Connecting the Democratic Dots

Posted January 5, 2005

Categories: Articles

When the Bush administration was mounting its attack on Iraq in 2003, former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz spoke of the chain effect that Saddam Hussein’s ouster would have on the Middle East. Iraq would be the first Arab democracy. Other peoples in the region would rise up against their leaders. The U.S. decision to go to war would be vindicated.

At the time, this commitment to spreading democracy was received with a great deal of skepticism. Many in the State Department viewed Wolfowitz’s approach with suspicion, for they did not believe democracy was easily achieved in Iraq. Moreover, the career diplomats and functionaries have generally supported a realistic foreign policy that emphasizes the preservation of the balance of power in key regions and U.S. access to natural resources.

Critics outside the administration argued that Wolfowitz and his neo-conservative supporters were not serious about Iraqi democracy and that this was simply a pretty rationalization for an ugly intervention. The United States, they pointed out, was still relying on authoritarian regimes like Pakistan to prosecute its ?war on terrorism.? There was also a long tradition of U.S. support of dictators around the world. Consider, for example, Paul Wolfowitz’s own warm embrace, eight years ago in Indonesia, of what he called the strong and remarkable leadership of President Suharto.?

Much has changed in the two years since the United States toppled Hussein. National elections took place in Iraq at the end of January, and the Iraqi National Assembly has just selected a Kurd to be their new president. Movements for democracy have gained strength in Lebanon and Egypt. Palestinians recently held elections. Paul Wolfowitz is heading over to the World Bank, where he will use money instead of guns to make the world safe for neo-conservatism. And a new bill introduced into Congress, the ADVANCE Democracy Act, proposes that the United States should eliminate, non-violently, the world?s remaining 45 dictators in the next twenty years.

In other words, what was once a minority opinion in the Bush administration ?the promotion of democracy as a prime directive of U.S. foreign policy ?is on its way to becoming a defining feature of George W. Bush’s tenure as president. In a shift from the three-sided ‘axis of evil’ to a much larger assault on outposts of tyranny, the Bush administration is now attempting to draw parallels between democracy promotion in Iraq and elsewhere in the world, including Iran, Ukraine, and North Korea. By sending Wolfowitz to the World Bank ?and possibly former State Department firebrand John Bolton to the United Nations ?the administration is attempting to preach its sermons from different pulpits.

Democracy is a fine thing. Many people around the world, including South Korea, have sacrificed their comfort, their careers and even their lives to bring democracy to their countries. But the current emphasis on democracy promotion that the neo-conservatives have injected into Bush administration policy is, unfortunately, misguided.

The current neo-conservative support for democracy is very much like religious evangelism. The democracy promoters have their own bibles (the U.S. constitution), missionaries (U.S. diplomats), and Vatican (Washington). They don’t care whether their program is culturally appropriate, politically applicable, or economically viable. They insist on the correctness of their approach even if the approach itself imposed from above in Iraq and Afghanistan is not democratic.

Like true believers, the democracy promoters are heedless of the consequences of their actions. A common expression during the Vietnam War era was that the U.S. Army had to destroy the village in order to save it. Similarly, the U.S. Army killed more than 17,000 Iraqi civilians in order to provide the country with democracy. If the U.S. government insists on toppling other non-democratic governments such as North Korean regime the consequences could be even more catastrophic.

And then there are the areas where the new democracy policy doesn’t apply. The Bush administration, for instance, needs China to help bring North Korea back to the Six Party Talks. China also has nuclear weapons and is a leading trade partner of the United States. So don’t expect Washington to put much pressure on China or other strategic partners to transform its regime any time soon.

The axis of evil brought three very different countries into an imagined alliance. The latest attempt by the Bush administration to connect the dots in its foreign policy is a similarly mistaken remapping of the world that is both more ambitious in scope and more arrogant in substance. The style is not democratic, and the results are unlikely to be democratic either.

Munhwa Ilbo, April 12, 2005

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *