I’m not really surprised by a recent report that indicates that the US provides military assistance to three-quarter of the world’s dictatorships. While constantly propagandizing its people that it seeks to “thwart evil dictatorships” and is spreading “democracy,” something that even our founders opposed and something our own nation is not supposed to be, the US government has been using your money to actually assist 3 out of every 4 dictators in the world.
First, from a piece at Foreign Policy by Stephen M. Walt from 2016, he points out why the US getting involved in other countries to topple dictators and establish another government really doesn’t work. He writes:
At the risk of stating the obvious, we do know what doesn’t work, and we have a pretty good idea why. What doesn’t work is military intervention (aka “foreign-imposed regime change”). The idea that the United States could march in, depose the despot-in-chief and his henchmen, write a new constitution, hold a few elections, and produce a stable democracy — presto! — was always delusional, but an awful lot of smart people bought this idea despite the abundant evidence against it.
First, successful liberal orders depend on a lot more than a written constitution or elections: They usually require an effective legal system, a broad commitment to pluralism, a decent level of income and education, and widespread confidence that political groups which lose out in a particular election have a decent chance of doing better in the future and thus an incentive to keep working within the system. Because a lot of social elements need to line up properly for this arrangement to work and endure, creating reasonably effective democracies took centuries in the West, and it was often a highly contentious — even violent — process. To believe the U.S. military could export democracy quickly and cheaply required a degree of hubris that is still breathtaking to recall.
Second, using force to spread democracy almost always triggers violent resistance. Nationalism and other forms of local identity remain powerful features of today’s world, and most people dislike following orders from well-armed foreign occupiers. Moreover, groups that have lost power, wealth, or status in the course of a democratic transition (such as Sunnis in post-Saddam Iraq) will inevitably be tempted to take up arms in opposition, and neighboring states whose interests are adversely affected by a transition may try to stop or reverse it. Such developments are the last thing a struggling democracy needs, of course, because violence tends to empower leaders who are good at it, instead of those who are skilled at building effective institutions, striking deals across factional lines, promoting tolerance, and building more robust and productive economies.
To make matters worse, foreign occupiers rarely know enough to pick the right local people to put in charge, and even generous and well-intentioned efforts to aid the new government tend to fuel corruption and distort local politics in unpredictable ways. Creating democracy in a foreign country is a vast social engineering project, and expecting outside powers to do it effectively is like asking someone to build a nuclear power plant, without any blueprints, on an active earthquake zone. In either case, expect a rapid meltdown.
This is something we have known for decades. It was also one of the finer points that 2012 presidential candidate Ron Paul laid out quite well, and some of this was even promoted by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, though many of his advisers are off the reservation on this kind of policy.
However, Whitney Webb at Mint Press News points out a study that determines that while America’s politicians talk about freeing the world from dictators and implementing a voice of the people in their countries, quite often, the US is not actually doing that at all.
Rich Whitney, an attorney and writer, sought to compare Freedom House’s rating system of political rights for 2015 to the U.S. government’s provision of military assistance – military training, military aid and weapons sales – to foreign nations that same year. Whitney’s stated goal was to determine whether the U.S. government actually opposes dictatorships and champions democracy at a global level, as is often claimed. His independent analysis found that the U.S. has actually manifested the opposite of its stated intention, by providing military assistance to 36 of the world’s 49 dictatorships. In other words, more than 73% of the world’s dictatorships currently receive military assistance from the United States.
For his analysis, Whitney used a commonly accepted definition of dictatorship: “a system of government in which one person or a small group possesses absolute state power, thereby directing all national policies and major acts — leaving the people powerless to alter those decisions or replace those in power by any method short of revolution or coup.” He chose Freedom House’s Freedom in the World annual reports, citing it as the best source for a comprehensive list of dictatorships and “free” societies. Whitney, however, noted that the ostensibly independent organization has a “decidedly pro-US-ruling-class bias.”
Freedom House’s bias makes the results of Whitney’s analysis even more damning. The organization is funded by a combination of Western government and nongovernmental-organization sources, including the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations. Thus, its categorization of nations as dictatorships or as free societies is largely analogous to how the U.S. State Department classifies such nations — meaning that U.S. monetary support of such dictatorships is a knowing and willful repudiation of democracy promotion abroad.
Furthermore, many of the nations labeled as dictatorships by Freedom House are rivals of the United States, and thus tended to be labeled dictatorships even though they are not. For example, both Iran and Syria were labeled dictatorships even though Iran held democratic elections earlier this year and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was re-elected in 2014 with 88.7% of the vote. Russia, the eternal rival of the United States, is also considered a dictatorship according to Freedom House despite the fact that elections regularly occur there. If these three nations were removed from list, the U.S. would then support upwards of 78% of the world’s dictatorships.
In addition, other decidedly undemocratic nations that receive large amounts of U.S. military aid were not included as dictatorships in the Freedom House report and thus in Whitney’s analysis. For instance, Israel receives over $10 million in U.S. military aid every day despite the fact that all Palestinians living within its borders are disenfranchised and subject to either concentration-camp conditions or imposed military rule.
She goes on to conclude:
Though this analysis of the government’s own data and data from a pro-Western think tank has revealed the U.S.’ far-reaching support for dictatorships around the world, such a revelation is unlikely to change anything about the U.S.’ long-standing modus operandi. For of course U.S. support for dictators is nothing new: many Cold War-era dictators, particularly in Latin America and Asia, were installed and backed with full U.S. government support despite their despotism, in order to allow the U.S. to “contain” communism and Soviet influence.
Ultimately, “democracy promotion” was never the true intent, but instead the disguise to mask the imperial conquest of nations that refused to acquiesce to U.S. government demands. For that reason, the notable military interventions of recent decades — particularly Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — were sold to the U.S. public as being born out of the need to “restore” democracy and wrest control from “evil dictators.” That narrative continues to be used to justify pushes for regime change abroad, even though the U.S.’ self-image as the world’s greatest democracy hangs in tatters.
If you ask me, the US would do well to not get so entangled in the affairs of other nations. In fact, often those entanglements get our own people’s eyes off the corruption and lawlessness taking place in our own government while we are told to be concerned about dictators around the world.
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