Point of View

American democracy at home versus abroad

October 12, 2013 

America considers itself the most democratic nation in the world and the beacon of hope for people seeking democracy in other countries. In its quest to promote democracy in other countries, America often uses sanctions and sometimes military force in this pursuit, as in Ivory Coast, Libya and Myanmar.

However, what America considers democracy at home may be quite different from what it considers democracy abroad. This policy dichotomy has raised doubt about America’s credibility in the international community in promoting democracy abroad. Places such as Egypt, Palestine and Venezuela, to name a few, abound with evidence of this policy dichotomy.

In the case of Egypt, a presidential election was held in 2012, and the United States along with the international community applauded the process as fair and democratic. About a year later, the Egyptian military overthrew the democratically elected president through a coup d’état. The military arrested the president, imprisoned leaders and many other members of president’s party and also killed many of his supporters who demonstrated in opposition to the takeover, further eroding the democratic gains the country had realized.

The international community, including Belgium, Brazil, Belgium, France, Germany, Turkey and the 54 countries in the African Union, condemned and rejected the coup.

The United States refused to join the international community in the condemnation. In fact the State Department said it could not determine whether the military takeover was a coup d’état. The United States did not oppose the coup, primarily because the party it supported in the election lost. Instead of condemning and imposing sanctions on the military as it has usually done in such situations, the United States continues to provide about $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, which the military uses to suppress its people and erode democracy.

Another case is President George Bush’s effort to build what he called “a practicing democracy” in Palestine by urging the president of the Palestinian Authority to hold legislative election. The election was held in 2006 between Hamas’ party and the American-supported Fatah Party. The media reported that the United States secretly gave the Fatah Party $2 million to bolster Fatah in the campaign. Despite U.S. support, Fatah performed poorly; Hamas won an outright majority of 74 seats of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, meaning that Hamas would be the ruling faction of the Palestinian Authority. Some governments, such as Sweden, Japan and the Arabic states, praised the election as the democratic system at work in Palestine. The United States, on the other hand, characterized Hamas as a terrorist group and refused to deal with a Hamas-led government that the voters chose through a democratic process. Some foreign policy experts described the U.S. response to the election as another demonstration of its hypocrisy of claiming to support democratization in the Middle East.

In the 2013 presidential election in Venezuela, the candidate of the incumbent socialist party won. The opposition party appealed to the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice, which rejected the appeal citing a failure to provide sufficient evidence. The international community and virtually every country in South America and the Western Hemisphere accepted the result, except for the United States. In contrast to the 2002 U.S. presidential election between the Democratic candidate Al Gore and the Republican candidate George Bush, the U.S. Supreme Court, which was dominated by Republican-appointed justices, ruled that the Republican candidate George Bush was the president, a ruling the American government and people accepted. But in the case of Venezuela, where the international community accepted the decision of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, the United States refused to do so.

Thus, the American principle of democracy can be stated as follows:

“All American elections are democratic. Democratic elections held in other countries are not democratic unless the American-backed candidates win.”

No wonder America’s quest to promote democracy abroad has generally produced dismal results and a waste of human and financial resources.

America should accept the results of democratic elections held abroad irrespective of the winners or losers.

Jame S. Guseh is a professor of Political Economy/Economics, Law and Public Administration at N.C. Central University.

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