Democracy: The God That Failed

The idea animating U.S. foreign policy at the moment is simple: if we “democratize” the Middle East – at gunpoint if necessary, peacefully if possible – we can “drain the swamp” of terrorism and defeat the worldwide Islamist insurgency that is now arrayed against us. With democracy will come the rule of law and all the material benefits of “democratic” capitalism. Recruitment to the cause of jihad will dry up: people will be too busy having a good time to remember or care about the fate of the Palestinians, an American military presence on their soil, or oil prices kept artificially low for the convenience of the West.

The Bush Doctrine, as enunciated in the president’s “fire in the mind” inaugural address, takes this democratist dogma and applies it on a global scale. The “ultimate goal” of U.S. foreign policy, as George W. Bush put it, is nothing less than “ending tyranny in our world.” And there is no reason to believe that the warlords of Washington will be constrained by mere earthly bounds. The promise of space flight and travel to other worlds holds out the prospect that our ambitions will be extended to the rest of the known universe. Hubris, by definition, recognizes no limits, and when it comes to our rulers, the sky’s the limit.

In any case, this limitless conceit is exemplified by the theory behind our foreign policy of “liberation.” According to the democratists, it isn’t just the Middle East that suffers from a “democracy deficit.” Ukraine, Russia, the vast reaches of Central Asia, China, and a great deal of South America – all are backward in the sense that they haven’t quite reached the “end of history,” as Francis Fukuyama and his fellow Hegelians would put it.

The invasion and conquest of Iraq, and the imposition of a “democratic” regime at gunpoint, is intended to be a model of the Bush Doctrine in practice. But it doesn’t look like the experiment is working. In fact, it shows every sign of boomeranging, as the Los Angeles Times reports (hat tip: Laura Rozen):

“Senior U.S. officials have begun to question a key presumption of American strategy in Iraq: that establishing democracy there can erode and ultimately eradicate the insurgency gripping the country.

“The expectation that political progress would bring stability has been fundamental to the Bush administration’s approach to rebuilding Iraq, as well as a central theme of White House rhetoric to convince the American public that its policy in Iraq remains on course.

“But within the last two months, U.S. analysts with access to classified intelligence have started to challenge this precept, noting a ‘significant and disturbing disconnect’ between apparent advances on the political front and efforts to reduce insurgent attacks.

“Now, with Saturday’s constitutional referendum appearing more likely to divide than unify the country, some within the administration have concluded that the quest for democracy in Iraq, at least in its current form, could actually strengthen the insurgency.…”

Readers of this space would have come to this conclusion way back in June, when this writer predicted the likely outcome of Iraq’s “constitutional” charade. But no matter: we won’t tarry over the question of how top U.S. government analysts with access to classified intelligence came to be so far behind the analysts at Better late than never.

The introduction of national elections and the process of drawing up a constitutional framework have exacerbated rather than tamped down Iraq’s regional, ethnic, and religious divisions. The administration is hoping for a “yes” vote in the upcoming constitutional referendum – and so are the insurgents, who see passage of the anti-Sunni constitution as a recruiting tool. Instead of introducing the reign of calm, the democratic delusion has produced endless conflict, as Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds compete for control of the government.

The civil war predicted by Brent Scowcroft and others is now ratcheting up, and threatens to shatter the nascent Iraqi state – prolonging the U.S. presence. Our policy, rather than having the desired effect, has had the exact opposite of its intended result. Instead of a liberal democratic government that is a model for the region, what is rising in Iraq is an Islamic theocracy modeled on Iran’s.

The same reversal effect is evident in Ukraine, where another U.S.-supported-and-funded “revolution” has introduced fresh conflicts and ushered in a system that bears little resemblance to Western liberal democracy. The “Orange Revolution” has turned sour on its enthusiasts, as Yushchenko and his former ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, the “gas princess,” turn on each other, and the president allies with his former enemies to keep his government from falling. Tymoshenko’s crude attempts to fix prices, install her loyalists in key positions, and provoke a conflict with Russia were finally too much for the popular president, who had to step in and fire her.

Instead of ridding the country of corruption, clearing out the oligarchs, and freeing up the economy, the Orange revolutionaries turned a shade pinkish, and even a bit red about the edges, assuming state control of previously privatized industries and cracking down on their opponents’ control of various media outlets.

Meanwhile, by the way, we have heard no more about the alleged plot to poison Yushchenko, which was blamed by the pro-Orange Western media on his rival, Yanukovich, and the Russian KGB. The long-promised investigation seems to have permanently stalled.

