The Farce of the Bush Pursuit
of Democracy Abroad -
While Undermining It At Home
by Edward Herman
ZNet, August 26, 2005
The Bush rationale for the invasion-occupation
of Iraq was the threat to U.S. national security posed by Saddam
Hussein's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction and
ties to Al Qaeda. Saddam's brutal rule was sometimes mentioned
in the course of pre-invasion demonization, but liberation and
democratization were barely detectable as second or third order
In fact, Bush administration aims in the
attack on Iraq were even acknowledged to be independent of Saddam
rule: The document Rebuilding America's Defenses, written in September
2000 by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative
think tank closely affiliated with Bush officials-to-be, indicates
that the Bush team had in mind taking military control of the
Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power. It says
"while the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate
justification, the need for a substantial American force presence
in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."
The liberation and democratization objectives
were brought to the fore only after it was definitively established,
and could not be hidden from public view, that the primary objectives
had rested on lies, and were war-marketing claims advanced by
a group determined to attack and whose "intelligence and
facts were being fixed around the policy." With the collapse
of those claims something more was needed, in retrospect and to
justify a continuing occupation and restructuring of Iraqi society.
Liberation and democratization filled the bill nicely, noble objectives
whose alleged pursuit could cover over less noble ends such as
seizing assets. establishing bases, and working toward longer
term political control.
But if a group that had lied its way into
an aggression-occupation subsequently shifted objectives, with
the Leader now claiming a new vision and aim to democratize the
world, minimal honesty and intelligence would seem to demand scepticism
and a careful search for real motives and objectives. To a remarkable
degree the mainstream media and intellectuals eschewed any such
critical examination and took the new objectives at face value.
If this is so, than "all the news fit to print" is not
dictated by any quest for truth but by the demands of service
to the state.
It took some remarkable evasions and the
swallowing of some eminently challengeable official claims to
perform this state propaganda service. Truly independent media
would have carefully examined whether the democracy objective
was consistent with the broad aims and interests sought by the
Bush administration; whether in the light of those broader aims
and interests alternative objectives might be identified that
were being pursued under cover of "democratization";
whether the new objective was consistent with observable Bush
policy across the board or was only applied selectively; and whether
the Bush conception of democratization might be designed to yield
a nominal democracy lacking in substance, with an "Arab facade"
as the British used to call their forms employed in Iraq in earlier
With very minor exceptions neither the
mainstream media nor liberal intellectuals and the "cruise
missile left" have raised such questions. They adhere closely
to a de facto party line, based almost entirely on the Bush claim
to be working for democracy as his prime objective, along with
the supposedly supportive evidence of the U.S organization of
the January 30, 2005 national election in Iraq, plus the work
of the U.S. government and its allies in places like Yugoslavia,
Georgia and the Ukraine.
A first problem with taking Bush's proclamation
of the democracy objective at face value is the well-established
fact that he works in close coordination with Karl Rove and Frank
Luntz, who have built a tradition of recommending saying what
will resonate and sell irrespective of truth. A second is that
every leader who attacks another country claims a noble objective,
so common sense and honesty tells us we must discount such claims
to virtually zero; and in Bush's case this need is reinforced
by the fact that the noble objective came forth as a fall-back
A third problem is the evidence that the
Bush team aimed to further project power in the Persian Gulf region
rather than advance democracy, as noted in the quote above from
the PNAC report of 2000. Substantive democracy might limit that
power, whereas a conquered state with an "Arab façade"
would meet that objective well-if it could not only be put in
place but also maintained in power. The mainstream media have
carefully avoided citing the PNAC (and other similar documents)
and spelling out the objectives clearly stated there for a prospective
invasion-occupation, or considering their consistency with the
democracy objective. They have not discussed the concept and history
of the phrase "Arab façade."
A fourth problem is the consistency of
the democracy aim with the record and broader interests of the
Bush administration. Those interests are mainly business interests,
and we can see how a war in Iraq and perpetual war against "terrorism"
might serve those interests in enlarging areas of economic domination,
including oil resources, increasing arms business for the military-industrial
complex, and providing lucrative contracts for Halliburton, Bechtel
et al. to build bases abroad and rebuild in areas devastated by
bombs. It also serves those interests by creating a patriotic
and distracted moral environment under whose cover regressive
economic policies can be carried out. "Democracy" would
appear to have no place in servicing these ends and interests,
except for providing a formula that will resonate with the public
and obscure real aims.
Bush has claimed that his wars aim at
protecting the U.S. citizenry, but the exposed lies on Saddam's
WMD show that the Iraq invasion-occupation had nothing to do with
U.S. security, and it is now the view of knowledgeable observers
(including the CIA) that that invasion-occupation, along with
the carte blanche support of ethnic cleansing in Palestine, are
major sources of whatever security threat U.S. citizens face.
As this blowback effect was probably recognized by the Bush team,
increased insecurity was very likely part of the Bush plan and
serves his program well in justifying further arms and violence.
