US Priority – Neither Democracy Nor Human Rights


Does the US champion democracy and human rights efforts abroad? Our president and our legislature certainly spout that to us constantly but is democracy really the goal in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East?

No. It is not the goal. In fact, just the opposite may be true.

Historically, the US government has supported regimes in that region that are friendly to us no matter what their form fahd.jpgof government or human rights record. The most glaring example is Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy with a dismal record of human rights abuses. Yet the US refers to this regime as “moderate”. The human rights abuses are downplayed because Saudi Arabia is an ally. If it was an enemy, like the former Iraqi regime, those human rights abuses would be publicly condemned and even exaggerated.

As an example of this, in the 1991 State Department’s annual human rights report, the description of The Sultanate of Oman was changed by department superiors to downplay the tough authoritarian nature of that state. First it was described as “an absolute monarchy” but that was changed to “a monarchy without popularly elected representative institutions.

In 2000 the same report noted that Egypt’s courts “do not ensure civilian defendants due process before an independent tribunal”. Yet in 2001’s report, even though nothing had changed, any reference to the courts behavior was dropped to appease Egyptian leaders who had renewed their support for US policy.

The State Department has even allowed Israel to review and edit its own human rights report prior to publication.

Perhaps the best known example of this is Iraq. During the invasion of Iran in the 1980’s, the US downplayed Iraq’s miserable human rights record and lack of democracy. Later, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, these human rights offenses were prominently exposed.

The hypocrisy of policy based not on human rights and democracy but on who is our buddy today, is glaring and dangerous. We condemned Iraq for repressing their Kurdish minority while at the same time arming the Turks so they could repress their Kurdish minority.

We condemn the strict reactionary interpretations of Islamic laws by Iran, but when it comes to Saudi Arabia we accept the same interpretations as “part of their culture”.

According to author Stephen Zunes, the Muslim people do not despise America because of our war against terrorism. They despise America because we support the regimes that oppress them.

On the other side of the coin, we have turned away from some nations when they have indeed become more democratic. In the 70’s and 80’s, despite the repressive and authoritarian regimes in Jordan and Yemen, we sent both countries large amounts of foreign aid. Then changes began to occur. In the 90’sjordan.jpg Jordan became perhaps the most democratic of the Arab states, with a relatively free press, an opposition party, and debate in parliament that brought about progressive changes. What was the response of the US? Aid was cut because Jordan did not support the war in Iraq. Why didn’t Jordan support the war? Because they made an effort to be more democratic and responsive to their citizens who were opposed to the war. Similarly, in Yemen, aid was cut off within months of their first democratic election in 1990.

The bottom line here is the US does not base its support for other nations on human rights or democracy. It bases support on that country agreeing with us no matter what we are doing. Indeed, it may not be in the best interest of the US for some countries to become democratic simply because, like Jordan, those governments may have to follow the demands of their citizenry who may oppose US policy. It is much easier to influence a small royal family than it is to sway an entire countries population.egypt.jpg

Egypt, another repressive regime with a terrible record of human rights abuses, and its dictator, Hosni Mubarak, are the second largest recipient of US military and economic aid in the world. And while we might hear about the Egyptian people hating the US because of our support for Israel, the fact is they hate us because of our support of Mubarak.

After 9/11, in order to incite us to support the war he had planned already, Bush said,

“They hate…democratically elected government. They hate our freedoms–our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

No, that isn’t why. The sad reality is, because it is in our best strategic interests, we support the authoritarian monarchs and dictators who oppress them and who won’t allow those freedoms. That is why they hate us.

Explore posts in the same categories: America, Human rights, Politics, Terrorism

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