- Over the past several weeks mainstream American media
have practically swooned over the elections of sorts that have occurred
in countries of the Middle East and elsewhere. Reflecting comments from
official Washington, they have been full of praise for balloting in Iraq,
in Palestine, and retrospectively for Ukraine. The prospect of an election
in Lebanon has been imbued with virtually millennial significance. Their
overarching judgment is that political spring is flowering in the Middle
East. Their bottom line is that all of this is the first product of President
Bush's promotion of democracy. On a more cautious note, the Economist,
a London voice, sums it up with such terms as the idea of "Democracy
for Arabs" is no longer "the stuff of foolish dreams" while
the idea that the Israelis and Palestinians would negotiate a settlement
"is no longer ridiculous."
- The primary reason for these rhetorical flights is a
desperate Washington leadership search for good news from the Middle East.
One reason is an effort to validate the President's State of the Union
declaration of a war on tyranny. Another reflects way-paving for future
preemptive US/Israeli moves, for example against Iran. A fourth reason
is the desire of many people in the Middle East and elsewhere to achieve
representative forms of government and better participation in decisions
affecting them. But that dream is at least several generations old, and
it has been suppressed by, among other forces, the weight of American and
European colonial policies.
- A "flowering" of the desire for participatory
government in countries where self-selected/externally supported elites
have ruled for decades could prove, like Aladdin's genii, difficult to
put back in the bottle. The acid test will be a demonstration that the
United States not only means what President Bush has been saying, but also
knows what those statements mean when translated into national forms of
- An even harder test may be US willingness to accept whatever
"summer" of governance that "spring" leads to. There
is, however, virtually no public evidence of such openness in recent American
policies and decisions. So, what is driving the liberal sounding promotion
of democracy everywhere by a US leadership that up to now has pursued a
basically military and unilateral interventionist agenda? There may be
no single response to this question, but answers to several related questions
are a good place to start: First, what is the much touted Project for
a New American Century really about? Second, what were the policy effects
of the 9-11 attacks? Third, exactly why did the United States invade Iraq?
Fourth, what is the War on Tyranny really about?
- The Project for the New American Century (PNAC)
- A report called "Rebuilding America's Defenses",
prepared by a think tank called the Project for the New American Century
(PNAC) became the guiding light of the first George W. Bush administration.
It still is. Crafters of that report may well have had the key economic
facts in mind, but their focus was mainly on defense and military strategy
matters. They were looking at an America that was preeminent, but which
faced growing difficulties with sustaining that position. Such a perspective
could reasonably have been taken as a sign that the United States, with,
as the report says, "no global rival", certainly no comparable
military rival, had time to cool it for a while and watch developments.
The PNAC drafters thought otherwise.
- A fundamental situation that confronted the United States
at the start of the George W. Bush administration was the prospect that
most big global political discussions would be about economic and environmental
issues. In that context, most heated debate would likely arise around
competition for increasingly scarce materials and, as one of the more than
1300 scientists involved in the just published Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
commented, a need to "manage the global economy to produce a fairer
distribution of the earth's resources."
- A new handwriting had appeared on the wall: To maintain
peace and prosperity for the many, world leaders must find mutually agreeable
ways of allocating the impact of scarcity. (writer words and emphasis)
With increasing world population and a growing number of successful competitors,
the United States faced no real choice but to work with others to find
some peaceful way to address the resource allocation issues.
- However, the PNAC crafters saw the future dominated by
variously competitive military challenges, a game in which, in their view,
the United States must position itself to maintain total dominance. If
the PNAC crafters saw the finite and demanding dependence of military power
on assured economic success, that vision is not evident in the report.
Aware of the coming economic complications they may have been. Focused
on the elements of cooperative economic problem solving they clearly were
not. Rather, their "four core missions" were: (1) how to defend
the American homeland, (2) how to fight and win multiple, simultaneous
major theater wars, (3) how to perform the "constabulary" that
is world policeman role, and (4) how to transform US forces to exploit
the "revolution in military affairs."
- Those missions required the US, as the PNAC report found
to: (1) maintain nuclear superiority, (2) reform military personnel strength,
(3) reposition forces to respond to strategic needs, (4) modernize forces,
(5 stop spending on non-PNAC defense projects, (6) develop and deploy missile
defenses, (7) control space and cyberspace, (8) insure US force superiority,
and (9) increase defense spending.
- That agenda is both bellicose and strident. It translates,
as the Economist magazine recently headlined, into promotion of "democracy
- The 9-11 attacks
- Numerous critics have suggested that in its early days
the new Bush administration was deflected by the PNAC report and its authors
and supporters within the cabinet from any real consideration of America's
needs, or for that matter the needs of any other country. Growing scarcities
of critical materials may have been noted by them, but did not surface
in public discussions. The administration acquired instead an imperial
agenda, but even PNAC did not keep the President from moving ahead with
his tax cut for wealthy supporters. Thus the path to realization of PNAC
plans was to wipe out the budget surplus handed on by the Clinton administration
and then to build a mountain of debt to finance defense expenditures.
