Former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, recently released a new book titled Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom. In her book, Rice argues that the world is a better, freer place because an increasing number of nations – some of which she specifically profiles – have accepted democratic forms of government. The book has gotten a fair amount of attention in the press recently and an excerpt from the book was featured in a Fox News column this week.
Even from reading the excerpt in the column, it quickly becomes evident that while Rice’s book is well-written and she makes a considerable effort to support her arguments, she is ultimately guided by a set of fallacies, which lead her to make a series of false assumptions, attributions, and conclusions. Perhaps it is time to address some of the popular arguments neocons and interventionists like Rice often use to justify the US intervening in the affairs of other nations.
Democracy vs. freedom
One of the glaring mistakes in Rice’s writing is that she conflates the ideas of liberty and democracy. On the surface, promoting democracy and political elections may sound like an admirable cause, but the reality is that the greatest measure of liberty is not one’s right to vote; the greatest measure of liberty is the degree to which individuals can interact and exchange peacefully without the intervention of the state.
America’s founding fathers understood this idea because they studied the shortcomings of democracy throughout history. Many of the founders were guided by the notion that the end result of democracy would be the majority imposing its will on the minority. For this reason, the founders drafted the Constitution and set up a republican form of government, in which individuals’ rights were to be protected and government’s powers were to be constrained.
Today, the shortcomings of democracy are even more evident than they were during the founders’ time. If the 20th century proved one thing, it was that democracy is inherently flawed and that democratic processes do not prevent the election of tyrants like Hitler and Chavez, nor does it protect the rights of minority populations once such tyrants are elected. The reality is that democracies are much more likely to become dictatorships than the “free and equal” societies their proponents would suggest.
Ideas are best promoted by free individuals; not the force of the state
To support her argument that the United States should be involved in promoting democracy overseas, Rice cites organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and suggests they have played a key role in bringing democracy to the international community. She also speaks of such organizations as though they’re private organizations, which are not subject to the influence of the US government. As Ron Paul pointed out years ago, Rice’s assertion is simply not true:
The National Endowment for Democracy…has very little to do with democracy. It is an organization that uses US tax money to actually subvert democracy, by showering funding on favored political parties or movements overseas. It underwrites color-coded ‘people’s revolutions’ overseas that look more like pages out of Lenin’s writings on stealing power than genuine indigenous democratic movements.
Put simply, the NED and other NGOs like it are not altruistic organizations dedicated to promoting liberty around the world. The truth is that they are mostly funded by the US government and promote Washington’s interests overseas, rather than the freedoms of the people living in the “democracies” they claim they create.
Also, while Rice mentions the US government’s overt role in “promoting democracy” in other parts of the world, she fails to mention its covert role, which has been to use the CIA to overthrow “undesirable” regimes. That is, “undesirable” from Washington’s point of view. Once again, this policy has led to unintended consequences and in the majority of cases, the US has propped up brutal regimes after the CIA’s interventions.
Finally, the point here is not to say that the US has no role in promoting liberty overseas; the point is that freedom cannot be promoted by propping up political parties and using force to overthrow regimes which were elected through democratic processes in the first place. Once again, as Ron Paul wrote:
How should we promote democracy overseas? First, we should stop the real isolationists — those who seek to impose sanctions and blockades and restrictions that impede our engagement overseas. We can promote democracy with a US private sector that engages overseas. A society that prospers through increased trade ties with the US will be far more likely to adopt practices and policies that continue that prosperity and encourage peace.
In other words, the best way to promote the American ideals of individual liberty, free exchange, and free association is to adopt these ideas and put them into practice. Only through protecting the liberties of the American people, lifting restrictions on free enterprise in America, and allowing American businesses to engage in free trade internationally, can the US effectively promote liberty on a global scale.
The elephant in the room…
Not only does Rice make a practical argument for the promotion of democracy overseas, she also makes the same highly-flawed moral argument the neocons have used for years – a modern version of Woodrow Wilson’s doctrine – that the US has a moral obligation to promote democracy and fight oppressive forces anywhere in the world, whenever they become apparent.
Once again, this idea may seem indisputable on the surface, but in practice, it has led to grotesquely immoral outcomes which have been highly contradictory to the moral narrative often used by those who support America’s involvement abroad. For example, those who are quick to support interventions abroad often do so because they believe in supporting religious freedom, women’s rights, or protecting other oppressed groups. If these people truly believe in promoting such ideals, why does the US continue to prop up the Saudi regime?
Under Saudi Arabia’s current regime, there are no elections, Christianity is illegal, the law prohibits women from going in public alone, marriages are arranged, journalists and political dissidents are beheaded, and for years, the Saudi government has promoted the spread of Wahhabism – a radical form of Islam which endorses jihad against the west.
If the US has a moral obligation to promote freedom in other parts of the world, then why does the elephant in the room – its alliance with Saudi Arabia – never get attention from those who wish to promote democracy in other nations?
Promoting democracy is immoral
Politicians often forget (or fail to ignore) that promoting democracy around the world often comes at a great cost to the American people, whose lives and financial prosperity are harmed in the process. Maybe before selling foreign wars and interventions to the American people, politicians in Washington should ask themselves whether promoting democracy overseas is indeed moral in practice.
Is it moral to intervene and overthrow elected governments in other nations? Is it moral to get involved in border disputes between nations halfway around the world? Is it moral to financially support political parties and prop up regimes in other regions? Is it moral to impose a financial burden on America’s future generations to finance unwarranted interventions overseas? Is it moral to commit future generations of Americans to the protection of small nations like Montenegro, which are thousands of miles away?
Finally, is interfering with the political processes of other nations – much of the time against the will of the people of those nations – worth risking the lives and the standard of living of the American people?