An American Contradiction: Democracy for Us, Not for Others (Part 1)

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
16,924
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#1
[My own name removed]


May 1, 2013


Writing 2


[My professor's name removed]


An American Contradiction: Democracy for Us, Not for Others





The United States of America is also arguably the wealthiest, most powerful, and most influential country in the world right now, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. One can see American products (such as McDonald's) and flags and hear discussions about the United States almost anywhere in the world. Many Americans are taught that the United States is an ideal country which has repented and made amends for all of its previous morally questionable actions. However, despite what many Americans believe, the reality is that the United States is full of contradictions. A contradiction, in case one doesn't know, is a combination of statements, ideas, or features of a situation that are opposed to one another. These contradictions are seen in many aspects of American life, even where many of us do not notice them. For instance, the United States claims to represent the American Dream, but yet income inequality is at record levels right now. Likewise, the U.S. Constitution says “We the people,” and yet it took decades or centuries after that point for many Americans (such as non-property owning Whites, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and women) to receive equal treatment. The American contradiction which I will discuss in my essay is its double standards in regards to democracy, freedom, human rights, and international law. It claims to be a country which supports these ideals, but in reality its historical actions over the last century (especially since the end of World War II) have often shown otherwise. Over the last 100 years, the United States supported many dictatorships, even going so far as to overthrow democratic governments if it felt that doing so was necessary to protect its national interests. All of these unpleasant things occurred abroad while simulatenously the United States has been trying to make things better here at home by extending rights and government assistance to much more people. Contradictions and hypocrisies are not beneficial for the United States, and they could certainly negatively impact our image in the rest of the world, thus hurting American goals, interests, and perhaps even people in these areas. Historically, the United States government often used various “[r]hetorical justifications” to justify these contradictions (Boggs 28). Over time, these justifications included things such as “national defense,” the spread of Communism, and the threat of terrorism (Boggs 28).


