Magazine article The American Conservative

Defining Democracy Down

Magazine article The American Conservative

Defining Democracy Down

Article excerpt

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. For most of the American media, however, Bush's pretensions on democracy remain sacrosanct.

When Bush took office in 2001, the U.S. 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 United States is currently spending more than a billion dollars a year on democracy promotion.

In 2001, NED quadrupled its aid to Venezuelan opponents of elected president Hugo Chavez, and NED heavily funded some organizations involved in a bloody military coup that temporarily removed Chavez from power in April 2002. After Chavez retook control, NED and the State Department responded by pouring even more money into groups seeking his ouster.

The International Republican Institute, one of the largest NED grant recipients, played a key role both in the Chavez coup and also in the overthrow of Haiti's elected president, JeanBertrand Aristide. In February 2004, an array of NED-aided groups and individuals helped spur an uprising that left 100 people dead and toppled Aristide. Brian Dean Curran, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, warned Washington that the International Republican Institute's actions "risked us being accused of attempting to destabilize the government."

The U.S. pulled out all the stops to help our favored candidate win a "free and fair" election in 2004 in the Ukraine. In the two years prior to the election, the United States spent over $65 million "to aid political organizations in Ukraine, paying to bring opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to meet U.S. leaders and helping to underwrite exit polls indicating he won a disputed runoff election," according to the Associated Press. Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) complained that "much of that money was targeted to assist one particular candidate, and ... millions of dollars ended up in support of the presidential candidate, Viktor Yushchenko." Yet with boundless hypocrisy, Bush had proclaimed that "any [Ukrainian] election... ought to be free from any foreign influence."

Though Bush perennially invokes spreading democracy to justify the invasion of Iraq, suppressing democracy was one of the first orders of business for the U.S. occupation authorities. Three and a half months after the fall of Baghdad, military commanders "ordered a halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and towns across Iraq, choosing instead to install their own handpicked mayors and administrators, many of whom are former Iraqi military leaders," the Washington Post reported. Many Iraqis were outraged to see Saddam's former henchmen placed back in power over them.

U.S. viceroy Paul Bremer feared that the chaos that followed Saddam's fall would not be conducive to electing positive thinkers: "In a postwar situation like this, if you start holding elections, the people who are rejectionists tend to win." And the U.S. military presence would likely be one of the first things freely elected Iraqis would have rejected.

The early suppression of popular government helped turn many Iraqis against the U.S. occupation. But, as Noah FeIdman, the Coalition Provisional Authority's law advisor, explained in November 2003, "If you move too fast, the wrong people could get elected." The repeated delays of elections were partly the result of the Bush administration's lack of enthusiasm for Iraqi self-rule-as well as its fear that pro-Iran Shi'ites would win an honest election. The Bush administration only agreed to hold elections after Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, the most powerful religious leader in Iraq, sent his followers into the streets demanding an opportunity to vote. …

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