Swans Commentary » swans.com April 11, 2005  



The Nature Of Democracy


by Michael Doliner




(Swans - April 11, 2005)   Democracy, that much praised but rarely defined ideal, seems to be everywhere these days. And it's a slippery devil. Geoffrey Wheatcraft in the International Herald Tribune reminds us that Hitler won a fair election and was therefore a product of democracy. (1) He continues by reminding us that "one man, one vote, one time" is not what we mean by democracy even though many of the post colonial governments England and France left in Africa operated in just this way. So then what's the scoop? Today's big news is from Kyrgyzstan. Sudhir Chadda reports in the India Daily that "Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev has resigned and left the country with his family to a safe location in Kazakhstan...'looting and murdering on a massive scale' was occurring on the streets of the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek." The article ends with the comment, "Putin and Bush may have found common grounds to support each other in their last meeting. If that is true, Kyrgyzstan will have smooth transition to a fantastic democracy." (2) So apparently "looting and murdering on a massive scale" is a good democratic sign.

Lebanon poses an interesting conundrum. Huge demonstrations have both demanded that Syria leave and that it remain in Lebanon. The government resigned after the first, anti-Syria demonstration, then the Parliament reinstated it after the second, pro-Syria one. So what is democratic? According to Caludia Rossett of the New York Sun, in yet a third anti-Syrian demonstration "Lebanon's opposition converged on downtown Beirut yesterday in the biggest democratic protest in the history of the modern Middle East. Their numbers -- about a million strong -- were a retort to the rival protests staged last week by the terrorist group Hezbollah." (3) Apparently the second demonstration was terrorist, the third and first, democratic.

If this is confusing, The Washington Post tips us off as to just what this "democracy" is. "Although it is one of the most divided of all post-Soviet countries, Ukraine seems about to become, of all things, a democracy. How did this happen? It's not that the place has adopted the rule of law. There is the still unexplained "poisoning" of Yushchenko, (4) which kept him off the campaign trail for weeks; the mass influx of Russian celebrities, from pop stars to Vladimir Putin himself, all barnstorming for Yanukovych; and -- most worrisome for Sunday's runoff -- widespread tampering with voter lists on the day of the first round." (5) So what is it that makes all this democratic? "Ukraine's very dividedness has turned out to be a crucial ingredient of its emergent democratic success." Oh fair and fortunate land! And that in spite of the illegal mass influx of celebrities!

But Iraq is the big potato. Bryan Bender in The Age captures George Bush's idea of democracy before the war. "President George Bush said then that a democratic Iraq would lead to more liberalised, representative governments, where terrorists would find less popular support and the Islamic world would be friendlier to the United States." (6) That was back in April 2003 when democracy in Iraq was only a glimmer in GWB's fatherly eye. But now, apparently, it has arrived. On March 10, "Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was today set to claim the sudden stirring of democratic change in the Middle East is due, at least in part, to the invasion of Iraq." (7) So I guess terrorists in Iraq are finding less popular support and the Islamic world is friendlier to the United States. According to Straw invasion breeds friendliness. Who could have guessed?

It is a mistake to think that democracy has anything to do with a form of government, or for that matter, requires a government at all. The democratic Iraqi election has still produced none. Indeed this has fomented some grumbling among malcontents who don't really know what democracy is. On Uruknet.info, a website for former Ba'athists, Islamic terrorists, insurgents, old-Europeans, Russian apparatchiks, Chinese hard-liners, Latin American communists and other Third World malcontents, blue-state whiners, ungrateful Canadians, and other low down anti-American dead-ender remnants, Ghali Hassan complains, "In Iraq, the story is of a widespread dismay and anger that the elections have not produced any change on the ground or even a new 'government'. The same expatriate quislings, just more divided on sectarian line than before the elections, are gathered to discuss their new positions. They met in the shadow of US forces to announce that their symbiotic relation with the Occupation will continue, and that the US forces will stay in Iraq to protect them and terrorise the Iraqi people. It was anything, but a democratic parliament. It was a US theatrical show with Iraqi puppets playing as actors." (8)

Mr. Hassan foolishly thinks that a legitimate government is required. Ha! What does he know? Democracy doesn't need a government or anything else. If you have democracy everything else is bubkis. Water? Bah. Electricity, sewage treatment, food, minimal security, dignity? Don't make me laugh. Hassan doesn't know the first thing about democracy. What's needed is "looting and murdering on a massive scale," "national division," and a friendliness towards the United States. What he is complaining about is actually the very conditions for democracy itself! His own lack of friendliness towards America tips his pinko terrorist Islamophile paw.