The United States has claimed that it supports democracy on numerous occasions in the last 100 years. Among other reasons, United States President Woodrow Wilson justified U.S. entry into World War I due to his belief that “the world must be made safe for democracy” (Wilson). In an April 1917 speech, Wilson claimed that the United States “ha(s) no selfish ends to serve” and that the United States will fight “for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, [and] for the rights and liberties of small nations” (Wilson). In addition, Wilson stated that the U.S. “shall freely make” sacrifices in World War I without any desire to conquer or dominate anyone or to receive indemnities for itself (Wilson). In other words, Wilson was arguing that the United States should become a Good Samaritan in regards to its foreign policy (Wilson). U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in December 1940 that the United States “must be the great arsenal of democracy” in the fight against Nazi Germany and its allies (Roosevelt). Roosevelt presented the United States in opposition to Nazi tyranny, criticizing the Nazis for “not [having] a government based upon the consent of the governed” (Roosevelt). In this speech, Roosevelt also stated that the Nazis sought “to dominate and to enslave the human race ordinary”, and to oppress and strip “self-respecting men and women” of “their freedom and their dignity” (Roosevelt). Thankfully, Roosevelt's goal of eliminating Nazi tyranny and crushing Nazi Germany was accomplished after the U.S. and Allied victory in World War II in 1945. United States President John F. Kennedy once stated that “[d]emocracy and defense are not substitutes for one another,” implying that he opposed curtailing and eliminating democracy in order to protect the United States and its interests (Kennedy). President Ronald Reagan even said that “[d]emocracy is worth dying for” since “it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man” (Reagan). In a September 2004 speech, U.S. President George W. Bush criticized the United States and many other countries for previously tolerating and excusing oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability (Bush). In this speech, Bush argued that the U.S. and international community “must take a different approach” and “help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom” (Bush). Even current U.S. President Barack Obama implied (in 2006) that the United States should “help foster democracy through the diplomatic and economic resources at [its] disposal” (Obama).
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
16,924
SoCal
#2
The United States has been claiming to represent democracy and human rights at home and abroad for the last 100 years. This is no surprise, considering that it is one of the oldest continuously functioning democracies in the world, having a democratic or semi-democratic government for over two centuries. It is true that the United States sometimes supported democratic governments in other countries throughout history, such as in Western Europe after World War II. However, these governments often received U.S. support because either these governments were friendly to U.S. interests or the U.S. was incapable of overthrowing these governments. The reality is that the United States often implemented regime change in order to advance its interests, often replacing democratic governments with dictatorial one. These U.S.-initiated regime changes often resulted in atrocious situations for the people of these countries and sometimes (as in the case of Iran) ended up backfiring on the U.S. as well. U.S. support of brutal, notorious, and corrupt dictatorships was especially widespread during the Cold War (1945-1989/1991), when there was a staunch desire to prevent the spread of Communism to other countries. For instance, the U.S. supported anti-Communist dictatorships in Greece and South Korea since the late 1940s, and it “quickly recognized the new dictatorships” in Venezuela and Peru when these countries' “militaries overthrew their democratic governments in 1948” (Kolin 996 of 5216). Likewise, democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq was overthrown in 1953 in a joint British-American coup (Operation Ajax) due to the fact that he nationalized the oil industry in Iran. The dictatorial Shah, an obedient American puppet, was then put in power in Mosaddeq's place. Similarly, in 1954 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) overthrew Guatemela's democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz. President Arbenz defied the United States and “attempted to nationalize privately owned foreign businesses and … to initiate land redistribution,” which threatened the interests of U.S. corporations, especially the United Fruit Company (Kolin 996 of 5216). Just like with Mosaddeq, the United States justified its actions by falsely accusing Arbenz of being a Communist sympathizer despite he “had no military, economic, or diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union” (Kolin 996 of 5216). The U.S.-supported military juntas which ruled Guatemela for almost three decades after Arbenz's overthrow implemented oppressive and deadly policies which led “to a death toll reaching perhaps 200,000 [people]” (Boggs 95). The United States rejected the Geneva Accords, “which contained a timetable for free elections [and] to create a unified Vietnam” (Kolin 1011 of 5216). Rather, the U.S. “sought … to make Vietnam's division permanent” in order to try preventing Vietnam from falling under Communist control (Kolin 1011 of 5216). As part of its strategy in Vietnam, the U.S. supported various dictatorships in South Vietnam in order to protect U.S. interests there, even going as far as to assassinate South Vietnam's Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem, a U.S.-installed leader who “no longer serve[d] U.S. interests” (Kolin 1021 of 5216). Democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende experienced fate similar to Mosaddeq and Arbenz in 1973. U.S. President Richard Nixon, his administration, and the CIA illegally overthrew Allende because “[they] couldn't tolerate democracy in Chile, which would exclude the interests of major American corporations” (Kolin 1065 of 5216). Allende's U.S.-supported successor, dictator Augusto Pinochet established “a notorious human rights record” with “the mass disappearance, torture, and killing of thousands of Chileans” (Kolin 1088 of 5216). In addition to supporting the overthrow of democracies, the U.S. sometimes supported notorious dictatorships in countries which never had any democracy in the first place. Another dictator who received “full U.S. economic, political, and military support” during the Cold War was General Suharto of Indonesia, who “massacred an estimated 500,000 people,” including “virtually anyone associated with the left opposition and Communist Party” (Boggs 91). In addition, the U.S. also supported Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, who declared martial law, gave himself extraordinary powers, and stole billions of dollars from the Philippine economy with the help of his family and close friends (Ferdinand). Finally, the United States opened up relations with Chinese Communist dictator Mao Zedong (who was responsible for millions of deaths) in 1972 in order to strengthen its geopolitical position versus that of the Soviet Union (Mao). In addition to supporting many brutal, atrocious, and notorious dictatorships during the Cold War, the United States also supported many dictatorships and opposed democracy in the post-Cold War era.



