Myth of benevolent ‘Western democracies’ stoking aggression abroad, quelling dissent at home
Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. He is the author of 'Midnight in the American Empire,' How Corporations and Their Political Servants are Destroying the American Dream. @Robert_Bridge
Just about 2,500 years ago, democracy took its first breath in that fertile hotbed of philosophical thought known as Athens, one of the many city-states that made up ancient Greece. This early experiment in ‘rule by the people’, which Winston Churchill once described as “the worst form of government, except for all the others,” has gone on to generally define the political structure of what is known today as ‘the Western world’.
Somewhere along the road of democracy’s bumpy evolution, which witnessed a major growth spurt with the American and French Revolutions, the idea took root that ‘Western-style democracy’ was the sine qua non of political philosophy. In other words, no nation was considered complete (or safe) unless it pledged allegiance to the political ideals of the ‘Western world’ – shorthand for ‘America’s world’. It was upon that contaminated soil that the seeds of mischief and mayhem were first planted.
In 1917, for example, US President Woodrow Wilson, in an effort to justify his call for declaring war on Germany, boldly advised Congress: “the world must be made safe for democracy.” In other words, America would serve as custodian, the global policeman, of the sacred political tradition. Leading intellectuals, including Noam Chomsky, believe this idea was the driving force behind many of America’s future military entanglements in places like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Korea, to name just a few jolly little romps.
Wilson’s evangelistic brand of what amounts to US imperialism was echoed 81 years later by Madeleine Albright, then secretary of state, when she remarked without batting an eyelid: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.” This is the same representative of ‘Western-style democracy’ who said in 1996 she thought the US-backed UN sanctions against Iraq – which led to the deaths of an estimated half a million Iraqi children – were “worth it.” Personally, I’d like to see Albright attempt to explain the merits of ‘Western-style democracy’ to the parents of those kids.
That line of pathological thinking continued with George W. Bush when, in March 2003, he ordered an invasion of Iraq so as to “democratize the country.” Funny how the countries that always seem to need a fatal dose of Western-style democracy, delivered via drone and cruise-missile sortie, just happen to straddle an ocean of oil reserves. The irony doesn’t end there.
Just before the US military began pulverizing a relatively stable and developed Middle Eastern country in the name of democratic values , millions of anti-war protesters were parading around the major capitals of the Western world, demanding the cessation of hostilities. In fact, Rome broke the world’s record for protest participation at 3 million; Madrid came in second with 1.5 million, followed by London with 1 million. A magnificent turnout on behalf of democracy, indeed, but the leaders of the ‘free’ Western world never blinked. They arrogantly dismissed this demonstration of democracy in action, going ahead with their illegitimate, wanton aggression.
Yet, as eventually transpired, the people were vindicated; there was absolutely no legitimate reason for invading Iraq for “harboring weapons of mass destruction.” It was all fake news before fake news was even a thing. The powers-that-be, however, blamed that disastrous “mistake,” which has killed, injured, and displaced untold millions of innocents, on an “intelligence failure.”
These days, the so-called Western democracies, many of which are card-carrying members of anachronistic NATO, rarely need to worry about anti-war protesters, or any major Western media outlet condemning their blatantly anti-democratic activities abroad. The reason is difficult to nail down, but I believe it derives from a dual phenomenon: the voters/consumers, consumed by the very freedoms that democracy has made available, have become too obsessed with identity politics to worry about what is happening across the planet in their name. At the same time, they have come to understand that no amount of political protest will change a thing. As a result of this democratic apathy and disillusionment at home, Western policymakers are free to initiate regime change at will against imagined enemies.
It needs to be emphasized, however, that the denizens of Western democracy are every bit as victimized by their political system as are the embattled people in foreign lands. After all, when do democratic principles really work to the advantage of the people in the Western world? I would argue almost never. Several recent examples prove the point.
On July 5, 2015, Greece, the very birthplace of democracy, held a referendum in which the people were asked if they wanted to accept an austerity-driven bailout agreement proposed by the European Commission, the IMF, and the European Central Bank. Over 62 percent of Greeks, understanding the IMF loan could never be paid back, rejected the plan. But what do the demos know about such things? Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, ignoring the results of the referendum, signed on to a crippling bailout by international creditors.
Mario Monti, former prime minister of Italy, admitted the Greek government “very undemocratically” rejected the result of the referendum, assuming a debt load that will hurt Greeks for many generations to come.
Meanwhile, it looks increasingly likely that the Brexit referendum, which resulted in a vote for the British to leave the EU, may suffer a similar failure of democracy like its Greek counterpart. With the government of Theresa May muddling along without direction, and prominent pro-Brexit Cabinet members, like Boris Johnson, dropping like flies, the British press is already preparing the 17 million people who voted Leave two years ago for a major disappointment.
Finally, the people of ‘democratic’ Europe had no say whatsoever in the highly controversial decision by several major EU states (most notably Germany, which has taken in around 1.4 million people) to bring in millions of migrants within their borders. Considering that the move has placed considerable burdens on individual nation states, it is astonishing that the initiative went ahead without consulting the public.
In light of these disturbing developments, how can it be realistically argued that the ‘Western world’ abides by the standards of ‘Western-style democracy’ that it imposes on the rest of the world? At the very least, the notion reeks of glaring hypocrisy.
In summary, ‘Western-style democracy’ has become a play thing in the hands of Western policymakers, used to initiate regime-change operations abroad, while tamping down ‘unpopular’, public-supported initiatives at home. The charade needs to end.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.