Those tendencies were reinforced by the 9-11 attacks that, in fact, presented
a glittering new opportunity.
- Whether or not the 9-11 attacks qualified as a new Pearl
Harbor, as some asserted, the attacks were used to justify launching the
War on Terrorism, first by invading Afghanistan. As PNAC enthusiasts saw
it, this was the beginning of World War IV (they say that the Cold War
was III) or the Long War, an enduring struggle for world domination. The
most vital effect of 9-11 in this sense was that it provided the rationale
for abandoning defense budget conservatism and, as proposed in PNAC, for
increasing defense spending. The American public was too shocked, too
troubled by the events and too uninformed about neoconservative intentions
as spelled out in the PNAC to pose any objections.
- The neocons were off and running. Against no specific
national enemy, without a global rival, America would arm to the teeth
to deal with a non-state actor, Osama bin Laden, whose forces numbered
at most a few thousand. 9-11 not only was a unique American tragedy, it
has proved to be an enduring attack on the American system because of the
distortions in behavior, law, domestic and foreign policy that have been
adopted by the Bush administration in its name.
- Why did the United States invade Iraq?
- The Bush team itself is responsible for much of the debate
about why the United States invaded Iraq. Oil, either access to supplies
or control over distribution, was always an obvious rationale. But openly
going into Iraq for oil was a universal no, no. Since every country has
some interest in the subject, being too obviously predatory and greedy
gets attention. Iraq was not and never had been a threat to the United
States, so that excuse would not and did not fly. Weapons of mass destruction,
guilt for alleged past crimes committed during the war with Iran-when the
US supported Iraq, or simply disposing of a despot whose human rights abuses
were numerous, would have to do, and they sort of served until the Iraqi
arsenal proved to be empty.
- Oil aside, the assault on Iraq was a PNAC inspired,
neoconservative driven "shock and awe" demonstration of American
military power. If you have all that weaponry and never use it, nobody
thinks you mean it, and the peace-keeping value, in PNAC terms, the "constabulary"
or world policeman utility of it is weak. It is, however, more than passing
smart to do that to someone who is not equipped to fight back. Saddam was
never loveable, but with the media and official Washington vilification
of him that accompanied the run-up to the war, he became a natural for
- Not able-or willing-- to tell us why we invaded Iraq,
the Bush team chose democratizing Iraq as its political mantra. The people
of Iraq, who had been variously bombed, humiliated and starved for more
than a decade by the United States and sometimes Britain, obviously deserved
better than that. How about turning the place into a democracy? L. Paul
(Jerry) Bremer, who had been the American administrator of Coalition operations
since early in the war, made an incredible move in that direction in the
hours before his departure and the handover to an Iraqi interim government.
- Bremer decreed a model system: Everybody would be subject
to a flat tax of 15%. All economic activities would be fully open to foreign
participation and ownership, and of course, repatriation of profits. His
rules, declared by fiat, would not be subject to modification by the Iraqis
once they took over. In six months the Iraqis would hold a democratic
election. That was to be Iraqi democracy to an American neocon heart's
- What Bremer dictated was the formation of an Iraq friendly
to foreign business and finance. It would have a democratically elected
leadership that would accept his scheme without question, and be a friend
to Israel to boot. That was a PNAC agenda, but to get there, Iraq was to
be an instant democracy of sorts, just as its first election was to be
sort of democratic. Many candidates did not identify themselves to the
electorate for fear of being killed, polling places were not designated
for fear they would be destroyed, and parties did not announce their programs
or candidates for fear of being targeted. Those actions were departures
from normal election procedure. The Iraqis came out to vote, about half
of them anyway, and that was the only democratic decision on the landscape.
- US officials talked in a desultory manner about pulling
US forces out of Iraq, but in the meantime, the US built at least fourteen
very permanent looking bases in Iraq. One view of those bases is that
they are a colossal waste. The other view is that permanent bases mean
the US has no intention of leaving Iraq, period. The current and next rounds
of Iraqi insurgency are stimulated by Iraqi objections to that plan. They
want their country back, and some would even take it back with Saddam in
- What is the War on Tyranny?
- Facing a growing body of Americans who want our troops
back home, along with growing negativism to the neocon agenda, Bush devoted
about five minutes of his second State of the Union message to the new
war on tyranny. As much as anything, that was razzle-dazzle to take the
public eye off failing strategies in Iraq. He talked about bringing democracy
to the Middle East. He talked about ridding countries of tyrannical regimes
and about hearing the appeals of believers in democracy whose aspirations
have been frustrated in many countries. In that whole discussion, he never
mentioned a military threat or an economic problem. In short, he floated
the war on tyranny as if it were a thing apart from the leading real world
challenges of our time. The war on tyranny was an idealized leadership
plan for countries that did not have-and therefore needed and wanted-a
western style democracy.
