom and self-determination to the world’s dependent peoples.
The export of “democratic values” was based on the one-size-fits- all imposition of parliamentary systems which were formalistic near-copies of US institutions, especially with their requirements to protect private property and foreign investment. Today’s mantra about US guns and policies bringing both democracy and “free markets” to other countries and regions is deeply rooted in this nation’s imperial history.
In fact, if we substitute the word “capitalism” for “democracy” when the latter is uttered by pundits across the political spectrum, we get a chillingly accurate picture of what is going on.
A variety of means have been employed by the Wilsonian parliamentary model to thwart the genuinely democratic investiture of power in the people. Parliamentary governments were forged to assure that power was placed in the hands of educated property-owning classes acting in their own interests and in the interests of their foreign sponsors.
The political ascendance of those classes was accomplished by fashioning the form of a democratic polity while negating its substance, by nurturing a culture of deference towards the upper classes, by controlling communications and educational systems to dull mass political consciousness, by widespread bribery, by fomenting divide-and-conquer schisms among a broad public, by summoning upper class elites and their satraps into the streets at crucial moments, by electoral fraud, trickery, and intimidation. And when all that failed, US domination was secured by direct or indirect armed intervention.
Most of all, the Wilsonian model welded the targeted nation or region into the US (abetted by other imperial states) economic, cultural and physical infrastructure.
Wilsonian policy in the early 20th century reasoned that the massive exchange of the US’s industrial and domestic technology from machinery to plumbing for cheap labor-intensive products, would assure technological and financial dependency of hitherto subject nations.
Today, under corporate globalization, the imposition of economic dependency has become far more sophisticated, thorough and relentless. Countries liberated from repressive rule are forced into the global “free market”system under the threat of capital starvation. The economic leverage exercised by US and other powers narrows the range of political choices by those newly “democratic” states to the point where self-determination becomes a mockery.
The contradiction inherent in Wilsonian “liberalism” (and echoed loudly in Bush’s policies) between its embrace of democratic self-determination and its demand that nations practice democracy according to US specifications has become painfully clear in today’s world.
Washington’s claim of advancing democracy in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban withers under examination. Elections held in the fall of 2004 were geared to assure victory for longtime CIA-asset Hamid Karzai whose family has lived in the United States for many years (they own a popular restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts).
According to journalist Christian Parenti (Democracy Now! October 12, 2004) who was on the scene, the election was deeply marred by widespread fraud, intimidation, technical errors, closed polling places, and multiple voting cards in the hands of chosen individuals.
The Karzai government (with little authority beyond Kabul), was forged through backroom deals with criminal warlords — thoroughly negating the democratic will of the majority. The warlord-Karzai alliance, largely orchestrated by Washington, has quickened land theft and has undermined the gains women made in the wake of the Taliban’s defeat.
Despite Washington’s declarations that the repressive Taliban yoke has been lifted from women, that was never a priority. In the Cold War eighties, the US cleared the road for the Taliban by providing guns and training for fundamentalists to crush a secular government that had established both land reform and secular rights for women.
Bush never wanted the Iraqi election – until Ayatollah al-Sistani summoned hundreds of thousands of Shiites into the streets to demand direct one-person-one-vote general elections. That outpouring toppled Washington’s efforts to delay elections as long as possible and to foist upon the Iraqis complex electoral caucuses more easily controlled by US occupiers.
After early reports that the main Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance had garnered around fifty-three percent of the vote, inexplicable delays in the vote count followed — with the final tally for the Shiite-led list at forty-eight percent. This suspicious result came on top of an election already marred by bribery and strong arm tactics employed by some Islamic forces and interim Prime Minister Allawi’s group and directed largely at the secular left.
The outcome eradicated the Shiite hope for a working majority in a new assembly — a majority that might have exercised a right under UN resolutions to demand that occupying forces depart. The result also gave a lever to the Kurdish bloc, a good part of which is amenable to supporting Washington’s desire for a permanent military and strategic presence in exchange for the US’s tacit support for Kurdish demands to control Kirkuk and its adjacent oil fields.
Maneuvers like that blossom in the corrupt soil cultivated by the occupation with its billions of reconstruction dollars flowing into the pockets Bush’s friendly contractors, with the frenzy of privatization and contemptuous denial of the use of Iraq’s resources in the public interest, and with deliberately fostered ethnic and religious divisions which are designed to frustrate and deadlock the majority’s desire for the occupation to end. All that deeply wounds any hope for democracy.
