EXPORTING DEMOCRACY, OR A FAVORABLE CLIMATE OF INVESTMENT?
The great nineteenth century U.S. agnostic and lecturer, Robert Green Ingersoll, used to delight in telling the story of the test of true faith imposed on those seeking entry into heaven by the heavenly gatekeeper (e.g., in his lecture on the "Mistakes of Moses"). The applicant would be asked--"did you believe the Adam and Eve rib story in the Bible?" The honest and virtuous man, who said, "To tell you the God's truth, that was more than I could swallow," was denied admission. The scoundrel, who acknowledged numerous real sins, was not only pleased to believe the rib story, he said "I often used to be sorry that there were not harder stories yet in the Bible, so that I could show what my faith could do." The gatekeeper said, "Give him a harp."
reliable sources tell me that the New York Times has an eerily similar admission
test that prospective reporters and pundits must pass as a condition of
employment. They are asked: "do you believe that the United States is
trying to export democracy to countries abroad that lack it?" Saying yes is
reportedly a job imperative. These same reliable sources say that one foolhardy
fellow, trying to impress his interviewers, did note that the United States has
had a sorry record of supporting authoritarians in the past, but he
"hoped" that this country had learned some lessons and that with the
Soviet enemy gone we had changed course. He was ushered out of the building even
counselers advise Times interviewees to play it safe, and not even admit a
regrettable past record and recent definitive change of course. The best
strategy, they say, in line with the statement of the heavenly believer who
wanted a greater test of his faith, is to claim that this country has been
making serious sacrifices contrary to its national interest in its pursuit of
democracy abroad. It can be acknowledged that we have on occasion erred in this
quest, and occasionally allowed Cold War demands and commercial interests to
cause us to make short-run compromises, but it should be emphasized that
devotion to and sacrifices on behalf of democracy have been primary themes of
U.S. foreign policy.
this background was inspired by a Times Editorial Observer piece by Tina
Rosenberg on "America Finds Democracy a Difficult Export" (Oct. 25,
1999). Rosenberg is a recent addition to the paper's editorial board, and it is
quickly apparent why she passed the entry test. She takes it as a given that the
United States is interested in cultivating democracy abroad, and she says that
any failures in this effort are a result of "mistakes" based on
"hubris and the tendency to confuse surface reforms with deep-seated
change." There is a persistent tendency "to emphasize form over
if the mistakes are frequent and form is persistently emphasized over substance,
this should suggest to an objective analyst that a search for purpose in the
confusion is very much in order. For example, the theory of "demonstration
elections" is built on the idea that elections without substance can serve
a public relations purpose; and that in cases like Vietnam in 1966-67, the
Dominican Republic in 1966, El Salvador in 1982 and 1984, and Russia in 1996,
such elections can provide support in the United States and elsewhere for
continuing aid to regimes of terror or corruption. Tina Rosenberg never mentions
such a possibility.
cites a forthcoming book by Thomas Carothers on Aiding Democracy Abroad, which
says in effect that democracy promotion can't affect "the underlying
conditions of a country that really determine its democratic
progress--concentrations of power and wealth, political traditions, the
expectations of its citizens." A non-apologist at this point would have had
to acknowledge that the United States has actively supported counter-revolutions
precisely designed to protect extreme concentrations of wealth--opposing
"nationalist regimes" unduly concerned with "immediate
improvement in the low living standards of the masses" in the formulation
of an NSC statement of U.S. objectives in Latin America (which has never yet
been quoted in the New York Times). Obviously you can't "promote
democracy" while helping put in power a global system of authoritarian
governments like Marcos's, Mobutu's, Suharto's, the Arab sheiks', and numerous
military governments in Latin America (among others). Here again is where you
need the claim of "mistakes" and an alleged mistaken focus on
superficialities to cover over the fact of a systematic and basic policy hostile
fact, the mainstream media have long served the "national interest" in
the numerous awkward cases where their government has backed military and terror
regimes by simply taking at face value official expressions of concern over
client state violence, and accepting phony demonstration elections as
"encouraging," while ignoring their country's persistent and
undeviating support for the institutional arrangements and governments that
yield the terror. This structure of apologetics was conspicuously evident in the
media's reporting and editorializing on El Salvador throughout the 1980s.
Rosenberg writes in this great tradition, never once mentioning positive U.S.
support even today for Saudi Arabia, or its durable support of Suharto. She says
that in the new realism of democracy promotion "where governments resist
reform" U.S. consultants "now try to strengthen democratic forces by
boosting grass-roots groups, local governments and women's organizations."
Yes, this is what they are doing in Yugoslavia, but are they doing it in Saudi
Arabia where we maintain armed forces to protect the regime and where the
government would be extremely resentful of such intervention?
good case can be made, based on solid historical evidence, that more often than
not the United States has been "exporting autocracy" in its own
backyard and elsewhere over the past century. But the autocracies and limited
democracies that it has supported have all shared a common characteristic in
their ability to provide an "open door" to U.S. business and to fend
off the threats of socialism and populism. Clinton often refers to our pursuit
of "market-based democracies," but he was quite happy with Suharto's
"market-based autocracy" until Suharto lost viability.
and the Saudi's autocracies are truly "market-based" because the oil
and other transnationals have loved them, given them support, and made sure that
their home governments and the IMF and World Bank assist them as well--that is,
their coming into being and the survival of these autocracies have depended on
the backing of the global institutions of the market. We can reasonably
conclude, therefore, that what the United States is exporting is a favorable
climate of investment, not democracy, and certainly not a substantive democracy,
which would, in fact, threaten the investment climate. Tina Rosenberg never
comes close to considering whether the desire for a favorable climate of
investment could influence the U.S. thirst for democracies abroad.
is another long-standing classic of U.S. disinformation to claim that U.S.
military aid and training will help democratize countries so served. In reality,
there is massive evidence that U.S.-trained foreign police and military
personnel are extra prone to torture and have been disproportiontely involved in
overthrowing democratic rule and establishing regimes of terror. Tina Rosenberg
continues in the disinformation tradition, with refinements. She says "Some
in the Pentagon still believe that foreign officers will become less abusive if
they rub elbows with the American citizen soldier," and that exhausts her
treatment of the matter. Note that she takes at face value the claims of belief
in this democratizing effect; but more important, she fails to discuss the
record of anti-democratic effects, and its functionality in terms of U.S.
interests in a favorable climate of investment and preserving structures of
inequality against the nationalists who want to "immediately improve"
living standards of the poor. She makes it appear that the fallacy in the
"rubbing elbows" theory lies in the ineducability of those foreign
Rosenberg ends assuring readers that "building democracy in many developing
nations is both crucial to American interests and resistant to instant
solutions." So supporting Suharto for 33 years was a mistake carried out
contrary to American interests, and exporting democracy to Saudi Arabia is
moving slowly because there are no instant solutions--as there were in Kosovo
where the alleged horror of ethnic cleansing demanded quick and vigorous action.
Give Tina a harp.