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Elliott Morss | May 5, 2015

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The US Democracy Movement – Now Libya

by Elliott R. Morss

Introduction

Most Americans believe in democracy; it is in their DNA. And when you point to its defects, they smile and quote Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

The belief in democracy is reflected in the rhetoric of US foreign policy. But the reality of US foreign policy is far different. And since most Americans are uninformed and uninterested in US foreign policy (unless their children were drafted), they let their leaders do what they want.  

The Cold War

To combat the USSR “evil empire”, the US befriended many dictators: Greece (Papadopoulos), Spain (Franco), Iran (Pahlavi – The Shah), Nicaragua (Somoza), Paraguay (Stroessner) Haiti (the Duvaliers), Chile (Pinochet), Cambodia (Pol Pot), Liberia (Tubman), Zimbabwe (Mugabe), The Philippines (Marcos), Dominican Republic (Trujillo), Panama (Noriega), and Zaire (Mobutu).

Post Cold War

After the Cold War, US support for military dictators continued and even justified by the US Government. An article –  “World war ii and the cold war”, Encylopedia of the New American Nation, 2002, quotes from a US State Department paper:

“…the Department of State noted that ‘our experience with the more highly developed Latin American states indicates that authoritarianism is required to lead backward societies through their socioeconomic revolutions.’ Moreover, if the ‘breakthrough occurs under noncommunist authoritarianism, trends toward democratic values emerge with the development of a literate middle class.’ Right-wing dictators would ‘remain the norm … for a long period. The trend toward military authoritarianism will accelerate as developmental problems become more acute and the facades of democracy left by the colonial powers prove inadequate to immediate tasks.’”

Krauthammer, in a Time magazine article in the same year: “We cannot destabilize every regime at once and hope by some miracle to escape chaos. The idea that we betray our principles if we do not demand universal democracy–immediately and everywhere–is as ironic as it is Utopian. America is daily attacked for cowboy interventionism and arrogant unilateralism–then simultaneously attacked for not acting unilaterally to cleanse the planet of all tyranny.”

Today

The US appears to have launched a crusade for democracy. If George W. Bush is to be believed, that is why it invaded Iraq. After bin Laden could not be found in Afghanistan, regime change for democracy became the objective, at least for a while. And now, Libya.

US Military Interventions – The Problem

Since WWII, the Gulf War is the one war that can be deemed a success. Why was that a success? Because there was a clearly defined objective with an achievable exit strategy: get Iraq out of Kuwait and nothing more. Consider the Korean and Vietnam Wars – what was the objective and exit strategy? Take over the countries with China on the northern border of each? So the US left, and The Cold War ended when the USSR economic system collapsed.

And now, how about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya? Was any thought given to an implementable exit strategy? My own view on Iraq and Afghanistan is that the US will accomplish absolutely nothing useful by staying longer. In Libya, we have had the TV show of American planes lighting up the skies over Tripoli. Notice how well-armed the opposition fighters are. This is not a simple situation. Maybe a civil war? Expect another protracted ground war shortly.

Democracy – Why Libya?

The Economist Intelligence Unit does democracy ratings. It categorizes countries into full democracies (26), flawed democracies (53), hybrid regimes (33), and authoritarian regimes (55). Of the 167 countries listed, Libya ranks 158. The following table lists the countries below Libya.

Country Ranking Score
 Libya 158 1.94
 Iran 158 1.94
 Equatorial Guinea 160 1.84
 Saudi Arabia 160 1.84
 Central African Republic 162 1.82
 Burma 163 1.77
 Uzbekistan 164 1.74
 Turkmenistan 165 1.72
 Chad 166 1.52
North Korea 167 1.08

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit

I repeat: why Libya? It is well documented that most of the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi. Saudi just provided military support (troops and munitions) to help its neighbor Bahrain (ranked 122 on the democracy index) forcibly put down an uprising. Who rules in Bahrain? A dictator, keeping a minority group (Sunnis) in control over a Shiite majority (Iraq redux).

Why not invade Saudi and bring the Saudi people democracy? No. The US cannot try to bring democracy to Saudi: too much oil.

Ivory Coast

The real tragedy is that developments in the Ivory Coast have been ignored. Under UN sanctions, a presidential election was held. The Electoral Commission declared that Ouattara beat the incumbent Gbagbo by a margin of 54% to 46%. Gbagbo refused to step down, sealed the borders, and a war has started. It would be easy and appropriate for the UN to remove Gbagbo from power and install Ouattara as the duly-elected new president. Libya is a country of only 7 million people. The Ivory Coast has 21 million.

The Enormous US Government Deficit

US politicians are arguing about what programs to cut to reduce the US government deficit. But somehow, questions of cost do not arise when the US President launches the country into a new war.

The Congressional Budget Office breaks down 2011 Federal expenditures into Mandatory ($2,108 billion) and Discretionary ($1,375 billion). Discretionary is divided further into Military ($561 billion) and Non-Defense ($533 billion).

The US government is spending more on defense than on education, non-mandatory health, transport, etc. combined. Tomahawk missiles light up the sky and are impressive on TV. Each one costs something between $600,000 and $1,000,000.

Borosage

“The country finds itself constantly at war. New presidents inherit the wars of their predecessors. They are faced not with deciding to go to war, but whether to accept defeat in one already in progress. And slowly, the great power declines from the inside out. The wars are costly, running up national debts. Vital investments are put off. Schools decline. Sewers leak. For a long time, circuses distract from the spreading ruin. Other societies become productive centers, capturing the new industries. Some begin providing better education for their citizens, better support for their citizens. Their taxes, not drained by the cost of wars past and present, can be devoted to what we used to call “domestic improvements.

South Waziristan, Yemen, Somalia, Kosovo, the Taiwan straits, the North Korean border, the seven seas – we can do this. But the result is that we are continually at war. And the wars cost – in money, in lives, in attention. And inevitably, domestic priorities, as well as emerging security threats that have no military answers, get ignored. A rich country, Adam Smith wrote, has a lot of ruin in it. We seem intent on testing the limits of that proposition.”

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