The Name For Our Profits Is Democracy

by Stephen Gowans

June 3, 2002


Having on occasion found myself in charge of a riot of obstreperous kids, I know that when talking with children, it's best to speak in simple language, with a lot of emphasis and repetition. You can't talk down to kids, but neither should you overestimate what they're capable of understanding.

Not that everyone agrees with me. Condoleezza Rice, the US National Security Advisor, doesn't. She thinks you can talk down to kids. Indeed, she believes you have to. And not only to kids, but to adults -- especially American adults. Never stray from simple narratives. Don't get complicated. Keep it simple. Keep it Manichean. Bad men. Good men. Get Stan Lee to write your speeches. Throw in a few super-villains.

Rice, following one of her Stan Lee scripts, was carrying on not too long ago about someone she called a "terrible, terrible man," when it struck me that I had stumbled into a Marvel Comics workshop. Or was it a Dr. Seuss world?

That Osama I Am. That Osama I Am. I do not like Osama I Am.

But do you like Iraq's Saddam?

I do not like Iraq's Saddam. I do not like him, Osama I Am.

The terrible man at the centre of the Lee-Rice script, wasn't Rice's boss, richly deserving of the obloquy, but the hobgoblin of the moment, Iraq's Saddam.

You see, children, Saddam is a bad, bad man, and that's why Uncle Sam, who's a good, good man, may have to take out a small city's worth of Iraqi civilians. Don't worry. They're only Iraqis. Not Americans. Iraq's Saddam, and Osama I Am, are terrible, terrible men. And that's who we're after. If some Iraqis get killed, well, that's regrettable, but who said war's pretty? We didn't start this war, but by God, we'll finish it.

If you think Americans are too sophisticated to fall for this twaddle, ask yourself: What Stan Lee character is the centre of a current top box-office movie?

And read my mail.

Dear Mr. Gowans,

You are an idiot. Of course, Uncle Sam has to be in Afghanistan. If we're not there, the Taliban will come back. If you think the Taliban are so great, why don't you go live in Afghanistan? Why don't you go to Iraq? Why don't you go back to Cuba? Oh, and another thing. You are a moron. And remember: Mess around with Uncle Sam's buildings, and there will be a price to pay. War is bloody, loser.

Looking forward to your insights.


Carl, a patriotic American.


Stephen Gowans,

You are a moron. The United States is not like the Roman Empire. That is a bunch of crap. America has to go to other countries for good reasons. You should be thrown in jail. Just my opinion.




Why are you so angry? She never really loved you, man. Let it go. Let it go.

There are sophisticated letters, too (very infrequent), but they're almost invariably vitiated by the writer's robust ethnocentrism -- the inability of many Americans to know, or understand, there's a world beyond the shores of the continental USA.

"You have to see ground zero to understand the true extent of the devastation, the magnitude of the atrocity," I'm told, as if this is justification for blowing away a few thousand desperately poor Afghans who had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. That the events of 9/11 constitute an atrocity I am certain, but what rankles me is the implicit, unexamined belief that if it happened in America it's significant; if it happened elsewhere, it's a footnote. It never occurs to the same people to say, "You would have had to have seen downtown Belgrade in the spring of 1999, or be caught in a fuel air bomb attack on Kandahar at the end of last year, or have seen North Korea after the carpet bombing in the early 50ies, to understand the true extent of American-engineered devastation, the true magnitude of American produced atrocities."

It's not much of a consolation that simple-mindedness crops up elsewhere in the world. Many Israelis believed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's military offensive would eradicate Palestinian terrorism. It hasn't. Nor will it. That's simple-minded. Graphic scenes of Israeli victims of Palestinian suicide bombs were common fare on the front pages of newspapers in the early days of the offensive, when many argued the crackdown was a necessary and justifiable response to Palestinian "provocation." (Was the French Resistance a provocation to the Nazis?) Having slaughtered dozens, if not hundreds of Palestinians in the ensuing weeks, Sharon's storm troopers have failed, as all serious commentators (i.e., not the gas bags on the network political shows) said they would. By May 23rd, the stories of continued suicide bombings were being buried in the back pages, as if not to draw attention to the monumental failure of Sharon's program of committing more war crimes and creating more injustice, the very wellspring of Palestinian terrorism. "Although Israel claims its military operations have succeeded in destroying terrorist infrastructure and have cut the number of suicide bombings," reported Canada's The Globe and Mail (May 23, 2002) "the attacks continue." Were Sharon a doctor, he would surely be sued for malpractice. "Doctor Sharon. You told me that the way to bring my fever down, was to fashion a sweat suit out of a garbage bag and go for a 10-mile run. But when I did that, I went into convulsions. This doesn't seem to be working."

