Response to Guardian article
The $65m question
When, how - and where - should we promote democracy?
First we need the facts
Timothy Garton Ash
Thursday December 16, 2004
Would you rather have democracies next door, or dictatorships? Democracies, right? If they are genuine liberal democracies, they are better for the people who live in them and for their neighbours. So, why not promote democracy in neighbouring countries? Or do you think we have obligations only to compatriots, and interests only within the frontiers of our nation-state? If you consider it a matter of complete indifference whether another country's rulers oppress, torture, poison and murder political opponents or ethnic and religious groups within the boundaries of their state, then you need read no further. You will save five precious minutes of your time. Have a nice day.
I've just read your latest article "The $65 Million Question" and was left quite bemused at your logic. Your first question "Would you rather have democracies next door, or dictatorships?" is easy enough, democracies. "why not promote democracy in neighbouring countries?" fair enough, although further qualification is necessary as to what this promotion involves.
The next part of you piece at first glance might seem fair "If you consider it a matter of complete indifference whether another country's rulers oppress, torture, poison and murder political opponents or ethnic and religious groups within the boundaries of their state, then you need read no further. You will save five precious minutes of your time. Have a nice day. Oh, you're still there? Then let's get to the real question: how? We know the wrong way: Iraq. But what's the right way? Which means of promoting democracy are effective and justified?," but the obvious result of your question is forced logic. Because I am opposed to rape, torture etc (as any moral human being must be) I am, according to your logic obliged to 'promote' democracy in another country. Is there no alternative?
Taking for granted that this is the resonable thing to do in a situatioin where the leaders of a country are abusing the people of their country, shouldn't the first thing to do before promoting a new political structure is to choose one that will benefit all its people. Take for instance promoting US democracy in Iraq. The US itself a country with massive inequalities, a death penalty, racial inequalities, discrepancies in voting processes, a hugely ignored anti-war lobby etc. Is this what we hope for Iraq? There's no question that this is still better than what the Iraqi people had under Saddam, but is it the best we can strive for. Perhaps they could come up with something better?
Are you missing the point altogether? How can we promote democracy, or simpler still, independence for people? Easy, stop any involvement thats detrimental to people. That means in Haiti, in Isreal, in Libya etc. That means paying compensation to countries that have suffered due to the invovlement of western 'democracies' in the past, including Nicaragua, Afganistan, Vietnam etc. Thats a start. Don't supply weapons to dictatorships, don't pretend genocide isn't going on. Don't support dictatorships while they slaughter hundreds and thousands of their population and don't pretend history, is just history. You are right to say "Then let's get to the real question: how? We know the wrong way: Iraq," but this was well predicted before the invasion. How can we expect a people who know we, not 'sat idly by', but actively supported (with weapons, with handshakes, with ignorance) the death of many of their family members and fellow country men to accept us as their saviours?
So far I've imagined that the war in Iraq was for the prupose of promoting democracy in Iraq, but although this may be your objective in Iraq, you are not fighting this war, you did not wage this war. The minute group of politicians who deceided to go to war aganist their old friend chose to do so for several reasons:
"The primary goal is to make it clear to Saddam that we expect him to be a peaceful neighbour in the region and we expect him not to develop weapons of mass destruction. And if we find him doing so, there will be a consequence."—U.S. President George W. Bush at his first White House news conference; Feb. 22, 2001
"Our cause is just, the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world. And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people." --George W. Bush March 22, 2003 Radio Address
"Our mission -- besides removing the regime that threatened us, besides ending a place where the terrorists could find a friend, besides getting rid of weapons of mass destruction -- our mission has been to bring a humanitarian aid and restore basic services, and put this country, Iraq, on the road to self- government. And we'll stay as long as it takes to complete our mission. And then all our forces are going to leave Iraq and come home"
-made by Bush in Ohio
Most of which have been unfounded accusations. They identify your reason as the forth aim. It is also quite obvious this aim exists only on the condition that all other aims before it are extant. Is this not reason enough to be cautious when advocating the 'promotion' of democracy?
There is no doubt that there are people around the world suffering under brutal regimes, but lets not kid ourselves that we are selflessly giving up the lives of US/UK soldiers, not to mention countless Iraq civilians (whose lives we generously forfeited too) for democratic purposes.
We are not the police of the world.