The way it “spozed to be” - a sanitized version of U.S history
By Jim Miles, The Milli Gazette
Published Online: Oct 08, 2012
Print Issue: 1-15 September 2012
Authors: Laurel E. Miller, Jeffrey Martini, F. Stephen Larrabee, Angel Rabasa, Stephanie Pezard, Julie E. Taylor, Tewodaj Mengistu.
Publisher: RAND National Defense Research Institute , 2012.
Pages: 439; Year: 2012-08-25
(Pdf version available free at : http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2012/RAND_MG1192.pdf)
This monograph from the Rand, an American think tank, presents the history of the democracy movements around the world the way “it ‘spozed to be.” It is a sanitized version of events, cleansed of any U.S. involvement - except after democracy has already poked its head up - denying by simple omission that the U.S. had any part to play in the various democracy fights - and the underlying non-democratic nature in many of the states.
Structure: The monograph is structured and repetitive. It is essentially in five parts, the first part not given as a “part” but with a thirty-five page summary of what is to follow, it is an integral part of the book. For that matter it is the best part of the book and makes reading the rest of it somewhat unnecessary.
The following three parts look at democracy movements. The first part discusses concepts and context, with mostly vague common sense propositions for the concepts and a large void for the context. Certainly the work tries to give some background for each area discussed, but it is minimal and as already stated, almost fully sanitized as to any U.S. involvement or as to why the states were non-democratic in the first place.
The second part looks at the Arab winter and spring. The third part looks at other areas of the world to try and see some comparisons: Southern Europe, Latin America, Eastern Europe, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The sections within the latter parts are similarly repetitive, perhaps providing a modicum of information for names, dates, and places, but again mostly empty of context in a truly global foreign policy manner - which is what the RAND is supposed to be about after all. The final section, on lessons and policy implications is rather vague, some feel-good statements and common sense generalities, but nothing profound nor fundamentally new.
A world without “America”: As I have indicated elsewhere, when reviewing a book, I look for the use of language, the inherit contradictions in the work, and the context within which it is written. The language in this work is mostly academically neutral with only a few indicators of the writers’ biases. There are a few contradictions in the text, and there probably would be many more if the context was represented - so at best, instead of contradictions, the true phrase would have to be double standards. Finally, the context, that even when they say they are giving the reader some context, the writers fall woefully short of even coming close to a realistic context.
The world I have known for the past fifty years is replete with U.S. interventions in other countries, militarily and institutionally, mostly economic institutions (IMF, WTO, NATO, OECD, et al). With over 800 military bases around the world and in over 120 countries, with the largest military budget in the world by far, with the largest record of interventions into other countries, or supporting their cronies and elites of other countries, it is hard to imagine a history written without any mention of U.S. military adventurism taken into account when talking about democracy.
Language: Just a few points on language, some from Africa, some from South America.
In Libya, the rebel group is describes as “ragtag groups of rebels steadily gaining ground in their ultimately successful quest to push Libya’s dictator from power.” 300 pages or so later, there is some recognition that they had NATO air support, but there is no mention of historical U.S. animosity to the regime, the use of special ops trainers, nor even that NATO is primarily a mercenary extension of the U.S. forces.
Democracy and double standards: As the main subject of the work, democracy itself is rather well undefined. By implication it involves a series of institutions, a constitution, a set of civil societies, and free elections. Two large double standards stand out throughout these discussions.
First is the requisite that a country needs a constitution. This contradicts Israel being a democracy - along with its many other non-democratic actions such as occupations, torture, annexation, civil structural demolitions, martial law and on. It is becoming increasingly a relevant topic within the U.S. where the constitutional processes are being bypassed by the executive branch and ignored by Congress.
Several times in the work, it is stated that a democracy must put its military under civilian control. On paper, that is where the U.S. military is, but as the U.S. economy is largely influenced by military corporations, and where much of its budget is off the record, there certainly is no democracy in the control and running of the U.S. military. It is also repeated that “elections are not sufficient to create democracy, but they are clearly necessary.” This provides an interesting contrast to the U.S. spectacle of never ending election cycles, and election processes that carry on for months and years and require hundreds of millions of dollars for success - a grand spectacle but hardly a democratic process in an almost single party state.