A fifth problem is the selectivity of
application of the Bush vision. The Bush team has found no problem
with authoritarian rule in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkmenistan,
Uzbekistan, Kyrgistan, Pakistan, and post-Aristide Haiti, and
it pushes aggressively for democratization only in countries whose
governments it opposes for reasons that have nothing to do with
democracy. The administration is deeply concerned about the supposed
democratic deficiencies of Venezuala, whose democratic credentials
greatly surpass those of the states mentioned above, and arguably
even of the United States itself, where today the majority have
no political party of consequence representing their interests.
If the application of the push for democracy is highly selective,
this suggests that it is not a major end but an instrument serving
A sixth problem is that Bush's notion
of "democracy" is almost surely Orwellian, eschewing
anything like a genuine rule of the people. A major feature of
nominal democracies today, and perhaps even more so those in the
Third World and in military or economic dependent status, is the
huge gap between their quasi-ruling elites and the general populace.
In this neoliberal world these leaders regularly betray their
campaign promises and the public interest as a result of the pressure
of financial obligation and threat and structural necessity. Only
a Chavez, with large oil revenues and under coup and destabilization
threat by the Godfather, can take the route of serving the national
majority. Those under the financial gun, from Lula in Brazil to
Tadic in Serbia, can operate only within narrow boundaries.
Those in occupied countries, like the
elected government of Iraq, are in an even more severely dependent
position, with the occupying army serving as the pacifying arm
of the elected leaders, and its political representatives still
the de facto rulers of the state establishing policy, controlling
the media, paying the wages of government workers and contractors,
building bases, and training security forces to fight the insurgency.
With reference to Lebanon, Bush stated that France, as well as
the United States "said loud and clear to Syria, you get
your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon so that good
democracy has a chance to flourish." The U.S. occupation
of Iraq is far more extensive, intrusive and violent than that
of Syria in Lebanon, but the patriotic double standard applies
here and is unchallenged in the U.S. mainstream: we have good
intentions and our troops and secret services in an occupied country
do not threaten "good democracy." But this is strictly
a triumph of ideology.
A final problematic with Bush's democracy
quest abroad is that democracy has been eroding at home and the
Bush administration has significantly accelerated that erosion.
The Patriot Act and its successor have
seriously weakened constitutional protections of the rights of
individuals; the stuffing of the courts with amenable rightwing
judges has threatened the independence of the judiciary and constitutional
rights; corrupt election practices, the force of money, and the
exploitation of fear threaten a one-party state, the breakdown
of the checks and balances system, and unconstrained executive
power. Is it plausible that the man managing this process of democracy
erosion at home is devoting large resources to its pursuit abroad?
The issue is not addressed in the propaganda system.
The Bush team gets away with all this
because the propaganda system works so well at this juncture.
The media are increasingly commercial and concentrated, and now
have a powerful rightwing sector that makes no bones about serving
as an instrument of Bush propaganda. That rightwing sector also
operates with an open patriotic ardor that puts competitive pressure
on the rest of the media to display their own belief in "my
country, right or wrong," and the rightwingers also attack
the laggards with a flak that helps keeps them close to the party
line. The easy route pursued in the mainstream is press release
journalism, asking no critical questions, and allowing lies to
flourish, to be challenged if at all too late to affect reality.
(A classic New York Times editorial, published five years after
the paper had swallowed a lie on the Soviet Union's shooting down
of Korean airliner 007 that gave the Reagan administration a propaganda
windfall, was entitled "The Lie That Was Not Shot Down"
[Jan. 18, 1988].)
Most of the liberal intelligentsia stay
within the national consensus, which quickly forms in support
of whatever venture abroad their leaders have undertaken. They
want to be loved, to be publishable in the New York Times, and
to be influential in guiding the Democrats in quest of power.
They also have a visceral hostility to the left, partly no doubt
out of guilt for their own abandonment of principle in favor of
"pragmatism," partly because left analyses show them
to be on shaky ground in terms of both fact and morality. The
result is that the liberals make the drastic assumption that even
the Bush team's motives are benign: thus George Packer says that
the Bush team has "an almost theological conviction that
American power is by nature good and what follows in its wake
will be freedom and democracy" ("War and Ideas,"
New Yorker, July 5, 2005). Packer shows what a harsh liberal critic
he is by challenging this alleged theological conviction, but
note the unargued and apologetic assumption about the Bush team's
Packer goes on to say what he has said
elsewhere, that "For better or for worse, it's a fight in
which America continues to have an obligation as well as an interest."
But America committed a blatant aggression in Iraq that violated
the UN Charter and that the world majority opposed, and even Blair's
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has acknowledged the obvious fact
that the U.S. invasion and mode of fighting has fed and stimulated
the insurgency. Is there no obligation to obey international law?
If the U.S. pacification keeps producing more insurgents in a
feedback process, what is the limit in death and destruction that
Packer will tolerate? What does Packer mean by "interest"?
Does he assume that Bush strives for democracy or could his interest
be more material?
Packer undoubtedly means interest in pursuing
that theological conviction that we will bring freedom and democracy.
That is of course the premise of that masterpiece of aggression-occupation
apologetics in the New York Times by Michael Ignatieff ("Who
Are Americans To Think That Freedom Is Their To Spread?",
June 28, 2005), but that work deserves more attention that I can
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