Washington's war on democracy

December 10, 2003

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, President George Bush's speechwriters have never been shy about employing grand, bombastic turns of phrase. The commentators of the corporate media treat his empty and dishonest phraseology as profoundly important. Despite the White House's deceptions in the lead-up to the Iraq war and the continuing lie that Iraq is being "liberated", Bush's November 6 announcement of Washington's "new policy" — "a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East" — was not greeted with the derision it deserved.

"This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before", Bush told the US Chamber for Commerce. "And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace."

Bush lauded the "progress" towards democracy by Washington's despotic allies: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman and Qatar. "Bad" nations — Iran, Syria, Palestine — were slammed.

A November 6 article by the Washington Post's Fred Barbash claimed that the speech "reflected the views of a generation of neo-conservative thinkers and government leaders, who support US activism in spreading democratic government and free markets to those parts of the world that have yet to adopt them".

National Endowment for Democracy

Bush's speech marked the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy. The NED, notes William Blum in Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower, is an organisation which "does exactly the opposite of what its name implies".

The NED doesn't promote majority rule, but uses "democracy" as a codeword for achieving the foreign policy goals of US imperialism. The organisation describes itself as playing a "critical, complementary role to official US government efforts to promote democracy abroad", maintaining that it is a "private, non-profit, grant-making organisation" — exclusively funded by the US government.

The NED's board includes such luminaries as: Frank Carlucci, a defence secretary under US President Ronald Reagan, a former deputy director of the CIA and chairperson of shadowy merchant bank the Carlye Group; Vin Weber, a former leader of the Republican Party in the US House of Representatives, head of right-wing think tank Empower America and a "super lobbyist" for corporations, such as Microsoft and Mobil; neo-conservative guru Francis Fukuyama; and Michael Novak, from the leading "hawk" think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.

The NED encapsulates the essence of US foreign policy — imperial aims realised behind the rhetoric of freedom. Ron Paul, a Republican member of Congress from Texas, argued in the US House of Representatives on October 7 that "it is particularly Orwellian to call US manipulation of foreign elections 'promoting democracy'".

It has intervened in elections in Chile, Nicaragua and Mongolia. During the 1980s, it partially funded the infamous "Project Democracy", which involved the bankrolling of counterrevolutionaries in Central America with drug money. It has aided the right-wing Cuban-American National Fund, which has been connected to terrorist attacks in Cuba.

On April 24 last year, the New York Times revealed that the NED had channelled "hundreds of thousands" of dollars to groups plotting against the democratically elected left-wing president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez.

Prior to the April 12, 2002, coup that briefly deposed Chavez, the NED had quadrupled its budget for Venezuela to US$877,000. Funds were channelled through the Venezuelan offices of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Republican Institute, the foreign-policy arms of the US Democratic and the Republican parties.

NED president Carl Gershman testified to a US House of Representatives subcommittee in 1997: "I just want to say that the Endowment's work is based upon a very, very simple proposition. And that is, where there are people who share our values, where there are people who might be called the natural friends of America, then it is our obligation to help those people in some way."

Of course, the "natural friends" of the Bush regime and the US elite in the Middle East are the region's enemies of democracy: the monarchies and the political elite in the pseudo-democracies like Egypt.

As Human Rights Watch's Ken Roth argued in the November 26 Toronto Globe and Mail, while Bush's November 6 speech "broke new ground in identifying Egypt and Saudi Arabia by name as governments that must democratise" his "language was more [encouraging] than critical". While "he reiterated familiar criticism of such long-time nemeses as Syria and Iran ... on Israel's treatment of Palestinians, the human-rights abuse about which Middle Easterners are most passionate, he was silent. He appropriately said that Palestinian leaders must reform, but said nothing about such attributes of Israel's occupation as assassinations and collective punishment. No American human-rights policy will be credible in Middle Eastern eyes without ending the Israel exception."


US support for despotic regimes in the region is not the result of mistaken policies by successive US administrations. Beyond Containment: Defending US Interests in the Persian Gulf, a report issued on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by the Pentagon's Institute for National Strategic Studies, described "the overriding American concern" in the Persian Gulf as "preserving access to Gulf oil at reasonable prices and keeping the region secure from threat or invasion".