"You didn't run hard enough. The only way to break a fever, is to raise the fever."

Now, the US administration warns that Americans may one day find themselves face-to-face with their own suicide bombing problem. Seems like Dr. Bush should be sued, too. (1)

The Trinity

Comic book heroes need to be inspired by unquestionably noble motives. And it's best that there be a trinity of admirable motives. Superman has truth, justice and the American way. Uncle Sam has Democracy, Human Rights and Free Enterprise.

But just as it's absurd to believe that Superman could disguise himself by putting on eyeglasses, it's equally absurd to believe Uncle Sam can disguise his true motivations by dressing himself up in the raiment of a civil libertarian democrat. He doesn't care a fig for democracy, human rights, or, truth be told, free enterprise. These are fine things in principle, but they're no substitute for cornering the world's market on wealth and power. And that's what America is all about in these, the early days of the 21st century. Indeed, that's what America -- or at least, the American business community and boardroom dominated American governments -- have always been about.

Am I stretching? Consider:

Democracy. There are six words (a lot more actually if you want to put a bit of effort into it) that say Washington's claim that its foreign policy rests on promoting democracy is pure wind.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Chile, Venezuela, Pakistan.

The first three -- oil monarchies -- are as far from being democratic as Bill Clinton is from being a poster-boy for marital fidelity, but they're compliant, so you'll hear not a peep from Washington about the absence of elections, political parties, and legislatures.

"The primacy of oil is clear in several places, most obviously, Saudi Arabia," writes Michael T. Klare in the June 2002 issue of The Progressive. "Though fifteen of the eighteen (9/11) hijackers were Saudi, though Osama bin Laden himself is Saudi, though the Saudis practice Wahhabism and finance some of the most reactionary madrassas around the world, the Bush Administration is in no position to break relations with the kingdom." And it's sure not going to insist on a transition to democracy.

Pakistan is a military dictatorship, the former elected president having been ousted in a bloodless coup. Pakistan is also home to a large part of the Pentagon's military operations in Central Asia, vital to the conquest of Afghanistan and the Caspian basin. You'll hear no complaining about the absence of democracy in Pakistan, the administration's complaints reserved for its favorite whipping boy, Cuba, which, it turns out, does have elections, very much like American elections: there's only one party to choose from.

Chile, under the socialist Salvador Allende, and Venezuela, under the left-leaning Hugo Chavez, are examples, from Washington's perspective, of democracy gone wrong. Democracies aren't supposed to elect leaders who are suspicious of "free enterprise." When they do, Washington intervenes to put everything right. "Are we supposed to sit by and let a country go communist because its voters are irresponsible?" wondered Henry Kissinger -- or words to that effect -- when Chilean voters committed the grave affront against democracy of electing Allende, and not Washington's favoured, US-business friendly candidate. Allende was overthrown and murdered in a CIA-engineered coup, his successor, the military dictator Augusto Pinochet, being more to Washington's liking. Pinochet embraced "free enterprise," which, in the end, is all that really mattered.

Human rights?

In a Sept. 22, 1998 press release titled "A pick-and-choose approach to human rights," Amnesty International (AI) condemned the United States for "failing to respect the fundamental promise of rights for all both at home and abroad."

AI was "highly critical of the selective approach of the US government in condemning human rights violations in other countries."

Said the news release. "The US authorities are quick to criticize human rights violations in countries considered hostile, but are then unwilling to take appropriate action when abuses are committed by US allies or when the USA's political or economic interests could be compromised."

The human rights group continued: "The US government's long standing refusal to criticize blatant human rights violations by Israel against the Palestinian population, its passivity in the face of gross human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, and the playing down by US officials of the massacres in Rwanda are some examples of this."

"In addition, to its double standards in terms of foreign policy," added the watchdog, "the USA is also failing to deliver the promise of human rights for all to people within its own territory."

If that's not enough to skewer Washington's self-important, and largely empty, commitment to human rights, a quick glance at the news releases Amnesty International has issued since, reveals little has changed. If anything, US contempt for human rights has become more pronounced.

"Treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay undermines human rights"

"Military commissions: Second-class justice"

"Post 11 September detainees deprived of their basic rights"

"Amnesty International to tour jails housing post September 11 detainees -- but access to federal detention facility stonewalled"

"Presidential order on military tribunals threatens fundamental principles of justice"

"Time to stop executing juvenile offenders and join the modern world"

"No more excuses: The USA must obey International Court decision on prisoners' rights"

"Time to recognize international 'standards of decency'"

"UN Committee against Torture must condemn increasing institutionalized cruelty in USA"

"Amnesty International calls for an inquiry into police actions at WTO talks in Seattle"

This is not the record of a country committed to human rights; it's the record of a country that pays lip service to human rights.

Free enterprise?

Canadians, being America's largest trading partner, know a thing or two about what Washington really means when it talks of free enterprise. Free enterprise is the freedom of American enterprises to exploit the markets, labor and resources of other countries -- period. Free enterprise involves no necessary reciprocity. Bob Rae, a former premier of Canada's largest province, Ontario, scoffed at the suggestion Americans are committed to free enterprise. "Try to get a mandarin orange in the US," he says. "Florida oranges, okay. But mandarin oranges -- forget it." Free enterprise is a one-way street. Because the US is a large, wealthy market, everyone wants to sell to Americans. And if Washington decides you can't, what are you going to do? Launch a WTO case? And if you win, and Washington decides to reject the trade body's ruling, what then?

The fundamental law of international agreements is that only countries that can be hurt by the most powerful country are obligated to abide by the agreements. The world's top dog may or may not abide by the agreement, at its discretion. If it doesn't comply, there is nothing to compel it to comply. This holds not only for trade agreements, but for any other agreement. When the World Court ordered the United States to stop mining Nicaragua's harbors, Washington simply ignored the order. "Who's going to stop us?" Washington effectively asked. "You and whose army?" Since there was no other army -- indeed, together, the world's largest militaries would still be overwhelmed by the massively bloated American military -- the answer was obvious: the United States can damn well do what it pleases -- and does. That's what hundreds of billions of dollars every year in military spending gets you -- the ability to get away with murder. And since it also fattens the profits of Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and TRW, it's not such a bad deal, unless you're on the receiving end of a cruise missile or unless globalization, backed by US military might, means the water system in your country has just been sold to an American firm that has jacked up the rates, and you're eking out a miserable existence in an American-owned factory sewing athletic shoes, while shareholders living in tony Manhattan apartments are raking in rich dividends for doing nothing. But whoever said that American military spending profits anyone in the world but the military contractors who get rich selling unnecessary arms and equipment to a government that, loaded with appointees from arms contractors and the oil industry, spend their days manufacturing bogus threats to justify more military spending and more intervention in the oil rich regions of the world? This is government for business, by business, and of business. It's plutocracy and wealthfare, not democracy and free enterprise.

When Washington knew the UN Security Council would withhold approval of its plans to bomb Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, it simply by-passed the Security Council and went ahead anyway, engaging in an orgy of violence that US administrations have proved time and again they are addicted to. The American arms and high-tech industries need a permanent state of war, and successive US administrations have been all too happy to oblige, with disastrous consequences for the world's poor, to say nothing of US taxpayers who foot the bill, and are saddled with the opportunity costs of foregone expenditures on health care, education, and housing. NATO's US-led campaign was a flagrant violation of numerous international agreements and protocols, but, who was going to stop it? No one, and so murderers were dispatched from their air bases by other murderers from situation rooms while orders to replenish the bombs and cruise missiles that indiscriminately killed civilians and razed a nation were rushed to Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon and other masters of war. The program of mass murder was sanitized as a "humanitarian intervention" by another element of the business-dominated US establishment -- the media.

The Rambouillet agreement -- an ultimatum, not an agreement -- was at the centre of the decision to unleash the murderous fury of NATO forces on Yugoslavia. "In February 1999," writes Michael Parenti, "US officials at Rambouillet made their determined dedication to economic privatization perfectly clear. Chapter 4a, Article 1, of the Rambouillet 'agreement,' ... imposed on what remained of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), stated in no uncertain terms: 'The economy of Kosovo shall function in accordance with free market principles.'" (2)

It was reminiscent of the often (in left circles) quoted words of New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman: "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist -- McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell-Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." (3)

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic rejected the ultimatum, bombing began, and thousands of civilian deaths later, with a coup and the instalment of the US-backed DOS government to follow, Washington got what it wanted: an economy run on free market principles, i.e., American firms are now free to exploit the region's resources, labor, and markets, and to buy up previously state-owned assets at fire-sale prices. That the transition has been calamitous for the people of Yugoslavia, who are slipping into the grinding poverty and despair that much of Eastern Europe has slipped into with the arrival of "free market reforms," is, for Washington, little more than a public relations problem, and a very small one at that. Few in the West know of the economic devastation that has befallen formerly communist Russia and Eastern Europe; few ever will.

