But, Didn’t The U.S. Support Tin-Pot Dictators?

January 14, 2009

[First published February 9, 2006] Whenever I give a speech on the democratic peace to university audiences, questioners always shift the focus to the United States, and especially this kind of question:

Has not the U.S. intervened in many countries, some democracies such as Chile, Guatemala, and El Salvador, supported death squads murdering rebels, and behind the scenes helped mass murder, such as in Indonesia?

Even if true, none of these events was a war. No collection or list of international wars includes them. They are therefore irrelevant to the proposition that democracies do not make war on each other, and cannot be used as evidence to disprove it. As to democide, I have only counted those governments directly responsible. If one were to also count indirect responsibility, then this would have to be done not only for the U.S., but all regimes, including those of Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. I bet that if this were done, the proportional differences between democracies and nondemocracies would be even more weighed toward totalitarian regimes.

To understand why a democracy like the U.S. would be allying itself with dictators, one has to understand that in the late 1940s to the late 1980s, American foreign and defense policies were geared toward containing communism, and responding to the realistic fear of a Soviet Invasion of Europe or a nuclear first strike on the U.S. This Cold War was World War III, with hot battlefronts in Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Afghanistan; and with theaters of related guerrilla warfare, subversion, spying, and political action throughout Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. Within this context, American alliances, and ties to “right wing” dictators, or interventions to prop them up, were meant to prevent their communist takeover or revolution, and/or to secure their support of our side in the Cold War by, for example, providing basis. There has been much criticism of this among academics, but strangely, there has been no similar criticism of the American alliance with Stalin to defeat Hitler in World War II. Yet, of all regimes, Stalin’s was worse than any military or authoritarian regime we supported after the war, and on par with Hitler’s.

One example always brought up is the 1973 military coup in Chile against an elected president that America presumably engineered. To many on the left it is the proof of American imperialism and true antidemocratic nature. But, the U.S. did not intervene against President Allende, or help overthrow him. See my “The Chilean Coup–Icon of the Anti-American Left.” The coup against him was an internally generated matter. The U.S. did favor it, however. Keep in mind that Allende was a communist, aided by Castro and the Soviet Union, and was attempting to convert Chile to a communist dictatorship, like that of his model, Castro. By the time of the coup, Allende had destroyed virtually all his pubic support, including the unions, business, the church, and, of course, the military.

World War III has been won, communism defeated as a competing and threatening world force, and there is no longer a perceived need to contain it. If people are stupid enough to elect communists, as they have done in Venezuela, and Bolivia, so be it. People who don’t learn from history, will have to repeat it.

In any case, in general, where the U.S. has intervened, and supported dictators under communist threat, these countries are now democracies. In two notable cases where we could have intervened and did not, the worst not only happened to these countries, but the horrible result continues to this day. Think of Cuba for one, where President Eisenhower refused to save the Fulgencio Batista regime from Castro, until it was too late. Then President Kennedy inherited Eisenhower’s plans to overthrow Castro with the Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban expatriates, which was miserably prepared and handled. Of course, had we supported Batista, we would be hearing to this day about American imperialism and intervention to save right wing Batista, but had we done so we would have saved tens of thousands of lives, and the Cuban people from a miserable existence under communism. And by now, Cuba would probably be a democracy, as are El Salvador, Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala.

Then there is Iran. At the time of the Ayatollah’s 1978-1979 revolution, Iran was led by a pro-American and secular modernizing dynasty, much to the rage of the Iran’s Ayatollahs and Islamic extremists. When the dynasty was on the verge of collapse, the Iranian military contacted President Carter asking for support for a military takeover — a protective coup. Typical of his softheaded worldview, Carter refused, and in effect gave a go ahead to the Ayatollah’s revolution. We now all know the result in the hundreds of thousands murdered, the infliction of totalitarian Islamic rule on a people, and the danger of its revolutionary regime producing nuclear weapons The irony of this is, as with Cuba, had we supported a coup this would have become another black mark against the United States.

Foreign and defense policy in wartime, which included the Cold War, and now the War on Terror, is messy and shot through with moral ambiguities and compromises. Thus, we dropped a-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; allied ourselves with the fascist Chiang Kai-shek regime of China, and the communist megamurderer Stalin; and agreed to turn over Eastern Europe to Stalin’s tender mercies after the war. Now we are allied with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, among other distasteful regimes, who are hardly models of democracy. It all boils down to the balance sheet of pluses and minuses in defending freedom and waging peace.

But, then those pure in heart, innocent in mind, and morally self-righteous, will always find something in such foreign and defense policies to attack, while assuming no responsibility for the inevitable consequences. Witness the Patriot Act, alleged torture of terrorists, and the Al Qaeda NSA surveillance (“Bush spying”) program.


World Public Opinion–People Vs. Leaders

January 14, 2009

[First published February 14, 2006] Gallup has published a number of world poll results, and the most interesting is their poll of near 50,000 people in more than 60 countries , that statistically represent over 2 billion of the world’s population.

Of most interest, is that 35% vs. 30% believe the next generation will live in a safer world. Compared to similar polls in 2003 and 2004, those who feel the world will be safer has gone up from 25% to 40%.

The World Economic Forum also did a similar poll of 2,500 world leaders that participated in the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. This enables us to do a fascinating comparison between leaders and the people. See below

Then as to whether the next generation will live in a more economically prosperous world, see below

And then there is a comparison of people versus leaders on the importance (priority) of specific issues.

The report also presents the results for people versus leaders on a number of issues. The greatest difference is on economic growth, where 31% of the leaders give it priority compared to only 17% of the people. Note that reducing wars and the war on terrorism are not that important for leaders and people, and human rights are even less so. Full equality for women, reducing organized crime, and overcoming AIDS are at the bottom of people and leader’s priorities. Stunning. And the polltakers did not even ask about genocide, democide, and famine, the major causes of unnatural non-disease deaths in the last century.

Doubtlessly related to the world being safer and more prosperous, Gallup asked whether people thought 2006 would be better or worse than 2005, and divided the results by region and country (here in pdf). The most pessimistic regions are Western Europe and Eastern/Central Europe, where 31% and 30% respectively think 2006 will be worse, while the most optimist regions about 2006 being better are the Pacific (54%), and Africa (57%). As to countries, Vietnam, China, UN Kosovo, and Afghanistan were most optimistic, while Bosnia, Greece, Philippines, and France were among the most pessimistic.

For comparison, we have the 20 nation poll taken by the World Public Opinion Organization Organization. They ask whether respondents agree or disagree with the statement that, “The Free enterprise system and free market economy is the best system on which to base the future of the world.” The highest agreement is by China (74%), Philippines (73%), and the U.S. (71%). Those at the bottom are France (36%), Argentina (42%), and Russia (36%). Compare this to the average for the 20 nations on their support for increased government regulation of large companies to protect workers being 74%, the rights of consumers being 73%, to protect the environment being 75%, and rights of investors being 54%.

As to whether large companies are seen as having too much influence, the average is 73%, with the U.S. being 85%, and China far below at 47%.

Such polls provide a treasure trove of raw data. We now have a world values survey, freedom house, and the index to economic freedom. A problem is that these data are formatted in different ways, but not impossible to reconfigure, reformat, and intercorrelate. One question that would be interesting to answer is: How do the people of the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe view human rights? I suspect it is with much less priority than other issues, since they already have them, and take them for granted. Also, because of their constant bombardment by a negative major media, I suspect that these people are far more pessimistic about the world being a safer and better place.