How US uses the language of freedom and human rights to undermine the cause of democracy in other countries
Almost a month ago, Fareed Zakaria hosted Barack Obama on his CNN
show, GPS. Zakaria asked the U.S. president why America supports
dictatorships like the ones in Saudi Arabia and Jordan when it is
supposed to promote democracy around the world. Obama said he has to
deal with the world as it is, not as he would wish it to be. America
needs (and has) allies but some of them do not share its values. Yet he
has to work with them to promote America’s interests. He said he cannot
force these allies to adopt American values but he can (and does) try to
influence them to reform through quiet diplomacy.
This is of course common sense. Yet Washington harshly criticizes
many governments- Bolivia, Iran, China, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Cuba,
Russia, etc -for being authoritarian. It finances efforts “to promote
democracy” in them.
America finances human rights groups, political parties,and uses
local media and its own media to seek to undermine the authority of
these governments.This way it turns these “institutions of
democracy”into Fifth Columnists for its imperial ambitions.
This forces and even justifies these governments into cracking down
on these supposed democratic institutions. In some countries; such as
Libya andIraq, America has directly invaded or bombed them;and in others
like Syria and Nicaragua it has sponsored terrorist organisations in
order to democratize them at gunpoint.
Therefore, for America, accusations of dictatorship and human rights
abuses are not aimed at creating democracy. Rather they are employed as a
strategy to destabilise governments that disagree with Washington. The
facts adduced may not be false (even though many times they are
exaggerated). Rather the aim is to find internal weaknesses and amplify
them as an arsenal to promote an American agenda. And quite often this
agenda is antithetical to democratic aims.
Yet many of the abuses America accuses these countries of committing
are common in the USA as well. For example, there are daily and
arbitrary killings of black males by local police. Across America,
scores of young black males are sent to jail daily in mass incarceration
programs that has made the USA possess the largest prison population in
the world. There is torture of prisoners as happened at Abu Ghraib and
Guantanamo Bay. There is the constant killing of innocents in Yemen,
Pakistan and Afghanistan by unmanned drones in an unending “war on
terror”. And of course the corruption of Wall Street aided by Washington
etc. Should other nations invade America to end these abuses?
Therefore, even if one accepted liberal democracy as a neutral
universal value desired by every person (which is a dubious and even
anti-democratic position to espouse), still it is reasonable to argue
that America has debased it and undermined its cause. This way America
is not very different from Al Qaeda and ISIL. Of course as normative
values, America’s liberal democracy agenda is diametrically opposed to
ISIL’s Islamist ambitions. But as positive theories, they are alike. One
seeks to impose liberal democracy everywhere regardless of
circumstances; the other seeks to impose Islam on the whole world. Both
employ terrorism to promote their agendas. One uses the power of its
military to arbitrarily bomb opponents into submission; the other
(lacking such military power) employs “weapons of the weak” by attacking
soft targets like civilians. But the goal is the same: that the world
should be dominated by one ideology.
The abuse of democracy to promote America’s imperial interests has
been detrimental to democracy. It is easier to undermine a democratic
government especially when the one seeking to do so is an economically
rich and militarily powerful nation armed with powerful media and a
dominant ideology. The openness of a democratic system creates
opportunities for America to use its financial and ideological tools to
fund political parties, “civil society” organisations and media that
advance U.S. interests and undermine local authority.
Imagine America wants to exploit your oil at basement prices to
enrich its own corporate oligarchs. It has to ally with powerful local
elites – whether religious (as in Saudi Arabia), traditional (as in the
Gulf states) or modern/secular (as in Egypt). But assuming a democratic
government wants to negotiate better terms. This would conflict with
American interests. America would retaliate by undermining such a
government by creating and financing opposition parties, hostile “civil
society”and mass media.
In such circumstances, the most effective way to defend the
sovereignty of a nation threatened by America is to suppress these
supposedly democratic institutions. This is how American interests
undermined the evolution of democratic governments in Latin America for
many years. It is also what is happening in Russia under Vladimir Putin,
Cuba, Iran, Venezuela,etc.
This is best illustrated by the August-September 2014 issue of
Foreign Affairs journal. It has three former CIA operatives explaining
how America undermined the democratically elected governments of Iran
(1954), Congo (1960) and Chile (1974) leading to their collapse. In all
of them, the CIA used local opposition parties, mass media, and civil
society organisations to spread malicious propaganda, provoke riots, and
protests that precipitated military coups. The governments in Cuba, the
Soviet Union, China and North Korea survived in large part because they
successfully suppressed those structures that would have created vents
for American machinations.
In many cases America has opposed the spread of democracy while
preaching it – in order to mask her imperial designs. Instead,
democratic movements in many countries like Philippines, Chile, Iran,
Bolivia, etc. emerged in opposition to American aims. But once in power,
these movements faced threats from America for being pro their own
people and found themselves forced to crack down on many seeming
institutions of democracy because these provided the CIA with
infrastructure to undermine them.
I am not saying that when American leaders and diplomats are
exhorting other countries to be democratic they are lying. Actually,
many American journalists, activists, and diplomats who keep
sloganeering democracy are sincere. In fact if they were lying they
would not be effective. Rather, they have internalised their nation’s
delusions and take them as reality. The most effective way to promote
your own lie is to first believe it as true. The worst victim of one’s
own lie is oneself. Robert Triver’s book, The Folly of Fools; the Logic
of Deceit and Self-Deception, illustrates this point best.