Tag Archive | "USA Democracy"

Forty-Five Blows Against Democracy


NOVANEWS

Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem,Sr

How U.S. Military Bases Back Dictators, Autocrats, and Military Regimes
 

Much outrage has been expressed in recent weeks over President Donald Trump’s invitation for a White House visit to Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, whose “war on drugs” has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings. Criticism of Trump was especially intense given his similarly warm public support for other authoritarian rulers like Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (who visited the Oval Office to much praise only weeks earlier), Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who got a congratulatory phone call from President Trump on his recent referendum victory, granting him increasingly unchecked powers), and Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha (who also received a White House invitation).

But here’s the strange thing: the critics generally ignored the far more substantial and long-standing bipartisan support U.S. presidents have offered these and dozens of other repressive regimes over the decades. After all, such autocratic countries share one striking thing in common. They are among at least 45 less-than-democratic nations and territories that today host scores of U.S. military bases, from ones the size of not-so-small American towns to tiny outposts. Together, these bases are homes to tens of thousands of U.S. troops.

To ensure basing access from Central America to Africa, Asia to the Middle East, U.S. officials have repeatedly collaborated with fiercely anti-democratic regimes and militaries implicated in torture, murder, the suppression of democratic rights, the systematic oppression of women and minorities, and numerous other human rights abuses. Forget the recent White House invitations and Trump’s public compliments. For nearly three quarters of a century, the United States has invested tens of billions of dollars in maintaining bases and troops in such repressive states. From Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have, since World War II, regularly shown a preference for maintaining bases in undemocratic and often despotic states, including Spain under Generalissimo Francisco Franco, South Korea under Park Chung-hee, Bahrain under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and Djibouti under four-term President Ismail Omar Guelleh, to name just four.

Many of the 45 present-day undemocratic U.S. base hosts qualify as fully “authoritarian regimes,” according to the Economist Democracy Index. In such cases, American installations and the troops stationed on them are effectively helping block the spread of democracy in countries like Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kuwait, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

This pattern of daily support for dictatorship and repression around the world should be a national scandal in a country supposedly committed to democracy. It should trouble Americans ranging from religious conservatives and libertarians to leftists — anyone, in fact, who believes in the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. After all, one of the long-articulated justifications for maintaining military bases abroad has been that the U.S. military’s presence protects and spreads democracy.

Far from bringing democracy to these lands, however, such bases tend to provide legitimacy for and prop up undemocratic regimes of all sorts, while often interfering with genuine efforts to encourage political and democratic reform. The silencing of the critics of human rights abuses in base hosts like Bahrain, which has violently cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators since 2011, has left the United States complicit in these states’ crimes.

During the Cold War, bases in undemocratic countries were often justified as the unfortunate but necessary consequence of confronting the “communist menace” of the Soviet Union. But here’s the curious thing: in the quarter century since the Cold War ended with that empire’s implosion, few of those bases have closed. Today, while a White House visit from an autocrat may generate indignation, the presence of such installations in countries run by repressive or military rulers receives little notice at all.

Befriending Dictators

The 45 nations and territories with little or no democratic rule represent more than half of the roughly 80 countries now hosting U.S. bases (who often lack the power to ask their “guests” to leave).  They are part of a historically unprecedented global network of military installations the United States has built or occupied since World War II.

Today, while there are no foreign bases in the United States, there are around 800 U.S. bases in foreign countries. That number was recently even higher, but it still almost certainly represents a record for any nation or empire in history. More than 70 years after World War II and 64 years after the Korean War, there are, according to the Pentagon, 181 U.S. “base sites” in Germany, 122 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea. Hundreds more dot the planet from Aruba to Australia, Belgium to Bulgaria, Colombia to Qatar. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, civilians, and family members occupy these installations. By my conservative estimate, to maintain such a level of bases and troops abroad, U.S. taxpayers spend at least $150 billion annually — more than the budget of any government agency except the Pentagon itself.

For decades, leaders in Washington have insisted that bases abroad spread our values and democracy — and that may have been true to some extent in occupied Germany, Japan, and Italy after World War II. However, as base expert Catherine Lutz suggests, the subsequent historical record shows that

“gaining and maintaining access for U.S. bases has often involved close collaboration with despotic governments.”

The bases in the countries whose leaders President Trump has recently lauded illustrate the broader pattern. The United States has maintained military facilities in the Philippines almost continuously since seizing that archipelago from Spain in 1898. It only granted the colony independence in 1946, conditioned on the local government’s agreement that the U.S. would retain access to more than a dozen installations there.

