America, democracy and user-friendly tyrants

Now that the non-war in Iraq is over, the Bush

administration is focusing on who will govern Iraq.

The neo-conservatives such as Secretary of Defense

Donald  Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser

Condoleezza Rice, and Vice-President Dick Cheney

prefer an initial period of occupation (two years

according to President George W. Bush himself) of

post-war Iraq by US troops and civilians. This period

would be followed by forcing on the people of Iraq the

Iraq National Congress’ controversial and illegitimate

leader ­ the Pentagon’s darling ­ Ahmed Chalabi.

I wager that similar to what occurred in the early

part of last century, Iraq will end up being ruled by

a “user-friendly tyrant,” to use the serendipitous

words of an Australian colleague.

This is not surprising if one looks at the history of

America’s bout with democracy in the world and the

Middle East since World War II. From the early 1950s

onward, and under the guise of a national security

doctrine, America’s favorite rulers included such

unsavory leaders as Somoza in Nicaragua, Noriega in

Panama, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, the

various military regimes in the Southern Cone of the

American continent exemplified by US support of the

overthrow and assassination of the elected president

of Chile, Salvador Allende, and his replacement by

Augusto Pinochet, one of the nastiest dictatorships

and a major violator of human rights. The same also

applied to Brazil, and Argentina until the advent of

the Clinton administration that encouraged and

fostered democratic regimes in Latin America. Today,

most of these governments are confronting social and

economic upheavals as a result of globalization,

Venezuela being the tip of the iceberg. In Asia, we

have the succeeding US administrations supporting and

abetting bloody dictatorships such as Marcos in the

Philippines and the Suharto regime in Indonesia.

In Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, the US

encouraged the advent of democracies with different

levels of success. For instance, Russia is today ruled

by a semi-autocratic regime headed by Vladimir Putin ­

hardly a typical Jeffersonian democrat! Things get

worse in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia

where some rulers have a record that is comparable to

that of Saddam Hussein’s. The only bright spot is in

Central Europe in countries such as Hungary, Poland

and the Czech Republic. Their experiment in democracy

is mixed but vibrant and viable. These three countries

have had a historic experiment with democratic rule

and enjoy the presence of an active civil society.

In the Middle East, the US record in promoting

democracy is dismal. A case in point is the

CIA-supported overthrow of the popularly elected

Mossadeq government in Iran in the early 1950s.

Mossadeq was replaced by Reza Pahlavi as shah of Iran,

who for almost twenty years plundered the resources of

his country to satisfy the interests and profits of US

oil companies and weapons manufacturers. Ironically,

this is the same military-industrial complex which is

now descending like hungry vultures on Mesopotamia:

Halliburton, Bechtel, Lockheed, etc.

Then we have Israel ­ “the only democracy in the

Middle East,” as has been bandied around by the

Israeli government and its friends in the West. Israel

is a pseudo-democracy that still has no constitution

and that has not yet worked out whether it is a state

for the Jews or a state for all its citizens without

distinction of race, sex, or ethnic and religious

backgrounds. This is a state where the Law of Return

allows any Jew around the world to come and settle on

occupied lands while the native Palestinian population

cannot even claim its right of return. Yes, Arab

citizens of Israel enjoy some freedoms and do have

access to the Israeli social welfare system, but they

still face huge discrimination.

Then, we have the horrible and illegal occupation of

Palestinian territories including Jerusalem. If

Israel, a close ally of the US, is the only country

enjoying democracy in the Middle East then why isn’t

it used as a model and an example by its friends in

Washington who are legion? This is an important

question that comes to mind when we consider who are

the characters that today are advocating a democratic

tsunami in Iraq and the Middle East: Daniel Pipes,

Amos Perlmutter, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams,

Douglas Feith. Kanan Makiya, and Ahmed Chalabi among


This is why I believe that the hollow talk we are

hearing from Washington ­ and we will be hearing until

the departure of the last US soldier from Iraq ­ is

just that: hollow, senseless talk.

My Australian friend was right: In a few years from

now, we will have a user-friendly tyrant in Baghdad

and Bush could still be in the White House ­ but this

time elected. Who knows? Democratie oblige!

One of the bestsellers in Washington bookstores is the

US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These hallowed

and admirable documents ought to be required reading

in the White House. 

George E. Irani is a professor at Royal Roads

University. He wrote this commentary for The Daily



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