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The Forum > Article Comments > A setback for the US is a setback to democracy > Comments

A setback for the US is a setback to democracy : Comments

By Stephen Barton, published 21/2/2005

Stephen Barton argues that democracy is exportable and we can thank the US for much of democratic Europe.

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The author argues that a set back for the “US” is a set back for democracy, but this has to be qualified much further. Firstly, exactly “who” in the “US” are we talking about. Every one in the US, or just a small group of people or corporations in the US.

I can remember seeing written on a US army helicopter the words “War is business, and business is good”.

The following comes from the SIPRI Yearbook at….

“World military expenditure, which has been increasing since 1998, accelerated sharply in 2002—increasing by 6% in real terms to $794 billion in current prices.” “The USA now accounts for 43% of world military expenditure… The top five spenders—the USA, Japan, the UK, France and China—account for 62% of total world military expenditure and the top 15 account for 82%.”

If there are companies involved in arms in the US (or in other countries), then war becomes essential for business, and the military is perhaps one of the biggest businesses operating in the US.

Secondly, what type of democracy are we talking about, and why Iraq? Why not so many other countries that are being run by dictators?.

The following comes from a web-site that analyses political speeches at…

“In his 20 January inaugural speech, Bush declared: "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Bush repeated the last formulation, ‘ending tyranny in our world’ in the State of the Union. (author’s emphasis). In 1917 it was a "war to make the world safe for democracy," and in 1941 it was a "war to end all wars."

"The use of tyranny as justification for US military intervention marks a dramatic new step on the road to Washington’s quest for global domination. Washington, of course today, is shorthand for the policy domination by a private group of military and energy corporate giants, from Halliburton to McDonnell Douglas, from Bechtel to ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco, not unlike that foreseen in Eisenhower’s 1961 speech warning of excessive control of government by a military-industrial complex.”

Eisenhower might role over in his grave if he knew what was going on now. The indirect use of the US millatary as a US corporate tool.

As an aside, I think the war in Iraq was actually started on 9/11, and eventually the many questions regards 9/11 will have to be answered (see…

In all, the “democracy” thing is just being used as an excuse to take over another country, so as to better control its assets. There may be some improved freedoms for the people, but generally the population will simply have a new master, in the form of US corporations. The self-perpetuating US military juggernaut will most likely move on to fresh fields.

I also think that there can be better ways of acheiveing democracy than with the millatary. Considering the amount of money being spent by the US on the Iraq war, then aggreed aid programs in exchange for democracy could have been used instead, if "democracy" in Iraq was all that the US wanted.
Posted by Timkins, Monday, 21 February 2005 2:30:16 PM
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A reaction to "A setback for the US is a setback to democracy" by Stephen Barton ...

Equating a setback for the USA to be a setback for democracy is probably FoxNews inspired. So in the interest of fair and balanced ... I would argue that blowing people up, whether by IEDs or smart bombs is bad for the human rights of those involved, and does not particularly enhance democracy.

Was it legal to go into Iraq?

The UN Secretary General indicated that the most recent American led war against Iraq was illegal. And isn't the idea behind zero tolerance policies that all behaviour is interlinked?
And next time someone mentions that Oil for Food money went dubious, perhaps a discussion on missing Coalition Provisional Authority money should follow.
But there must have been some arguments for America's traditional allies (like the Dutch and Australians, and Poland, and of course the British) to field a Coalition of the Willing, like they did for the much more understandable reaction to the 2001 attacks on the Eastern USA, by going after the Taliban.
By now, members of the Coalition have paid in blood, yes, really. Moreover, estimates on Iraqi civilian casualties seem to range from 10'000 to more than 98'000.

But does the goal of bringing freedom/ democracy justify the means?

Or is this simply a case of no mistakes, no effort? Is getting it right some of the time enough?
Clearly if some of your assumptions are wrong, think Communism, all your efforts are ultimately going to be a waste of time.
Now think of America's military might entering Vietnam (after the French had left finally), Grenada or Panama and propping up questionable regimes during the Cold War (dictatorships across most of the developing world, including Saddam Hussain when he was deemed to be needed against Iran). It is clearly possible to get it wrong.
And then there is the War on Terror, let's not forget that "you are either with us, or with the terrorists". Dissidents seeking their idea of freedom across the world, can now be clearly labelled, and the rules about what can happen to those in custody, seem to have gotten a lot looser. And then there is the quaintness of the Geneva conventions. What happened to presume innocent? Well, Spanish Inquisition style, why don't we torture the truth out of them, if God does not protect him/ her, guilt is established! And while we are at it, let's also get rid of Freedom of Information laws, that the media or NGOs have embarrassingly used against governments to great effect.
Moreover, the USA does not appear to be consistent in wanting to bring freedom and democracy. South Africa's apartheid regime rightly got taken to task (including a UN boycot), and many (but apparently not enough) UN security council resolutions later so did Iraq. But there is reportedly at least another country out there in the Middle East that has developed WMD ... It starts with an I, but it is not Iran, apparently not yet anyway. And we all know now that proving assertions about weapons of mass destruction can be more than a little tricky. So no wonder some thinking people are somewhat sceptical ... oops I forgot, this was about bringing freedom, not nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
Certainly most Europeans, were happy to be under the American (NATO) umbrella during the Cold War, and so it would appear is the South Pacific (ANZUS). I can't see many Americans or Europeans or Australians opting for Russian or Chinese style democracy.
So clearly some American freedom bringing efforts would appear to have been more laudable than others. For example kicking the invading Iraqis out of Kuwait in the 1990s, would seem to be positive (regardless of the oil), and was also supported by the UN/ international community. Pity though that women's rights were not ...

