Democrats and Dictators: Puncturing Bush’s Democracy Bubble


Bush Musharraf.jpg
I’ve always supported the kind of civil society and democracy development that comes from “genuinely within” a country — along the lines of what George Soros has done with the Open Society Institute in Eastern Europe.
However, George Bush’s 2nd inaugural address, “There is No Justice Without Freedom,” set global expectations so high of what America would and would not accept from allies and partners that now we look as if we are denying our own democratic DNA as we support the power-usurping (again) Pervez Musharraf.
I feel that the problems Musharraf faces inside Pakistan are bigger than his country, and America has a tremendous amount of complicity and responsibility for helping to trigger and antagonize these troublesome currents. But the problem we are facing is not just who lost Pakistan, but who lost the region, and the world?
Tonight, I did a short clip on this issue with CNN correspondent Brian Todd on the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Here is the comment I logged:

It’s terribly hypocritical to go into the world and talk democracy, as boldly and as robustly as this administration did, and then cozy up to a dictator like Musharraf. President Bush can now no longer give a pro-democracy speech.
Steven Clemons, New America Foundation

The fact is that we have to deal with democrats and dictators around the world. The CNN clip did a good job showing how we had worked with Saddam in the past and other tough self-dealing thugs like Noriega, Marcos, and the Shah. We could get away with that in the Cold War when America was clearly a better overall alternative to the Soviet Union — but today, there is nothing else for global citizens making choices about their own governments to compare America to.
Our choices define us — and yes, we still have to deal with some of the world’s bad guys. But Bush set up a huge hypocrisy test which he shouldn’t have. George W. Bush’s pretensions in January 2005 puffed up a democracy bubble that Musharraf has definitively punctured.
— Steve Clemons


6 comments on “Democrats and Dictators: Puncturing Bush’s Democracy Bubble

  1. arthurdecco says:

    “This administration seems to be incapable of learning from its mistakes.” posted by Ohiodem1
    I don’t believe these faux pas are mistakes.
    Divide and Rule comes to mind.
    American politicians and their closed circle jerk of advisers are so filled with hubris and emptied of any real knowledge of the political realities of the region, (hell! of any region, it seems these days!) that they appear incapable of dealing realistically with anyone – especially if it interferes with the wishes and ambitions of Israel – forget their own self-interests in the region.
    But that shouldn’t suggest that they aren’t intentionally upsetting the applecart with their interference in Pakistani politics with their elevation of Corruption’s Poster Girl, Bhutto, to Presidential contender. Rather, it should be a confirmation of their intentions.
    After all – could anyone really be as stupid as this present administration appears to be? Unlikely.
    Venal perhaps. Incompetent maybe. Greedy, for sure! Immoral – absolutely. Dishonest for sure. But not stupid. Not all of them, surely.


  2. Ohiodem1 says:

    What is happening in Pakistan is simply another example of the Bush instinct for division and movement toward destabilization.
    The Bush administration purposefully injected a serious destabilizing element by their attempt to re-inject Musharif’s political rival Bhutto back into the political equation in Pakistan. What were they thinking.
    The Bush administration backs one faction in Palestine vs another. The end result is further destabilization and actual strengthening of the more radical political forces within Palestine.
    The Iraq war had the effect of destabilizing the entire Persian Gulf region, fomenting a 3 way civil war in Iraq, strengthening Iran as a regional player.
    Another element of the Iraq war has been to stir up nationalistic elements in the Kurdistan region of Turkey, and has damaged our relationships with Turkey, and has pushed the Turkish government into military incursions into the Kurdish region of Iraq, another destabilizing effect of the Iraq war.
    Achmadinijad was losing in the Iranian election until the Bush administration supported his opponent, once again, proving that the Bush administration can rally a political base against the interests of our country.
    Once again, due to the Bush policy of going to war against Iraq, we are, like we were in Vietnam, a willing participant in a Civil War. An outside power can never take the right side in a Civil War. In THIS civil war we are taking both sides, and we are arming and financing both sides, through our incompetence, corruption and divide strategies.
    This administration seems to be incapable of learning from its mistakes.


