The United States very consciously projects an image across the globe of being the incarnation and defender of the democracy that was born in Athens. But, tellingly, Washington was modeled on Rome, not Athens.
In the execution of her empirical ambitions, the American conscience has never been troubled by her disregard of the decisions of those democracies. That disregard has come in at least two forms: a crude one and one that is more subtle.
The crude form is the sweeping aside of democratically elected governments when the people have the audacity and independence to elect a government that represents them and not the United States. The past half century has been riddled with such crude regime changes, including Guatemala and Iran in 1954, Brazil in 1964, the Dominican Republic in 1965, Chile in 1970, Panama in 1981 and Haiti first in 1991 and then again in 2004. Recently, Honduras joined the list. And these are just the regime changes where the government that the Americans didn’t approve of was democratically elected.
The subtler form falls short of removing the unapproved government in favour of simply refusing to recognize the people’s democratic choice of representation. Since the refusal to allow the people of other countries to decide for themselves reflects a love, not of democracy, but of empire, it is not at all surprising that the flip side, recognizing governments that come to power through fraudulent elections that usurp the voice of the people, occur as well when that government is the choice of America.
So, when in January of 2006, the people of Palestine freely and democratically elected Hamas, and the United States refused to recognize the right of Hamas to speak for the people of Palestine, that is an example of America’s commitment, not to the spread of democracy, as is her image, but to the spread of democracy only if it works for her. Political scientist and Middle East expert Stephen Zunes says that the Palestinian election that Hamas won was monitored closely by international observers and universally recognized as free and fair. Carter and his team of observers certified the election. But the party that won was not the party the Americans wanted to win, so a free and fair democratic election is overruled.
Surprisingly, and against the universally accepted story, it is possible that the same can be said for Iran. Despite the uncontradicted reporting on the widespread fraud involved in Ahmadinejad’s reelection, journalist Robert Parry says that “An analysis by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes . . . found that there was little evidence to support allegations of fraud or to conclude that most Iranians viewed Ahmadinejad’s reelection as illegitimate”. Parry says that not one poll that PIPA analyzed found Ahmadinejad to have less than majority support. PIPA’s director said that while the findings don’t prove there were no irregularities, they do not support the claim that a majority of Iranians reject Ahmadinejad. According to all the pre-election polls, 52-57% of Iranians said they would vote for Ahmadinejad; according to all the post-election polls, 55-66% of Iranians said they did vote for Ahmadinejad, possibly making Iran a second case of simply dismissing the people’s voice in democratically choosing their government.
The third important contemporary case of America’s refusing to recognize a democratically chosen government is Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998 in an election certified as free and fair. In 2006, in an election also certified as free and fair, he was re-elected by the Venezuelan people by an overwhelming 63% majority. Since taking office, Chavez has held over a dozen elections and referendums and has obeyed the voice of his people in every case, whether he won or lost. Venezuela ranks second in Latin America in satisfaction with its democracy and first in support of its elected government. So what possible conclusion could all of this lead to other than the American conclusion that Chavez is a dictator who threatens democracy in the region? None, if you recognize the American principle of defending democracy only when the decisions of that democracy are consistent with her own ambitions and disregarding democracy when they are not.
Whether or not these three governments are good governments is a different question. The point here is that, good or bad, in the case of Gaza and Venezuela, these governments are the governments chosen by their people, and, in the case of Iran, the government probably chosen by its people. And that because those free and fair choices did not match the preferred choice of the United States, rather than promote and respect democracy, the United States simply set those democratic choices aside.
The flip side of the principal of refusing to recognize the people’s choice when the people’s choice is not America’s choice is recognizing the fraudulent winner of stolen, undemocratic elections when the party the people did not really choose is the party America chose. So the United States recognizes and deals with the government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan though America herself has publicly condemned Karzai’s government of corruption and rigging votes. They set aside the governments of Gaza, Venezuela and Iran, though the elections were free and fair, and embrace Afghanistan’s Karzai though they publicly acknowledge that his election was unfair. In the most brazen example of irony possible, the U.S. has considered cutting funding to the Karzai government because, according to Nita Lowey, the head of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Aid, of the suspicion that U.S. money is being used to “line the pockets of Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists”. So the U.S. is refusing to fund the very government we are fighting to keep in power because it is not worthy of being in power.
So, in Afghanistan the U.S. acknowledges and embraces a government that it openly recognizes and publicly condemns of rigging a fraudulent election. Compliance with U.S. ambitions, and not democracy, is the determining feature of U.S. recognition of foreign governments. And Afghanistan is not alone. The U.S. has recognized the leaders of the coup that ousted Honduras’ democratically elected president as the winners of an election that the Organization of American States (OAS), the Latin American Mercosur trade block and the twenty-three Latin American and Caribbean nation strong Rio Group have all refused to recognize. So clearly illegitimate was the election that the OAS and the UN refused to even grace it by monitoring it.
Over the opposition of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and many others in the region, Clinton has insisted that the democracy defiling coup be “relegated to the past” and that Honduras be readmitted to the OAS because of its “free and fair elections”. Brazil said no because Honduras’ readmission “must be linked to specific means for ensuring re-democritization”. Venezuela said the same: no readmission “until firm steps are taken for the re-establishment of democracy in Honduras”. Both these countries dismiss Clinton’s claim that the fraudulent election re-democritizes Honduras, so, unlike America, both these democratic counties refuse to recognize the winner of the election. Clinton’s “free and fair elections” were held under siege and were contested by two candidates who both initially supported the coup. Edward Herman has called the Honduran election “a coup-ratification effort with no alternative candidate, under conditions of state terrorism”. Since the coup, 130 activists who opposed it have been assassinated. 4,000 people, according to Amnesty International, have been arrested and hundreds have been beaten. The anti-coup media has been silenced and censored so that there can be no voice of the opposition. And all of this led to the boycott of the election by a full 51% of the population. How can Clinton call that election “fair”? Because “fair” means consistent with America’s aims in the region.
Refusing to recognize governments democratically chosen by the people while recognizing governments that have stolen elections over the cry of the people is not, as it appears, inconsistent. It is simply two sides of the same policy coin. It is simply the consistent carrying out of a policy that promotes and protects, not democracy, but American empire and interest abroad.