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03 September 2010


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"Democracy began mainly in the 17th and 18th centuries in countries that bordered the North Sea or the English Channel."

i thought it was a greek origin word. it might not have been a universal franchise b/ nor was the English system in the beginning. The Carthaginians & Romans had their republics & deliberative bodies.


It is utter fallacy to posit that American governments promote, encourage or support democracy around the world. America supports all of the totalitarian/autocratic regimes in the Middle East: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc. America actively and openly subverts 2 of the 3 democracies in ME...Iran, Palestine.

America overthrows / subverts democratically elected leaders all over the world (Moussadeq/Iran/1953; Arbenz/Guatemala/1953; Allende/Chile/1973; etc)

Bush did not want democracy in Iraq; Bush wanted a Western-leaning puppet that would do America's bidding so we could explore for/produce/sell oil; award reconstruction contracts; repress Iran, etc

William R. Cumming

INteresting post with which I largely agree. The problem of course is that governance whatever the political system often impacted heavily by those other political systems economic beliefs, and religious beliefs. Why not just adopt a foreign policy that does not speak to democracy but to whether some other country observes the tenets of the 1st Amendment in it domestic policies? This would more clearly state our (US) political belief system and of course as all know technically we (US) are not a democracy but a Republic.

John Waring

Along the same lines, read the new book, "Washington Rules," by Andrew Bacevich. I heartily recommend it.

I think we are gong broke exporting our particular brand of American messianism. How else to explain putting American armies in Iraq and Afghanistan? Our chances of changing either place are slim and none. It is past time for us to come home and tend to our own affairs. Let's start by putting back to work the ten per cent of Americans who are unemployed.

We are over extended abroad and we need to retrench.

Brad Ruble

I'm not arguing Mr. Sales point. I don't know the answer. What keeps bothering me is if democracy isn't the natural state of affairs how come authoritarian governments have to keep killing so many people who seem to want it? Please, I'm not trying to be a smart ass. But this just keeps bothering me. I grew up in America so as much freedom as we have here seems pretty natural to me.


Our political system is an expression of our culture which has evolved over many centuries (in Europe and here). To think that we can "impose" democracy on an unwilling people, who neither understand nor care about our ways, is the height of naivete and arrogance. Just because we believe our system holds universal truths doesn't mean the rest of the world sees it that way. I wish our political class would give up on "nation building." It's bleeding us dry and for what? Leave Iraqis and Afghanis to sort things out for themselves. I wonder if, instead of sending troops, we funded clinics and village schools (that were specifically not Wahabi) whether our impact and influence might not be greater in the long run.

Byron Raum

We are also not a full democracy, nor is such a democracy particularly desirable. Nowhere is democracy more evident than in the case of a lynch.

We are a democratic republic. Had we been a full democracy, Imam Rauf would be in jail right now for the crime of being a Muslim wanting to build a mosque. The Constitution protects the rights of minorties from (the hopefully temporary) insanities of the majority.

Full-fledged capitalism is not particularly desirable either, because it treats human beings as cogs in a machine. Every form of government in its ultimate form is evil. America's greatest strength lies not in its democracy or its capitalism but in her checks and balances, by not allowing anything to dominate for very long. You might cut off the best, but you will also cut off the worst.

I agree completely with Mr Sale. This has so much nuance in it that there is no way a prostelyzing neocon can wrap his own mind around it, let alone be able to convey all the attendent ramifications and clarifications necessary to form a coherent philosophy. So we are left with a single word. Democracy! Democracy! Democracy!


The key to all this, as Francis Fukuyama wrote in 1996 in his book: "Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity" is that physical and economic security is a function of the amount of mutual trust between people in a society. In my personal opinion anyway. Democracy requires high levels of community trust. Not much mutual trust in society, not much democracy is possible.

High trust = economic prosperity, low trust = poverty. Tribalism = no trust outside the tribe, totalitarianism = no trust outside party members. Democracy, actually putting control of government in the hands of people who you don't know, is a high trust behaviour.

High levels of mutual trust are required for the risk taking behaviour inherent in long term investment in infrastructure and business formation that makes a country prosperous. As people here well know, there is no point in building a business in a corrupt low trust country, all that happens if you are successful is that you attract Government or Mafia vultures.

For example, I know of a Russian businessman with a company who could undercut European and American plastic resin prices. He wouldn't export to the West because as soon as U.S. dollars appeared in his company bank accounts, the Russian Mafia would be at his door. I also watched a Premium Dive tourism operation in New Guinea gradually go under as the bribes necessary to secure "permits" grew.

Of course a country can give the appearance of democracy, like Italy, but when you dig beneath the surface you find other power structures necessitated by community distrust in many areas, especially North vs. South.

