I heard it again—that phrase, that phrase, that awful phrase that I hate so much. It was spoken on The O'Reilly Factor. The panel was discussing Iraq in their typical fair and maliced manner, when one of them uttered the unutterable: He said the war in Iraq is necessary because we are “spreading democracy” in the region.
I remember the first time I heard those words. It was during President Bush's 2005 inaugural address: “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture…. We're spreading democracy.”
When I heard that, I thought, Uh-oh! Spreading democracy? That's pretty scary. It sounds a lot like when he used to say, “Freedom is on the march.”
Um, Mr. President, dude, freedom isn't supposed to march. Freedom is supposed to tiptoe, so as not to trample the freedom of others. Same thing with democracy—it's not something you're supposed to spread. Nor should we grow it, promote it, export it or install it. Call it what you will, but it all amounts to the same thing: imposing our preferred governing style onto somebody else.
Our president says he wants to spread it to “every nation and culture.” Not only is that rude, but it's stupid, too. It's rude because whether by election or revolt, only the citizens of a country have the right to decide what type of government shall preside over them. And it's stupid to assume a democracy is what every nation and culture needs, especially those in the Middle East. We have to stop applying our Western sensibilities onto a Mesopotamian mindset.
It's like trying to use Monopoly rules to play Go-Moku.
Remember the saying “You get the government you deserve”? That seems true enough. But I think it's also true that you get the government you need. Meaning, if you require a strict, authoritarian government to keep an unstable country from splintering apart—then a strict authoritarian government is what you will get.
The point is, Democracy is not one-size-fits-all. It doesn't apply to everything. It doesn't work in team sports. You never see a baseball manager taking a poll when he believes he needs to bring in a new pitcher. It doesn't work in the military, either. You can't have soldiers voting on whether they should charge the hill. The Japanese would still be bunkered atop Iwo Jima if that were the case. No sir, you get the government you deserve or need, and we have no right or expertise to decide for others what that might be.
I'm reminded of a Discovery Channel documentary I saw recently about pirates. Apparently, pirates, specifically the 17th-century corsairs of the Caribbean whom we see all the time in books and movies, were part of a democratic entity. It's true: The captain was elected. They had separation of powers among three branches of government.They revered a Constitution-style document called The Articles of Agreement. And they voted on all issues pertaining to the ship and crew. The only time the captain ever assumed dictatorial control of the ship was during battle.
Isn't that fascinating? Pirate ships were democratic institutions? It seems so unlikely. Pirates were outlaws. They were murderers, thieves and rapists. They had scary-sounding names like Blackbeard, Black Bart, Tortuga and, my favorite, Eric Bloodaxe (a Scandinavian pirate, actually). They were experts at the art of torture. One of their methods was to strand a man on a sandbar with nothing but a flintlock and a bullet leaving him to make a choice between slow death or suicide.
Pirates were just these beastly, smelly, inhumane terrorists of the sea who also happened to be down with due process. Which just goes to show—there's nothing inherently virtuous about a democracy any more than there's anything inherently immoral about totalitarian rule.
It's not which system of governance you choose, but how you apply it that matters. Granted, it is easier to abuse a dictatorship than it is a democracy. Dictators don't have term limits or separation of powers. But it is entirely possible to be a righteous dictator, the kind who cares for the well-being of his citizens, strives for peace, feeds the homeless and loves puppies, jazz music and long walks on the beach. It's also possible, conversely, to have a democracy that taps your phones, reads your e-mails, tortures you, detains you indefinitely without access to counsel, wages illegal wars, politicizes the Justice Department and uses fear and propaganda to control the masses. Hmm, I'd even bet there's an example of that kind of democracy existing right now, out there somewhere, across the brine perhaps, some renegade ship controlled by a swashbuckling buccaneer named Captain Blackbush, with his First Mate “Icepick Dick” Cheney, Rove the Rapscallion and all the rest of their mateys who wage unnecessary wars for no other reason than to assume permanent dictatorial control of the ship.
So spare me this “going to war to spread democracy” noise. You can't spread the seeds of democracy with a cannonball. Even if you truly believe democracy must be spread, then don't launch missiles—launch an advertising campaign. Must we always be so barbaric? Just buy television and newspaper ads. Rent billboards that say things like, “America: Bringing you democracy one waterboarding at a time.” Or how about, I don't know, just letting Iraqis vote on whether they even want democracy? I can see the pamphlet now:
Proposition 52: “Do you want the U.S. to come in, drop some bombs, break a bunch of buildings, kill a ton of people and install its form of government? Vote ‘Yes' or ‘Hell Yes' on Proposition 52.
Hey, I'm not breaking any news here. This shit should be obvious to everybody: Going to war to spread democracy? Talk about missing the point. The only acceptable way to spread the kind of democracy that's worth spreading is to be the best damn example of it we can be. Everything else is hypocrisy. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. For more @%#$&, visit www.edwindecker.com.