Image result for marcosAfter independence, a succession of U.S. administrations supported two decades of Ferdinand Marcos’s autocratic rule, ensuring the continued use of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, two of the largest U.S. bases abroad. After the Filipino people finally ousted Marcos in 1986 and then made the U.S. military leave in 1991, the Pentagon quietly returned in 1996. With the help of a “visiting forces agreement” and a growing stream of military exercises and training programs, it began to set up surreptitious, small-scale bases once more. A desire to solidify this renewed base presence, while also checking Chinese influence, undoubtedly drove Trump’s recent White House invitation to Duterte. It came despite the Filipino president’s record of joking about rape, swearing he would be “happy to slaughter” millions of drug addicts just as “Hitler massacred [six] million Jews,” and bragging, “I don’t care about human rights.”

In Turkey, President Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic rule is only the latest episode in a pattern of military coups and undemocratic regimes interrupting periods of democracy. U.S. bases have, however, been a constant presence in the country since 1943. They repeatedly caused controversy and sparked protest — first throughout the 1960s and 1970s, before the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, and more recently after U.S. forces began using them to launch attacks in Syria.

Although Egypt has a relatively small U.S. base presence, its military has enjoyed deep and lucrative ties with the U.S. military since the signing of the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1979. After a 2013 military coup ousted a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government, the Obama administration took months to withhold some forms of military and economic aid, despite more than 1,300 killings by security forces and the arrest of more than 3,500 members of the Brotherhood. According to Human Rights Watch,

“Little was said about ongoing abuses,” which have continued to this day.

Image result for Utapao Naval Air BaseIn Thailand, the U.S. has maintained deep connections with the Thai military, which has carried out 12 coups since 1932. Both countries have been able to deny that they have a basing relationship of any sort, thanks to a rental agreement between a private contractor and U.S. forces at Thailand’s Utapao Naval Air Base.

“Because of [contractor] Delta Golf Global,” writes journalist Robert Kaplan, “the U.S. military was here, but it was not here. After all, the Thais did no business with the U.S. Air Force. They dealt only with a private contractor.”

Elsewhere, the record is similar. In monarchical Bahrain, which has had a U.S. military presence since 1949 and now hosts the Navy’s 5th Fleet, the Obama administration offered only the most tepid criticism of the government despite an ongoing, often violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. According to Human Rights Watch and others (including an independent commission of inquiry appointed by the Bahraini king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa), the government has been responsible for widespread abuses including the arbitrary arrest of protesters, ill treatment during detention, torture-related deaths, and growing restrictions on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly. The Trump administration has already signaled its desire to protect the military-to-military ties of the two countries by approving a sale of F-16 fighters to Bahrain without demanding improvements in its human rights record.

And that’s typical of what base expert Chalmers Johnson once called the American “baseworld.” Research by political scientist Kent Calder confirms what’s come to be known as the “dictatorship hypothesis”:

“The United States tends to support dictators [and other undemocratic regimes] in nations where it enjoys basing facilities.”

Another large-scale study similarly shows that autocratic states have been “consistently attractive” as base sites. “Due to the unpredictability of elections,” it added bluntly, democratic states prove “less attractive in terms [of] sustainability and duration.”

Even within what are technically U.S. borders, democratic rule has regularly proved “less attractive” than preserving colonialism into the twenty-first century. The presence of scores of bases in Puerto Rico and the Pacific island of Guam has been a major motivation for keeping these and other U.S. “territories” — American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — in varying degrees of colonial subordination. Conveniently for military leaders, they have neither full independence nor the full democratic rights that would come with incorporation into the U.S. as states, including voting representation in Congress and the presidential vote.  Installations in at least five of Europe’s remaining colonies have proven equally attractive, as has the base that U.S. troops have forcibly occupied in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since shortly after the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Backing Dictators

Authoritarian rulers tend to be well aware of the desire of U.S. officials to maintain the status quo when it comes to bases. As a result, they often capitalize on a base presence to extract benefits or help ensure their own political survival.

The Philippines’ Marcos, former South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee, and more recently Djibouti’sIsmail Omar Guelleh have been typical in the way they used bases to extract economic assistance from Washington, which they then lavished on political allies to shore up their power. Others have relied on such bases to bolster their international prestige and legitimacy or to justify violence against domestic political opponents. After the 1980 Kwangju massacre in which the South Korean government killed hundreds, if not thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators, strongman General Chun Doo-hwanexplicitly cited the presence of U.S. bases and troops to suggest that his actions enjoyed Washington’s support. Whether or not that was true is still a matter of historical debate. What’s clear, however, is that American leaders have regularly muted their criticism of repressive regimes lest they imperil bases in these countries. In addition, such a presence tends to strengthen military, rather than civilian, institutions in countries because of the military-to-military ties, arms sales, and training missions that generally accompany basing agreements.

Meanwhile, opponents of repressive regimes often use the bases as a tool to rally nationalist sentiment, anger, and protest against both ruling elites and the United States. That, in turn, tends to fuel fears in Washington that a transition to democracy might lead to base eviction, often leading to a doubling down on support for undemocratic rulers. The result can be an escalating cycle of opposition and U.S.-backed repression.