Why would we expect Iraq to ultimately be democratic? Could their hatred of America be the common bond among Iraqis to create the necessary uniting force for democracy to work? Afghanistan????? Is the memory of the Holocaust the necessary uniting force for Israel to remain Democratic? Probably.

Do American States South of the Mason Dixon line trust the North?


in re shameful moments don't forget slavery and the genocide of native Americans. The whole European expansion from 1492 to the present has been at the point of a gun.

Bob Bernard

Scots pirates democratically elected their captains, but they were still pirates.

Democracy may legitimize decisions, but it does not mean that democratic societies always make correct or just decisions.

Patrick Lang


i am really tired of people who spend their time weeping over injustice in the world. Do you really expect justice? If you do, then you are a fool. I do not. pl

Patrick Lang


You are either an academic or a child. You, too, expect, adequate performance, how sad. pl

frank durkee

Our Republic was founded at least in part tto block direct democracy, the mob. In addition after years of various autocratic forms of government in church and state the founders wanted to block the aquisition of too much power by any group in the society via the government. They built a structure that took the propensity of human greed and stupidity to act in its own rather than the common interest very seriously. They distrusted emotion in governance as well entrenched interests. That they also compromised on some issues is also true. Part of the problem is that too many Americans no longer know what we were intended to be and are proposing a myth of their own making. The founders understood well the perils of power; hence keep it distributed.


Patrick, I dont know what you mean by adequate performance, could you pls explain?

I (perhaps naively) believe that America can prosper and lead with moral integrity .. it does not seem moral or honest to say one thing and do another. We do not want democracy in Iraq...we want OUR particular candidate to rule Iraq and we will do very un-democratic things to support them. That is dishonesty in my book.

I am truly confused by your position.

I think it would be better to die with integrity than to live as a scumbag. Our foreign policy is scummy too often.


The myth of America has continued to be the driving force of America's populist vision.
Hardly anyone, of those "populists", knows our history, i.e. what really transpired from our "founding fathers" deliberations to our governments actions in many parts of the world (you know when and where they happened).
History and demographics are the driving force of human folly, the US of A will not be immune to the foibles of ignorance and/or stupidity visiable in what passes for "our" leaders.


Full Disclosure: I have been mentally predisposed to Richard Sale's cast of mind and writing since I first caught him in WaPo and other papers, and tried to never miss his superior UPI reports. The latter, which may been written on the run, maybe on a balcony with time to ruminate (cigar, scotch), maybe dictated, were brilliant examples of intelligence reporting involving footwork, valuable and real contacts, and CONTEXT. Sale always provided context, just as this piece does. It frosted my ass to see Sale's UPI reports relegated to 'conspiracy-theory' reporting during the middle of the Bush admin. [I challenge anyone to read his UPI oeuvre and not come away with the sense that had the American public read and heeded his words/facts, we would be in different place than we are today.]

Colonel, I'm delighted that you are publishing this thoughtful man, and would like a whole lot more.

Patrick Lang


It is one thing to seek virtue. It is another to think that virtue will triumph. pl


Professor Sir Michael Howard has pointed out that the advocates of Western style democracy in many countries are an educated and very small elite who are viewed with great suspicion and distrust by the the general population and of course the traditionalists, mainly religious, who are being challenged for power.


.....and of course due to our self imposed narcissism, we believe that democracy is the best system for organising things, forgetting of course that there are those even within our own systems who have other ideas. Is the Catholic Church democratic? Are many other such Churches? Isn't a theocratic state, where God rules, something we should all aspire to?


Before opposing US democracy promotion, Richard sale should provide evidence that the US is actually promoting democracy. Let's not get confused by self serving public statements that ritually use democracy promotion as a justification toppling a regime or invading a foreign country.

When you look at the actions of the United States, not the pretty words, you find nothing there.

The European Union has lots of examples of democracies created to achieve accession. South America has lots of examples of indigenously developed democracies. But where are the examples of US created ones?

The result of decades of democracy promotion are pretty scant.

Patrick Lang


Yet another guy hiding his IP address. I should ban you.

You are just another reflexive America basher.

You remind me of the Nasserist idiot I ran into in Oregon last week.

Someone here - straighten him out. pl


John H
You misread Sale's piece if this is your take. But here's a few examples for you:

How about the Weimar Republic in 1918, at least the US ocupied portion of Germany after WWI. Then there's post WWII Japan and the Federal Republic of Germany, but hey, that's Germany twice - exactly the number of times when that nation was at war with the US; and Imperial Japan did attack the USA. Something Iraq certainly did not do. Or are these three examples too pre-European Union to count? I would note the EU wouldn't exist but for the US involvement in Europe after WWII, the reconstruction of the Marshall Plan and the rather costly (to US taxpayers) defense of Western Europe against the USSR the entire time the latter existed.

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