Monday, June 27, 2005

Democracy, U. S. Style

I must say again, I realize that the habit of re-posting material from elsewhere on a blog is lazy, a cop-out, and also risks somebody screaming about copyright violation, especially when the author is a Jew. It needs to be done only in the rarest of circumstances if you're going to be a real blogger. But sometimes, someone says something that needs saying, and says it so perfectly that you just have to give his words a little bit of extra distribution. This is from Eric Margolis of the Toronto Sun. - HAC

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LONDON -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to Cairo last week to tell her Egyptian hosts and the Saudis, America's two most important Arab allies: No more stalling, you have to hold honest elections now.

Rice's tough talk was certainly long overdue. She admitted America's policy of supporting Mideast despots and oligarchs for the past 30 years had been wrong. (Actually, Condi, it's 60 years, but never mind.)

So will Washington really push its Arab client states into genuine democracy? Don't bank on it.

The Bush administration has correctly concluded the kings, sheiks and generals who run the Mideast under American tutelage are a spent force. They have lost all legitimacy and are increasingly unable to repress the wave of Islamic militancy fuelled by Osama bin Laden that is sweeping the strategic region.

So Washington decided its loyal Mideast satraps are due for regime change. As Henry Kissinger once quipped about South Vietnam, it's more dangerous being an ally of the U.S. than an enemy.

Bush's Mideast policy team and its Israeli mentors concluded the best way to defuse Islamic militancy is to bring in new "moderate" civilian regimes elected in what appears, at least from afar, to be a democratic process.

The new model of Mideast rulers Washington has in mind can be seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Turbans and general's hats are out. The Mideast's new look will be "moderates" -- low-key, non-flamboyant, fluent English-speakers in sober business suits who are "Muslims lite" and owe their total financial and political support, as well as personal protection, to Washington.

They will continue to sell oil cheap, open their markets to U.S. business, buy arms they can't use, allow U.S. military bases, reconfigure their military forces for internal security control, suppress political Islam, and make nice with Israel. In other words, just what the former kings and generals did, but with far less flash and much more subtlety.

The new breed of Mideast rulers will be elected in nominally "democratic" elections pre-determined to produce pro-U.S. winners and exclude all but token voices from radicals or troublesome Islamists. The U.S. media will sanctify them with glowing reports and fulsome praise.

This week's parliamentary elections in Lebanon are a good example of ersatz democracy at work. Former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri was murdered last February. The killing seemed to implicate Syria, which had long occupied Lebanon. National outrage over the murder drove Syria's troops out of Lebanon. New elections were held. An anti-Syrian won.

The White House ballyhooed the vote as the dawn of Mideast democracy and vindication of its policies -- notably invading Iraq.

But from up close the situation is not too heroic. Lebanon's politics remain deeply corrupt. Some voters in northern Lebanon were reportedly bribed $500 US apiece to cast their ballots for the U.S.-backed anti-Syrian faction. Around $35 billion borrowed by the former Hariri government to rebuild civil-war-shattered Lebanon is still unaccounted for. Since Hariri co-operated with Syria, his unsolved murder may have been committed by those seeking to drive Syria from Lebanon, or in revenge for the missing billions.

Finding pliable "moderates" in other Arab nations will be hard. Their ruthless, U.S.-supported regimes long ago crushed any legitimate opposition, leaving only underground extremist groups. They -- notably the Muslim Brotherhood -- with whom the U.S. should be talking, were branded "terrorists" by Bush.

The United States is hated across the Muslim world. If truly free elections were held tomorrow in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, their U.S.-backed regimes would be swept away by anti-U.S. Islamists.

Control of the Arab world and its oil is a pillar of U.S. power. It's unlikely Washington will ever countenance genuinely free Mideast elections. After Jimmy Carter called for democracy in Iran in 1979, and began withdrawing U.S. support from its grotesque Shah, a key U.S. ally, popular revolution erupted that brought in a violently anti-U.S. Islamic government.

The Arab world's only fully honest election was held in Algeria in 1992. It produced a landslide for Islamic parties. Algeria's U.S.- and French-backed military immediately staged a coup and annulled the election.


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