Spreading Democracy

(September 2014)




How many people in the rest of the world view Western claims about promoting democracy . . .




Speaking of Democracy:

Most Americans view U.S. and European foreign policy as the struggle of democracies trying to bring peace and order to a chaotic world filled with dictators and Islamic fundamentalists.  This, of course, is the result of Western governments and media presenting global conflicts in exactly these terms.  However, to assume that the West represents "democracy" (i.e., the good guys) struggling against fundamentalists and totalitarians (the bad guys) is an incredible oversimplification of reality.  Western countries, including the U.S., are simply promoting their self-interests and presenting the pursuit of those self-interests as "moral leadership."  Western countries have just as frequently undermined democracy in other countries as supported it. (For a discussion of some of the examples presented below --plus others-- see the articles in the section "What Really Happened," Foreign Affairs, July/August 2014)

In 1953, the U.S. (through the CIA) overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in order to install the Shah of Iran as that country's dictator. (Needless to say, oil was at the center of that operation.) There was massive opposition to the dictatorial rule of the Shah in Iran, whose father was originally installed in power by Imperial Britain.  The Shah was given carte blanche to purchases any weapons he wanted from the U.S. short of nuclear weapons.  He also developed SAVAK, one of the more notorious secret police in the Middle East.  Opposition to the U.S.-imposed rule of the Shah eventually led to the revolution that brought the present Islamic government of Iran to power.  If the U.S. had not overthrown the Mossadegh government, it is unlikely that the ayatollahs would have come to dominate Iran as they do today. 

In 1954, the U.S. (again through the CIA) overthrew the democratically elected government of President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman by Col. Carlos Castillo Armas and some 500 mercenaries.  This coup was condemned by many leading newspapers in Britain, France and West Germany, as well as by Dag Hammarskjold, the Secretary General of the United Nations. This coup was followed by a succession of military governments and led to nearly four decades of civil war between those governments and Guatamalan insurgents that did not end until Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo became President of Guatemala in 1986.

in 1968, the U.S. (yet again through the CIA) sponsored a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende in Chile.  The U.S.-financed junta that ousted Allende established a military government that ruled Chile until 1990.  The most notorious of these military rulers was General Agusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. Pinochet was accused of the killing and torturing of thousands of Chileans.

Clearly, the peoples of these three countries did not benefit from American involvement in their political affairs. Furthermore, the U.S. cannot claim to have supported democracy in any of these situations, or to have been working in the best interest of the countries involved. The U.S. was working to promote its own interests. Add to this the fact that the U.S. has supported (and continues to support) numerous dictators and military governments in the Middle East and elsewhere (much of the "Arab Spring" represents the overthrow of dictatorial governments supported by the U.S.), it would take an incredible stretch of logic to claim that the U.S. consistently promotes democracy and human rights throughout the world.

Regarding the frequently claimed moral superiority of Western democracies, it should be noted that every country that is currently experiencing political turmoil, most notably in the Middle East and Africa, was at one time a European colony, and more importantly the colony of a "democracy" that claimed it was promoting Western values.  In not one of these countries did the European colonial power take any substantive steps to promote the social, economic and political development of any of its colonies. After 300 years of often brutal colonial rule, India was as poor and underdeveloped when it achieved independence in 1947 as when Britain first colonized it. In many ways, it was less developed and prepared for independence. Indeed, the leading colonial power that wreaked the most havoc in the world was Great Britain, followed by France, two of the so-called "leading democracies" in the world.  Much of the turmoil that exists in the Middle East is a consequence of the political jockeying for control of oil and trade routes by these two countries, aggravated by the subsequent rise after WWII of the U.S. as the undisputed global economic and military power (with nearly 1,000 military bases around the world --far more than any other country in history). It is not surprising that the only non-Western country to effectively compete with the West during the 20th century was Japan --the only country not colonized by Western democracies.  It was/is also in self-proclaimed "democracies" (the U.S., Australia, South Africa and Israel) that Westerners invaded other peoples' lands, dispossessed them of that land, killed indigenous peoples in large numbers, and turned the surviving population into an impoverished minority living on a fraction their former territory. And now that Western colonialism has ended, some of those countries are rapidly developing to a point where they challenge Western global dominance.  And how does the current dominant global power respond?  As would be expected of any imperial power seeing its dominance threatened: by moving two-thirds of its navy to the Pacific (the so-called "Pivot to Asia"); by trying to politically and economically isolate those powers that pose a threat (as through the promotion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP], which is directly aimed at China); and by claiming that it is these other "rogue" countries that represent a threat to global stability (ignoring, of course, quite a bit of history along the way).  

And since few Americans read serious historical research or critical analyses of international politics and economics --most don't even read foreign news sources to get an alternative perspective on foreign affairs-- Americans in general simply accept the version of events that is given to them by the U.S. government and media, just as British and French citizens accepted and supported British and French government justifications for their imperial policies throughout the world.


"The more things change, the more they stay the same."

-Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1849)



*     *     *     *     *