Why the US REALLY Exports its Ideals
By Corey Gilkes
February 08, 2006
Will Hutton of the British Guardian wrote on Jan 22nd an article entitled Why the US exports its ideals of "freedom and democracy" – the new mantra. He implored readers that in spite of the cynicism and the blustering arrogance of the Bush administration, to have faith in the sincerity of the increasing call for democracy coming from the US on both sides of the political fence.
There is, of course, the possibility that the US is indeed sincere about its desire to spread the ideal of democracy across the globe. In fact, many US politicians and humanitarian groups truly believe in what they say. Some others honestly believe that the world is separated into one group of fluid, liberal democracies the pinnacle of which is the US and the rest of the world gripped by rigid, totalitarian regimes. This is why I am so wary of these liberal types of North America and Europe. Many – like their conservative counterparts – are so blinded by their own hubris and belief of being the crusading country that they fail to see that that outlook, no matter how well-intentioned it may be, when detached from certain historical and contemporary contexts, only brings more suffering, displacement and hardship for developing countries. Even with the best of intentions many of them just don't get it; they don't understand that their own views of the rest of the world are often shaped by reasoning and ideologies that were racist and paternalistic in their origin.
It's not that Hutton is preaching nonsense; I'm pretty certain he actually believed what he wrote. In fact, much of what he says will find no argument from this writer. I agree for instance that true democracy must be home grown (though I have very mixed feelings about the middle class; here in the Caribbean we have seen how elitist and divorced from reality their politics can get); I also find no fault in the belief that stable, democratic societies foster economic and social growth much faster that authoritarian ones. I will be the first to admit that there are still too many cruel, repressive regimes dotting the world, particularly in that troubled region often called the Middle East. I will like nothing better than to see all societies function according to the will of the people. That's a very nice idea: in a perfect world. The reality is a lot different. Citing studies undertaken by Morton Halperin, Joseph Siegle and Michael Weinstein, Hutton argues that democratic countries are more likely to have greater economic growth and less chance of conflict from external and internal forces. In so doing he skirts around an unspoken "article of faith", namely you can be as democratic as you want just as long as it does not harm North Atlantic economic interests.
Hutton appears to speak in an abstract, almost wishful manner. It's as if he is unaware of certain events of the past 50 years. For I can cite a number of countries that have had their leaders legitimately elected to power only to have them removed – often violently – when their social and economic reforms were not in the interests of US or European (i.e. British) based businesses or political influence. Not content with displacing democratically elected leaders, the US also set about installing friendly regimes that allowed the siphoning off of precious mineral resources while looking the other way as these regimes dispensed with civil liberties, human rights and environmental concerns.
Let's look at a select few: Dr Mohammad Mossadegh was elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1951 one of his first acts was to nationalise Iran's oil in which he sought to terminate Britain's ownership and influence on Iran's oil industry. In 1933 Britain successfully lobbied the passage of an agreement which gave the right to exploit Iran's oil for 60 years. Mossadegh's efforts reversed that and Britain responded with a lawsuit against Iran in the UN Security Council. The Hague Court, however, voted in favour of Iran. Britain then secretly conspired with the US CIA to overthrow Mossadegh's regime. In a book written by one of the CIA planners of this coup, it was shown how, among other tactics and millions of dollars, Iranians posing as Communists were used to stage a bombing of an Islamic cleric's home and harass Muslim clerics. By 1953 Mossadegh was removed from power and placed under house arrest by the Shah where he remained until his death in 1967. Under the Shah – backed by the US – the people suffered brutal repression and shocking abuses of human rights which of course, led to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, Ayatollah Khomeini, the eventual overthrow of the Shah and a theocratic regime.
That same year, in Guyana, Cheddi Jagan, a dentist and Marxist leaning thinker, was elected in Guyana. This was Guyana's first election under universal adult suffrage and his party itself comprised persons of all ethnicities in an attempt to forge racial harmony in Guyana. His administration lasted 133 days. He and his cabinet were then removed, the constitution suspended and British troops occupied the country. Jagan was subsequently re-elected but this time in 1961 the Kennedy administration, fearful of a Communist presence in the Western hemisphere, initiated a covert program to have him removed. A massive campaign of misinformation was undertaken and race riots left hundreds of Guyanese dead and wounded.
A former ally of Jagan, Forbes Burnham, who had since turned against him, was installed and remained in office until his death 28 years later. Under his rule, corruption, nepotism, intimidation and murder – not least of which was the murder of Dr Walter Rodney – was the order of the day. The racial friction that Burnham, the British and the USA fed resulted in more riots and has continued to plague Guyana to this very day.