  3. jon says:

    Yup. Although it really isn’t ‘our’ world to lose. We don’t own it, and it is remarkably presumptuous to think that we can dictate broadly to other countries.
    The US has a self image of exceptionalism, nobility of purpose and idealism that is simultaneously inspiring and counterproductive. Idealism has to be tempered with realism, and we must work with countries and people who do not live up to our standards or agree with our view of the world and agendas.
    To the degree that it becomes impossible to overlook the void in US foreign policy between the hypocrisy and self interest of our actions on our own behalf, and the detailed and intrusive demands we regularly make of other nations in the name of democratic ideals, this will continue to add to the distancing underway by other countries and increase the difficulty in achieving any US objectives, save by force and pressure.
    Yes, we must regularly deal with nations and leaders who have little interest in democracy. This is at the center of foreign policy and diplomatic relations. If we cannot do this, while striving to live up to our own standards, we might as well outsource this to Blackwater too.
    However, there is a critical difference between working with nations that fall short of our ideals because we must, and a headlong embrace of them in the face of their repudiation of the merest shreds of democracy and human rights. This administration seems alternately to care too deeply, speak with several voices, and to willfully overlook (and in fact, regularly reward) the most egregious behavior – all while maintaining the highest levels of sanctimony.
    Other nations have not overlooked our contradictory, erratic and self serving behavior. This may have more than a little to do with the singularly poor achievement of this administration in foreign policy.
    The US is left, by its choice and actions, with no alternatives for the practice of its policy but to rely on the threats and force of its military and economic power. This is expensive and laborious, and leads to declining returns. It is the worst expression of a zero sum game.
    It also represents a squandering of the diplomatic leadership and leverage that the US built up over the past hundred years in advancing democracy, human rights, trade and development, and all the other humanistic qualities that reassured other countries’ of the fitness of US preeminence and leadership.
    Musharraf, for better or worse, is America’s guy in Pakistan. Who else would be more attentive to US objectives there? And if he is forced from office in the near future, how will this improve local conditions, aid in the suppression of terrorism, and result in increased democracy and quality of life there? The likelihood would be Musharraf’s replacement with another military figure, increased power for Islamic fundamentalists, greater levels of chaos and opportunity for terrorists, great bloodshed and suffering, and a greater receding of democracy.
    The US has brought this on itself, in the way that our actions have rewarded Musharraf’s prior authoritarianism and been quite modest in pressing for increased, functional democracy. In the face of their nuclear proliferation, we did not push them to contain and dismantle their nuclear program, or to prosecute Khan. We have not pressed for the ISI to cut its ties and support for radical mullahs or the Taliban. We did not champion their judiciary. We did not require them to spend our aid in combatting the mullahs or terrorists, as it has been spent building up their conventional military. Rather, we supported them when they negotiated a truce in Waziristan that gave control to radical mullahs fronting for the Taliban. We have not pressed for measures to expand democracy. Yet we now complain when a general, who took power in a coup, retrenches.
    Democracy, freedom and liberty are taken, not bestowed. As you say, they must grow organically from within each country and region. It cannot be dictated from someone else’s timetable and game plan. We can encourage and nurture these developments. We can help to accelerate the process. But if it is not the genuine endeavor of the local populace it will fail.
    Democracy is far more than holding an election. Elections are only an observable manifestation of a democratic process and culture. But without the robust process and culture they are worse than meaningless.
    This administration, however, is only concerned with power and its’ immediate interests, and the leverage that a photo op and a sound bite can provide them. To expect them to take on the long term, slow and patient work of nurturing democratic institutions is to entirely misread them and to hold expectations they are incapable of and unwilling to meet. Sooner a pig will sing.
    We need a foreign policy that can pragmatically secure our essential objectives, while it also consistently maintains and advances our idealistic goals. Under this administration, with its lack of leadership and inept practice of diplomacy, our realistic objective should be to limit any further damage they might wreak on our own national interests and on the world. It is absolutely tragic to reflect on the utter shambles they have mad of our ‘unipolar moment’ and unparalleled opportunities.


  4. Ian Garrick Mason says:

    Steve: Good post. I particularly like your point about the Soviet Union providing a negative counterpoint to the U.S. during the Cold War. By contrast, particularly given the present administration’s penchant for extraordinary renditions and torture, U.S. foreign policy seems all-too-naturally aligned with the dictators it supports. As I argued a few years ago in the SF Chronicle ( with regard to the African context, democracy is looking ever less compatible with the Global War on Terror. Damn shame, too.


  5. steve johnson says:

    Mikhail Kryzhanovsky, international superspy, the author of the
    “White House Special Handbook, or How to Rule the World in
    the 21st Century”, is the US president de facto. Since 1996
    American presidents, Clinton and now – Bush, rule USA in
    strict accordance to his instructions.


  6. ... says:

    >>President Bush can now no longer give a pro-democracy speech.<< i agree steve, but you don’t really think your comment or many others of similar persuasion will stop him do you? nothing has stopped him from exploiting whatever he needs to push his agenda of bs.. until some of the those in the usa halls of power do something to stop him and his maniacal admin, he will continue.. perhaps he will cancel elections for 2008 with some lame excuse as well.. many americans seem to be sleeping thru this and the anguish he has created globally.


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