Adam Ash

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Friday, December 16, 2005

US Diary: The "democracy" that Bush is trying to export

1. Misery in the Name of Democracy: The US Works Elections in Iraq, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Haiti -- by Yifat Susskind

The Bush Administration is touting Iraq's December 15 election as a giant leap forward for freedom guaranteed to ignite fervor for democracy across the entire Middle East. But closer to home, the Administration has discovered that democracy has created a monster and that the monster is democracy. In Latin America and the Caribbean, popular movements are demanding that the United States' "gift to the world" make good on its promise of majority rule. That would likely disrupt a system -- otherwise known as "free-market democracy" -- that has benefited a small elite and worsened poverty for most people. The possibility has so alarmed CIA Director Porter Goss that he recently labeled the spate of upcoming elections in Latin America as a "potential area of instability."

The Bush Administration is fighting back, stepping up USAID's "democracy promotion" program to ensure that those who have long had a monopoly on wealth continue to exercise a monopoly on government. The program's main targets in this hemisphere are Venezuela, Bolivia, and Haiti. National elections in these countries -- all occurring within just one month of the Iraqi ballot -- provide a flashpoint for how hard the Bush Administration is working to keep democracy out of the wrong hands, both in this hemisphere and in Iraq.


On December 4, Venezuela's main opposition parties chose to boycott congressional elections rather than face certain defeat at the polls. In 2002, these same pro-business parties -- financed directly by the US National Endowment for Democracy to the tune of about six million dollars a year -- resorted to a military coup to oust Hugo Chavez from the presidency. The coup failed in less than two days because millions of Venezuelans (including the lower ranks of the army) rallied to Chavez's defense. Most Venezuelans continue to defend-and vote for-Chavez and his brand of participatory, bottom-up democracy, which has mobilized millions of citizens in national dialogues on governance, produced the region's most democratic constitution (written in gender-inclusive language recognizing women's unpaid work and guaranteeing a pension to housewives), launched an ambitious land-reform program, and improved rates of illiteracy, hunger, and infant mortality.

At last month's Summit of the Americas in Argentina, Chavez was a lightning rod for widespread opposition to US-driven economic policies that have further impoverished most Latin Americans. Afterwards, Bush accused him of trying to "roll back democratic progress." Yet, most of the world seems quite impressed with Venezuela's democratic progress, even by the rather narrow standard of elections. Indeed, all eight elections held in Venezuela under Chavez have been declared free and fair by independent observers, including Jimmy Carter.

This is precisely the problem: despite the opposition's extensive US backing, it can't beat Chavez at the polls. Democracy just isn't working (says the only US president to be appointed by the Supreme Court after losing the popular vote). For decades, Venezuela was controlled by two alternating elite parties, both allied with US business interests (sound familiar?). Most of the population was effectively disenfranchised and elections could be counted on to confer legitimacy on a compliant leadership. Now, Venezuela's poor majority has seized on the rhetoric and procedures of democracy to win control of the state. This is what the Bush Administration calls a crisis of democracy.


Bolivia is suffering from a similar crisis. When Bolivians go to the polls on December 18, they are likely to elect Evo Morales to be their first Indigenous President. Morales is a social democrat whom the Bush Administration vilifies as a radical leftist and the US Ambassador compared to Osama bin Laden. But Morales' platform is extreme only if you consider policies that guarantee mass poverty and vast inequality to be moderate. His platform reflects the Bolivian social movements' demand for increased government regulation of natural resources and the formation of a popular Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution that would make government more inclusive.

Apparently incredulous that Indigenous peasants could be strategic and organized enough to overthrow two presidents in two years (Gonzalo Sanchez in 2003 and Carlos Mesa in 2005), Donald Rumsfeld says that Hugo Chavez must be pulling the strings in Bolivia. Yet, it is the Bush Administration that has meddled openly in Bolivian politics since the Indigenous movement rose to prominence in 2002. That year, the Administration publicly threatened to cut off economic aid if Bolivians elected Morales. Since then, the US has steadily expanded its "democracy promotion" efforts in Bolivia, pouring millions of tax dollars into building a parallel, pro-US Indigenous movement and turning out public relations campaigns for a series of doomed, US-friendly governments.

As in Venezuela, US "democracy promotion" in Bolivia supports a limited notion of representative government enacted by pro-business elites over more direct participation in government by the poor majority. The big headache for the Administration is that Bolivia's Indigenous-based social movement is playing by the rules, working within the system to gain more legitimate representation within government.


