Obama and the Democracy Paradox
Obama has a huge problem along with his overt and covert wars. Part of Obama’s plan for Afghanistan was to win the hearts and minds of Afghans. And part of the plan for winning hearts and minds supposedly is to ensure that Afghanistan is a stable democracy. This brings us to what Samuel Huntington called the democracy paradox. The paradox is basically when you install a democratic government in whatever Bananastan the wrong people (those not friendly to the U.S.) just might be elected.
But he looked with a skeptical eye on the American expedition to Iraq, uneasy with those American conservatives who had come to believe in an "imperial" American mission. He foresaw frustration for this drive to democratize other lands. The American people would not sustain this project, he observed, and there was the "paradox of democracy": Democratic experiments often bring in their wake nationalistic populist movements (Latin America) or fundamentalist movements (Muslim countries). The world tempts power, and denies it. It is the Huntingtonian world; no false hopes and no redemption.
Okay, we know this has happened in the past. Just look at Hamas in Gaza. In 2006 W. Bush pushed for and backed elections by the Palestinians who then promptly gave Hamas 76 out of 132 Parliamentary seats. Bush was of course furious, the paradox of democracy had struck again and no doubt had much to do with Israel’s U.S. backed and supported brutal attack on Gaza at the beginning of the year. How dare they defy the wishes of the west which is something the west rarely tolerates as the Gazans found out. The truth to wring from this is that the U.S. doesn’t really believe in democracy at all. At least not for brown people, unless they vote nicely according to U.S. desires.
On January 25, Palestinians went to the polls and, in an election supported by the United States and judged free and fair by observers, elected members of Hamas, a movement on the U.S. State Department’s terrorist-organization list, to 76 of the 132 parliamentary seats.
So now we have George W. Obama who gave us a smooth transition from Bubba to Barry without so much as a ripple in the power pond. But now we venture into a little conjecture here where I suggest that Obama has the answer to the paradox which is another paradox. The paradox of making an election seem fair while making sure our guy wins. Obama should know all about this. I’m not just pulling this out of thin air, there are precedents. Noam Chomsky discusses it in Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy where he says regarding Reagan and El Salvador…
Thomas Carothers, who calls himself a neo-Reganite, has written very honestly about all these things. He was part of part of the State Department in the 1980s, part of what they call the “democracy enhancement” programs under Reagan. He describes these programs as very sincere – we really wanted to do it – but there was a problem: The wrong people might win. So therefore in El Salvador, which was their prize example, he said the United States had two policies. One was to run technically credible elections, and the other was to make sure our candidate wins. He says it virtually in those words. And if anybody looks at what happened, they’ll find that that’s exactly what was done. True, that meant having to massacre 70,000 people, and blowing the brains out of the leading intellectuals, but that’s what had to be done. Yet still, says Carothers, it’ sincere. In fact, he says if you look at it you’ll find what he calls a strong line of continuity that runs through every U.S. administration through George W. Bush. Every administration is schizophrenic, beset with some kind of strange malady. They support democracy if and only if it conforms to U.S. economic and strategic objectives.
But then again perhaps Obama hasn’t taken the paradox of democracy into consideration. According to Juan Cole…
The presidential election, which had been intended by Obama and his NATO allies as a political victory over the Taliban, is swiftly turning into a major debacle.
Voter turnout fell from some 70 percent in the last presidential election, likely to only 30-something percent this time (not the 50% initially estimated, presumably by someone with an interest in hyping the event for propaganda purposes). In some southern provinces such as Helmand, turnout was only 10 percent, a datum that demonstrates that the people of Helmand simply had no voice in this election and it does not meet international standards of legitimacy. (Voters must be held harmless from threats and violence).
From the sound of it Obama has failed to ensure that this is a credible election which is a part of Carothers' formula of making an election credible while ensuring your guy wins. At any rate it looks like the paradox of democracy has struck again where an assumed victory over the Taliban is fizzling out.
Naturally the true interest is again the planned oil line that by-passes Russia to go through Afghanistan and maybe our indoctrinated leaders actually believe that a democracy in Afghanistan will make Afghanistan safe for the oil line yet it remains a fool’s errand. The Generals will soon be asking for more troops to defeat the Taliban who are more resilient than were evidently given credit for. The election seems to be going south along with the war.