The end of the Cold War in 1991 did not end U.S. support for various dictatorships, which continued in a similar manner to the past. Since 1991, as in earlier times, the United States supported the establishment of democracies in areas where it benefited U.S. interests, such as Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, et cetera. Unfortunately, though, the United States has continued to support dictatorships and reject democracy in other areas in the post-Cold War era if it felt it was necessary to protect its national interests. For instance, the United States initially supported free and fair elections in the Palestinian territories in 2006, after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (Harris). However, when the hostile Hamas (whom the U.S. labels a terrorist group) won these elections, the U.S. tried to undermine the new Palestinian government and even plotted to overthrow it (Goldenberg) (Harris). Likewise, the United States has continued its close and friendly relationship with the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia (Greenwald). Saudi Arabia is governed by Sharia (Islamic religious) law, with no separation of religion and government/state at all (Shane). In addition, it has an atrocious human rights record, including the death penalty of homosexuality and preventing women from working outside the home without a male guardian's permission (Shane). However, the U.S. simply does not care about the Saudi lack of democracy and human rights abuses that much, largely due to Saudi Arabia's large oil reserves and the fact that Saudi Arabia provides a useful counterbalance to regional rogue states such as Iran and Syria (Greenwald). Likewise, the U.S. has been relatively quiet in regards to the suppression of democratic protests in Bahrain due to the fact that Bahrain also has large oil reserves and U.S. military bases (Greenwald). Other Arab dictators that the United States supported since 1991 include Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said of oil-rich Oman (who is an absolute monarch), Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen (Elliott). Even the Middle Eastern dictators whose countries do not have much oil are often beneficial to U.S. interests in other ways, such as in the fight against terrorism (specifically al-Qaeda) (Greenwald). In a similar manner, the United States remains staunch allies with Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, who tortures political opponents but yet allows the U.S. and NATO to move supplies into Afghanistan (where it is fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda) through Uzbekistan (Islam). The United States likewise supported the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia right up to his death in 2012 due to the fact that he was a staunch opponent of al-Qaeda, despite the fact that he “dismantled the rule of law, silenced political opponents and forged a single-party state” (Solomon). It is worth noting that a similar rationale was used by the United States to support the more-or-less pro-U.S. dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks (Karon). The U.S. gave its support to dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea despite the fact that he is a corrupt and repressive ruler who often tortures people and places then in arbitrary detention (Elliott). Similarly, Turkmen dictator Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow is a strategic United States ally at the same time that his country has widespread restrictions on freedom, religion, the press, and freedom of movement, in addition to torture and the detention of political prisoners (Elliott). While the United States became more open to supporting democracy after the end of the Cold War, it is still extremely far from fully advocating what it publicly claims to support.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
16,924
SoCal
#3
In addition to its hypocritical behavior on democracy and human rights, the United States also claims to support international law while at the same time often breaking it itself. In addition, the U.S. sometimes gives its allies much less criticism (in contrast to less friendly countries) for violating international law and/or U.S. interests. Even though the United States claims to support nuclear nonproliferation, its record in regards to this has been rather mixed. The U.S. tolerated the fact that its staunch ally Israel had nuclear weapons for several decades, while at the same time being much more critical of other countries for building and/or attempting to build nuclear weapons when it didn't serve U.S. interests (Saiedi). When India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, the United States heavily criticized them and placed sanctions on these countries (Wagner). Later on, these sanctions on India and Pakistan were removed after 9/11 due in large part to India's and Pakistan's anti-terrorism cooperation (Wagner). Likewise, the United States put heavy pressure and sanctions on North Korea (with whom it has a hostile relationship) for building and testing nuclear weapons (Chronology). At one point in the 1990s, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton even considered bombing North Korean nuclear facilities before North Korea agreed to cooperate with the U.S. on this issue (Watts). Over the last decade, the U.S. (and its allies in Europe and Israel) also frequently threatened Iran and put heavy sanctions on it due to its nuclear program, despite the fact that it was “never shown to be a weapons program” (Boggs 43). In addition to nuclear non-proliferation, the U.S. also applies double-standards in orders to following international law. For instance, “vehement American protests” got a lawsuit against U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair (and some of their government officials) at the Hague thrown out in 1999 (Boggs 33). This occurred despite the fact that the plaintiffs had “substantial evidence at their disposal, including a record of sustained aerial attacks on distinctly civilian targets” (Boggs 33). Meanwhile, NATO's main adversary in the Kosovo conflict, Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic, did in fact get tried at the Hague for war crimes, though he died before a verdict was able to be delivered. When the United States decided to finally ratify a treaty banning torture after several years of stalling, the United States defined torture in a different way than it was defined in international law, thus allowing the United States to claim to follow international law while actually simultaneously violating it. Professor Andrew Kolin mentions in his book State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W. Bush that the U.S. left out “the psychological torture methods contained in CIA manuals, reduction of sensory stimuli, self-infliction of pain, and physical disorientation” from its definition of torture (Kolin 1298 of 5216). The United States