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Bush: Freedom and Democracy

John Simkin

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During his inaugural address President George Bush used the word “freedom” 27 times and “democracy” once. This is a sensible approach. Freedom is an open-ended term and people interpret its meaning in ways to suite their own political philosophy. For example, my dictionary defines it as “the absence of necessity or constraint in choice or action”. Therefore, your view on freedom depends on the action you are talking about. When Bush talks about freedom he is talking primarily about the freedom of the wealthy to exploit the poor. I am more concerned about the lack of freedom experienced by the poor and dispossessed.

I doubt whether Bush and myself agree about the definition of democracy. I tend to prefer the Western Europe model to the one employed in the US and the UK.

I tend to agree with Dr. John Hoggart's letter in yesterday's Guardian:

By democracy, Bush and co mean bringing to power proxy representatives of US business who can guarantee to rule their countries in the interests of the US.

How seriously the US takes democracy can be found in what happens when the inhabitants of foreign lands elect representatives whose policies are even slightly inimical to US business interests: they get invaded directly (Dominican Republic); their economy is disrupted (Nicaragua); their governments are subverted and replaced by rightwing dictatorships (Chile, Guatemala); a sham democracy is set up, reinforced by death squads (almost any central American country). The best that a democrat can expect (ie Ukraine) is for massive amounts of American money to pour in, in support of the right (in both senses) candidate. Thus invasion, subversion, economic sabotage and assassination are the true democratic values of the US. Look out Venezuela and Iraq!

America's claim to want to spread democracy is a sham. What its leaders really want is to spread American influence and business; to defend free-market capitalism; and, of course, to control the sources of key raw materials.

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i tend to agree with Mr.Hoggart, I make a point to keep myself informed on what things are happening and why. Hidden agendas lurk everywhere in the US. People make decisions in boardrooms that will effect millions of people accross the waters. A lot of the time people take decisions purely on economic grounds and fail to look at humanitarian implications for their actions. They see figures of raw materials coming from countries, they do not see footage of people who scrape a living together just to feed themselves or even worse as is the case with Africa people die because they are exporting a huge proportion of their food.


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  • 5 months later...

It didn't take long for the bubble of euphoria that accompanied the Iraqi elections in January to burst and make a mockery of Dick Cheney's claim that the insurgency was "in its last throes". In the first half of July alone there were more than 40 suicide bombings in Iraq. This suggests a campaign of extraordinary regenerative force. Whereas most terrorist organisations view the loss of members as an occupational hazard, those driving the violence in Iraq embrace it willingly in the knowledge that more volunteers will always be available. It also suggests that leadership of the insurgency has passed from disaffected Ba'athists to the most extreme Sunni Islamists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

There is strong evidence that the Bush administration realises the seriousness of its predicament and is lowering its ambitions accordingly. Gone is the tough-guy "bring 'em on" rhetoric. Instead Donald Rumsfeld now talks about a 12-year campaign in which the insurgency is defeated by Iraqi forces long after coalition troops have departed. The architects of the Iraq war are looking for a way out, but that is unlikely to be the end of the matter. We face years of "blowback" for gifting al-Qaida an active theatre of operations to recruit and train a new generation of jihadists. Our leaders cleared out one hornet's nest of international terrorists in Afghanistan only to create another one in Iraq.

Potentially more worrying still is the emerging politics of post-Saddam Iraq. This has gone through three phases, each corresponding with the declining fortunes of the occupation. The first was an attempt to install a government of hand-picked emigres led by the one-time neoconservative favourite Ahmad Chalabi. This plan was dumped when it became apparent that Chalabi enjoyed almost no domestic support. The second was the "Ba'athism lite" option under Ayad Allawi, the Shia strongman and ex-Ba'athist thought capable of reaching out to former Saddam loyalists. This failed when Allawi polled a disappointing 14% in January's election.

The third phase, and likely shape of things to come, has been the rise of the Shia Islamist bloc that now controls a majority in the Iraqi parliament. Coalition strategists are putting a brave face on this by stressing the supposedly moderate and democratic credentials of these "new Islamists". But you do not need to look very far into the past to see how unlikely this is. The new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was feted on a recent trip to the White House, but his hosts conveniently chose to forget that fact that his Dawa party was suspected of involvement in a string of terrorist attacks against western interests, including the 1983 bombings of the US embassy in Kuwait and the US marine barracks in Beirut. The latter, the worst act of terrorism against the US prior to 9/11, killed 241 American peacekeepers. In those days Dawa acted under the guidance of the Iranian intelligence services.

Of course, times change. Al-Jafaari has renounced terrorism and embraced electoral politics. Today both he and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of the main Shia party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), make all the right noises about pluralism and national unity. But this is so out of step with their ideology and backgrounds that it is hard to see it as a sincere account of their plans for Iraq.

It is also demonstrably out of step with the reality on the ground. Where they are already in control, the Shia parties are enforcing an increasingly repressive religious code. In Basra, formerly one of the most liberal cities in Iraq, there has been a clampdown on the sale of alcohol, singing in public, short haircuts and women without headscarves. Beatings have been administered to male doctors who treat female patients and students attending a mixed-sex picnic. These measures are enforced by militias such as the Badr Brigade, affiliated to Sciri, which also controls the local police.

The encroachment of Iranian-style theocratic rule has been paralleled by a growing alliance with Tehran in areas such as energy and defence. It would be wrong to see Iraq's Shia parties simply as instruments of Iran. But it would also be foolish to ignore the very strong gravitational pull Tehran is likely to exert, for both ideological and strategic reasons, on the fledgling Islamic state to its west. As the Sciri leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim said on a recent visit to Basra: "The great Islamic republic has a very formidable government. It can be very useful to us, and it has an honourable attitude toward Iraq." Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries remain hostile to Shia rule in Iraq, so it is perhaps inevitable that they will be drawn to the protective embrace of their coreligionists.

All of this presents a grave problem for Bush and Blair. According the Bush doctrine they intervened in order to "create a balance of power that favours human freedom". Instead they are in danger of creating a balance of power that favours Iran, a country still deemed to form part of the "axis of evil". The recent victory for the hardline candidate in Iran's presidential elections and the regime's apparent determination to acquire nuclear weapons compounds the problem. Bogged down in Iraq and now entirely dependent on the goodwill of its Shia majority to make the place governable, America and Britain have left themselves with few credible options for containing Iran or even influencing its behaviour.

The invasion of Iraq has frequently been described as the biggest diplomatic blunder since Suez. This already looks like a considerable understatement. On a worst-case scenario that now seems possible, it could very well come to be seen as one of the greatest foreign-policy own goals of all time.


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