In an interview with the British newspaper, The Times, in 2015, former US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, vehemently denied that exporting democracy to Iraq was the main motive behind the US invasion of that Arab country 12 years earlier.
Rumsfeld further alleged that “the idea that we could fashion a democracy in Iraq seemed to me unrealistic.” But the US’ top military chief was being dishonest. Writing in Mother Jones, Miles E. Johnson responded to Rumsfeld’s claim by quoting some of his previous statements where he, repeatedly, cited democracy as the main reason behind the US invasion, a war that was one of the most destructive since Vietnam.
Certainly, it was not Rumsfeld alone who brazenly promoted the democracy pretense. Indeed, ‘democracy’ was the buzzword, parroted by thousands of Americans: in government, the military, mainstream media, and the numerous think-tanks that dotted the intellectual and political landscape of Washington.
One could not help but reflect on the subject when, on January 6, thousands of Americans stormed the Washington Plaza, climbing the walls of Capitol Hill and taking over the US Congress. A country that has assigned itself the role of the defender of democracy worldwide, now stands unable to defend its own democracy at home.
In the case of Iraq, as soon as US soldiers stormed into Baghdad, they hurriedly occupied all government buildings and every symbol of Iraqi sovereignty. Triumphant soldiers were filmed rampaging through the offices of former Iraqi ministers, smoking their cigars, while placing their dirty boots on top of their desks. Bizarrely, similar scenes were repeated in Washington 17 years later, this time in the offices of top US legislators, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
In Iraq, from March 2003, ministers were hunted down, as their photos and names were circulated through what the US military referred to as Iraq’s ‘most wanted deck of cards’. In the American scenario, US Congressmen and women were forced to cower under their desks or to run for their lives.
The violent events in Washington have been depicted by US mainstream media as if a temporary crisis, instigated by a president who refuses to concede power peacefully and democratically. The truth, however, is far more complex. There is nothing transitory about any of this and, while Donald Trump is largely to blame for the bloody events of this day, the man is a symptom of America’s rooted democracy crisis, which is likely to worsen in the future.
Famed American linguist and historian, Noam Chomsky, has long argued that the US is not a democracy but a plutocracy, a country that is governed by the interests of the powerful few. He also argued that, while the US does operate based on formal democratic structures, these are largely dysfunctional. In an interview with Global Policy Journal in 2019, Chomsky further asserted that the “US Constitution was framed to thwart the democratic aspirations of most of the public.”
This has been evident for many years. Long before Trump became President, the dichotomy of American democracy has expressed itself in the way that the American people interact with their supposedly democratic institutions. For example, merely 20% of US adults trust their government, according to a Pew Research Center poll published last September. This number has remained relatively unchanged under previous administrations.
With the US economy rapidly sinking due to various factors, including the government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the people’s distrust in government is now manifesting itself in new ways, including mass violence. The fact that 77% of those who voted for Trump in the November elections believe that Joe Biden’s win was due to fraud, suggests that a sizable percentage of Americans have little faith in their country’s democracy. The consequences of this realization will surely be dire.
America’s constitutional crisis, which is unlikely to be resolved in the current atmosphere of polarization, is compounded by an external political crisis. Historically, the US has defined and redefined its mission in the world based on lofty spiritual, moral and political maxims, starting with ‘Manifest Destiny’, to fighting communism, to eventually serving as the defender of human rights and democracy around the world. The latter was merely a pretense used to provide a moral cover that would allow the US to reorder the world for the sake of expanding its market and ensuring its economic dominance.
Thomas Paine, whose influence on US ideals of liberty and democracy is arguably unmatched, warned, in ‘Common Sense’ in 1776, against the potential tyranny of those who "attempt to govern mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools."
Alas, Paine’s warning went unheeded. Indeed, the democracy ‘fraud’ that Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, et al carried out in Iraq in 2003, was a mere repetition of numerous other fraudulent military campaigns carried out around the world. The ‘protectors of democracy’ became the very men responsible for its undoing.
Unquestionably, the storming of US Congress will have global repercussions, not least among them the weakening of US hegemonic and self-serving definition of what constitutes a democracy. Is it possible that the US democracy doctrine could soon cease to be relevant in the lexicon of US foreign policy conduct, one that is predicated, per Paine’s logic, on “force and fraud”?