Sunday, August 4, 2019

THERE IS ONE BASIC, OVERRIDING JUSTIFICATION OF U.S. INTERVENTIONISM THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. DOES IT HOLD UP TO THE FACTS?

THE ARGUMENT: Those who defend U.S. interventionism say the following: Sure the U.S. plays hard ball and we have done some not-so-nice things since the end of WWII. But look, we have a democracy (with all its shortcomings), we hold elections, we have a multi-party system and there is freedom of expression. The same is true with our closest allies, those of Western Europe (and Israel). That’s not the case with China, Cuba, and the old USSR; and Russia is hardly democratic. The bottom line is that geopolitics is all about democracy versus undemocratic rule.
WHAT ARE THE FACTS: There are three fallacies to this argument.
One: If you look at the full span of the last 75 years, and look at what the U.S. has done, not what it says, there is one overriding conclusion. The U.S. has been a force in favor of undemocratic rule and usually the rule of a small oligarchic elite, which represents the antithesis of democracy. Look at the most important U.S. allies outside of Europe: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, now Brazil, etc. These are undemocratic countries that we not only have close ties with but we have close military relations with including the immense transfer of arms (the latest being Trump’s lining Brazil up for NATO membership). And look at the aftermath of U.S. backed coups against democratic governments; it almost invariably consists of protracted dictatorial rule: Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), Chile (1973), and the list goes on and on. In short, U.S. support for Pinochet and his ilk has not been an aberration but rather a consistent policy. That policy over a period of 75 years may have had exceptions, but very few.
Two: Look at the record of our leftist adversaries with regard to the governments they have supported. If you add up the pluses and minuses, our adversaries come out ahead. Compare the Afghanistan government that Soviet troops were deployed to aid in 1979 as opposed to the future terrorists which the Reagan administration called “freedom fighters” and included Bin Laden. That government represented a degree of social and political liberalization for Afghanistan in comparison to the nation’s past, including with regard to the status of women. Or take the role of Cuban troops in taking on the Apartheid regime of South Africa. For the rest of his life, Nelson Mandela thanked Fidel Castro for his role in bringing down the racist South African government which was anything but democratic. While Washington’s leftist adversary governments such as Cuba and the USSR were supporting movements of national liberation in Angola and elsewhere that fought against colonial rule (the antithesis of democracy), the U.S. was supporting the Apartheid government of South Africa. More recently, take Russian and Chinese backing of the elected governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, as opposed to the relentless hostility and destabilization efforts of Washington. Regardless of their motivations, Washington’s adversaries have had better scorecards with regard to support for non-oligarchic and often democratic governments than that of Washington. The one fallback argument of Washington’s Cold War apologists is the case of Soviet-supported Communist governments of Eastern Europe. To be dealt with in the following point.
Three: U.S. hostility to leftist governments has undermined the impetus in each case in favor of an opening-up process, with greater participation and democratic channels (regardless of the accepted definition of democracy, be it “liberal democracy” or “participatory democracy”). The state of siege which the U.S. has created impedes the possibility of any kind of democratic opening (again, regardless of your definition of democracy). War is inherently antithetical to democracy, as history has shown time and again. In the case of Venezuela, Chávez’s vision, and his concrete efforts to promote bottom-up participation in the form of communal councils, communes and within his governing party have been sabotaged by the undemocratic actions of the U.S.- supported opposition (military coup, street violence, etc.) as well as economic reprisals imposed by Washington. In another example, at the same time that Washington viewed with certain favor the glasnost strategy of Gorbachov, Reagan was ratcheting up military spending to force the Soviets to increase military spending, knowing full well that this would represent a strain on its economy. The resultant drain contributed to the failure of liberalization efforts. To this day many pro-Washington analysts credit Reagan’s strategy for helping bring down Soviet communist rule. Finally, there is a relationship between U.S. military bases on the USSR border (in Turkey for example) during the Cold War and ironclad rule in Eastern Europe, which the Soviets considered to be a buffer. Consider the Soviet reaction to the opening-up process in Hungry in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Other factors certainly enter into play in explaining Gorbachov’s failures and the nature of Communist rule in Eastern Europe, but the importance of the U.S. military threat (along with political schemes in favor of regime change that violated national sovereignty) cannot be underestimated.
In short, the U.S. – foreign adversary divide is hardly based on democratic versus undemocratic paradigms. The “making the world safe for democracy” argument is implicit or explicit in the discourse in favor of U.S. foreign policy. For that reason, the concrete history of U.S. actions abroad - as opposed to the empty rhetoric - has to be brought into the discussion in order to refute the pro-interventionism justification in all its variations.

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