Of course, one of the trickiest questions about democracy is the role of elections. Some people think that elections are the sine qua non of democracy. But elections are tricky. Remember Hitler? Saddam Hussein had elections. Did that make his government a democracy? No! Because he told everybody how to vote. Now in the most recent Iraqi elections the Ayatollah Sistani told the Shi'ites how to vote, Jalal Talabani told the Kurds how to vote, and Iyad Allawi told the Quislings how to vote. And nobody knew who they were voting for anyway because all the candidates were too frightened to show their mugs. That's the way we do it in a real democracy. See the difference?

Still, voting is the key to democracy. Whoever is left alive and able to hobble to the polls should vote. However, some people believe that the votes should be counted. Ha! What for? As we have seen in our very own election, that is not important at all. People vote and then a candidate friendly to the United States (George W. Bush) wins. If someone else wins it's a do-over. The rule of thumb is: if the government is not friendly to the United States (George W. Bush) it is not a democracy, period!

So now we know why Iraq is a prime candidate for democracy. All the key elements are there. It is probably numero uno in the world when it comes to "looting and murdering on a massive scale," and deep national dividedness. But when it comes to friendliness to the United States Iraq really shines. Look how much they have to thank us for. The Gulf War, the sanctions, the Iraq War, the highway of death, the half-million starved children, Abu Ghraib, looted antiquities...but why go on? Could Iraq possibly not be friendly to America?

Now even some think-tankers stumble over the tricky concept of "friendliness to America." After all nobody was friendlier to America than Saddam. After fighting the Iran-Iraq war for us he very politely asked April Glaspie, American ambassador, whether the United States would object if he invaded Kuwait. "We have no opinion on your Arab - Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait," Ms. Glaspie said. (9) So no problemo? Au contraire, mon frère. Kablam! Wha hoppa? high-powered intellectuals asked. Well, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, "ask not if you are friendly to America, but ask if America is friendly to you." Let's face it -- the United States is not that loyal in its friendships except for those with England and Israel and even they had better watch their coin slots. Think of Manuel Noriega, CIA henchman turned persona non grata. Think of Ferdinand Marcos, shoe king to shoo fly. Sometimes the double cross is in. Sometimes you don't even know why. Ç'est la vie. That's what makes democracy interesting.

So what is the true nature of democracy? Voting? Sure, but don't forget Hitler, Saddam, Bill Clinton. "Looting and murdering on a massive scale?" You're getting warm, but sorry, only half credit. Friendliness to America? You fell for the trick answer, sucker. No the real secret (and I'm sorry, we haven't covered this in class) is a leader with a long tongue up George W. Bush's ass.

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(All links valid as of 3/26/05.)

1.  http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/03/24/news/edwheat.html  (back)

2.  http://www.indiadaily.com/editorial/2012.asp  (back)

3.  http://www.nysun.com/article/10560  (back)

4.  I've got the explanation! He's a binge drinker. http://www.counterpunch.org/nagle12202004.html  (back)

5.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61376-2004Nov18.html  (back)

6.  http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/08/14/1060588524354.html?oneclick=true  (back)

7.  http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=263052005  (back)

8.  http://uruknet.info/?p=10636&hd=0&size=1&l=x  (back)

9.  http://www.whatreallyhappened.com/ARTICLE5/april.html  (back)


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About the Author

Michael Doliner has taught at Valparaiso University and Ithaca College. He lives with his family in Ithaca, N.Y.



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Published April 11, 2005