"Exporting democracy" is as American as apple pie. President George W. Bush feels divinely "called" to convert other countries' governments from oppressive regimes to democratically free governments. He is freeing Iraq through "gunboat diplomacy," then proposes to govern it with gunpoint democracy. But what kind of democracy is Bush proposing to export?
After World War II, America maintained and increased its military strength fearing communism. President Reagan epitomized this fear. He called the Soviet Union "an evil empire...behind all the trouble spots in the world." Reagan's world was a chess board where moves and countermoves with the Soviet Union in Africa, South and Central America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere constituted his foreign policy.
This Reagan doctrine - a vastly expanded version of Theodore Roosevelt's gunboat diplomacy - constituted a commitment to intervene against any government or frustrate any movement Reagan disapproved of. Inevitably, the Reagan doctrine led to contempt for international law. For example, Mr. Reagan withdrew the U.S. from the World Court after we unilaterally mined the harbors of Nicaragua - spurning world opinion and our allies objections. The Reagan administration was shrouded in secrecy and deception to minimize resistance from the American people or constraints from Congress. Bush's government and foreign policy are modeled after Reagan's.
After we win the war in Iraq, President Bush will argue - from a platform of occupation and gunpoint democracy - that the Iraqi people have been liberated, and democracy is on its way to Iraq! But what kind of democracy? The President's ideologically driven private market "democratic" vision? And who will enjoy the greatest freedom? The Iraqi people? Or Bush's "friends" from the private sector?
The word democracy is comprised of two Greek words, demos (people) and kratos (strength or power). It means "we the people" have the power to create the government and laws under which we shall live. Democracy has a second premise, that all men and women are created equal under the law.
A truly democratic government, with the means, should provide its people with the right to: vote; a good education; high quality health care; affordable housing; a clean, safe, and sustainable environment; equal opportunity for all, including women; fair taxes; and meaningful work.
But that's not the understanding of democracy Reagan and Bush have. They have an anti-democratic philosophy of government! Indeed, Reagan said about our own American democratic government, "Government is not the solution. Government is the problem."
This President believes the market alone, not a democratic government in cooperation with the private sector, can fix an economy. For him, the only truly important role for government is national defense. That's why he fights for less and smaller government when it comes to domestic programs; promotes supply-side economics; proposes and fights for tax cuts that primarily benefit the rich and big corporations (in times of peace and war); and under-funds his own legislative priority, the "No Child Left Behind Act." To reenforce this conservative philosophy, he appoints judges to federal district and appeals courts - and wants to appoint Supreme Court justices akin to Scalia and Thomas - who have a similar conservative anti-government ideology, who will likely interpret the law and the Constitution in a way that favors market forces (business and finance) over human rights and civil liberties - courts that limit the reach and effectiveness of government.
President Bush knows that America's democratic government cannot guarantee a fair distribution of its promises to all of its citizens without regulation and specific rights enumerated in our Constitution. But none - not one - of the eight "rights" listed above as priorities of the American dream are in the U.S. Constitution - not even the affirmative right to vote (Bush v. Gore). In America, these rights are not constitutional rights, and not human rights. They are state rights.
This Reagan-Bush anti-federal, pro-states' rights philosophy of government enables conservatives to use their control over government to fight for land rights, oil rights, natural resource rights, financial and business rights at home and globally on behalf of the private sector. These conservative ideologues fight to control our democracy because they know if it were representative of all of the American people, the people would use it as a vehicle to meet their basic material needs. For example, why would "a democratic government of all the people" leave 45 million Americans without health insurance? All of the people want high quality health care, but our democracy isn't delivering it. Bush believes the private sector should provide it - but it hasn't.
Without new rights in our own Constitution - the right to vote, education, health care, housing, equality for women, a sustainable environment, fair taxes, and employment - our American democracy cannot live up to its promise that "all men (and women) are created equal" under the law.
In Iraq - by ignoring the UN, international law, collective security and world opinion - the President is trying to impose a U.S.-led outside-in and top-down "democracy" that matches his top-down and trickle-down market economics. But our democracy, even in its infancy, was brought about through a bottom-up American revolution of values which led to a Declaration of Independence, a revolutionary war, and ultimately a Constitution. It didn't come through gunpoint democracy!
Unlike Lincoln, President Bush is trying to build a more perfect world before he builds a more perfect Union. But, like Lincoln, we should be trying to complete "the great task remaining before us" in our own democracy, even as we seek - alongside others - to build a more perfect, humane and truly democratic world.