The U.S. government should cease its arrogant and ill-informed attempts to promote democracy around the globe — whether in Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan, Communist China, Ukraine, Burma or otherwise.
The attempts are extraneous to the purposes of the United States Constitution.
Democratically elected leaders can be every bit as tyrannical and aggressive towards the United States as unelected dictators. Hamas, listed as an international terrorist organization, decisively triumphed in Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. It has ruled in Gaza since 2007, routinely denies human rights, chronically attacks Israel, and execrates the United States.
Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, proved as much or more contemptuous of the rule of law, human rights and amity towards Israel and the United States than his dictatorial predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. Thus, the United States shed only crocodile tears when he was overthrown in a military coup.
Adolf Hitler climbed to power through popular elections. His Nationalist Socialists captured more than 37 percent of the vote in 1932 to become the largest party in the Reichstag.
Free and fair elections in Saudi Arabia would yield victory for radical Islamic parties with affinity and sympathy for the murderous perpetrators of 9/11.
In sum, promoting democracy in foreign lands may aggravate rather than diminish threats to perceived interests of the United States. Thus, we have supported dictators over democrats in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Indonesia, Argentina, Bahrain, Kuwait, Cambodia, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Spain, the Philippines, ad infinitum.
In any event, democracy promotion is overwhelmingly a fool’s errand.
The process is vastly too complex for us to master or to jump start. Sending nations copies of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution will not do. Words without a reinforcing political culture are worthless. Iraq’s Constitution prohibits laws that contradict the “principles of democracy.” But Salmon Rushdie would be killed if he attempted to sell The Satanic Verses in Baghdad.
We also forget that democracy in the United States evolved over more than seven centuries. We cannot expect more from other people.
Anglo-American democracy was born with the Magna Carta to check the absolutism of King John in 1215 on the fields of Runnymede. Through succeeding centuries and periodic civil wars, the powers of Parliament strengthened and the powers of the King diminished. Landmarks included the Grand Remonstrance, the beheading of Charles I by Oliver Cromwell, and the English Bill of Rights of 1688.
American colonists claimed the rights of British freemen. They soon took on the trappings of democracy with the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Mayflower Compact, the Connecticut Charter Oak, the Maryland Toleration Act, etc.
The United States Constitution was not drafted until 1787, more than five centuries after Magna Carta. Democratic principles did not completely triumph until the Civil War Amendments ending slavery and enfranchising blacks, and the Women’s Suffrage Amendment ending their disenfranchisement in 1919. Blacks did not de facto enjoy the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, more seven and one-half centuries since the road to democracy began at Runnymede.
It was facilitated in the United States by a literate society, a homogeneity of ethnicity, culture and language, natural boundaries, and an unprecedented array of profound and selfless leaders, for example, George Washington and James Madison. Despite these vast advantages, the United States still needed a bloody Civil War and an obscenely prolonged period of Jim Crow before finally achieving substantial national unity and racial justice.
In light of our own seven-century journey to democracy, the idea that we can install democratic dispensations in nations that are at the pre-Magna Carta stage of political maturity and lacking our peculiar cultural advantages is delusional. Our miserable track record speaks for itself, including South Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Burma, South Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Bahrain.
Taiwan moved into a democratic orbit in 1988 after the deaths of dictators Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo, and South Korea did the same after military strongman Chun Doo Hwan left office. But these democratic movements were indigenous. The United States was complacent with reliable, friendly, and anti-democratic leadership.
At best, democracy promotion is harmless — like shouting at the weather. At worst, it is counterproductive. Many societies are insufficiently mature, literate, and homogeneous to for its practice. Democracy in these places degenerates into majoritarian, sectarian, or tribal tyrannies notwithstanding formal elections. Russia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and South Sudan are emblematic. Democracy is given a bad name, which may handicap its return at a more propitious time.
Our energies should be devoted to purging the evils from our own democracy.
We should then be satisfied with influencing developments abroad by example, simpliciter.
For more information about Bruce Fein, please visit www.brucefeinlaw.com.