Dont be fooled by claims that invasion will bring democracy

by Ali Abunimah


Having spectacularly failed to convince the world that Iraq and its alleged weapons of mass destruction present an imminent danger, supporters of American war plans have turned to moral and humanitarian arguments. According this logic, Saddam Hussein is such a brutal tyrant that international action to remove him could be justified.

Meanwhile in Kabul, The Independents Phil Reeves reports that Afghans listen with astonishment as Americans portray their countrys experience since the overthrow of the Taleban as a success. Amid the mounting problems faced by Afghanistan, Reeves reports a deep concern in Kabul that the international community is losing interest even though the task of repairing the wreckage of war has just begun.

Blair, who vowed the international community will not walk away from Afghanistan, is now selling the same snake oil to raise support for an attack on Iraq.

Let us, for the sake of argument, accept the premises and good intentions of Blairs position. Is there any evidence that US-led action would lead to an improvement for the people of Iraq? The record from recent humanitarian US military interventions in Somalia, Haiti and Kosovo - much smaller countries and less complex situations than Iraq - suggests Afghanistans dismal experience is the norm, not the exception.

In December 1992, the first President George Bush sent 28,000 troops to Somalia on a humanitarian mission to help distribute food. US forces met resistance and engaged in heavy fighting, killing thousands of Somalis. A decade after Bush declared we will not fail, Somalia today does not even have a functioning government. Few economic statistics exist, though in a September 2002 brief, the World Bank said over half a million people there faced severe food shortages, a situation scarcely better than in 1992.

Many Somalis survive on remittances sent from relatives aboard. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Washington shut down many of the money transfer agencies that Somalis in the United States used to send funds home. According to the World Banks brief: The reduction in remittance flows, caused by the closure of Al-Barakat, formerly Somalias largest remittance company, and branches of other remittance companies, will worsen the economic situation.

In September 1994, then-President Bill Clinton sent a 15,000-strong invasion force to Haiti. As the troops were on their way, Haitis military rulers stepped down under an ultimatum. Clinton sent the troops in anyway as the advance guard of a US-led international force whose mandate was to begin the task of restoring democratic government, to stop the brutal atrocities, to preserve stability and promote democracy, and to uphold the reliability of commitments we make to others.\

Today, Haiti remains torn by political violence, instability and severe human rights abuses. In 2001, the political situation became so bad that the United States and the European Union cut off financial aid to the Haitian government.

This has only exacerbated the situation. Haitis per capita income in 1999 was just $460, and 80 percent of its people live in abject poverty. Haiti is poorer today than many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1999, the United States led NATOs bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, which precipitated a massive exodus of refugees from the region. The attack, whose declared goal was to save Kosovo Albanians from ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, was preceded by claims that tens of thousands were killed by his forces. Investigations have not borne out those claims, and it now appears that the number of innocent people killed by the Yugoslav Army is roughly comparable to the number killed by the NATO bombing designed to save the country.

Today, Kosovo is not a democracy. Foreign occupation forces (KFOR) remain and the province is governed by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), whose performance is criticized by human rights organizations. Amnesty International reported in 2002 that the police and judiciary failed to investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations and to ensure international standards for fair trial, and complained that UNMIK and KFOR failed to fully protect and promote human rights.

According to the World Bank, 75 percent of Kosovos budget comes from foreign donors and this share is increasing. Prospects for a viable and independent Kosovo are dim.

A short distance away in Bosnia, peace has been guaranteed since the mid-1990s by the presence of large international forces, including US troops. But despite all the efforts of the international community, a stable multicultural democracy is nowhere in sight. Rather, the international presence has frozen the status quo, which includes the continued exile of millions of Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat refugees forced from their homes in the early 1990s. Better than active fighting, and the horrors of the Yugoslav wars, but hardly an inspiring success for post-war reconstruction.

These experiences show that ardent promises made to gain support for a military intervention quickly give way to apathy by Western governments, media and the public, behind which long-standing problems continue to fester unseen.

Even if the United States were motivated by sincere intentions to bring democracy to Iraq, recent history serves as a warning. To this poor record, and Americas historic support for the most undemocratic regimes in the world, including Israels military dictatorship over the Palestinians and undemocratic regimes in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, must now be added a third factor. The hawks who have hijacked American foreign policy have stated that their goal is to create a unipolar world ruled by the United States. It is a zeal to reorganize the Middle East in the interests of the United States and Israel that drives them.

Only the naive will believe emancipation for the people of Iraq - or anywhere else in the region - fits into these schemes.

Ali Abunimah, a Chicago-based Palestinian-Jordanian analyst, media critic and co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, wrote this commentary for The Daily Star

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