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Nov. 16  2018
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Democracies can do very bad things

It needs to be accepted that the reception of public opinion to the current American war in the Gulf is partially conditioned by a blind faith in democracy; that the goals of their foreign policies are just; that democracies cannot be imperialist.

Source  :  BASE21

By Jamie Doucette
An anti-war activist currently residing in South Korea.


If one can hold down the diet of war propaganda being printed and broadcast by the commercial media the past few months, it begins to come clear that public opinion to current American war being conditioned to believe by a blind faith in the aims of American democracy. US troops quickly lowered the American flag that they raised over an Iraqi town last weekend and replaced it with the Iraqi flag, so as not to give credence to the argument that they are fighting a war of conquest for oil. America does not want to appear imperialist, and a number of its citizens believe quite righteously that this war is about democracy and liberation. This blind idealism in the face of contrary facts is so strong that the left has a hard time confronting it rationally, instead many activists offer up epithets --fascist, terrorist, etc-- to describe the US government. The problem is a nave belief in the inherent goodness of democracy itself that prohibits citizens from criticizing it or the left from addressing it head on. The citizens of Iraq may be no better off under the next regime than the current one, and the degree of violence, murder, and further starvation they will incur because of this war is too difficult justify the ends. Democracy itself does not guarantee that a state's actions are ethical.

The British Empire Silly!

What makes this a problem is that democracy, however diminishing it may be as a label for the current American regime, can do very bad things. The British Empire was democratic in Britain itself. That didn't stop it from colonizing large parts of the world, massacring and making colonial subjects out of the local population, and forcing British products on it to secure markets for the British economy. For the colonized, it didn't matter much whether their colonizer was democratic or not, but perhaps for social movements inside the "homeland" it made a difference that some basic rights were protected: ones that wouldn't be protected in a dictatorship and that perhaps helped to undermine the empire from within. There are many other examples of countries that were democratic at home and democratic abroad; Britain and the United States are not the only ones.

Leftist Teleology

The activist left can learn from this sort of awareness. Too often, we proclaim America to be a fascist power. It is run by corrupt corporate elites who pilfer social services in the name of accumulation, who brutalize and imprison minorities and the poor, who act unilaterally and brutally against other countries in sickening ways, who commit atrocities and proliferate weapons of mass destruction. It doesn't take a fascist dictatorship to do this; its being done within a democratic system at home. I don't think these actions are the end-result of a two party democratic system nor even a liberal nor elitist one for that matter--nor even capitalism even though economics factors heavily into it; even socialist governments have committed atrocities against people, more often than not their own. What we should realize is that democratic countries and even democratic groups can do very bad things. Democratic means can be used to achieve ruthless ends. It is a fact that although qualifications of democracy are important (obviously the more federalized and participatory the better) at some point their actions need to be judged independently. Grassroots activists and revolutionaries can also make bad decisions that cause strife and harm, but use democratic decision making policies nonetheless: ones much more democratic than the senate and other centralized apparatuses.

Freedom and democracy can go hand in hand but are not the same thing

What we need to realize is that politics is, in the end, a limited practice concerned with governing. Violence, fear, conflict, and murder on the other hand are uses of force that exist within social life, something much broader. Force can be decided democratically but that, at some point, does not even make it just. Even if this war was decided by the security council, it would still have been as hypocritical as it is now, but just a little more legitimate in the eyes of the international community because it would not have revealed how weak they are to prevent the US from flexing its unilateral muscle. In the end we must not only look at decision making processes but at the degree of freedom people have from violence, fear, starvation, exploitation and murder to judge freedom and democracy within political and social systems. Obviously, freedom from force is important for democracy to be effective, but political freedom does not determine freedom from violence for citizens of the US or citizens of the other countries it invades. Democracy and freedom are dialectically in motion, playing off each other, not stemming from one another in a teleological relationship. Democracies are limited: they can protect the few (Rumsfeld and corporate elites) and the many (the American middle class and well-paid blue-collar workers) but currently they do not protect all (the exploited within the US and the citizens of countries who are forced clients to the US and whose corrupt governments are propped up and secured by US hegemony and strategic interests).

Talking to Americans about democracy

The American anti-war movements have a difficult task ahead of themselves. They have to convince ordinary Americans, many of whom believe in their system of government and who may be content with it, that their system is being used by a few to brutalize others, that its goals are hypocritical, its allies also corrupt and despotic. Perhaps American citizens, and people in general, need to realize that yes, democracy is important, but that in the final analysis one has to have an appreciation of ethics to act accordingly in a situation that involves force; that you simply can't excuse self-righteous violent actions abroad (or at home) to keep resources flowing and markets subjected to your products; that you can't work with one despotic regime (America's current allies in the Middle East, Iraq before 1990, Suharto's Indonesia, Pinochet's Chile, the list goes on) to cancel another one out; that you can't use force without justifying it, and even when a justification partially exists expand it into a pretext to bomb and maim the innocent directly (through depleted uranium cluster bombs) or indirectly (through military support to other state terrorists in Israel or Columbia). What the anti-war movement must make clear to Americans is that this war is not about ethics or long term freedom from force, this war is about the insulation of power for a few through conquest carried out by a democracy that is sadly their own.

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