THE claim that the world needs the US to oust dictators and promote democracy has never been quite accurate, or even honest. George W. Bush maintained that both were his administration’s goals in Iraq, but never once mentioned that Iraqi oil reserves were at that time estimated at 112 billion barrels, but could be as much as 350 billion barrels. If promoting democracy in Iraq meant re-opening its oil resources to Western oil companies, the US did promote democracy — and Chevron’s interests — there.

As for ousting dictators, numerous countries had done that long before it occurred to Bush Jr. and his predecessors that the US has the divine right to make the world safe for US corporate interests. The Haitians ousted Francois Duvalier in 1971; Indonesia’s Suharto, in power for 32 years, was ousted in 1998 — and the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown by the EDSA mutiny in 1986.

In none of these cases was it necessary for the US to invade to promote or restore democracy. On the contrary. In all these cases, as in hundreds of others during the last 100 years, US intervention was necessary to install and keep these dictators in power. It supported Marcos with military and economic aid up to the very end, as it did Iran’s Shah Reza Pahlevi , whose repressive regime fell in 1977. It fomented the assassination of Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1973 and put Augusto Pinochet in power. US Marines occupied Haiti in 1915 supposedly to quell civil disturbances, and stayed until 1934.

Nearly a hundred years before EDSA, the US invaded the Philippines to colonize it despite the proclamation in 1899 of the First Asian Republic. After that, the US shrewdly opted for supporting local elites rather than directly colonizing their countries.

What we’ve seen in Tunisia and Egypt in the last several weeks was regime change without US intervention, and exactly the opposite — the overthrow of US supported regimes by the people themselves. And popular opposition to the repressive US-supported regimes of aging tyrants in the Middle East is spreading, from Bahrain to Yemen to Algeria.

The US has expressed fears that Islamist regimes can take power in the wake of popular revolts in these countries as well as in Tunisia and Egypt, while reluctantly expressing support for “non-violent protest.” But in one more graphic demonstration of the US double standard — protest is ok if US enemies are the targets, but unacceptable if US-friendly governments are besieged by their own peoples — it has pulled out all the stops in condemning the government of Iran, which is itself the target of popular protest.

Indeed the US justified its support for such regimes as Hosni Mubarak’s as necessary for stability and to keep Islamic fundamentalists at bay, while it overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government “to promote democracy,” in the process promoting Iraq as a magnet for terrorist cells and terrorist attacks and destroying much of it.

Ignoring the devastation it has caused in dozens of countries, US analysts have focused on the supposed causes of the failures of US foreign policy. Those failures, says the National Journal’s Adam Kushner, for example, are rooted in US policy makers’ being “torn between interests and ideals”: that is, they need to defend and advance US interests, but often end up doing so by supporting dictatorships. In those cases when they do opt for idealism — i.e., supporting democratic forces — they find the consequences, such as a democratic regime’s adopting policies contrary to US interests, unacceptable.

While the analysis seems sound, it fails to look at the bottom line reason why the US ends up supporting dictatorships, bombing countries into the stone age, bullying other countries into adopting US-friendly policies, or, when push comes to shove, sending in the Marines in behalf of “democracy,” and thereby earning much of the world’s enmity. That reason — which US journalists, ordinary Americans and US officialdom assume as a given — is the imperial assumption that the US must not only intervene wherever the interests of its corporations are threatened or are likely to be in danger, whether it’s in the Sudan or in China; it also has the absolute right to do so.

The very same assumptions drive the foreign policy of the Obama administration as they did Bush’s and other US administrations. If former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger could publicly declare that the US has the right to unseat any democratically elected leader if he or she doesn’t suit US interests, Hillary Clinton can be in the news daily excoriating the policies and actions of countries as diverse as Iran and China without the slightest hint of respect for their right to resolve their problems.

The assassination of alleged Taliban leaders residing in Pakistan is also continuing, as is US support for the corrupt Hamid Karzai regime of Afghanistan. In the Philippines, US aid in various forms supports the corrupt police and military in exchange for the unlimited stay of US forces in the Philippine South (and eventually, the rest of the country) as part of the US projection of its forces to keep Asia safe for US multinationals.

The US not only assumes that it can intervene anywhere it pleases and can do what it pleases. It also assumes that much of the world’s peoples are as incapable of addressing their own problems as they’re ignorant of the democratic alternative to the authoritarian regimes that, in one more irony piled upon ironies, the US installed and/or sustains.

Now imagine a world without US intervention, violence, manipulation and bullying, and the result is a much better one in which its peoples can decide their own fate, where peace is possible, and the reduction of the poverty that dooms millions to hunger and early deaths within reach.

What’s happening in the Middle East is sending across the planet precisely the message that a world other than this is what people want, thereby agitating US policy makers, who have never imagined such a world possible. And yet the same message had been sent in earlier times, and in other places where men and women also risked their lives to overthrow hated regimes and to affirm their right to lives of dignity and freedom, among them in the Philippines, in EDSA, in 1986.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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