continued conduct many of these forms of torture after ratifying this treaty, demonstrating yet another time that it does not follow all of the rules and laws that it expects other countries to abide by. The United States also “either formally or informally supported [the] Israeli occupation in the [Palestinian territories]” since 1970 (Boggs 158). Possibly due to the influence of the Israel lobby, the U.S. often turned a blind eye to new Israeli settlements and Israeli military aggression. Likewise, the U.S. “reject[ed] proposals for an international conference tied to the key provisions of [United Nations Security Council (UNSC)] resolution 242” (Boggs 158). The United States has been extremely active in using its UNSC veto power to block many UNSC resolutions which are critical of Israel from passing, while refusing to do the same for other less friendly countries. Interestingly enough, this staunch, often uncritical U.S. support of Israel actually harms U.S. interests by making the Arab and Muslim worlds more hostile to the United States. However, the power of the Israel lobby, among other things, makes many U.S. politicians unwilling to strongly criticize Israel or to take punitive steps (such as cutting aid) towards it. All of these things, however, pale in comparison to the main U.S. violations of international law, which are torture and some U.S. military interventions.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
16,924
SoCal
#4
Some of the greatest U.S. violations of international law involved the U.S. military and negatively affected the lives of many people in other countries. Over the last seventy-five years, the United States “[v]iolated several international conventions by carrying out wanton attacks on civilian populations” (Boggs 145). The locations of these U.S. military attacks include “Japan, Korea, Indochina, Panama, Yugoslavia, and Iraq” (Boggs 145). In his book The Crimes of Empire: Rogue Superpower and World Domination, Professor Carl Boggs discusses how U.S. General Douglas MacArthur “ordered his troops to destroy everything in their wake”, including “factories, installations, means of communications, villages, cities, [and] everything [else]” throughout all of North Korea during the Korean War (Boggs 54). Boggs uses orders such as these, along with U.S. actions in bombing “eleven hydroelectric plants and other water resources” in June 1952, destroying the North Korean capital Pyongyang in August 1952, and using its troops to “reportedly murder[ ] [tens of thousands of Korean] civilians” to demonstrate how the U.S. violated international law using its military even several years after it helped prosecute leading Nazis at Nuremberg (Boggs 54, Boggs 75). In addition to Korea, Boggs talks about U.S. actions during the Vietnam War and other wars. It is mentioned how the U.S. dumped “more than 19 million gallons of toxic herbicides … in [South Vietnam] alone”, and that this was “by far the greatest use of chemical weaponry ever” (Boggs 55). Boggs mentions how the U.S. dropped “373,000 tons of … [the very] debilitating napalm” in Vietnam between 1963 and 1971, a clear violation of international law (Boggs 69). This is not to mention the fact that the U.S. “bombed, torched, and bulldozed” many Vietnamese towns and villages, often killing or injuring many Vietnamese civilians in the process, as well as destroying their farmland and farm animals (Boggs 55). Professor Andrew Kolin points out how in the early 1960s, the U.S. created the Office of Public Safety, an ironic name for it considering that its main function was “to [illegally] school local police officials [in order countries] in torture techniques.” (Kolin 1253 of 5216). In addition, the United States “[v]iolated the Geneva Protocols by using weapons that are innately destructive to civilian populations and objects, [and by] involving biological and chemical warfare, depleted uranium, anti-personnel bombs, and other inhumane weapons” (Boggs 145). As stated by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was illegal according to international law (Boggs 36). This view has been shared by many other prominent individuals worldwide, and even by prominent American neoconservative Richard Perle (Burkeman). As Professor Carl Boggs argues, the invasion of Iraq “violates the U.N. Charter mandating Security Council approval” (Boggs 35). According to Boggs, unlike the Afghanistan War (which also did not receive UNSC approval), the Iraq War was not “a defensive response to” anything, and thus was not legal or “permitted under the U.N. Charter” (Boggs 33). In addition to the invasion of Iraq itself, the United States also violated international law with some of its military operations in Iraq. According to Professor Boggs, U.S. “military operations in [Iraqi] urban centers,” “even [in areas] where combatants might be located,” “are prohibited by the 1977 Geneva Convention (Articles 51, 52, and 57)” (Boggs 61). A prominent example of this would be the United States “assault on Fallujah in November 2004,” which “left a city of 350,000 people in ruins, with hundreds of civilians dead and most [of the city's] residents homeless” and without food, water, electricity, and medical services (Boggs 61). As Professor Boggs states, “[t]he targeting of dense population zones in Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, and other cities with massive firepower was destined—and most probably intended, judging from results—to produce heavy civilian casualties” (Boggs 61). U.S. barbarity was on display once again “in November 2005, when U.S. Marines slaughtered 24 [Iraqi] civilians in cold blood at Haditha [in an attempt to get] revenge for the death of a fellow soldier” (Boggs 81). Even when the United States claims to prevent war crimes by others, it initiates its own war crimes, such as in Serbia in 1999, where “no less than 15 towns and cities were hit” by a “largely unrestricted [U.S. and NATO] bombing campaign” which led to “more than 2,000 civilian deaths, 6,000 wounded, many thousands made homeless,” and “permanent ecological harm” from the toxic chemicals used (Boggs 72). In addition to all of this, there is also the matter of Guantanamo Bay and the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, both of which are also illegal according to international law. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated, “the indefinite imprisonment of many detainees without charge or trial violated international law” (Nebehay). In regards to these violations of international law, many Americans who were involved were able to avoid serious punishment and getting into large trouble, though some of the lower-ranking violators were indeed prosecuted (Boggs 16, Boggs 48). This demonstrates that the United States is able to use its massive amount of power and influence to enforce double standards in regards to itself and its allies in comparison to other countries when it comes to following international law.