Two weeks ago, Haiti postponed its presidential election for the fourth time in five months. With the vote now set for January 8, the Interim Government (installed by the US after it helped overthrow Haiti's democratically-elected President, Jean Bertrand Aristide, in February 2004) will hold on to power past its February 2006 deadline (just imagine if Hugo Chavez tried that). Regardless of when elections are held, conditions in Haiti make a mockery of democratic process. Yet the Bush Administration has demanded that elections go forth.

Secretary of State Rice has hailed Haiti's election as "a precious step on the road to democracy." But look closely. Haitians are being denied the right to vote: only a few hundred registration and polling sites have been created to serve eight million people (compared with 10,000 provided by the deposed Aristide government) and some large, poor neighborhoods -- with few government supporters -- have no registration sites at all. Haitians are being denied the right to campaign: the government's potential challengers have been jailed on false charges or no charges. And Haitians are being denied the right to organize: in September, the government outlawed political demonstrations in violation of Haiti's constitution; and anti-government protesters have been repeatedly attacked by the Haitian National Police. The Bush Administration fueled this repression by sending $1.9 million worth of guns and police equipment to Haiti just in time for election season.

In fact, repression is the Haitian government's primary campaign strategy. Since 1990, every internationally-validated election in Haiti has produced a landslide victory for the Lavalas Party. Once the standard-bearer of Haiti's pro-democracy movement, Lavalas -- like its exiled leader, Aristide -- is a casualty of US "democracy promotion." After US-backed forces ousted Aristide, the party splintered into factions, including unaccountable and violent groups. Despite its flawed human rights record, Lavalas would no doubt win again in January if its candidates were allowed to run. The reason is simple: Lavalas is the party of the poor and most Haitians are poor.

Far from supporting constitutional democracy in Haiti, the US has twice helped to overthrow Aristide, who resisted Washington's prescriptions for Haiti's economy by insisting on social spending for the poor. The first time, back in 1991, "regime change" was still a covert business. The US had to deny that it was sponsoring the military thugs that took over Haiti and killed thousands of Aristide supporters (and poor people in general, just for good measure). By last year, when Aristide was ousted for the second time, things had changed. A Pentagon plane flew him into exile. The US warmly welcomed the "new" government, including remnants of the 1991 coup who are poised to win next month's sham election.

Democracy in Iraq: The Freedom to Do What We Tell You

The first fact of Iraq's election is that it will take place under the distorting influence of military occupation, precluding a free and fair vote from the start. Iraq's "march toward liberty" has been marred by US intervention at every step, starting with Paul Bremmer's 2003 decision to appoint reactionary clerics to the Iraqi Governing Council. That move has helped Islamists dominate Iraq's interim government and roll back the democratic rights of Iraqi women -- a majority of the population.

In fact, the Bush Administration has no intention of allowing a majority of Iraqis to determine key policies. The Administration has tried to avoid holding direct (one person, one vote) elections in Iraq, giving in only because of pressure from Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a Shiite cleric who wants Iraq to be an Islamic state. And Bush's two most important objectives in Iraq -- creating an extreme free-market state and maintaining a long-term military presence -- have been placed well beyond the reach of Iraqi voters.

As in Haiti, democracy in Iraq is to be mainly a procedural matter, demonstrated by periodic elections regardless of political chaos and widespread violence against candidates and voters alike. And as in Venezuela and Bolivia, the government that is produced by the elections will be entitled to the label "democracy" only as long as it follows a US policy script.

In 1819 Simon Bolivar observed that, "The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of democracy." The Bush Administration is intent on extending this destiny to Iraq and the whole Middle East. Iraqis may be having an election this week, but the Bush Administration is no more interested in genuine democracy in Iraq than it is in Latin America and the Caribbean.

2. This writer outlines two post-election scenarios for Iraq: one OK, and one not-so OK at all. Guess which one is most likely.

Iraq's Tipping Point -- by Robert Dreyfuss

It's election day in Iraq. If October's constitutional balloting is any precedent, we will not know the Iraqi government's final tally for a few weeks.

Of course, that won't stop President Bush from declaring the elections a victory for democracy. Yet such a statement does democracy a major disservice, for democracy is much more than an election. Democracy can only be the outgrowth of an earnest national consensus -- a consensus that Bush, for some unknown reason, has done everything possible to avoid building.

