I. Introduction: Who actually wants democracy for the Middle East?
Do people in the Middle East want democracy? Of course. Ask them. They also want justice and peace. People that I’ve met so far in the Middle East envy people who live in democratic countries, though they may not completely understand the role of citizens in a democracy.
The struggle for democracy in the Middle East has a long and noble, albeit tragic, history. (See Part I of this article, http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_rosa_sch_070319_how_americans_can_su.htm) The problem isn’t that these people are “backward,” unwilling to reform their age-old system of kings and dictators. The problem is that undemocratic systems are extremely difficult to change—especially when the rulers have powerful foreign friends, or when the rulers seem to be defending the country against the threats of powerful foreign enemies.
Is the American government on a mission to bring democracy to the Middle East? Do you believe in Santa Claus? Let’s examine what it means when the Bush administration speaks of defending “American interests” and working with “friendly” governments. “American interests” means big American investors. It’s not about the safety of you and me. “Friendly” governments are those willing to sign agreements that benefit American corporations: contracts that favor foreign investors, labor laws and environmental regulations that keep the corporations’ costs low. Truly democratic governments aren’t likely to sign such agreements; they would put the good of their own people ahead of “American interests.” That’s why the democratic governments of Guatemala’s Arbenz, Iran’s Mossadegh, and Chile’s Allende were overthrown.
Of course, it looks better if the officials signing on the dotted line have the appearance of elected legitimacy, like the “governments” of occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. But when it’s a dictator or king, like the rulers of Saudi Arabia or pre-revolutionary Iran, who is willing to “open up” his nation’s resources (and utilities and banking systems), then we’ll hear little about “democracy.”
For today’s big investors and the governments that represent them, free trade (to their advantage) is a better kind of freedom than democracy. Just watch—if the U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area becomes a reality, there’ll be a photo-op of kings, dictators, puppet-government officials, and bullied “leaders” standing with Condi Rice under a big banner announcing, “Mission Accomplished.” The Halliburton Corporation will host the reception at their new headquarters in Dubai.
II. A Six-Part Program that’s good for democracy in the U.S. and good for democracy in the Middle East, too
We in the U.S. are having trouble holding onto our own democracy for some of the same reasons people in the Middle East are having trouble achieving democracy. The best thing Americans can do to support the democratic aspirations of people in the Middle East is to stand up for democracy and make it work here in the USA. I suggest a six-part program:
- Impeach the lawbreakers in the White House.
- Reform our election system (transparency, paper trails, improved access to voting for all citizens, campaign finance reform, etc.).
- Educate our people about the history and peoples of the Middle East.
- Bring the troops (and the mercenaries, and the military aid) home now and demilitarize the region.
- Start a truth and reconciliation process for the Middle East.
- Build support for international law among Americans and hold our government responsible to abide by it.
Let’s take them one at a time.
1. Impeach the lawbreakers in the White House. Initiating the impeachment process against “American warlords” Bush and Cheney is not only essential for defending our own Constitution but it is also one of the most important things Americans can do to encourage democracy in the Middle East.
By activating the impeachment process, we’ll set a marvellous example. We’ll show the world that a democratic people need not be cowed by would-be dictators or emperors who betray the will of the people, steal or squander the nation’s wealth, and glorify violence.
Impeachment is our chance to demonstrate how democratic institutions are supposed to work, and we can be sure the citizens of the Middle East will be taking notes! We don’t need a foreign army to invade us, battle the Secret Service, chase Bush and Cheney into hiding, tear their pictures off Post Office walls. We don’t want to hang anybody. We can take care of this ourselves. Impeachment is the non-violent, lawful alternative to bombs, assassinations, and civil war. It’s how citizens of a democracy defend the republic and bring corrupt, lawbreaking officials to justice.
There’s another way that starting impeachment can support democratic forces in the Middle East—even if the House doesn’t have the votes to indict, even if the Senate doesn’t have the votes to convict. The threat of impeachment is sure to rein in the administration’s illegal war-making, a profoundly anti-democratic use of coercion.
With their big supporters Bush and Cheney under threat of indictment, the shaky leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan (and Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, and Egypt) will have to be more sensitive to the will of their people and less concerned with putting into place the undemocratic economic policies demanded by the West. Also, without Bush’s threats, the leaders of Iran will not be able to use America as a bogeyman against those working for democratic reforms.
2. Reform our election system. Elections are widely accepted all over the world as the way to choose a legitimate government. Yet people can become quickly disillusioned when they learn that elections aren’t necessarily fair. We can do something about that.
Never underestimate the enthusiasm engendered by the promise of democratic elections. I was in Iran about a year after the popular revolution that overthrew the Shah. I can still remember my aged father-in-law proudly going to the polls for the first election he considered legitimate since the 1953 coup. We took his picture voting. Another election day, almost 20 years later, we saw voters lined up in every town and village as we drove back to Tehran from a weekend in the mountains. Mohammad Khatami, a champion of civil society, was running for president, and millions of people had great hopes for what a Khatami administration could do for Iran. Because it was getting late, we stopped in a village along the way and my friend, an engineer, voted for Khatami. When we arrived in Tehran late that night, the polls were still open because of the high turnout. So she voted again, this time in her own neighborhood for local officials.