Preserving "access to Gulf oil" means preventing the governments of the region from using its oil wealth to benefit its people, rather than the likes of oil corporations such as ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco.

Since World War II, the US has shaped the political order in the Middle East to suit its imperialist aims at the expense of democracy and human rights. The prevalence of despotic regimes in the region is not despite Washington's interventions, but because of them.

On April 16 and June 18, 2000, the New York Times revealed the contents of a leaked classified CIA report. The report was a history of the CIA-organised 1953 coup in Iran. Its author was Donald Wilber, a chief CIA planner.

According to the George Washington University's National Security Archives (), the report represented "one of the last major pieces of the puzzle explaining American and British roles in the August 1953 coup" that overthrew Iran's elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq and reinstalled the dictatorship of the shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

"Perhaps the most general conclusion that can be drawn from these documents", noted Professor Mark Gasiorowski of Louisiana State University's department of political science shortly after the NY Times' April 16 article, "is that the CIA extensively stage-managed the entire coup, not only carrying it out, but also preparing the groundwork for it by subordinating various important Iranian political actors and using propaganda and other instruments to influence public opinion against Mossadeq".

The US-British coup plot was driven by concern at the Mossadeq government's 1951 nationalisation of Iran's oil industry, previously controlled by the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The coup repositioned Iran as a US client, replacing the previous British monopoly over Iran's oil with an arrangement that split it 40/40 between British and US oil companies.

The Pahlavi dictatorship terrorised Iran until it was overthrown in a massive popular uprising in 1979. The Shah's brutal secret police force SAVAK, formed under the guidance of the CIA, controlled all facets of political life to suppress all opposition to the Shah's regime.

After the Iranian revolution, the country once more became a target for US-instigated "regime change" to bring about "democracy". Former members of the Iranian monarchy, particularly the deposed shah's son, Reza Pahlavi, who lives in the US, are promoted by leading neo-conservatives in the current Bush administration, including deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz and undersecretary of defence for policy Douglas Feith.

One of Pahlavi's key backers is the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Ledeen, who founded the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, an organisation similar to the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq lobby group set up by the Project for a New American Century think tank that led the charge for "democracy" in Iraq.

There is nothing new in Bush's attempt to hide US foreign policy behind the fig leaf of "freedom" and "democracy". In December 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declared to the US Congress that "justice and equality of rights can be had only at a great price. We are seeking permanent, not temporary, foundations for the peace of the world, and must seek them candidly and fearlessly."

Wilson's"justice and equality" justified US interventions in Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, participating in the imperialists' carve-up of the world in World War I, and the attempted overthrow of the revolutionary government in Russia after 1917. The Russian Revolution was a threat, according to Wilson's secretary of state Robert Lansing, because the Bolsheviks appeal to "a class which does not have property but hopes to obtain a share by process of government rather than by individual enterprise. This is of course a direct threat at existing social order in all countries."

In 1947, US President Harry Truman told Congress that "the preservation of order in the Middle East" was essential to US interests. "The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms."

'Democratising' Iraq

Today, the Bush gang would have us believe it invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein's regime to bring "democracy". However, Washington has gone out of its way to prevent the establishment of a democratic state because, warned US Senator Jack Reed in the November 29 New York Times, "a quick, hasty election might bring to power a person who doesn't share the values we're trying to encourage".

A May 30 Washington Post article stated that occupation authorities feared that "extremist Islamic groups and their leaders could attempt to play an oversize role in any Iraqi-run government by manipulating people to rally around their clerics and buying loyalty with food, money and other aid".

Throughout Iraq, it is a similar story: city councils have been disbanded and elections cancelled if the US-led occupation forces cannot guarantee they will toe the invaders' line. In council "elections" in Mosul in early May only 240 "representatives", personally vetted by a US major-general, were allowed to vote

The June 28 Washington Post quoted Paul Bremer, head of Washington's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), as saying: "In a post-war situation like this, if you start holding elections, the people who are rejectionists tend to win. It's often the best-organised who win, and the best-organised right now are the former Baathists and to some extent the Islamists."