Because of that simple, hard-earned fact, we have a pretty good idea of what the future holds. Consider the following two scenarios.

Scenario One: The Sunnis win big, gaining up to a quarter of the assembly. The Shiite bloc fragments. The religious Shiite parties suffer significant defections by urban, educated, and more secular Shiites, who opt instead for the party led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and other, smaller parties. After the election, the Shiite bloc falls apart, as the radical faction of rebel cleric Muqtada Al Sadr goes its own way, further weakening Al Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. A two-thirds majority in parliament emerges among religious Sunnis, secular Sunnis, Allawi and the Kurds -- enough to force the SCIRI-Dawa forces to come to the table and talk about a brand new constitution with a strengthened, more centralized state, a smaller role for Islamic Sharia law, and a fairer distribution of oil revenues. And finally, the parties agree to peace talks with the armed resistance, including a ceasefire and amnesty for fighters and for prisoners. Central to the deal, the new Iraqi government demands a six-month timetable for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq. The new government takes office in late January, and, as planned, in February the Arab League convenes Phase II of the peace process that began in Cairo in mid-November, this time in Baghdad, giving international and Arab approval to the new Iraqi concord. Together, Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish police hunt down the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq throughout 2006.

Scenario Two: For whatever reason, Sunni candidates fail to win a fair share of seats in the new parliament. The religious Shiite coalition -- SCIRI, Al Dawa and the Sadrists -- not only win big, but through ballot-stuffing, vote fraud, and help from Iran's intelligence service, gain enough power to continue their grip on power. The Kurds opt to ally once again with the Shiites. The U.S. military begins to draw down its forces in Iraq, so that President Bush can win political points at home, and the Shiite militias fill the vacuum left over by the slowly dwindling U.S. force. Sunnis, marginalized politically, fail to muster enough votes to make any changed in the constitution imposed in October by the dominant Shiite-Kurd alliance; frustrated and outraged, the Sunnis support the insurgency with renewed vigor. The Kurds retreat into their northern enclave, the Shiite militia launch a brutal and bloody offensive against the Sunnis, with ethnic cleansing of southern Iraq, and Iraq slides into open civil war. Not only is the Phase II Arab League meeting never held, but the Arab world mobilizes in defense of Iraq's Sunnis, and both Iran and Turkey are drawn into the conflict.

Which of these scenarios is most likely? Frighteningly, the second one. In fact, it would be amazing if Scenario One wins out.

Why? Despite the fact that, according to all reports, Iraq's Shiites are increasingly disenchanted with the bungling and zealotry of the SCIRI-Dawa ruling elite, despite the fact that the resistance (except for Al Qaeda) has called a truce so Sunnis can vote en bloc today, it seems unlikely that the SCIRI-Dawa bloc will allow power to slip away. The reports that Iran is shipping truckloads of forged ballots across the border to support its SCIRI-Dawa allies signal a repeat of the vote fraud that marred the referendum on the constitution in October -- only on a far grander scale. Ayatollah Sistani, the scowly fatwa man, has emerged from the shadows to demand that Shiites vote for the SCIRI-Dawa fundamentalist bloc. And the thuggery and murders aimed at Allawi's party throughout southern Iraq, including an attempted assassination of Allawi himself and a rocket attack on his Najaf headquarters, mean that the Shiite religious bloc intends to stop at nothing to prevent Allawi from siphoning off disaffected Shiite voters.

In recent weeks there have been signs that the United States is aware the vote today is likely to go awry. It appears that for the first time the United States is serious about opening talks with the resistance. Ambassador Khalilzad has announced in no uncertain terms that he wants to talk to the fighters, taking pains to say that there is a difference between "terrorism" and "insurgency." And the unfolding scandal around the Shiite torture prisons and death squad activity aimed at Sunni moderates and Baathists was triggered by a U.S. raid on a Baghdad detention center this month, possibly a sign that the United States is no longer willing to tolerate the Shiite bloc's abuses. But it may be too little, too late -- at least as far as the election goes.

If Scenario Two begins to unfold, what then?

At that point there will be no good choices for the United States, other than the one suggested by Representative Jack Murtha: get out, and fast. However, with George "Victory" Bush still in the White House, that's unlikely, since Bush will resist calls from the U.S. military (privately) and the politicians (far more publicly) to get out. In that case, the United States will find itself stuck in the quagmire, being shot at by both sides, with no exit strategy at all and certainly no "strategy for victory." It's hard to see a light at the end of this tunnel, as much as optimists and rosy-scenario mongers might search for options. As Chas Freeman, the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, once told me about Iraq: "Sometimes, when you've driven your car off a cliff, there are just no good options on the way down."