Another repeated statement is that there are “no longer any widely recognizable alternatives to democracy in terms of expressed ideologies,” restated much later that “No …governments openly propose any transplantable alternative to democracy. Institutions in the international system promote democracy as a universal norm.” Of course this arises partly from the self-proclaimed belief that the U.S. is the ultimate model of democracy, and that free markets and trade liberalization (more realistically corporate control of the world’s finances) are democratic. It also denies the many interventions made by the U.S. to destroy democratic governments (Iran, Chile, Brazil, most of Central America, Greece, Grenada to name a few) before they proved to be a good alternative and democratic working model to the U.S. system.
Arab states: The discussion starts with the Arab region as this is purportedly the main interest of the text, but the reader finds very little U.S. involvement in current events! Further back in history there is no description of the meddling of the old imperial forces - Germany, Britain, France, Russia, Italy - and their unilateral decisions regarding the people of the region. There is no mention of U.S. dollar support to the Egyptian military, or how the U.S. stood aside and waited apprehensively as the protests in Egypt mounted. There is some indication that the U.S. is concerned with how the military-civilian tug of war in Egypt may play out, but either way is good for the U.S.: “..the question remains how the United States will react if the Egyptian military opts for de facto continuation of the prerevolution system.” If the military succeeds in power, the U.S. will be fully content with their puppet regime, just as they were with Mubarak in power. If the civil powers succeed, Islamist or not, they can boast about how democracy is working - while trying to figure out how to pressure Egypt vis-à-vis its partner Israel.
And if Israel is so democratic, why does it have so many theocratic laws, and why does it continue to occupy, oppress, and annex Palestinian territory? No mention is made of the billions of dollars granted to Israel every year along with major military support. Democracy in action? And if democracy is so important why did the Palestinian elections of 2006, which were declared open and fair, meet with such stiff U.S. resistance? Mostly U.S. geopolitical interests with the natural resources of the region.
The invasion and occupation of Iraq testifies to that, although it is not mentioned in the work, as it was for a while purportedly to create democracy and freedom. Yes, there were elections, the first one forced by the Shiites on a reluctant occupying governor who recognized that the Shi’as would probably win and ally with Iran.
Effectively, the U.S. does not care about democracy, as long as the government of the day is one of their own bastards and does not interfere with their power. Saudi Arabia and Gulf Coast States are the best examples of this, all non-democratic, currently trying to eliminate another non-democratic state, Syria, not on democratic grounds, but on theocratic alignments. The U.S. is allegedly using its arch enemy al-Qaeda as its ally in this war to further contain Iran, and then Russia and China.
Latin America: To achieve a true picture of U.S. interventions in Latin America, I would recommend two texts. Empire’s Workshop by Greg Grandin (Henry Holt & Company, 2006) and Overthrow by Strephen Kinzer, (Times Books, 2006). Both these books provide the necessary historical background to this region that is so lacking in this monograph. There are also several books available on the effects of the global financial institutions of the Washington consensus describing how the “austerity” measures, as they are now labelled, helped destroy the middle class and the land holding systems of the farming class.
Asia: This is an amazingly poor section, with no discussion of the U.S. push to eliminate either directly or through proxy, any resistance to their interests in the region. Vietnam had “a series of military regimes until the government collapsed in 1975.” That’s it. That is the historical context for that country. No mention of the millions killed by U.S. military actions, no mention of U.S. support of the various regimes until they were no longer needed, no mention of the cancelled UN vote on unification as the U.S. knew its cronies would lose, no mention of the Green Berets or the 500,000 military personnel that circulated through the country.
Policy institute?: If this is the best that RAND has to offer, it is no wonder that U.S. foreign policy seems so wilfully blind and systematically ignorant. To hear the U.S. preach about democracy and freedom is fine if one does not consider their actions around the world, currently or historically. If one wishes to have the sanitized version, this is the work for you.
Otherwise, this work adds nothing to a critical examination of U.S. foreign policy, or defence policy. It is a series of repetitive presentations providing vague common sense rules for establishing democracy, devoid of any U.S. contact.
Now, if in truth, there were no U.S. contact, if the world could eliminate its historical interventions, then perhaps we might have a more truly democratic world.
This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 September 2012 on page no. 21
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