The next year, in Guatemala, saw the removal of President Jacobo Arbenz. Arbenz was elected and enjoyed immense popularity among the peasants and especially the despised indigenous Americans. He was guilty of the usual sin; attempting to nationalise Guatemala's banana industry; redistribute vast tracts of land to the peasantry and break the influence of the corrupt elite class. Did any of this threaten the national security of the United States? No. What it did threaten was the monopolistic position enjoyed by the US-based United Fruit Co. Subsequently, the CIA, along with the State Department and members of Guatemala's elite whose privileges and influence were dislodged by Arbenz's reforms, conspired to overthrow Arbenz and replace him with Castillo Armas. This was the heyday of brothers John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles; one the Secretary of State and the other, head of the CIA, whose Presbyterian upbringing made them see their countries' conflict with Communism and anti-imperial struggles as literally a battle between divine forces of Light and Darkness. Sounds familiar?
In 1960 Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, yet another elected and hugely popular leader was deposed and murdered by figures in the pay of the US, British, Belgian and French intelligence agencies. The corrupt and murderous Mobutu Sese Seku was installed and the precious uranium deposits needed for certain military technologies were exploited as before while the people remained impoverished and illiterate. Equally serious is the still-held belief in many circles that the United States were not only involved in Lumumba's murder, but also may have had a hand in the death of then UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld
On September 11, 1973 – an ominous date indeed – another attempt to bring "freedom and democracy" saw the violent ousting and death of Chile's elected President Salvador Allende in a bloody coup. The fact that in the process of implementing reforms for his people he adopted an ideology that had angered even Moscow; that even the CIA didn't see him as any threat to US national security didn't count for anything in Washington. The man was a communist and that's that. He was replaced by Augusto Pinochet whose pro-Washington regime saw the death and disappearance of thousands of Chileans. Upon his eventual removal from office he was sheltered by England for some time and even received the vocal support of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher whose own son has been implicated in yet another coup attempt in Africa.
Many more readers will be familiar with the ongoing quarrels between Venezuela and Washington. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was a former paratroop officer and attempted coup leader. Upon his release from prison, he entered politics and was eventually elected into office. Like other popular leaders before him he sought to correct the profound inequity plaguing Venezuela. Here is a country, the fifth largest producer and exporter of oil and the bulk of the wealth and land resided in the hands of an elite and privileged few while the wider population lived in abject poverty. Along comes a charismatic former military figure who identifies with the poor and the dispossessed and embarked upon a reform program named after one of the most revered figures of the 19th century, Simon Bolivar.
Like the aforementioned examples, this greatly angered the privileged minority and deeply disturbed Washington and like before, Chavez was removed from office in 2002. This time, however, he was returned to office due to an outcry by the people and loyalists in the armed forces. Washington having almost immediately sending its tacit support for the illegitimate regime, and now being virtually caught with its fly open, shamefacedly attempted to distance itself from any involvement save an admission that it had only met with some of the coup leaders.
To date his reform policies have slowly but surely raised the standards of living and hopes of many Venezuelans who had only known poverty and illiteracy regardless of who governed the country. Chavez has been funnelling money made from the sale of oil to the shanty towns and slums dotting the Venezuelans landscape. The money has been used to fund health care, education and cheap food. Supermarkets have sprung up supplying food – mostly produced within the country – to the peasants who desperately need it. Today relations between Caracas and Washington continue to deteriorate although oil shipments to the US have not been affected. Yet. This, Chavez has threatened to cut off if it is discovered that the US is behind any more plots to unseat or assassinate Chavez. Equally troubling for Washington, his Bolivarian revolution is spreading throughout Latin America and within the last year we have seen interesting developments in Bolivia. And how did Left-leaning Evo Morales ascend to office there? Why, through democratic elections of course.
Far too often well-intentioned people glibly call for "freedom and democracy" without stopping to consider what exactly is meant by that term when it is advocated by the political classes of Washington, London, Paris and other places in the North Atlantic. To the average layman, democracy appears to be a noble concept, which it is indeed, when truly adhered to. The problem is that that average layman whose understanding of history rarely extends beyond the last ten years, possesses this mindset because the Eurocentric education and schooling s/he has been brought up in is characterised by decontextualised teaching of history and discussions of current events. Indeed, it is precisely because the average person has been lulled into a culture of unknowingness that such rhetoric and "robber talk" can be routinely made without too much derision and outcry.