The CPA gave local US commanders discretion to decide whether local elections should be held, to appoint mayors or decide that US forces should rule directly.

The Mosul-style council election is a form of election that the US intends to duplicate for the creation of a national government. The Bush regime is intent on ensuring that no Iraqi government that will challenge US interests can be elected. The December 3 New York Times revealed the CPA had rejected a plan prepared by Iraqi census officials to create a national electoral roll. US officials rejected the plan without even allowing the Iraqi Governing Council, whose members are hand-picked by Washington, to consider it.

The CPA's wants indirect elections conducted by Iraqi "representatives", a format that makes it much easier for the US to determine the result.

In a November 24 Counterpunch article, Ron Jacobs pointed to the similarities between Washington's transition to Iraqi "sovereignty" — promised to happen by June 2004 — and Washington's propping-up of the government of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War: "After taking over the war against the liberation forces from the French in the mid-1950s, the US set up a proxy regime in the southern half of Vietnam... Any elections that it won — elections that were vain attempts by the US to provide the regime with some legitimacy in the world — were rigged by the CIA and its cohorts and made very little difference to the insurgency against it."

As Beyond Containment predicted, a military presence will allow the US to "shape the new government and the new Iraqi army to the greatest possible degree". It warned that "a regime installed by US military force could be viewed as a tool of neo-imperialism". Steps taken to alter this perception "such as full enfranchisement of the entire population ... would pose problems of their own".

Central Asia's 'emancipation'

Bush's November 6 speech referred to Reagan's promises of "freedom", "democracy" and an end to the Soviet "Evil Empire" in his 1982 speech to Britain's House of Commons.

"President Reagan said that the day of Soviet tyranny was passing, that freedom had a momentum which would not be halted. He gave [the NED] its mandate: to add to the momentum of freedom across the world. Your mandate was important 20 years ago; it is equally important today."

Formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the people of the independent republics of Central Asia — Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan — are bearing the brunt of Reagan's promised "democracy" and "free" markets. Brutal regimes, many run by the same bureaucrats who ruled prior to independence, casually employ political violence to maintain their rule.

A July 2000 report by the Nixon Center, America's National Interests, explained that Washington's interest in the region was not driven by concern with democracy: "The most promising new source of world supplies [of oil] is the Caspian region, which appears to contain the largest petroleum reserves discovered since the North Sea. This geopolitical crossroad, which includes Iran, Russia and a number of newly independent states struggling with post-Soviet modernisation and dangers of Islamic extremism, demands more attention by American policymakers."

In Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, the country's "president for life" and a close friend of Washington, has developed a bizarre cult. On September 12, the country marked Rukhnama Day — a celebration of Niyazov's "holy" book, Rukhnama: Reflections on the Spiritual Values of the Turkmen, which is compared to the Koran and the Bible.

In recent years, Niyazov changed his previous title, Turkmenbashi ("Father of all Turkmen"), to Turkmenbashi the Great. The months of the year have been renamed to include references to Niyazov and his mother. September is now called Rukhnama. After an alleged assassination attempt in November 2002, Niyazov launched a crackdown against opponents of his regime. Political parties and human rights groups independent of his regime are banned and political prisoners are routinely tortured.

The Niyazov regime allowed Turkmenistan's territory to be used for supply purposes during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Following the 9/11 attacks, US aid to the country has increased to US$19.2 million. The country is home to the world's third-largest known reserves of natural gas.

Uzbekistan is ruled by President Islam Karimov's dictatorship, which according to Amnesty International, boils people alive and employs torture techniques that include "near-suffocation with a plastic bag, being hung upside down, having needles stuck under finger- and toe-nails, having their hands and feet burned and having electric shocks administered via a device fitted to the head". Karimov is a firm ally of the US and supporter of the "war on terror", so is not a candidate for US-sponsored regime change.

A search of the NED's "democracy projects database" sums up the US rulers' understanding of "democracy". NED funds no projects in Saudi Arabia, none in Turkmenistan, eight in Iran, 18 in Cuba and 20 in Venezuela.

From Green Left Weekly, December 10, 2003.

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