Evangelical Democracy
What Gunboat Salvation Won't Fix . . .

by John Blunt

May 10, 2004   


The president has asserted that it is the "duty and calling" of our nation to bring "freedom" to the oppressed people of the Arab world. This view has been cited in recent books by Bob Woodward, Richard Clarke, Paul H. O'Neill, as well as in numerous speeches, interviews, and as recent as the president's April 16th news conference, as a primary underlying justification for his administration's war on Iraq. However, as was deftly articulated by Edward S. Herman in his recent Swans article "We Had To Destroy [Fill in Country Name] In Order To Save It," democracy and freedom are not well delivered from out of the barrel of a gun.

This evangelical brand of Democratic reform has a long and tortured history, both on the lands it was exacted, and on our own host nation. Few of the countries that were supposed to benefit from forced Democratization, through the period of the Cold War, and from the earlier American Imperialist age beginning with the Spanish-American War, have succeeded. Democracy, like good religion, is a concept best suited to those peoples who have grown it from within.

The primary failure of these forced Democracies is that they lack the fundamental ingredient of true self rule, which is an internal accountability of a government to its people. What form of internal accountability comes from a government imposed from the barrel of a gun, or the end of a sword, by foreign intruders? By definition, freedom foisted by one people onto another will always serve its master before it serves its subordinates. That's why these exercises are usually met with skepticism, resentment and eventual rebellion, as they are revealed to be little more than a Trojan Horse dressed in the costume of self rule, but in fact turn out to be the servant of an American government shaping another country to the pleasure of its own will. Furthermore, as we are a "free market democracy," soon thereafter come the Yankee carpetbaggers to exploit and haul away whatever natural resources are profitable.

This tradition has become a mythological epic. Just as state and church driven "Messianic Salvation" became a centuries old, world-wide cliché to the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, and the New World, this renewed "Evangelical Democracy" has spawned a new legacy of conspiratorial exploitation and hypocrisy. That's why the Bush administration has been unable to garner support from the international community for this war; that's why the Iraqi people are in an armed rebellion against US and "coalition" forces today.

In November of 2002, the White House, still somewhat in the bosom of sympathy for the attacks here on September 11th, was able, through US Secretary of State Colin Powell, to convince the Security Council of the United Nations to unanimously approve Resolution 1441, conceding Saddam Hussein to be the most dangerous threat to world peace, as well as a brutal menace to his own people. However, in the few weeks that followed, through his stubborn contempt for the democratic institution of the UN, his disregard for the Constitution, his stonewalling of Congress his and executive secrecy, his dogged attempts to intimidate the world into complying to a war based on false accusations of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and his indiscriminate use of devastating military power, Mr. Bush supplanted the Iraqi president as the most feared man on earth, as was clearly proved by his failure to get passage of the subsequent UN Resolution 1442. Furthermore, a year after ousting Saddam Hussein from power, the Iraqi population has grown to distrust and loathe Bush equally. Rightly or wrongly, and no matter how pure George W. Bush's personal conviction that his administration's divine calling is to bring freedom to the oppressed peoples of Iraq, the world community, more and more, just sees him as a bible-thumping zealot on one hand, a reckless, unchallenged, lone super-power cowboy on the other, with a deep thirst and long reputation for oil profiteering.

This "Evangelical Democracy" also creates great difficulties at home. For instance, if Mr. Bush truly believes that it is the "duty and calling" of our nation to bring "freedom" to the oppressed peoples of the Arab world, and that he has been directed to this mission by our Lord, Jesus Christ, then to whom is he accountable too? Are those of us with deep and profound questions about the motives and planning of this war supposed to ask God for his reasoning? Who does George Bush believe he is accountable to, other than the Holy Father?

The White House has also removed itself from much of the accountability we associate with the constitutional checks and balances of power. With the enhanced powers ceded to the Executive Branch by Congress in the Patriot Act and the war authorizations, the administration has cited Executive Privilege in protecting much of its intelligence and policy making. Because he is the Commander in Chief of the military, Mr. Bush is also nearly free to dispatch troops and military armament anywhere in the world, so long as he's belligerent enough to endure public outcry. Congress controls the purse strings, but few there have the guts to deny funds to the young men and women in boots on the ground in harm's way. Accountability in the Iraq War is further undermined by the extensive use of "contractors," which is to say mercenaries, with little accountability to US laws overseas in combat zones. That means we are responsible for paying them, that we are responsible for their actions in war, and that they are responsible for nothing.

