The US Must Stop Supporting Dictators

February 28th, 2011 - by admin

Debra Sweet / The World Can’t Wait & The Nation – 2011-02-28 02:50:15

The US Government Must Stop Supporting Repressive Regimes
Debra Sweet / The World Can’t Wait

The political terrain is changing hourly in the Middle East, with governments responding to the peoples’ uprising in different ways. But we’re seeing one constant: the US at every point pushes its own interests, regardless of the status of the peoples’ rights.

World Can’t Wait exists to “stop the crimes of our government.” So we should be vigilant. We’ve pointed out Washington’s deep and long support for repressive regimes across the region, including Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and also the huge amount of military and political support given to Israel by successive US administrations.

In Bahrain, where the US has a strategic base, Hillary Clinton weakly, and hypocritically, defended the protesters’ rights (only days after witnessing prominent anti-war veteran Ray McGovern brutalized during a speech of hers in the US). As if she and the government she has long represented was unaware of what these regimes do to their people!

In Libya hundreds of people are being slaughtered in the streets by mercenaries. Though Qaddafi’s government has appeared more oppositional to the US, the US reestablished full diplomatic relations with Libya, under pressure from US oil companies. Military aid followed.

But in the wake of the absolutely righteous upsurge of the people against Qaddafi’s repression, will the US take the opportunity to install a more compliant government to its own interests? US military intervention will do no more good in Libya than it’s done elsewhere… which is to say: it will be a disaster for the people, but good for US interests in holding onto strategic oil and territory.

In Pakistan, there’s news of the first drone strike in a month, this one killing civilians: US Drone Strikes Kill 15 in Pakistan.

The Washington Post reported yesterday on the last years of US drone bombings:
Despite a major escalation in the number of unmanned Predator strikes being carried out under the Obama administration, data from government and independent sources indicate that the number of high-ranking militants being killed as a result has either slipped or barely increased.

Even more generous counts — which indicate that the CIA killed as many as 13 “high-value targets” — suggest that the drone program is hitting senior operatives only a fraction of the time.

While the CIA contends they’ve killed just 2 civilians, the article goes on to say:

The New America Foundation estimates that at least 607 people were killed in 2010, which would mean that a single year has accounted for nearly half of the number of deaths since 2004, when the program began.

Overall, the foundation estimates that 32 of those killed could be considered “militant leaders” of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or about 2 percent.

Glenn Greenwald looks at the CIA’s role in Pakistan. In This week in winning hearts and minds, he describes Raymond Davis, the ex-Special Forces, current CIA operative held in Pakistan for personally killing 4 Pakistanis in an incident on the street, and:

The State Department first said he worked for the consulate, not the embassy, which would make him subject to weaker immunity rights than diplomats enjoy (State now says that its original claim was a “mistake” and that Davis worked for the embassy).

President Obama then publicly demanded the release of what he absurdly called “our diplomat in Pakistan”; when he was arrested, Davis “was carrying a 9mm gun and 75 bullets, bolt cutters, a GPS unit, an infrared light, telescope, a digital camera, an air ticket, two mobile phones and a blank cheque.”

There’s a major diplomatic crisis over Davis between Pakistan, and competing forces within its government, and the US government. Greenwald describes the complexity for the US:

There’s the gross hypocrisy of the US State Department invoking lofty “rule-of-law” and diplomacy principles under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations — the very same State Department that just got caught systematically violating that convention when WikiLeaks cables revealed that US “diplomats” were ordered to spy on UN officials and officials in other countries.

“Then there’s the delusional notion — heard mostly from progressives with romanticized images of the State Department — that WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables was terrible because it’s wrong to undermine “diplomacy” with leaks, since the State Department (unlike the Big, Bad Pentagon) is devoted to Good, Humane causes of facilitating peace.

As this episode illustrates, there’s no separation among the various arms of the US Government; they all are devoted to the same end and simply use different means to accomplish it (when the US Government is devoted to war, “diplomatic” functions are used to bolster the war, as Colin Powell can tell you).

