My piece, “Defining Democracy Down,” is in the April 24 issue of American Conservative, hitting newstands and mailboxes this weekend.
Here are some excerpts:
American Conservative April 24
DEFINING DEMOCRACY DOWN by James Bovard
George W. Bush has been more emphatic about spreading democracy than any president since Woodrow Wilson. Yet Bush’s policies have subverted elected governments, corrupted foreign elections, and tainted democracy itself. Yet, for most of the American media, Bush’s pretensions on democracy remain sacrosanct.When Bush took office in 2001, the U.S. government already had a long history of meddling abroad in the name of foreign “self-determination.” The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a government agency created in 1983, had been involved in election manipulation scandals in Panama, Nicaragua, Slovakia, and elsewhere. But the Bush team sharply ratcheted up both spending and the brazenness of U.S. interventions. The U.S. government is currently spending more than a billion dollars a year on democracy promotion…….
Bush often talks as if elections are sacred events which automatically confer vast blessings upon a nation. Yet, last June, Bush effectively urged Iranians not to vote, deriding their pending presidential election for ignoring “the basic requirements of democracy.” Bush declared that the elections will be “sadly consistent with this oppressive record” of the Iranian government. U.S.-financed television and radio stations, broadcasting in Farsi, also effectively urged a boycott of the election.
The U.S. government’s actions contributed to the defeat of Mohammad Khatami, a comparatively moderate reformer, and the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad , a fire-breathing hardliner. Ahmadinejad’s subsequent comments on Israel, the Holocaust, and other subjects sound almost Hollywood-scripted to help Washington persuade other nations that the Iranian government and its nuclear program must be suppressed at any cost.
In February, the Bush administration announced it was seeking $75 million in “emergency” funding to promote democracy in Iran. (The U.S. government was already spending $15+ million – along with unknown amounts of covert spending to destabilize the government). The new funds would be dabbled out for expanded TV broadcasts, scholarships for Iranians to study in America, and fostering an independent media. This last goal is a hoot, considering the uproar over the ongoing U.S. program bribing “independent” Iraqi newspapers to publish articles praising U.S. military operations.
The Bush administration’s efforts seem geared far more to domestic strutting than to the survival of Iranian democrats. The open profusion of American money makes it far easier for the Iranian government to tar all reformers as Fifth Columnists and traitors. Iranian human rights activist Emad Baghi bitterly complained “We are under pressure here both from hard-liners in the judiciary and that stupid George Bush.” Vahid Pourostad, editor of the pro-reform National Trust newspaper, told the Washington Post that whenever the United States “came and supported an idea publicly, the public has done the opposite.”
It is unclear whether the Bush administration honestly wants to advance democracy in Iran – or whether it is merely creating another pretext to start bombing. If the Iranian regime responds to Bush’s brazen intervention by rounding up reformers, further repressing free speech, acting even more paranoid, it may help Bush sway Americans on the need to bomb Iran in the name of democracy.
Thomas Carothers, the director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Democracy and Rule of Law Project, warns that Bush policies are creating a “democracy backlash” around the globe. Bush’s policies have made democracy far less attractive to many people around the world. The U.S. has gone from being a “shining light on the hill” to championing barbaric practices that civilized nations have long condemned. While many Americans seem to pay attention only to Bush’s idealistic invocations, foreigners are not as gullible.
The Bush administration seems to have learned nothing from its democracy debacles of the last four years. But perhaps the rhetoric has all been a ruse. Perhaps invoking “democracy” is simply a smokescreen in pursuit of the NeoConservative goal of “benevolent global hegemony.”
******I fear this article may tarnish my chances of receiving a Democracy Service Award from the National Endowment for Democracy. On the other hand, since the Endowment routinely gives the awards to congressmen who vote to boost the Endowment’s budget, I was probably never a frontrunner for this medal.