(It needs to be mentioned how many of these contractors, especially "security personnel" in Iraq, are recruited from places like South Africa, selecting from ex-Apartheid military personnel pardoned through the "Truth and Reconciliation Act" from acts of unspeakable brutality, murder and violence to their own citizens. Many countries, like those in the Balkans and former Soviet states, have a plentiful supply of these pariahs, hungry for money, and no longer welcome in their own societies.)

Evangelical Democracy has also had a long time friend in the vanquishing of evil, whatever its historical manifestation might be. Ronald Reagan, whose staff is peppered throughout the current administration, is well remembered for his war against the "Evil Empire." In that battle, he eventually broke the spine of the Soviet economy by driving our country into a national debt that took 10 years to begin to turn the corner on, left countless American families financially devastated, and bankrupted public education and health care. Likewise, his War on Drugs devastated much of the social fabric of our inner city poor, filling our prisons to levels that would make even China and the former Soviet Union blush. For those wars, Mr. Reagan was largely unaccountable to the suffering of the public. George W. Bush gets a lot of mileage from being a "War President," in battle this time against the "Evildoers" of international terrorism. The trauma inflicted on the population of this country following the attacks of September 11th has made it more difficult to scrutinize the administration's policies closely, as a fairly large degree of trust was granted him for his presidential duties of protecting the nation.

And why not? George Bush is not just an evangelical, born again Christian, and a reformed 12-step alcoholic; he's also a Yalee and a Harvard business graduate, a prodigy of an elite and protected childhood, the inheritor of a family history steeped in war profiteering, banking scandals, Texas Oil Wildcatting and awesome political power. The norm in that culture is to leverage all the wealth and might at your disposal, crush your adversaries, take deep profits, then smile and go to church on Sunday. It is, in part, the American way. Unfortunately, peoples of the Arab world, the Asian world, the African world, and the Latin American world have seen these men march in and out of their countries, waving the flag, thumping the good book, filling their pockets and leaving a trail of disease, slaughter and ruin behind them for centuries. Many of them preached a better world, and a divine inspiration, but betrayed them nonetheless. Most of them turned out not to be accountable to their various gospels, and created the cruel, hypocritical reputation of the West -- which is how we grew to be so envied, mistrusted, and despised.

If we don't like it, there's John Kerry, liberal senator from Massachusetts, war hero, antiwar protester, and prosecutor whose chief legislative legacy comes from his war on governmental and military corruption. We suppose there is more accountability to his democratic play book, though it would be nice if the opposition had a vision to offer us, with his or her eyes fixed on what force of goodness all the power and prosperity of this nation could provide outside the realm of unmatched military violence. We might settle, for now, for a good student of history and devotee to the architecture of the Constitution. We have many problems at home to fix and divisions to heal before we go drumming our virtues around the world again. Our freedom, self determinism, democracy, and home-grown free-market capitalism came to us in 1776 out of a struggle from within our country. Eventually, the cause found great leaders, inspired words, (and just the right amount of French Navy), to succeed.

The right mix for our own country turns on the rule of Law, as well as in governmental accountability and transparency. Wiser men than occupy the White House today knew that religious belief was a private privilege to be cherished for the soul. Besides, history is replete with the calamity of freedom, God, or even an open marketplace delivered by the sword of intruders. Iraq may already be lost, destined for that same book, or maybe a Gandhi, or Havel, or Madison/Franklin/Jefferson will emerge to guide it to a more glorious fate. No doubt we will be bound together a great long time, the way we are lashed still to Vietnam -- perhaps the way the three sons of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are bound together, at each other's throats, struggling to escape, and hellbent on convictions worth dying for. For the survival of both countries, Iraq and our own, perhaps we should just hope to God the lessons of this bloody war are not forgotten, and that our evangelical tradition of gunboat salvation will have ended here, once and for all.

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Iraq on Swans

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John Blunt is an artist and a carpenter who lives in Oakland, California.

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Published May 10, 2004
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