These crises can help sort out the interests of the governments from the interests of the people. In supporting the courageous people across the Middle East who are fighting repression, we are challenged to look at our own government.

I come back to the Not in Our Name Pledge of Resistance:

…Not in our name
will you wage endless war
there can be no more deaths
no more transfusions
of blood for oil…

For Democracy in Egypt
The Editors | The Nation

NEW YORK (February 10, 2011) — The popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, which have sent reverberations throughout the Arab world, reveal some uncomfortable truths about US foreign policy. The contortions of the Obama administration, caught between its desire to stand by a dictator in Cairo who has been a loyal ally and its desire to channel a revolution that could define the future of the region, are replays we have seen over and over. Rhetorically, America trumpets democracy and human rights.

In reality, we ally ourselves with repressive dictatorships: Cuba’s Batista, Nicaragua’s Somoza, Chile’s Pinochet, South Africa’s apartheid regime, Iran’s shah, Indonesia’s Suharto and many more. When the people finally revolt, Washington flounders, usually concerned more about shoring up the regime than about supporting democracy.

Worse, because foreign policy is dominated by our military and intelligence agencies, our ties with these regimes tend to involve deep complicity with the security services that torture and kill domestic opposition. We are widely — and accurately — viewed in much of the third world not as neutral or distant supporters of freedom but as the bulwark of dictatorships. We train their police, arm their militaries, base our troops on their soil. American people and culture are widely admired abroad, but our government is just as widely despised.

This dismal pattern leaves us clueless when democratic movements arise. As we scramble to identify new leaders, we face understandable suspicion of our motives. Despite our ritual celebration of civil society, we underinvest in the civilian side of aid.

In Egypt, US officials lacked contacts with many of the grassroots groups leading the revolt. It should not be surprising that our call now for an orderly transition is widely viewed in Egypt as an attempt to buy time in the hope that the demonstrations will die out.

The whole world is watching what America does now, as the Mubarak regime, buttressed by $1.3 billion in annual US military aid, struggles to counter the most inspiring democratic upsurge in decades. The Obama administration can follow Washington tradition by undermining the democratic movement in the interest of “stability.”

Or it can practice what Obama preached so eloquently in Cairo in June 2009 and support the will of the Egyptian people — as expressed by the hundreds of thousands courageously taking to the streets in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities — to finally be rid of Mubarak and his cronies, the three-decade state of emergency, the brutal security establishment and replace them with a new Constitution and free and fair elections.

If Washington were to do this — and if it were to help sustain a democratic transition by marshaling international support for economic recovery — America would win the praise of millions throughout the Arab world. And that simple act of justice and decency would likely do more to stanch support for extremist Islam than a thousand Special Forces operations.

The uprisings in the Middle East expose the utter folly of the neoconservative doctrine, championed by George W. Bush, that democracy can be imposed through a gun barrel. Bush’s catastrophic Iraq War unleashed sectarian struggles that debilitate Iraqi society to this day. And Obama’s escalation of Bush’s Afghan war has us propping up a regime so corrupt and incompetent that it has revived the hated Taliban.

To be sure, popular uprisings offer no guarantees. They can end badly, as we learned in Iran. But the alternatives — presuming to impose democracy through military force, or standing in its way by supporting dictatorship — are unacceptable.

We desperately need new national security thinking, and a new global strategy. We would do better to spend far less time strengthening militaries — at home and abroad — and far more time supporting democratic governance, civil society and economic development.

We should understand that to be effective, our foreign policy must complement reforms at home, ones that improve democracy, enhance human security and spur economic opportunity.

America is exceptional not because we are rich but because we were founded on a revolutionary ideal: that people have the right to govern themselves. And yet we have become a status quo nation, too often invested in maintaining oppressive power. The revolution sweeping the Middle East suggests we had better think very hard about that contradiction.

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