Another of the color-coded “revolutions” bought and paid for by the U.S., Kyrgyzstan’s, had a very similar result. Ostensibly modeled on the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia, the “Pink Revolution” that engulfed Kyrgyzstan earlier this year was a thuggish affair. Mobs took over government buildings, then indulged in an orgy of looting and destruction that extended to the capital city’s business community. An election in which numerous irregularities occurred was held, and the victor – former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev – immediately declared that this augured the crushing of the “counterrevolutionary” elements in the country. Bakiyev owes much of his fame to having ordered troops to fire into a crowd of 1,500 protesters, killing five: shortly after the coup, he consolidated his power, elbowing aside both former allies and supporters of the old regime. At one point he threatened to ask the U.S. to abandon its military base, but now it appears that Condoleezza Rice has dissuaded him, and the U.S. military presence may even expand. There isn’t any real democracy in Kyrgyzstan, but there is, for the first time, a written agreement with the government to host a U.S. military base.

And that, dear readers, is the real point.

Chalmers Johnson, the trenchant critic of American militarism, has characterized the U.S. as an “empire of bases,” and what we are witnessing is the extension of this global system of linked launching pads for American military intervention from Kyrgyzstan to Ukraine to Iraq. This, and not the creation of genuine liberal democratic societies, is our real foreign policy objective. Ukraine is preparing to enter NATO, so that Western troops and weaponry will soon be poised 15 minutes from Moscow. Iraq, too, is the future site of permanent U.S. military bases, and there are ample signs that we are already digging in for the long haul.

Democracy? Don’t make me laugh. Democracy is the god that failed to accomplish its ostensible goals everywhere the U.S. has intervened – but the real objective of our “liberationist” foreign policy is well on the way to being achieved.

We didn’t aid the “democratic” revolution in Kyrgyzstan to create a Jeffersonian republic, but to facilitate our ongoing occupation of Afghanistan and encircle Russia. We didn’t tout the glorious “Orange Revolution” and funnel millions to the Yushchenko camp out of any desire to help Ukrainians make a better life for themselves: it was and is all about NATO. The same lesson holds true for Iraq, only more so.

In Kyrgyzstan, a relatively liberal tyrant was overthrown and replaced by someone with the reputation of a hardliner. In Ukraine, a corrupt and neo-socialistic gang was replaced by an equally corrupt and authoritarian crew, albeit one with Western connections. In Iraq, the same pattern holds: there, however, the consequences are much bloodier, with the nation fast descending into all-out civil war, and the various factions contending for power even less palatable. Iraqis are faced with the “choice” of pro-Iranian fundamentalists, neo-Ba’athists, and the expansionist tribalism that rules semi-autonomous Kurdistan – as al-Qaeda lurks in the background, feeding on the spreading chaos.

The ultimate goal of American foreign policy must always be the defense of the American people, i.e., of the continental U.S. Once we began to deviate from that core principle, as enunciated by the Founders, we began to get into trouble. I would trace the roots of that trouble to the pernicious nonsense advanced by President Woodrow Wilson, whose militant internationalism got us into World War I – but that is the subject of another column. Suffice to say, here, that the would-be exporters of “democracy” have merely succeeded in creating more and bigger trouble, wherever their democratist dogma has been applied. It is time to call a halt to this ill-conceived experiment – before it claims more lives and backfires spectacularly in our faces.

(Title borrowed from Hans-Hermann Hoppe.)


I am pleased to announce the addition of two new regular columnists to the fold.

Charles V. Peña is a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project, and an analyst for MSNBC television. He has appeared on CNN, Fox News, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and The McLaughlin Group, as well as international television and radio. Peña is the co-author of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against al-Qaeda, and the upcoming Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism. His articles have been published by Reason; The American Conservative; The National Interest; Mediterranean Quarterly; Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, & Public Policy; Journal of Law & Social Change (University of San Francisco);Nexus (Chapman University); and Issues in Science & Technology (National Academy of Sciences). He was, until recently, a senior policy analyst at the Cato Institute. Cato’s loss is our gain: his column, “Dispatches From The Un-War,” will appear biweekly on Thursday starting this week.

David R. Henderson is an associate professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and a research fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was previously a senior economist with President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers. His books include The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey (Prentice Hall, 2002) and Making Great Decisions in Business and Life (Chicago Park Press, October 2005). He has appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, the Jim Lehrer Newshour, CNN, and C-SPAN. He has had over 100 articles published in Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Red Herring, Barron’s, National Review, Reason, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Christian Science Monitor. His column, “The Wartime Economist,” will appear biweekly starting this Monday.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].