The UN (or remember the League of Nations?) or the international community, certainly is also far from perfect. The world stood by and let World War II happen, which cost 50 million lives, and saw Nazi efforts for a "final solution to the Jewish problem". And in Asia, medical experiments produces some horrific results.
After all that, there is the Darfur region right now, and genocide has happened in the former Yugoslavia, Central Africa, Cambodia besides lots of missing persons in Chile. The list goes on. Who was stopping rogue regimes then, or propping them up?
And why are the Americans so afraid of the International Criminal Court? Given what Stalin and Mao did, surely Bush (or Clinton) has nothing to worry about? Surely, just like travellers are getting told that if you have nothing to hide, please hand over all your details, countries or heads of state that have nothing to hide ...

After the legal question, what about the moral one?

Morally it seems going into Iraq was the right thing to do, despite "collateral damage" caused.
There is no doubt in my mind that the people of Afghanistan and Iraq were more than a little interested in participating in the recent elections. After all, if you had the Taliban or Saddam Hussain ruling you before ...
It would still seem to be the case that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others. But how democratic are some democracies?

And what type of democracy will be allowed in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Flag waving, Sunday morning prayer, no abortion, no gays, lots of ceremonies (like nice inaugurations) type democracy a la Americaine (the Nazis also enjoyed their parades) or a more Swiss/ Scandinavian type democracy, or perhaps a Singaporean type democracy?
To make a choice, perhaps the HDI can be of help? The Human Development Indicators certainly do not rank the USA as number 1 (, since HDI looks at more than GDP per head, or the number of nuclear aircraft carriers or submarines, or the joys of business self regulation.

But having written all that, perhaps this was a case of Dubya Bush having effectively the right vision, but lacking help for efficient execution? And he probably would have lost a lot of face if he had tried the UN route again ...

No, I would argue that efforts to lastingly enhance human rights, are unlikely to come from the barrel of a gun, which does not mean bullies cannot be taken to task. Just like in a school playground, no bully can win if the other kids combine.
Also, monopolies tend not to be very beneficial. Similarly, I would argue that a hyperpower world is not ideal. Better for powers in Asia or Europe to work at the UN to prevent unchecked adventurism, yee-hah style.
Jaw jaw is better than war war, or something like that.

After all good ideas can come from many corners ...

And there are enough poor, hungry and sick people on the planet, which itself seems to be under attack from some of the byproducts of western style democracies.

So imagine, what could have been done with the billions spend on military expenditure in Iraq ...

Posted by MX, Monday, 21 February 2005 3:14:18 PM
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Hot-dame, Stevie! I searched for the irony in your l'il piece and you know what? I clear missed it!

Still, it's a good joke.

But it raises a small question: how can a nation which cannot and does not practise democracy in its own back yard export democracy to any other nation?
Posted by BA3, Monday, 21 February 2005 6:43:03 PM
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A very brave attempt, and despite your efforts you are going to find that you will be howled down.

The US is in an in enviable position. If the US acts, it's acting imperially and out of ('corporate') self interest. If the US does not act, then the rants and squeals follow about the US not acting and not behaving as the world's policeman!

At the end of the day, the US is the world's only real super power, both economically and military - the PRC is still a long way off.

At the end of the day, when there is a crisis, who are you going to call?

Posted by, Monday, 21 February 2005 6:56:51 PM
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I have to disagree with Tom Schieffer when he said "Democracy is part of humankind." As Barton points out, even in Europe democracy has only been unchallenged since 1989. For most of history, in most cultures, democracy is the exception not the rule.

I also take exception to the Guardian's lone supporter of the war David Aaronovitch (surprise surprise, he's Jewish) who wrote, “Opposition to the actions of Bush and Blair had become a tolerance of the inhumanity of the insurgents...."

The problem is without Blair and Bush there would be no insurgency.

As MX wrote this really comes down to, does the end justify the means? While we may all hope democracy succeeds in Iraq (surely Iraqis have suffered enough), once you get into defending policies on the 'end justifies the means basis' you're on dangerous turf. You're sharing ground with all the great dictators and despots of history.

But what about all those depots and dictators that are still around? Should we invade them all, or just the ones that happen to have lots of oil and prove a nuisance to Israel?

In the end we should support Iraq but that doesn't mean we ought to forget or forgive the lies of Bush and his cronies.
Posted by Josh, Monday, 21 February 2005 7:05:44 PM
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Good lines, if you want to destroy a place call the Americans ... if you need to rebuild, call the UN?
Posted by MX, Monday, 21 February 2005 8:52:45 PM
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