Democracy, Ethiopia and Palestine
June 18, 2007
by William P. Meyers
Before I rag on President Bush, not as an individual but as the head of the ruling class in the United States of America, I want to demonstrate how universal his problem is.
This blog is about democracy and U.S. policy in the world, using Algeria, Palestine, Somalia and Ethiopia as today's examples.
I know quite a few people who define themselves as democracy advocates and specialists in the U.S. They devote substantial parts of their lives to issues like Instant Runoff Voting and the dangers of voting machines that do not produce paper trails. They rail at Bush for what happened in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004.
Yet even many of them have trouble distinguishing between democracy and their getting their way. They tend to believe that if they are in the triumphant majority, democracy is working. But when they are in a minority when the votes have been counted, they suspect foul play. I've seen this scenario played out within the Green Party and in non-profit organizations too many times to count.
So why be surprised that George Bush and cronies equate democracy with getting their own way? I believe George Bush believes democracy is a good thing. It is the best form of government. It made him president. He'd like to see a democracy in Iraq, in Somalia and Ethiopia and even in Saudi Arabia. The problem is he wants the people of these nations to democratically decide that they agree with him and with U.S. policy objectives, which are usually set by corporate interests. He's been willing to sacrifice democracy to other goals. You might say it is human nature; but it is still wrong.
Today the New York Times had a good, long article: In Ethiopia, Fears and Cries of Army Brutality by Jeffrey Gettleman. Bush has made the Ethiopian government a major ally. It has, by African standards, a strong army and its rulers are Christian. The nation is roughly half Christian, half Islamic, much like Sudan. Its own political opposition, and rebels, tend to be Islamic. It has the form of a democracy, but in fact the government panicked during the buildup to the 2005 elections and suppressed the opposition by, well, killing as many of them as they could.
This same Ethiopian government was asked by the U.S. to invade Somalia (a war crime) to overthrow the Islamic Justice Courts, a popular democratic (if religious) movement that had brought both peace and justice to most of Somalia. Ethiopian troops are still in Somalia.
This week we also saw the final triumph of corruption in the Palestinian Liberation Organization: the PLO has agreed, in return for money to feed their bellies, to be the puppet government of Israel and the United States over the Palestinian people. Again, there was an agreement to try democracy, backed by the U.S. When Hamas proved to be more popular with the Palestinians than U.S.-approved choices, an economic blockade was established. This was a crime against humanity. Now the PLO, which won only a minority of seats in the Palestinian parliament in the last elections, is claiming to be the legitimate government of Palestine.
This pattern of pretending that democratic governments should be appointed by the President of the United States rather than elected by the actual voters of the actual countries involved is not George W. Bush's invention. It has been around for a long time. It included a CIA-sponsored coup against secular socialists in Iran that led, eventually, to the current Islamic regime coming to power. In Algeria when Islamic parties did well in an election in 1992 the military staged a coup to keep them from running the government. Note 1992 is long before the current War of Terror began.
If people subscribe to the Islamic faith always are kicked out of government when they win an election, what will they think of democracy? Why bother with peaceful methods?
Democracy means allowing for change, even when you disagree with the current majority. While the U.S. was founded as a Republic by a small band of mostly slave-owning rich white men, for the most part as the franchise (right to vote) expanded to other groups we have not had a problem with individuals trying to set themselves up as lifelong dictators. The only exception was President-for-Life Franklin D. Roosevelt, and following his grasp at permanent power the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution was passed limiting Presidents to two terms.
I don't expect George W. Bush to try to mess with the 22nd Amendment. He may be replaced by a like-minded person, or he may not.
Democracy, for all its problems, is the least bad form of government. We should support democracy in other nations, but not by interfering in their internal affairs. This means allowing political parties like Hamas to govern when they win elections. And it means withdrawing all aid from countries like Ethiopia that do not respect the election process.
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