An American Contradiction: Democracy for Us, Not for Others (Part 2)


Ad Honoris
May 2014
(Cont from previous: )

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.