It was Never about Democracy
By Mamoon Alabbasi
April 04, 2009 "Information Clearing House" -- - "Those dirty A-rabs don't deserve democracy. We give them freedom and they kill our troops. We should nuke them all in their shit-hole."
-"Bring our troops home. What are they doing dying in some far away land trying to bring democracy to people who don't want it?"
-"We Arabs are not yet ready for democracy. We need strong authoritarian governments to keep the peace and ensure economic growth."
-"We should be grateful to the Americans. They got rid of our dictator and brought us democracy."
-"Is this democracy? Is this freedom? The Americans killed all my family and destroyed my house. If this democracy, I tell you my brother, we don't want it!"
Such comments and their likes are unfortunately not uncommon among some Americans and Iraqis regarding the US-led invasion of Iraq. Whether American or Iraqi, pro-war or anti-war, one fallacy lies at the bottom of their reasoning: that somehow 'democracy' had anything to do with the Iraq war.
Not that possessing WMDs was ever - objectively - enough reason to subject the whole of Iraq to so much senseless destruction; but since it became clear that the only real threat Iraq posed was to itself, the rhetoric had shifted into saving Iraqis from their themselves by bringing onto them good old (well, in human history it isn't actually that old) democracy.
But the fact is, that was never the case. Not in Iraq and certainly not in the region. Not in 2003 and most definitely not before that. After the fall of Baghdad, there were no serious moves to install democracy. Instead, US policies were channelled to inflame the sectarian divide.
After 12 years of merciless US-backed sanctions, all Iraq needed was one small push to descend into total chaos. Yet many Iraqis still waited to see what the US would offer. What they got was complete absence of security, hundreds of thousands of jobs losses, and death and torture at the hands of US forces with the help of some 'favoured' Iraqis.
That's where the seeds of sectarianism had been sown. Instead of promoting reconciliation and unity, the US played a classic 'divide and rule' game in Iraq and drew the new Iraq - politically - along sectarian lines.
Militarily, Iraqis who had friends or family members killed or tortured by US forces in the presence (or under the advice) of other Iraqis weren't always strong enough to punish the Americans so they took vengeance on their fellow Iraqis. The result? A cycle of vengeance that could have been averted.
Meanwhile, on the 'democracy' front, we had one segment of the population relatively prepared for campaigning whilst the other barely struggling to stay alive let alone take part in elections. Who would they vote for? How can you have fair elections when all your potential candidates are in hiding for fear of being killed or detained and tortured? Voting may (or may not) have been free, but who would one vote for if his/her choice is not on the list that is approved by the powers that be?
Adding to the confusion, Iraqis were requested to approve a constitution that most of whom have not even had the chance to read, let alone contemplate. 'Imported' from the US and released only five days before its referendum date, the new constitution caused further divisions in Iraq. In the meantime, new laws continued to be passed despite strong objection from a large segment of the population that was never properly represented in parliament because there never had been free elections in the first place.
All this was taking place with direct US involvement, with a mainly favourable outcome for the war architects. Big money was being made by the invasion's supporters while ordinary Iraqis were being killed by many unexplainable attacks. Some of a sectarian nature, others just for money; ones blamed on Iran or Israel, while others blamed on Al-Qaeda (which only came to Iraq post-2003 invasion) or on the US military (frequently accused of secretly targeting civilians to discredit the insurgency).
The absolute truth may never be known, but one thing is certain: the US, as an occupying power, was under obligation, according to international law, to protect Iraqis. We all know how well that went. If it can't - or is unwilling to - assume such responsibility it should have not been there in the first place, and trigger a 'sectarian domino effect', in addition to its own acts of murder and torture.
Washington and its allies in right-wing think thanks and mainstream media experts cannot talk of 'mistakes' happening when the average person in the street predicted that total chaos (at least) would befall Iraq in the event of an invasion. How can pro-invasion so called 'experts', 'analysts', and 'intelligence' fail to foresee what an average bricklayer in Tunisia predicted?
Charity begins at home
In fact, how can the invading countries 'export' democracy to Iraq while they were fighting democratic value at home? Why would an Iraqi believe that the US is bringing him/her democracy when he/she sees American citizens gradually being deprived of their rights and freedoms by the Bush administration? They also ignored the loud voices of their own people protesting against the Iraq war.
Saddam Hussein was accused of torture, detaining suspects indefinitely, spying on his own people, silencing journalist critical of his policies, and inciting fear in the hearts of his opponents. And how does that differ - relatively - from the actions of Bush, the 'decider in chief'? Can anyone say - with a straight face - that Saddam was more of a threat to the American people than Bush himself?
Yet US and European right-wingers, and their 'political pawns' in the Middle East continue to speak favourably of so called 'democracy and freedom interventions' in the region. Yes, democracy should be vigorously sought in the Middle East (by the people of the region) and yes Americans and Europeans have every reason to be proud of their democracies (despite many shortfalls). But the pro-war establishment has no right to boast of democracy because whatever rights and freedoms 'western' societies enjoy today, they were the direct result of people fighting or challenging a similar-natured establishment in former eras. Today's anti-war camp is the legitimate inheritor of the women's-rights and the civil-rights movements. They are the rightful heirs of the anti-slavery and later the anti-empire heroes.
The people of the Middle East could learn more about modern democracy from the anti-war camp, and not from former president Bush and his 'coalition of the willing', the very anti-Christ of democracy.
What has the Bush administration really done to support democracy in the region?
Despite few lip services to democracy in the Middle East now and then, American foreign policy has always backed Arab dictators to remain in power and oppress their own people. These 'puppet presidents' or 'drag-queen kings' are kept in power - with US weapons and intelligence - for as long as they continue to serve American interests, not those of their own peoples.