As Harold Pinter said recently:

"The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading as a last resort all other justifications having failed to justify themselves as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people."

True, that.

3. Here's what Amyarta Sen thinks of the "democracy" the US is bringing about in Iraq.

New Delhi: Despite its best efforts, US efforts to foist its brand of democracy in Iraq will not succeed as this is based on dividing society rather that ensuring its participation in governance, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said Thursday.

"The Iraqi people are being treated as Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. This is not the way to build a democracy," he said while delivering a stinging rebuke to the US during a lecture on "Democracy and its critics" here.

Then, "the occupation forces chose to focus on balloting alone. Democracy is not just about voting but about public discussion, but no thought has been given to this," Sen declared to a packed auditorium that had many people sitting along the aisles.

"The focus on religion and ethnic identity led to foggy thinking on the part of those who did not find weapons of mass destruction and are now looking for a new cause (to stay on in Iraq)," he asserted.

The Nobel laureate also drew a parallel between US efforts to divide Iraqi society and what the British had attempted in India during colonial rule.

"The British tried to project Mahatma Gandhi as a Hindu leader but he had support across all religions. Today, democracy in India is imperfect but in a population that is 80 percent Hindu, we have a Sikh as a prime minister, a Muslim as the president and a Christian lady as the head of the Congress," he explained.

"Britain chose to accelerate religious differences but that didn't work," Sen added, implying the US would met a similar fate in Iraq.

"Imperfect democracy" is a theme Sen often touches on, referring to the skewered educational and healthcare systems, lack of land reforms, the gender bias that exists and the marginalisation of the backward classes.

The lecture, organised by the United Nations Foundation, was attended by former media baron Ted Turner and West Bengal Governor Gopal Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi's grandson.

4. Here'a a piece about the Iraqi Sunnies: I never knew the Iraqi Sunnis were the most like us.

Sunnis' Courage -- by Serge Truffaut

Among the candidates in the legislative elections that will take place December 15 in Iraq, the Sunnis demonstrate an exemplary courage. One cannot emphasize enough that campaigning in the hope of winning a seat -- especially if one is Sunni -- practically amounts to alienating oneself from almost everyone, even to exposing oneself to fanatic reactions that often lead to death. Period. During the last few months, at least ten candidates for deputy have been assassinated.

The Shiite majority hates them because the Sunni minority has dominated them since the country's creation in 1932. The Kurds despise them because they gassed them in the past and today oppose the federal architecture inscribed in the Constitution. Former Baathists as well as the God-drunken fanatics commanded by al-Qaeda's emir in Mesopotamia, Abu Mussab al-Zarkaoui, execrate them because they are participating in the democratic process.

Moreover, all these adversaries of the Sunni share a common position: their fierce opposition to the secular principles that many Sunni politicians would like to imprint into the culture of the new Iraq. This secular penchant can be explained largely through the socio-economic position the Sunnis occupy. Most of them live in Baghdad and Mossul, where they are the majority of lawyers, doctors, administrators, and bureaucrats.

But it's the desire for political reform which animates them today that excites the ire of their adversaries the most. If they succeed in forming a homogenous and determined contingent of deputies, then the Constitution will once again become the object of struggles that will be as bitter as they will be brutal. Their objective? To cut the country's Balkanization short.

To achieve this, they intend to reduce the role of Islam as envisaged by the Shiites -- i.e., as the principal source for the legal corpus -- and to amend the articles that accord the Kurds an autonomy they consider too great. They also want the profile of the Iraqi army to be modified from top to bottom so that it becomes a service for all, and no longer an assembly of militias answering to Shiite orders, as is presently the case.

Within the Bush administration, fingers are crossed in the hope that the Sunnis will gain a representation in Parliament at least equal to their demographic weight. If that were to be the case, if the Sunnis come out to vote in large numbers, then it is probable that support for the insurgents -- Sunni for the most part -- will diminish.

According to certain pollsters, it is probable that the Sunni list will have a better result than predicted. One, they expect that unlike what was observed in last January's elections, there will not be a boycott of this election. Two, there is certainty that secular Shiites will vote for the candidates in question, all the more so as they have declared themselves disappointed by the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari because he has neither secured the country nor put an end to corruption. They want a muscular rather than an inspirational leader.


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