I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The fruits of democracy

(updated below)

Hugo Chavez was overwhelmingly re-elected yesterday as Venezuela's President. Opposition to the United States played a significant role in his successful campaign, as he promised "a more radical version of socialism and [to] forge a wider front against the United States in Latin America."

Over the last two years, the Palestinians democratically elected Hamas leaders. The Lebanese have democratically elected Hezbollah to play a major role in their parliamentary government. The Iranian-allied militias in Iraq are led by factions with substantial representation in the democratically elected Iraqi Government. And the Iranian Hitler himself was democratically elected (just like Hitler the First was, long before the parade of all the new Hitlers).

If the leaders whom we are supposed to hate so much -- even the ones who are The Terrorists -- keep getting elected democratically, doesn't that negate the ostensible premise of our foreign policy -- that America-loving allies will magically spring up all over the world where there are democracies and they will help us fight The Terrorists?

And beyond that, isn't it more likely that leaders who are hostile to the U.S. will be democratically elected around the world if we continue to engage in conduct seemingly designed to make the whole world resentful and suspicious of us? We're not supposed to care about world opinion -- we don't need permission slips from the U.N. and all of that -- and there is a good argument to make that every country has to decide for itself what its own interests are (which, in reality, is what every country does, including those which pretend to be guided by selfless ideals and international institutions).

But if we continue to be overtly belligerent and essentially indifferent to world opinion -- because we can be, because we're militarily stronger -- that would seem to make it virtually impossible for pro-American candidates to be elected anywhere in the world, thereby subverting the central goal we claim we have of eliminating anti-U.S. resentment by spreading democracy throughout the world. As this Bush follower lamented after complaining about Chavez's victory (h/t Instapundit):

It seems to be a popular move this year to run an Anti-Bush, anti-US military campaign. It worked for the democrats, too.

Good Luck.

There are obviously other issues that account for the support which the Venezuelan poor give to Chavez, but people whose foreign policy vision consists of alienating our allies, changing other countries' governments at will, and invading whomever we want shouldn't really be that surprised when anti-American sentiment is a potent electoral tool. Independently, engaging in such resentment-producing behavior might also worsen what the President himself says is the reason the 9/11 attacks happened: "anger and resentment grew, radicalism thrived, and terrorists found willing recruits."

Perhaps we can soon come to the realization that it may not be such a good idea for a country which is intensely disliked by much of the world's population on every continent to urge that leaders be chosen democratically, since, by definition, that will likely produce leaders who are hostile rather than friendly to the U.S. And if spreading democracy is going to be our central goal, then maybe it does matter after all what the rest of the world thinks, since that is what will determine who the leaders are of other countries.

Of course, all of these concerns disappear if what we really mean by "democracy" is "a country run by leaders who act in the interests of the U.S., even if their rule has nothing to do with elections." Whatever it is that is driving our foreign policy, a premium on democracy doesn't really seem in reality to be high on the list, given that some of our most important allies have as little to do with democracy as possible, while some of our worst Enemies and even The Terrorist Enemies are democratically elected.

But one thing that ought to be clear today is that democratic elections do not inherently produce governments friendly to the U.S. Some might even be quite hostile, which is why overt contempt for world opinion -- while enabling some of us to feel powerful and exceptional -- may not be so smart.

UPDATE: I did not intend to suggest that all or even any of the above-referenced elections were free of irregularities, improprieties and/or outright corruption (although I don't know of any credible source which concluded that the victors were not really the victors, and that's certainly the case for Chavez's victory). The point is that each of the anti-American winners in those elections has substantial popular support, illustrating the fact that -- particularly given our recent behavior in the world -- there may actually be an inverse relationship between a democratic election and the likelihood that a government will be favorably disposed towards the U.S.

Additionally, Paul Rosenberg in comments takes issue with the notion that Hitler was democratically elected, and my response is here.

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