Military Intervention and Democracy
By Jerome Grossman
The paradox of American policy in the Middle East - and in other regions - is that almost everywhere there are free elections, the side supported by the Americans tends to lose. According to The New York Times, one reformer in Saudi Arabia said “It’s the kiss of death, The minute you are counted on or backed by Americans. Kiss it goodbye, you will never win."
The Palestinians voted for Hamas. The Iraqis voted for a government sympathetic to Iran. The Egyptians have voted in increasing numbers for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Hezbollah won a significant number of seats in the Lebanon election. President Musharraf is hanging on to his office in Pakistan, but just barely.
Western values revere democracy, but when forced upon a people it can raise serious questions about independence, sovereignty and freedom, even leading to violence and civil war. Bribery of the elites to accept the form if not the substance of democracy will not win elections when the voters are fully involved.
American policies around the world are so focused on military power, 737 military bases in 130 countries, manned by 500,000 soldiers, that we have forgotten how to influence political decisions. In the 2006 elections in the Palestinian Territories, the U.S. could have prodded it’s ally Israel to make concessions before the balloting, such as releasing part of the Palestinian import tax funds the Israelis were holding, or easing some of the checkpoints in the West Bank that inhibit Palestinian travel . Hamas won the election with the argument that only a hard-line can achieve concessions from the Israelis. After the election, Israeli policy did ease somewhat, but too late, Hamas had won.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah benefited in a similar fashion. The centrist government implored the U.S. and Israel for military equipment and financial help, but little was forthcoming - until Hezbollah made significant gains and achieved political power. Now, there is big help for the Siniora government, but too late, Hezbollah is already politically powerful.
The politics of Iraq have been a disaster. The original American plan was to install as leader an Iraqi émigré based in Washington D.C. When that failed, we turned to a strongman who also failed, then a Shi'ite who had spent 20 years in Iran. After World War II, MacArthur in Japan and the U.S. generals in Germany knew how to use military power to shape and control those nations. The Bush administration does not know how to use the power it has. At the same time, the immoral and illegal invasion has so badly damaged the US militarily and politically around the world that we suffer the worst of both worlds.
This is a familiar pattern, not exclusive to President Bush. Virtually every president has embraced the spreading of the American form of democracy abroad. For example, the Clinton administration conducted several military interventions, which they called humanitarian interventions, with the stated aim of establishing democracy. However, in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo, American-style democracy failed to take root and the reputation of the U.S. has suffered because of the military interventions.
We are learning that there are limits to the power of the superpower, that the military can gain victories, but not always acquiescence.