June 27, 2007
Democracy at Gunpoint

From Tim Weiner, commenting in the New York Times on the CIA’s new crud dump of past stupidities and crimes, which is plainly intended to distract attention from the agency’s present stupidities and crimes:

A footnote: the man who wrote the manifesto for the overseas training mission — “a democratic, unselfish, often unconditional approach to helping other countries to help themselves” — was the C.I.A.’s own Al Haney, the Florida-based field commander for Operation Success, the 1954 C.I.A. covert action that overthrew Guatemala.

“There have been charges that it is morally wrong for the U.S. to aid undemocratic regimes to strengthen their security systems, thereby serving to entrench them in power,” Haney argued 50 years ago. But “the U.S. cannot afford the moral luxury of helping only those regimes in the free world that meet our ideals of self-government. Eliminate all the absolute monarchies, dictatorships and juntas from the free world and count those that are left and it should be readily apparent that the U.S. would be well on its way to isolation.”

This states exactly our present policy toward Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, and on and on.

We are not alone in this cold, Kisssingerian approach: like any other nation the United States has no friends; nations, as Charles de Gaulle said, have only interests.

But what is stunning about America’s foreign policy makers during the last half century has been their near-total inability to identify what our real self interests were — and are.

Time after time we embraced such self-inflated toads as Saddam Hussein, Noriega, Osama bin Laden, Batista, the Shah of Iran, the Greek colonels, Pinochet, Savimbi, Mobutu, the junta in Argentina, and the butchers of El Salvador. And time after time they blow up in our hands, soiling us for generations to come.

It never occurs to patriots like “the C.I.A.’s own Al Haney” that for the suffering citizenry there is no real difference between a dictatorship of the right and one of the left. Thus the true self-interest of a confident, mature democracy lies not in choosing between two repulsive alternatives, but in rejecting both.

Rejection, though, ought not to mean war, whether open or secret. The resort to war would indeed — Haney was right about that — lead us into endless bloodbaths all over the world. And in fact it has.

And in fact it is doing so today, although only a fool would argue that Bush’s war actually grew out of a passion to set the world free. It is possible that he may have convinced himself of that by now, but the rest of the world is not so credulous. Our childish belief that democracy and American hegemony are synonymous is not widely shared abroad.

Democracy is best spread by example and by commerce, both economic and intellectual. Our own preferred method — to beat another nation to the ground and ram democracy into it — is not an act of love. It is rape.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at June 27, 2007 05:11 PM
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Point well taken, and very well put.

I would argue that the Cheney administration is not oriented differently than its predecessors; it's only more extreme.

But what is stunning about America’s foreign policy makers during the last half century has been their near-total inability to identify what our real self interests were — and are.

Certainly I agree that the US has consistently acted its own best interests. But I would argue that the best interests of the country have rarely coincided with the best interests of those in power, and those in power have even more rarely foregone their own interests in favor of the country's.

If we don't


  • instill a soul in the capitalist machine, and

  • institute real oversight of the executive branch,


very soon, this particular experiment in popular government will reach an end less dramatic than, but just as final as, Rome's.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) on June 27, 2007 6:32 PM

How do we stop rape?

Posted by: whig on June 27, 2007 9:57 PM

It never occurs to patriots like “the C.I.A.’s own Al Haney” that for the suffering citizenry there is no real difference between a dictatorship of the right and one of the left.

The suffering of the citizenry is irrelevant to them, unless it can be exploited as a cudgel against regimes they don't like. It's an excuse, not a principle.

Posted by: Mike G on June 28, 2007 1:26 AM

"Let's sink Cuba into the sea
and give 'em back democracy -
under the water!"
(Phil Ochs)

Posted by: Peter on June 28, 2007 4:16 AM
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