“Freedom and democracy” American-style


“All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.


“Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country.”


These are the words of President Bush in his inaugural address on 20 January.  Bringing freedom and democracy to the world, beginning with the Arab world, is now apparently the primary focus of US foreign policy.



There are words, and there are deeds.  When President Bush came to power in 2001, there was one Arab leader who had been elected by an unambiguously fair democratic process.  That was Yasser Arafat.  But for the next four years until his death, President Bush refused to meet President Arafat and treat him as the duly elected leader of the Palestinian people. 


President Bush was so committed to bringing democracy to the Middle East that he refused to deal with the one Arab leader with an unambiguous electoral mandate.  Palestinians were told to get a new leadership because the US (and Israel) didn’t like the one they had elected in 1996 – and getting a new leadership was a condition for negotiations leading to a Palestinian state.


Here are his words in what was hailed as a landmark speech on 24 June 2002, because he committed the US to a so-called two-state solution in Palestine:


Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born.


“I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practising democracy, based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. 


“If the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence. And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbours, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East.”


If the Palestinians get a new leadership acceptable to the US, then they can have a state.  Otherwise, they can’t.  That’s democracy American-style.  Freedom means freedom to vote for leaders of whom America approves.


Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc

The corollary of this is that tyrants of whom America approves need not worry: neither Saudi Arabia, nor Egypt, nor Jordan, nor Morocco, are going to be invaded any time soon in order to liberate people from their current rulers, and usher in a new era of freedom and democracy.  Not least, because it’s a reasonable bet that democratically elected leaders of these states would be much less favourably disposed towards the US than the existing leadership.


It may be that Bush himself believes the dogma he is spouting that the interests of the US would be best served if every state in the world had a democratically elected leadership, reflecting the views of its people.  But it must be assumed that somebody in the White House has read recent polls of Arab opinion, which suggest that the US is viewed unfavourably by an overwhelming majority in Egypt (98%), in Saudi Arabia (94%), in Morocco (88%), and in Jordan (78%).


(This data is from a poll by Zogby International in July 2004, which is quoted in the Defense Science Board report on Strategic Communications, page 44. The equivalent figures for April 2002 are Egypt (76%), Saudi Arabia (87%), Morocco (61%), and Jordan (61%), which shows how the US-led invasion of Iraq has caused its popularity in the Arab world to plummet.)


It isn’t obvious that democratically elected regimes in these states would dance to America’s tune in the way that the existing regimes do.  A democratically elected Saudi administration could easily lead to the $100 barrel of oil.



But, of course, Iraq is a shining example of the US, having liberated it from an evil tyrant, ushering in a new age of democracy and freedom, isn’t it?  An election, made possible by the exercise of US military force, took place on 30 January 2005.  Could there be a finer example of US commitment to freedom and democracy?


It is instructive at this point to recall the sequence of events that led to these elections being held.  Back in July 2003, the US governor of Iraq, Paul Bremer, appointed a 25-member Iraqi Governing Council.  In the following months, he displayed no public enthusiasm for holding elections: he showed no discomfort at governing Iraq without a trace of a democratic mandate.  Not only that, he showed no discomfort at issuing Orders, the purpose of which was to alter fundamentally the economic system operating in Iraq, allowing, for example, state owned enterprises to be sold off to Iraqis and to foreigners.


One could be forgiven for thinking that the US didn’t give a fig for the opinions of Iraqis, notwithstanding its dedication to bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq.  One could be forgiven for thinking that its primary objectives in Iraq were to make it a land safe for international capital to exploit and for the US to establish a large military presence in the Middle East. 


Without the military resistance to the occupation, it is a reasonable bet that this would have happened.  After the resistance made its presence felt in the autumn of 2003, however, Bremer was called back to Washington for a crisis meeting.  The first plans to hold direct elections leading to any Iraqi government emerged at that point.


There was to be a “handover” of power to an Interim Iraqi government on 30 June 2004, the date being chosen to reassure the US electorate before President’s re-election campaign began in earnest that Iraq wasn’t another Vietnam.  This date was set in an “agreement” (entitled Timeline to a Democratic, Sovereign and Secure Iraq) between the US and its appointees on the Iraqi Governing Council on 15 November 2003.


However, despite the dedication of the US Government to freedom and democracy in Iraq, it wasn’t planned that the Interim Government be directly elected – a National Assembly was to come into being through local caucuses, and the Interim Government was supposed to emerge from this Assembly.  What is more, this unelected government was supposed to continue in power until a constitution was drawn up and a government was elected under it.  This was not scheduled until December 2005.


These plans were scuppered by Ayatollah Sistani, who demanded that the Interim Government be elected.  The UN was brought in to resolve the dispute.  The UN agreed with the US that there wasn’t time to organise direct elections before 30 June, and that date couldn’t be moved back because of the US presidential election.  However, it was agreed that the Interim Government would be chosen by the UN special representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, after appropriate consultation with Iraqis.  In fact, the US rejected Brahimi’s choice for Prime Minister, and appointed its old friend, Ayad Allawi.


Under pressure from Sistani, direct elections were scheduled for 30 January 2005 to a National Assembly, out of which a Transitional Government would be formed.  The Assembly would also be charged with drawing up a new constitution for Iraq.


If the US had been anxious to hold elections in Iraq, they could have been held within months of the invasion.  Almost two years after the invasion, elections have now been held, but the US was pushed into holding them (a) by the Iraqi resistance, and (b) by Ayatollah Sistani.  Had these pressures not been applied, most likely we would still be awaiting plans for elections – and the US would be happily governing Iraq without a trace of a mandate from the Iraqi people.



Labour & Trade Union Review

February 2005