Those divisions spurred voting along ethnic and religious lines and played an important role in diminishing the vote of the secular left’s People’s Unity slate which won less than one percent of the total vote, good for only two seats in the national assembly. Other factors such as internal differences regarding electoral policy as well as voter intimidation and fraud played a role in suppressing the left vote.
But al-Sistani’s fatwa commanding a Shiite vote for the United Iraqi Alliance as well as the effective Sunni boycott were principal factors in narrowing the political space for secular left forces. Yet, the cultivated religious schisms in this election probably have created a distorted picture of the strength of the left. In provisional council voting, also held on January 30, the Communist Party vote alone in only 12 contested provinces was 140,000 – double the left slate’s national assembly vote.
Doubtless, the Iraqi left will continue to rebuild its grass roots political organizations, largely shattered during the Saddam years. The fight of the secular left for the right to organize and campaign in the streets will constitute an important element in the inseparable movement to end the occupation and bring democracy to Iraq.
The Bush administration’s crowing about the Palestinian elections held in January as yet another manifestation of a Washington-orchestrated waltz to democracy reeks of hypocrisy. Free and relatively clean elections are nothing new to Palestinians.
They held one in 1996 when Yaseer Arafat was overwhelmingly elected. The United States and Israel in recent years have persistently frustrated Palestinian wishes for a new election — only to finally remove the obstacles when the prospect of Arafat’s reelection was ended by his death.
Recent demands in Lebanon for the departure of Syrian forces in the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (Syria with much to lose has denied its involvement) have inspired the Bush administration to again proclaim a new front in the democratic tide while at the same time waving threats and dicta before the Syrians.
US interest in getting Syria out of Lebanon is not new, nor is it imaginably related to democracy and freedom. Ironically, Syria entered Lebanon in 1976 to support rightist Maronite Christian forces and to prevent Lebanon, wracked by internal bloodshed, from spinning in unpredictable and strategically destabilizing directions. This happened with US and Israeli blessing.
However, by 1982, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was already driven by a dramatically different agenda: to sharply reduce the Syrian presence, to expel the PLO from that land, to secure hegemony through Maronites freed of Syrian dependency, thus reducing one of the last significant strategic counterweights to US and Israeli domination of the region.
Today, US policy in the region is now deeply influenced by a neo-conservative cabal with publicly acknowledged ties to Ariel Sharon. Neo-con operatives Douglas Feith and Richard Perle in 1996 advised Israel that it can take control of its strategic environment by, among other things, rolling back Syria in Lebanon. Dick Cheney’s Middle East Advisor David Wurmser (also on the Board the US Committee for a Free Lebanon) in 2000 drafted a document calling for confrontation with Syria and accusing it of spawning weapons of mass destruction. As Charles Glass notes (Independent, 2/19/05): “Washington’s neo-conservatives were sharpening their knives for Syria long before they assumed office courtesy of George Bush.”
The crowds summoned into the street, while partly fueled by Lebanese exhaustion with Syrian forces on its soil, are not crying out for a democratic polity. Dominated by Christian and Druze minorities, the crowds want elections under a corrupt confessional system which allots half the seats in Parliament to traditionally privileged Christians while seeking to set in motion the neutralization of Hezbullah which is widely supported among Lebanon’s Islamic population.
The recent statement of Pierre Gemayel of the right wing Christian Falange that voting was less a matter of majorities than of “quality” voters is right out of the old Wilsonian neo-colonial play book.
George Bush’s claims that the war on Iraq is bringing both peace and democracy to the Middle East may engender short-term confusion. But the reality – that unleashing destruction upon innocent populations, nailing regional states to the mast of global capital, and promoting processes that actually frustrate the rights of populations to control their own destinies — will come to the fore through the clarity and activism of determined progressives demanding truth and advancing truth.
One of the complications of post-Cold War global conflict is the ascendency of regressive neo-feudal elements in opposition to Washington’s hegemonic ambitions, enabling Bush and company to wrap their objectives in the raiment of enlightenment. But truth will prevail It will prevail as long as US military forces are present in many countries where no one is allowed to vote on their presence. It will prevail as long as the vast majority seeking genuine democracy continues unrelentingly to work for it.
portside (the left side in nautical parlance) is a news, discussion and debate service of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. It aims to provide varied material of interest to people on the left./i>