Although mainstream media is not equally kind to them, the truth is often grossly distorted. These leaders are always much more 'liberal' than their predominantly conservative societies on social and religious issues. They would only draw a red line when their hold to power is shaken or challenged. But as Bush does with democracy, they often pay lip service to 'moral values'. And if you believe Bush then you might as well believe them too.
War on words
As is the case with all wars, truth was the first causality too in the Iraq war. But as more details emerge regarding the lead up to the invasion, one could say, to a small degree, that the truth is making a slow but sustainable recovery. I wish I could say the same for the English language which was among the early victims of the Bush administration.
Many may laugh at the clumsy language mistakes Bush made during his speeches or when answering questions from the press, but few know that it is really the former US president who had the last laugh. The truth maybe recovering, but the English language is not. The Bush administration may have gone, but twisted right-wing rhetoric still lingers on in most mainstream media outlets.
From that perspective, killing ‘our’ soldiers is ‘terrorism’ yet killing ‘their’ civilians is not. Their actions are ‘barbaric’ but ours are ‘controversial’, etc.
But my concern here is on terms related to governments and politicians. How come Middle Easterners don’t get to have ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’ like their US (and sometime Israeli) counterparts? And why don’t Americans have ‘moderates’, ‘hardliners’ and ‘radicals’ at the Oval office?
More importantly, why are some US-backed Arab dictators who are extremely repressive of their own populations referred to as ‘moderates’? Is it just because they serve the interests of Washington (or Tel Aviv) instead of their own countries? At the same time, those who are brought to power through the ballot box or enjoy extremely wide support among their populations are termed ‘hardliners’ or ‘radicals’ just because they are not in good terms with foreign invading (or occupying) powers.
Who will defend the English language from ‘radical democracies’ and ‘moderate dictatorships’?
Far from being a perfect democracy, Iran today is much closer to realising the wishes of its people than during the era of the ruthless US-backed dictator, the shah, toppled by the 1979 revolution. Most Iranians today, despite their young age, are also familiar with the role of the US CIA-backed coup against their democratically elected PM in the fifties, Mohammed Mosadaq.
Iranians are in an uphill struggle to have a modern democracy and more freedoms, but the last thing their reformers or rights activists need is foreign interference that would directly discredit them in the eyes of the majority of their people.
The people of Iran, generally fond of 'western' societies, remain suspicious of US foreign policy. And amid rumours that neo-conservatives and Christian Zionists seek to nuke their 70- million population, accompanied with serious threats from the Bush administration, their reformist camp took a heavy blow. You have to remember that during World War II even rooted democracies like Britain suspended all democratic activities, and to Iranians the US is still perceived as an enemy that poses an existential threat.
Hands off Hamas
I don't know of any people who have defended their electoral choice with so much blood and sweat (plus hunger and disease) as the people of Palestine following their election of Hamas.
They faced a superpower (US), an occupation power (Israel), propaganda war by pro-Israelis, Islamaphopbes, anti-Arab racists, Arab dictators, self-loathing Muslims, and tag-along opportunists, while being besieged in a tiny overpopulated strip.
They were punished for their votes and yet at the same time were prevented somehow from being represented. It is OK, according to some Rabbis, to kill them because they voted for Hamas, but Hamas, so Israel wishes, must not be seen as representing them. It wasn't enough to take away their liberty, health and lives; their political and social voices had to be taken away too. And thus Hamas leaders had to be silenced - but should they speak, then the mainstream media is there to distort their views.
So called 'experts' and 'analysts' would indulge in debates on why Hamas was elected, fruitlessly seeking to undermine their legitimacy, forgetting that in democracies, reasons of voting for one party instead of another does not affect the power that comes from the ballot box.
They often speak of corruption in Fatah or by some members of the Palestinian Authority, without even giving much thought to what that implies. To Palestinians, corruption is not just breaking the law for some financial benefits; it is deeper than that. Many see corruption as selling Palestinian rights to Israel for personal gains; i.e. treason of the first degree.
The people of Palestine had faced many atrocities before; land theft, ethnic cleansing, occupation, bone breaking, imprisonment, tight sieges, and mass murder, among other injustices. But it was only under Bush's watch that their first ever democracy and electoral choice came under such ruthless attack.
No doubt that in many senses of the word, Israel is a democracy. It could be because the whole system was planted there by the 'west', like many of its American and European immigrants who settled there during and after the creation of the Jewish state. It also could be the people there reached that wise decision on their own. Nevertheless, whatever the causes and reasons are, the positive aspects of its democracy must be acknowledged.
But it should not pass as something comparable to 'western' democracies (not that they make those like they used to anymore). You have to remember a democracy is usually elected by a majority. Yet the majority of the people of that particular land are forced to live in exile.
Imagine if you'd expel the majority of blacks in the US and then when Election Day comes, you'd say to the few that remained that they have a right to vote and they should count their blessings for living in a democracy. You might even want to consider demanding that they'd show their loyalty to you. You didn't ban anyone from voting, you just prevented them from returning to their rightful homes, making them unable to cast their ballots.
Until the Palestinian refugees' problem is solved on a just basis, the Jewish state cannot claim to be a true democracy. But what has the Bush administration done to the plight of those estimated six million Palestinian refugees?
Plus, as the US should know, being a democracy at home does not give you the right to be a dictator abroad.
So why was Iraq invaded? Was it for money (oil)? For love (of Israel)? Or just for fame (keeping superpower reputation means teaching others a lesson every now and then)? I am not completely sure, but you can bet your sorry soul it was never about democracy.
Mamoon Alabbasi is an editor for Middle East Online and can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org