Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo over-read a portion of US President George W. Bush’s speech before the UN General Assembly last Tuesday, September 21. Incidentally the 32nd anniversary of the declaration of martial law in 1972, that date was marked in the Philippines in a rather subdued manner, and in the context of fears over creeping authoritarianism.

Romulo said that the Philippines welcomed Bush’s “candid admission” that “the US had made the mistake of compromising with dictators.” But the so-called “admission” was buried in the middle of Bush’s speech, limited US complicity with dictatorships to tolerating and excusing them and only in the Middle East, and was made to justify the US policy of regime change. Indeed, Bush was justifying the US attack on and continuing intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was putting them up as models for emulation in the Middle East.

“These two nations (Iraq and Afghanistan) will be a model for the broader Middle East, a region where millions have been denied basic human rights and simple justice. For too long”—and this is where Bush made the “admission” –“many nations, including my own, tolerated, even excused oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability. The oppression became common, but stability never arrived.”

To make it appear that US intervention is and would be a force for freedom, the Bush speech painted a picture in Afghanistan and Iraq contrary to the perceptions of many of the world’s peoples, and the experience of independent observers and journalists.

Bush thus alleged that the Afghanis are reviving their economy and have adopted a Constitution that protects the rights of all. Iraq, said Bush, is equally on the path to “democracy and freedom”.

Bush made these claims despite the continuing oppression of women and the restoration in many areas of poppy-growing as the crop of choice and as the antidote to continuing poverty in Afghanistan, where the US-sponsored government is in control only of the capital, Kabul.

In Iraq, there are grave reservations, first, over the independence of the Iraqi interim government, given its character as a creature propped up by US troops; second, over the chances for free and peaceful elections that will truly reflect the will of the Iraqi people; and third, over the fact that large areas of Iraq are controlled by various armed groups.

As far as his audience—the leaders and representatives of countries, many of whose populations oppose the US policy of pre-emptive war—was concerned, Bush might as well have been talking about another planet.

But like most of his countrymen, Bush was not likely to have cared about either the facts or world opinion, no matter how violently the latter disagreed with his own. His address was obviously directed to the US electorate, which will go to the polls on November 2 to choose between Bush and his opponent John Kerry. To further convince that electorate to reelect him, Bush used the UN as a forum to once more argue for regime change in “failed states that harbor terrorists.”

Bush’s “admission” was thus the premise for the argument that the United States and the UN must actively remove dictatorships instead of “tolerating” and “excusing” them.

“We must take a different approach,” said Bush. “We must help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom and strive to build a community of peaceful, democratic nations.”

Bush demonstrated last year in what way the US and other countries could “help” this process. It is by attacking those countries it has identified as dictatorships, or as harboring terrorists. Bush did not call this policy by its proper name—intervention—but by the more palatable phrase “commitment to democratic reform,” and argued that this “commitment” to changing regimes was the pre-condition for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Towards the resolution of that conflict, Bush did urge Israel to “impose a settlement freeze, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people and avoid any action that may prejudice final negotiations.”

In contrast, Bush minced no words criticizing the Palestinian leadership. In a threat to the Palestinian Authority’s Yasser Arafat, Bush said that “Peace will not be achieved by Palestinian rulers who intimidate opposition, tolerate corruption, and maintain ties to terrorist groups.”

He added that “the Palestinian people deserve… true leaders capable of creating and governing a free and peaceful Palestinian state.” These statements imply the need for the change in Palestinian leadership that Israel has long been trying to achieve through, among others, military raids on Arafat’s headquarters and open threats to assassinate him.

What was obvious was that (1) Bush used the “admission” that the US had “tolerated” and “excused” dictatorships to argue for the “different approach” of regime change; and (2) by doing so Bush was defending the century-old US policy of military intervention anywhere.

But Bush’s “admission” was as false as US claims in 2003 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and Al-Qaeda links. It was in the same category of trifling with the facts as his claim during his visit to the Philippines in the same year that US and Filipino troops had fought together to achieve Philippine independence at the turn of the 20th century.

The US has not only “tolerated” and “excused” dictatorships in the Middle East. It has installed and supported them everywhere in the world, including the Middle East, and what’s more, continues to support them.

US President Richard Nixon not only tolerated and excused the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. He instigated it via the CIA’s Operation Condor which removed and killed the democratically-elected president, Salvador Allende, in the 1973 military coup that made Pinochet dictator.

The United States supported a succession of military dictatorships in Vietnam starting in the 1960s. It supported the Nepalese monarchy in 1948, and still supports it today. George F. Bush’s own father, George H.W. Bush, funded and armed the Taliban in Afghanistan, and even feted its leaders in Washington during his term as US President.

And who can forget that five US presidents not only tolerated martial law in the Philippines, but also supported it with economic and military aid? And that then Vice President George H.W. Bush had toasted Ferdinand Marcos during his visit to the Philippines in the 1980s for his (Marcos’) “adherence to democratic principles”?

In the Middle East, the United States propped up and supplied one Saddam Hussein with biological and chemical weapons, the better for Saddam to wage war against Iran in the late 1980s. The US had overthrown the government of the reformist Muhammed Mossadegh in Iran in the 1960s, replaced him with the brutal dictatorship of Reza Pahlevi, and paved the way for the ascent of the fundamentalist Ayatollahs Saddam fought in the 1980s.

And of course there is US support for the Saudi Royal family, which presides over one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world. George W. Bush, despite his rhetoric about democracy in the Middle East, regards the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia as his personal friend. It was Bush who allowed several members of the Saudi Royal family to fly out of the United States shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US, despite the fact that the suspected mastermind, Osama bin Laden, and 15 out of the 19 perpetrators of the attacks were Saudis.

US ally Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt, has been similarly described by Bush as his “friend”—a term of endearment he seems to be specially fond of. Bush has welcomed Mubarak several times to his Texas ranch. The Mubarak regime is accused of the systematic torture of dissenters. Egypt is also now—according to the US’ own State Department—under a Constitution that bars the electorate from choosing among competing candidates for president. That means Egyptians do have a choice come election time—and that is Mubarak, or whomever he anoints.

And then there’s Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, whom the US supports and aids even more enthusdiastically. Musharraf took power through a coup against a democratically-elected president, and only recently announced that he would go back on his promise to retire as Chief of Staff of the Pakistani Army.

On the very same day that Bush delivered his speech, he met with Musharraf at the United Nations—obviously in one more demonstration of how truly sincere, principled, and utterly without hypocrisy the United States government is when it inveighs against dictatorships and proclaims its commitment to freedom and democracy.


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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