Thus, s/he hardly knows or remembers that for the last 70 years, the United States alone, has routinely destabilised, undermined and replaced democratically elected regimes whose national interests threatened the narrow economic interests of US-based businesses and corporations. People need to seriously ask certain questions before they apishly repeat the mantras bandied about by the West: How many of these repressive dictatorships were once – and still are – supported, funded, armed and trained by the USA and England? How did they come to power in the first place? How many thousands upon thousands of people were imprisoned, murdered, tortured and displaced by brutal repressive regimes that ousted democratically elected leaders while the paragons of political virtue and human rights looked the other way because of the minerals needed for the betterment and expansion of the metropole?
The "democratic system" is to this day an abstract, very loosely defined term that varies from place to place, often according to the interests of Washington, London and Paris. It seems evident that as far as Euro-America is concerned, for many of these countries, democracy is to mean little more than a symbolic voting into office of a new elitist political party every four or five years and press freedom that can often be skilfully manipulated. But the minute the people elect into office someone they didn't count on, someone who truly puts the people before the considerations of the North Atlantic metropole, then they become "irresponsible" as Henry Kissinger labelled the people of Chile in 1973: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people." Such is the contempt people who believe in politics from above have for the people at the base. Ordinary people, in their minds, simply do not have the maturity and intelligence to know what is good for them.
Will today's call for "democracy" mean that whatever decisions made by the electorate will be respected? Wishful thinking. Perhaps the most recent example of the insincerity of this call for democracy comes from the recent election of an extremist Palestinian group Hamas to the Palestinian parliament in a voting system that was heavily influenced by the Israelis. Even countries that appeared to oppose the invasion of Iraq on humanitarian grounds registered shock and dismay (shock and awe?) at the election results. True, Hamas is well known for its extremism, its often horrific application of violence backed up by a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, but did Hamas create itself within a vacuum? What about the social conditions that gave rise to Hamas and other extremist groups? What about the atrocities, the religious fundamentalism, the displacement, murder and torture that Israel subjected the Palestinians to? How is it that that is not discussed? How is it that Israel can break local and international laws with impunity and when the Palestinians respond with violence, there is all this self-righteous indignation? But then, when you can only perceive Palestine and the rest of the world in simplistic Cold War dualistic terms and through the language of your own hubris, such events are bound to take you by surprise.
The term "democracy" is today what the word "Christianity" was from the 16th to the 19th century and serves the exact same purpose. Then as now these terms are just smokescreens by which countries that have large deposits of mineral resources needed by the West or are strategically located near to lands that have these resources, can be made friendly pro-West countries dependent on their technological, economic and military expertise. Once you conform to the dictates and ideals expressed through the vehicle of Christianity/democracy as defined by the West, you will be alright; you may not have any real influence in international politics, but you will be alright. If during the process you rip off and oppress your own people, that's all right too. As Kurt Vonnegut cynically remarked recently, dictatorships to the right are closer to American ideals than dictatorships to the left. Step out of bounds, however, and you can be sure to be sanctioned, censured, demonised and replaced.
US foreign policy is influenced by several things; principally, the economic interests of its mainly private business corporations. Whether the president is Republican or Democrat is of little importance; the ever expanding ventures of US multi-national corporations are what drives decisions. At the heart, however, of this is a curious mindset shaped by the ascetic Calvinist values of that country's founding fathers. To some, it may be somewhat old-fashioned or misplaced 60s ideology to even speak of ideology or philosophy in the same breath with today's economic trends, but there is indeed an ideology behind trans-national capitalism and it's no different from capitalism in its early stages. That hubris that blinds Uncle Sam, the belief that it is the crusader state created to lead the world to the ultimate model of how life should be lived, can be traced back through the concept of Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine even the Marshall Plan, to when John Winthrop decreed in 1630, from the deck of a ship in what would become Boston harbour, "that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are upon us". He was envisioning the American self-image as a new Jerusalem. As history shows, that has, in turn, been shadowed by the image of America as the "crusader state." Not for nothing did Dwight Eisenhower entitle his memoir of WWII Crusade in Europe. The same Dwight Eisenhower – who is still a beloved figure in US political history – who was president when Arbenz, Mossadegh and Lumumba were brought down; who initiated the plotting for the removal of Castro and all this while speaking about maintaining traditional moral values in the US in response to the growing influence at the time of African-American inspired rock-and-roll. Seems like a real angel to me.
All sovereign states have the right to decide their own destiny and put the interests of their people ahead of everyone else. If, in so doing they choose not to do business with other states or that existing business arrangements need to be adjusted to incorporate the needs of the people, that is their right. If Europe and Euro-America had truly believed in the principles they claim to uphold, they would have understood that. But as Dr John Henrik Clarke had told us the Eurocentric ethic has never created or adopted any system that did not guarantee them control. Will Hutton may not understand that, or want to acknowledge it, but we in the Americas and Africa can do so only at our own peril.