Ask yourself: If a country had multiparty elections, scrupulously protected human rights and civil liberties, but decided to organize its economy on principles other than those that allowed American firms free reign to own and control the country's resources, assets and labor, and, by virtue of the former, to own and control the country's government, how would Washington react? The CIA-engineered ouster of Salvador Allende in Chile, and what very strongly appears to have been a Washington-backed coup against Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, speak volumes.

Now, ask yourself: If a country didn't have multiparty elections, routinely violated human rights and allowed few or no civil liberties, but decided to organize its economy on principles that allowed US capital free access to its markets, labor and resources, how would Washington react? Judging by Washington's silence on Saudi Arabia's monstrous human rights abuses, to name just one example, quite placidly.

The Salonista brigade -- the collection of gas bags that pass on the blatant lies of the business regime that's permanently installed itself in Washington -- will tell you that democracy, human rights and free enterprise are a package deal. In other words, it's impossible to conceive of a democratic country that respects civil liberties and protects human rights that isn't organized as a market economy open to penetration by US businesses.

Accordingly, all programs to promote democracy and human rights abroad are invariably accompanied by promotion of market principles, property rights, or free enterprise -- the true object of the business-controlled US government's meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. "A serious and explicit purpose of our foreign policy [is] the encouragement of a hospitable climate for [private] investment in foreign nations," remarked President Dwight Eisenhower, in 1953. (4)

And so it is that when George W. Bush set out the demands that must be met by Cuba if Washington is to lift its economic blockade, after the obligatory reference to democracy and human rights, he got around to the real object of Washington's demands -- the restoration of property rights. "Mr. Bush marked the 100th Cuban Independence Day with speeches in Miami and Washington yesterday that laid out what Mr. Castro must do to see the strict embargo lifted," wrote reporter Barrie McKenna. "These include releasing all political prisoners, holding independently monitored free elections next year, legalizing independent trade unions and protecting property rights." (5) Cuba, Bush was letting the Cubans know, must return to the days of Batista, when Cuba, and the Cuban government, were controlled by US business. Since Mr. Bush isn't asking Saudi Arabia to release political prisoners, isn't demanding the monarchy hold elections, and isn't insisting that Saudi trade unions be legalized, one can only conclude that the difference is the protection of American property rights -- Saudi Arabia does it; Cuba doesn't, and for that is embargoed.

USAID, one of the US government's agencies claiming to promote international development, lists a number of programs to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba. To be sure, the trinity isn't left incomplete. Inevitably, and most importantly from a business-controlled Washington's perspective, the programs also promote property rights.

Freedom House: Provided 40,000 Spanish language books, pamphlets and other materials to the Cuban people on issues such as human rights, transition to democracy and free market economics.

Cuba On-Line: Transmits information on democracy, human rights and free market economics directly to the Cuban people, through the international mail system, and by electronic means.

Sabre Foundation: Donated new books and other informational materials on democratic transition, free market economics and other issues to independent Cuban NGOs and individuals in order to benefit the Cuban people.

U.S-Cuba Business Council: Surveyed U.S. private sector resources and plans to assist the eventual reconstruction of the Cuban economy. Conducted a conference series on Cuba's democratic free market future.

University of Miami: Cuba Transition Planning Analyzes challenges that will face a future transition government in Cuba, including: legal reform, political party formation, privatization and foreign investment, combating corruption, education reform, economic policy reform, international donor coordination.

USAID says, "U.S. foreign assistance has always had the twofold purpose of furthering America's foreign policy interests in expanding democracy and free markets." (6) Yeah, right. As American songwriter Phil Ochs said, "The name for our profits is democracy." Once you understand that, you understand American foreign policy.

· · · · · ·


1.  See my "Why Future Terror Attacks Are Inevitable," Media Monitors Network.  (back)

2.  Michael Parenti, "The Terrorism Trap: September 11 and Beyond," City Light Books, San Francisco, 2002.  (back)

3.  Thomas L. Friedman, "A Manifesto for the Fast World," New York Times Magazine, March 28, 1999.  (back)

4.  New York Times, February 3, 1953 cited in Michael Parenti, "The Terrorism Trap: September 11 and Beyond," City Light Books, San Francisco, 2002.  (back)

5.  Barrie McKenna, Bush reaffirms tough line on Cuba, The Globe and Mail, May 21, 2002.  (back)

6.  http://www.usaid.gov/  (back)


Stephen Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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Published June 3, 2002
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