- Vindicating American democracy
- American democracy has been badly used, indeed mauled
in the Iraqi experiment. Iraqis know that they had an election in January,
but the run up to the election was anything but peaceful, and the validity
of the outcome, partly due to the non-participation of the Sunnis, was
questionable. Moreover, the election process was dampened by the belief
of many that the outcome had to be a government that both accepts and tolerates
an enduring American presence. Bremer had pretty well sealed that impression
with his last minute decrees.
- That question-whether the US forces will stay or leave--
is hanging in midair. As the Shi'a and Kurd dominated national assembly
tries to form a government, already weeks overdue, it is under obvious,
constant pressure to avoid asking the US and other Coalition forces to
- The problem is that conventional results of a democratic
election would yield an Iraqi government ruled by the Shi'a in cooperation
with a strong Kurd minority, possibly leaving out the former ruling Sunnis.
Just below the surface lies the prospect that this government could easily
be Islamic, if not necessarily fundamentalist. Thanks to the Baath and
in great measure to Saddam Hussein, Iraq has the largest secular element
in Middle Eastern politics. Though a secular government appears unlikely,
the secular elements appear to have enough influence both among Shi'a and
Kurds to moderate the Islamic influences on governance. That kind of outcome
could be reached without US involvement. Whether it would emerge in the
US presence is another matter. In fact, concerns about or real objections
to a US presence may well drive the outcome toward Islamic extremes, because
Shi'a firebrands such as Moqtada al-Sadr may call the tune.
- However this turns out, it appears unlikely to be a victory
for American style democracy. It is more likely to present an amalgam of
influences including the newly elected representatives (candidates selected
by tribal, clerical and communal procedures), the tribal chieftains, and
the clerics, basically a transitional Middle Eastern system of governance.
- Vindication of American democracy and a demonstration
that ridding the world of tyranny is a genuine US goal can result from
the Iraqi experiment if Americans in the Green Zone and in Washington give
the Iraqis enough room to work this out. However, the factors that now
interfere with selection of an Iraqi leadership and a full-fledged meeting
of the new assembly center precisely on whether that government will be
receptive to and cooperative with American plans. If those plans include
retention of control over Iraqi oil, US bases, and selection of an Iraqi
leadership that will go along with such an outcome, American democracy,
in Iraqi and other Middle Eastern eyes, will stand as a farce, not different
from other colonial gambits to get and keep control.
- The real trial in Iraq centers on whether the Bush team
and its neocon/Zionist supporters will risk losing control of both Iraqi
oil and a dominant military position in the region. It is obvious they
believe they can lose both by letting the Iraqis themselves decide what
they want and what form of government they want to obtain it. Viewed in
this light, it is not American democracy that is on trial in Iraq, but
American leadership intentions and the integrity of the Bush team.
- There are two possible outcomes on the table: If the
American players in Iraq insist on one that curtails Iraqi control of their
country, democracy will lose in the Middle East and elsewhere by default,
no matter how the situation is explained. On the other hand, if American
players are prepared to support creation of a genuinely independent Iraqi
government and to work out ways of doing business with it, democracy will
be vindicated in many minds everywhere.
- The global challenges
- On a global scale, the vindication of American democracy
depends on how US leaders decide to deal with the growing scarcities of
key resources. That means not only how they deal with the major resource
supplier countries such as Iraq; it also means how US leaders, both business
and government, will agree to deal with the allocation of scarce resources
among potential users. The PNAC approach is preemptive in its intent and
in the anticipated organization of the United States to deal with this
- The formula is pure, old fashioned "beggar thy neighbor"
economics, enforced by superpower military dominance and implemented with
superior buying power, granted, with borrowed money. Acceptance of this
formula by the world financial community is probably the key item on the
Paul Wolfowitz agenda as the new head of the World Bank. Its key elements
are high materials prices, low wages, and burgeoning American debt. That
formula attracts resources and wealth to the rich, while delegating low
income and poverty to the poor, and scaring the daylights out of people
who carry the debt. It avoids any concept of equity, and it will place
the United States increasingly at odds with the rest of the world, as well
as increasingly at risk of economic failure.
- The situation calls for processes of adjustment that
are not now clearly on the Washington agenda. However, there is totally
sufficient knowledge of the actual and pending world resource situation
to make sound judgments about future distribution and use of all key resources.
If the outcomes are pre-emptive or even aggressively assertive through
buying power, then both American leadership and American democracy will
be impugned. If it is reckoned that all potential users are equal, and
some equitable system is developed, then American leadership will be vindicated
and with it American democracy.
- At issue are how the world's only superpower should
adjust its lifestyle, and how it should adjust the trappings and uses of
its power to accommodate the needs and interests of others. Democracy indeed
could flower if the answers are any good. But the answers have to conform
to the dictates of America's founding fathers: "We hold these truths
to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" Honest and even-handed
carrying out of that principle would surely vindicate American democracy,
proving that it is not only a way to run elections but also the way to
conduct fair dealings among equals.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
and former Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National
War College. He is a regular columnist on rense.com. He will welcome
comments at email@example.com