Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Democracy: Rhetoric vs. Policy

An excellent editorial at the International Herald Tribune about the yawning gap between Bush's rhetoric about democracy and his actual policies. Money:

Despite his stirring rhetoric, the reality is that Bush simply doesn't have a very strong record of promoting democracy abroad.

During his first term, Bush praised the democratic visions of Vladimir Putin and Pervez Musharraf as they systematically smothered the embers of freedom in Russia and Pakistan. This is the president that stood shoulder to shoulder with the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, while publicly condemning a proposed referendum on independence in democratic Taiwan.

This is the same administration that was the only government in the Western Hemisphere to recognize the ill-fated coup attempt against the democratically elected leader in Venezuela. Despite its democratic pronouncements, this administration remains a steadfast supporter of entrenched autocrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Central Asia.

Even in Iraq and Afghanistan, places that Bush's supporters point to as examples of his commitment to advancing freedom, the evidence is dubious.

Leaving aside the irony of invading a country to "bring it democracy," Bush nodded to the Department of Defense to take the lead in the democracy-building effort in Iraq. Their plan: Install Ahmed Chalabi as the new Iraqi leader. The U.S. has been
scrambling in Iraq ever since.

Coming nearly two years after the invasion, the recent elections are an important step toward creating a degree of legitimacy within Iraq's political leadership. This accomplishment, however, has come at considerable cost in lives lost, stability and American prestige - costs that could have been mitigated if a commitment to prepare for a democratic transition had been made a priority.

In Afghanistan, the Bush administration sided with the country's powerful warlords at the expense of the new central government - a choice deemed necessary to track down the Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership. And despite the elections there, insecurity remains the predominate theme in the country.

The essential point is that establishing democracy was not the rationale for these military interventions. It has always been an after-the-fact justification for other priorities - capturing Osama bin Laden, destroying Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and eliminating Saddam Hussein's control of weapons of mass destruction.

Rather than a democratic idealist, Bush is better described as someone who has co-opted the language of democracy while pursuing business-as-usual policies.

This is not to say that Bush was wrong to make some of these compromises, especially with regards to Taiwan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It's just to prick a hole in the "noble fiction" that the neocons are always trying to sell us about this President being an avatar of democratization. If you believe this President has any more commitment to promoting democracy than any of his predecessors in the office, you're (at best) a sucker.

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