Thursday, November 09, 2006

Why "Democracy Promotion" Should NOT Be the Basis of Progressive Foreign Policy

Shadi Hamid, writing for the American Prospect here and here, advocated “democracy promotion” as the basis of a progressive foreign policy. I believe this is a misguided attempt by 'progressives' to try to steal some of the thunder of the pseudo-conservatives. Hamid, in his Part I, wrote: “[Democracy promotion] attempts to reclaim the democratic idealism of the neoconservative movement while wedding it to a more multilateral framework that recognizes the importance of alliances and international institutions.” I think it extremely unprogressive to try to “reclaim the democratic idealism of the neoconservative movement.”

I have at least three reasons that 'democracy promotion' is not a good basis for a progressive foreign policy: 1) blowback, 2) hypocrisy, and 3) regaining the trust and respect of foreign peoples.

BLOWBACK. How many times must we meddle in the internal affairs of other nations before we realize that so very, very, often there are unintended consequences which blow back on us in terribly negative ways? We interfered in the constitutional government of Iran replacing Mossadegh in a CIA coup in 1953. What did we eventually get for this? The hatred of many Iranians and the taking of hostages at the American Embassy in 1979. A very strong case could be made that there would have been no Islamic Revolution against the Shah had we not forced him on the Iranians and supported him hugely for 25 years. We interfered in South Vietnam in 1963 leading to the assassination of President Diem and what were the consequences? A series of incompetent military governments that blackmailed us into spending more in the Vietnam War. We supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union through funneling money through Pakistan and what did we get? We arguably facilitated Pakistan’s progress on nuclear bombs and allowed Pakistan to decide what to do with the money and take credit for its dispersal; and, we helped provide training and equipment for Osama bin Laden and his colleagues. We toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq and what were the consequences? I needn't elaborate on this except to note that as many as 600,000 Iraqis may have lost their lives in this "intervention". There are literally probably hundreds of examples that could be documented and Chalmers Johnson has examined some in his book, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. Interfering in the internal affairs of other nations should be undertaken exceedingly cautiously and only when it seems absolutely unavoidable; that is a principle of a progressive foreign policy.

HYPOCRISY. 'Democracy promotion' is nothing but arrogant hypocrisy if we pursue it, as we most certainly have in the past, in a very biased fashion. [By all means see Stephen Kinzer's book, Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.] If we are to be consistently for “democracy promotion” this clearly implies that NO U.S. support of any kind should be going to Hugo Chavez’s opponents in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega’s opponents in Nicaragua. Moreover, whether we like it or not we encouraged the Palestinians to get rid of Arafat's leadership and they elected Hamas; Hamas' political arm is the democratically elected representative of the Palestinians. So we're for "democracy" only when we like the results? If we are undermining people who have been elected in reasonably democratic elections (our own elections have quite a number of flaws) then our talk about 'democracy promotion' will be laughed at by those in foreign lands whose respect we wish to win; and, if those touting 'democracy promotion' in America nonetheless find rationalizations for undermining democratically elected foreign governments, then they are themselves hypocrites.

In addition to our history of undermining foreign governments we don’t like, we have and are currently supporting dictatorial governments that we see as "allies". Do we really think we’re fooling foreign observers about this? If not, we are treating them with contempt.

Another principle of a progressive foreign policy would certainly be no undermining of democratic or constitutional governments except in the most dire circumstances, e.g., Hitler.

FOREIGN TRUST AND RESPECT. We can’t say one minute we’re concerned to gain the trust and confidence of peoples around the world and the next minute maintain the right to interfere in their internal affairs at our whim. These two goals are thoroughly incompatible. It seems obvious that there would be many times foreign peoples would resent our “democracy promotion” in their country. If America is going to continue to 'idealistically' go around the world trying to impose our values upon others we can forget about gaining foreigners respect and trust (see Claes Ryn's America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire.) Very unobtrusive and minimal interference in the affairs of other sovereign nations is a principle of progressive foreign policy.

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