While the United States has behaved like an international outlaw abroad, the behavior of the U.S. government was more pleasant here in the United States. Over the last 100 years, the United States government implemented some positive changes in this country which allowed the United States to become freer, more democratic, and filled with more opportunities. Women in the United States were finally given the right to vote (suffrage) nationwide in 1920, while African Americans received their civil rights and ended segregation and official discrimination against them between the 1950s and 1970s. While the social safety net in the U.S. a century ago was virtually nonexistent, nowadays there is some government assistance for people who are struggling and need help. The elderly and disabled and their needs also began receiving much more attention in the last several decades, leading the U.S. government to create and pass Social Security, Medicare, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Recently, American women became much more successful in finding jobs outside of the home, reducing and ending gender discrimination in the workplace, and earning greater pay for their work. Likewise, United States immigration policy became much fairer over the last several decades as the United States progressively allowed a much greater number of people to legally immigrate here, especially after significant changes to U.S. immigration law were made in 1965 (Ludden) (Three). (These 1965 changes made U.S. immigration law less racist and eliminated the preferential treatment which was previously given to Northern and Western Europeans who desired to immigrate to the United States (Ludden).) Sexual intercourse between two adults of the same sex was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, and throughout the last decade some U.S. states (mostly those close to Canada) finally legalized gay marriage (Lithwick). It is fair to state that the United States government also arguably behaved improperly in domestic affairs at certain periods of over the last century, such as by curtailing the individual rights and civil liberties of U.S. citizens during wartime and during the Cold War. Overall, however, the laws and domestic policies of the United States are much freer, more democratic, and fairer than they were a century ago. Unfortunately, though, the same cannot be said about U.S. behavior in foreign affairs.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
16,924
SoCal
#5
As my enormous amount of well-researched examples demonstrates, the United States often does not follow what it advocates in regards to democracy, human rights, and international law. While claiming to represent fairness, justice, and freedom, the actions of the United States often represent none of these things. It is unfortunate that as with many other things, there is a huge contradiction and amount of hypocrisy in regards to the United States. Hopefully the United States will eventually learn to be more consistent in its views and actions and to follow the same rules and standards which it expects many other countries to follow. The United States can only become a better nation in regards to this once it acknowledges, learns from, and repents for its mistakes and atrocious behavior in foreign affairs. The United States of America is certainly extremely capable of becoming an ideal country, but there is a huge amount of work which it needs to do before it comes anywhere near this point. Hopefully the United States will eventually reduce and end its hypocrisy and double-standards in foreign affairs and truly practice the noble ideas which it advocates. Huge changes in U.S. foreign policy are eventually possible, similar at how U.S. domestic policy significantly changed over the last century. As with U.S. domestic policy changes, however, there needs to be huge movements pushing for change in U.S. foreign policy, and alas, such movements probably do not exist yet.





Works Cited


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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
16,924
SoCal
#6
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Likes: Kotromanic
Aug 2016
876
USA
#8
The strong dominate the weak. I don't enjoy this fact, but it's the way the world works. The vast majority of individuals will freely abandon their morals if they have reason to think it will benefit them. Most people are simply hypocrites.
 
Likes: Futurist

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
16,924
SoCal
#9
Just curious, If you think the US is such a bad place why do you choose to live in it?
I was writing that essay to get a good grade. I don't unequivocally agree with everything that I wrote in this essay. I was trying to make a coherent argument, and sometimes that resulted in me endorsing positions that I might be hesitant to fully endorse in real life.

In the grand scheme of things, though, the US, for all of its flaws, is still a great country. I certainly strongly believe in the American vision, so to speak.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
16,924
SoCal
#10
The strong dominate the weak. I don't enjoy this fact, but it's the way the world works. The vast majority of individuals will freely abandon their morals if they have reason to think it will benefit them. Most people are simply hypocrites.
Oh, certainly, that's a good description of politics and life in a lot of cases.