Saturday, August 29, 2009

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.


At August 30, 2009 11:23 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

I'm guessing their prominent English language signs helped us to recognize the legitimacy of the protesters in Iran in 2009.

At September 01, 2009 7:11 AM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

Obama this, Obama that.

You write as if he has a say in the matter.

As long as people continue to presume that the political figures onstage are the people responsible for our foreign policy they will only generate frustration, not ever get anywhere near how things function.

For a long while people blamed JFK for the Diem coup a couple months before he himself was removed from power. It turns out that the CIA (E. Howard Hunt, I believe) forged State Dept. cables to make it appear that JFK had approved the coup. Shouldn't that say something to political observers?

Would there have been a difference in our foreign policy if McCain had been elected? Huckabee? Clinton?

The President of the US serves at the whim of national security state.

Personalizing our country's policies as belonging to Obama only obscures the real ownership.

At September 01, 2009 1:47 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

That is ridiculous, I have stated time and again that the driving force behind American politics and foreign policy is the influence of corporate America so please don’t put words into my mouth. Furthermore this post was more than just about Obama it was about the so-called nation building that is no near and dear to Democrats including Obama. And I’ll damned well write about what I feel like writing about so stop telling me how to write my posts. And yes it is my opinion that Obama does have choices, you may not agree with that opinion, that’s fine as I obviously don’t agree with everything you write either which is as it should be.
I agree about McCain, our foreign policy would have been the same, perhaps a little less destructive than Obama but we’ll never know will we.

At September 01, 2009 9:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not good to take criticism so personally.

Bob made good points. I didn't see him calling you stupid, Rob. But you're reacting as though that's what he said.

I said a few months ago that y'all have some latent Democrat-admiration to contend with, and this post here -- and Bob's comment on that, and your response -- show me that I was correct.

Rather than taking it out on Bob, you ought to be reconsidering what the Democrats are up to. Which is nothing good, no matter what the Democrats of 40 years may have done, they are up to no good now.

Let's not pretend we can help improve life for the worst-off Americans by supporting a bunch of corporate ass-lickers, which is what the Democrats are.

No matter how they sell themselves, what their supporters wish, or what the Democrats of the New Deal or the early 70s may have been, the current Democrats are crooks.

Defending them just looks like partisan whining because of some sense of self-worth that is tied up far too tight with the notion of the Democrats' supposed superiority.

Nothing's going to improve in America until people are willing to see the truth. Pretending that Obama, or any other Donkey in the Obama cabinet, on the SCOTUS, or in the Congress is somehow noble or "the best we can expect," that's just asking to continue the clusterfuggle we're now dealing with.

It's silly for grown men to be identifying with a party when the facts suggest that one should identify with reality and what is happening, no matter what one's allegiance to a party might otherwise suggest should be the case.

At September 01, 2009 9:32 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Just exactly where am I defending the Democrats?

At September 01, 2009 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob laid it out just fine.

You seem to think you can't favor them without directly saying you favor them.

I think you're intelligent enough to see how that's a fake distinction.

At September 01, 2009 10:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Let me repeat myself. Charles, where am I defending the Democrats?

At September 02, 2009 1:26 PM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

Look, I think that Rob and I are close to agreeing on most things. I don't think that Rob is defending Democrats or necessarily attacking the Democrats (but I'll say that the farther from Washington, DC they are the better they tend to be), and I'm not trying to stop Rob from writing what he wants.

My criticism has more to do with putting Obama's face on the beast rather than the beast itself. We can wonder whether Obama gleefully sends troops into Afghanistan or does so with "a heavy heart" (LBJ's favorite expression). What I am saying is that Obama would not be President for long if he didn't do what he is told to do. And the people who tell him what to do are more powerful in the scheme of things than Obama (or his replacement).

I actually try to explain better my differences in the comments section of the next blog entry. It's more a matter of place in the hierarchy than the hierarchy itself.


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