Blowback

While some defend the presence of bases in undemocratic countries as necessary to deter “bad actors” and support “U.S. interests” (primarily corporate ones), backing dictators and autocrats frequently leads to harm not just for the citizens of host nations but for U.S. citizens as well. The base build-up in the Middle East has proven the most prominent example of this. Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution, which both unfolded in 1979, the Pentagon has built up scores of bases across the Middle East at a cost of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars. According to former West Point professor Bradley Bowman, such bases and the troops that go with them have been a “major catalyst for anti-Americanism and radicalization.” Research has similarly revealed a correlation between the bases and al-Qaeda recruitment.

Most catastrophically, outposts in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan have helped generate and fuel the radical militancy that has spread throughout the Greater Middle East and led to terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States. The presence of such bases and troops in Muslim holy lands was, after all, a major recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and part of Osama bin Laden’s professed motivation for the 9/11 attacks.

With the Trump administration seeking to entrench its renewed base presence in the Philippines and the president commending Duterte and similarly authoritarian leaders in Bahrain and Egypt, Turkey and Thailand, human rights violations are likely to escalate, fueling unknown brutality and baseworld blowback for years to come.

Posted in USAComments Off on Forty-Five Blows Against Democracy

Our Age Of Folly. America Abandons its Democracy


NOVANEWS
 
terror-usa-war-america-bombs-flag

The United States has been growing progressively insane for a long time. For my generation, the realization descended upon us in the 1960s when the military/security complex convinced Americans that if we permitted Vietnamese nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh to unify Vietnam, the dominoes would fall until the Communist World Revolution had us in its grip. This despite the fact that Stalin had killed off the Trotskyist world revolutionaries and declared “Socialism in one country.”

Nationalists in the West’s colonies, such as Vietnam and Cuba, misinterpreted the talk about making the world safe for self-determination as applying to them. Ho Chi Minh helped the US against Japan during World War 2. His requests for US help for Vietnamese independence from France were cold-shouldered by the Truman administration. He did not turn against the US until Washington turned against him.

http://www.historynet.com/ho-chi-minh-and-the-oss.htm

America’s participation in the Vietnam War lasted for a decade or thereabouts. The extraordinary carnage and war crimes served no interest other than the power and profit of the military/security complex and the paranoia of the arbiters of US foreign policy.

No lesson learned, we have spent the entirety of the 21st century to date repeating the mistake. This time it is stateless Muslim terrorists who somehow were merged in official US propaganda into the governments of seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa. After 17 years of murdering women, children, and village elders, destroying the infrastructure of countries, and bombing weddings, funerals, children’s soccer games, schools and hospitals, Washington has surpassed its criminal record in Vietnam.

The folly of the Vietnam War was not explicated for us until the war’s aftermath. However, the folly of our 21st century crusade against evil was presented to us in monthly installments as the folly unfolded by Lewis Lapham’s articles in Harper’s and later in the Lapham Quarterly.

These essays have been collected together in a book, Age of Folly: America Abandons Its Democracy (Verso, 2016).

Lapham is one of the remaining “men of letters” who date from a time when some Americans still existed who preferred the red pill to the blue pill. In the 21st century, awareness has been out of fashion, and there were few to learn from Lapham’s demonstrations of our folly.

Lapham’s book should be titled “Our Age of Folly.” As I read Lapham, every age has been one of folly, and America has been abandoning its democracy from day one, if America ever had a democracy to abandon.

Few remember that the Iraq War, ongoing since 2003, was supposed to be a “cakewalk” that would last three weeks. The war would not be the multi-trillion dollar event it turned out to be. We were assured the war would cost only $70 billion and be paid for with Iraqi oil revenues. George W. Bush fired his White House economist, Lawrence Lindsey for saying that the war could cost $200 billion. The only beneficiaries of the war are the recipients of the profits of the military/security complex and the police state agencies that the “war on terror” was used to justify.

Lapham finds in Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney’s announcement that the US was launching a “war of liberation to remove Saddam’s regime from Iraq” the same hubris, arrogance, and hegemonic aspirations that caused ancient Athens to ruin itself in the Peloponnesian War. Reading Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, Lapham reports, “was as if I were reading the front page of the New York Times or the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guidance.”

Being a man of letters, Lapham can make words dance and bite, and many are bitten. Michael Ignatieff, “a brand-name foreign-policy intellectual recruited from the faculty of Harvard University,” writes in behalf of Washington’s exercise of America’s imperial power “sententious and vacant prose, most of it indistinguishable from the ad copy for an Armani scarf or a Ferragamo shoe. Too much direct quotation from the professor’s text might be mistaken for unkindness.”

