By Richard Sale, author of Clinton’s Secrret Wars
I listened to President Obama’s recent foreign poklicy speech with a feeling or dismay especially when the President talked of promoting Democracy.
I would simply like to go on record as repeating my serious objections to the Bush and Obama administration’s policy of encouraging and supporting the growth of democratic institutions in the Middle East and around the world. I do not believe that promoting democracy in the world is a legitimate foreign policy interest of the United States.
There is little historical evidence that democracy is the natural state, or the foremost form of political association among human beings. Its origin in terms of time and location is very limited historically. Democracy began mainly in the 17th and 18th centuries in countries that bordered the North Sea or the English Channel. From there it extended into central Europe and North America, brought to the later by peoples of northeastern Europe. In other words, democracy is hardly a universal phenomenon.
For a great many of the world's peoples, personal freedom has been far less of a concern than physical and economic security or material prosperity. Often, to secure these, peoples have looked to more authoritarian forms of government. George Kennan once pointed out that in some cases authoritarian governments had been able to introduce measures and reforms that have acted to better the lot of their people more effectively than if their governments had been more democratic and therefore more diffuse. Kennan named China under Mao, Cuba under Castro, and Portugal under Salazar. Even if one doesn’t agree with these examples, they are worth examination.
The Obama administration’s unthinking advocacy of democracy without fully understanding the cultural and political traditions where democracy is being attempted seems to be another species of the delusion that we know with certainty what other people want, a self conceit that doesn't care to examine if our own beliefs and values and habits are relevant to people very different from ourselves.
The idea that every victim of oppression is at heart a liberal democrat is one of the most persistent of American illusions. It simply won't die. It has the persistence of bacteria.
America is, at bottom, only a country, not some glorious cause, lying outside of history. Like any other country, we have our shameful episodes like the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, the occupation of the Philippines, etc. In other words, there are times when are noble, other times where we are greedy and squalid, times when we are selfless, and others where our avarice is truly shameful.
We have less to offer than we think, and what we need, it seems to be, is to bring in closer alignment our actual capabilities and produce a more sober menu of ambitions.