Lapham describes the transformation by the media and national security experts of the ragged, lightly armed Taliban into “an Arab host gathered on the plain of Armageddon under the glittering banners of militant Islam.” He relates policy arguments in which one expert declared that it is time to “flip” Iran. No said Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, it is the moment to drop a nuclear bomb on Afghanistan for the “very strong demonstration effect” that would get the entire Middle East in line with Washington’s orders. Challenged by someone who thought this prescription displayed a cavalier disregard for human life, Simes responded that “the NATO victory in Serbia was not won against the Serbian military ‘but because we were effective against the Serbian civilian infrastructure.’”

Ah, the morality of Americans. Winning is all that counts.

Few movers and shakers could resist hitching their wagon to the pursuit of Osama bin Laden, who died from renal failure in December 2001 before the hunt for him was well underway. Lapham reports that Geraldo Rivera, not to be outdone in the patriotic show of hunting down evil, “went off to the Khyber Pass with a pistol in his luggage, informing his viewers on FOX News that he would consider killing Osama bin Laden if the chance presented itself somewhere on the snowy heights of Tora Bora.”

Lapham’s essays walk us through the period from arrogance to quagmire to defeat covered up with a declaration of victory. In 2015 the Russians had to come in to clear up the mess Washington made of the Middle East, a favor for which we have not forgiven them.

Lapham thinks that the readers of Harper’s could have done a better job of running US foreign policy than the supervisors of the empire in Washington. I am sure that he is right, and so could have my own readers.

For Lapham the US government is a font of folly. He sees the 21st century American government in the way that Winston Churchill saw the British government in 1904:

“A party of great vested interests, banded together in a formidable confederation; corruption at home, aggression to cover it up abroad . . . sentiment by the bucketful; patriotism and imperialism by the imperial pint; the open hand at the public exchequer; the open door at the public house; expensive food for the millions, cheap labour for the millionaire.”

Lapham doesn’t get everything correct. He doesn’t give Reagan a fair break or credit for ending stagflation and the Cold War. Instead, Lapham portrays Reagan as just another servant of the rich. Lapham doesn’t catch on until late about 9/11, but neither did most others, including architect Richard Gage, founder of Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, now 3,000 strong. Lapham never says 9/11 was an inside job, but he artfully describes how the orchestra and chorus were miraculously ready to play the required tune, just as somehow the US military was ready and able to invade Afghanistan less than one month after 9/11. In other words, the invasion force was assembled awaiting the pretext, and the orchestra and chorus were awaiting the 9/11 conductor’s baton.

Lapham spares no one, least of all his own class. As a young man Lapham was a member of the upper class and remains today a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He could expect a career guaranteed by the preferments bestowed on his class. Returning from Cambridge University, he secured an interview with the CIA, looking forward to an exciting life as a spy serving the cause of freedom and democracy. In a passage that is perhaps the most amusing in the book, he describes boning up for the interview by “reading about Lenin’s train and Stalin’s prisons, the width of the Fulda Gap, the depth of the Black Sea. Instead of being asked about the treaties of Brest-Litovsk or the October Revolution, I was asked three questions bearing on my social qualifications for admission into what the young men at the far end of the table clearly regarded as the best fraternity on the campus of the free world.”

His fellow Yalies wanted proof of his upper class bonafides and relied on three questions that would reveal if Lapham were the real goods. Lapham had to answer the question, which club does one take from the golf bag when standing on the thirteenth tee at the National Golf Links in Southampton, followed by the question of the direction at dusk in late August of the prevailing wind on final approach under sail into Hay Harbor on Fishers Island, followed by “Does Muffy Hamilton wear a slip?”

Muffy was a very beautiful, very rich young socialite “much admired for the indiscriminate fervor of her sexual enthusiasms,” which those with bonafides would have experienced. Lapham correctly answered the first two questions. His experience with Muffy was limited to mixing her a drink at the New Haven Fence Club. He knew only by second hand authority that her underclothes consisted of Belgian lace.

The questions, Lapham reports, killed his interest in a CIA career. He apologized for having misread the job description and walked out of the interview. So much “smug complacence, self-glorifying certainty and primogeniture crowed into so small a room” offended Lapham and revealed to him an attitude “not well positioned for intelligence gathering.”

The failure of intelligence, not only the CIA’s, but also the failure of the intelligence of the leadership class, politicians, media, and a goodly chunk of the American people, explains the folly that has devoured our civil liberties and the economic prospects of our people and has left us with children unfamiliar with the world both past and present, making them “easy marks for the dealers in totalitarian politics” of which our country has an excess supply.

In this digital age in which wordsmiths are extinct, to read a Lapham essay is a delight for those of us old enough to appreciate the performance. One of Lapham’s virtues is that he is a delight to read whether or not one agrees with him. His other virtue is that in his sarcasm is a true picture of our era of folly.

Posted in USAComments Off on Our Age Of Folly. America Abandons its Democracy


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