Is the U.S. Producing Democracies?

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There is a political science literature whose research indicates that economic development fosters democratic government, as opposed to dictatorships and autocracies. This is not to say that democracies are an end to be sought, because they in turn stifle economic development. But it is to say that the U.S. and NATO policy of tearing down dictatorships does not achieve the oft-advertised aim of producing democracies. This is especially true when the means is a devastating war that destroys physical, cultural, social and human capital. Recent evidence for this includes countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. If Assad falls in Syria, democracy will not break out there either. Sanctions on Iran that impede economic development also impede and threaten democracy in Iran. One influential article suggests that external threats in general, and this includes economic sanctions, act to move a nation toward autocracy and away from democracy.

The U.S. government turns a blind eye to research like this and even to its own experience. Its objectives are not the production of democracies. The government is not uniform. The State Department is set in its ways and doesn’t heed research, while the Pentagon does much more research. It’s State that runs foreign policy and doesn’t want even the White House interfering. The State Department supports autocratic governments. This is not news. It has been the case for a very long time, because this is the culture of that organization.

For example, a critic writes “Hillary Clinton leaves her position as Secretary of State with a legacy of supporting autocratic regimes and occupation armies, opposition to the consistent enforcement of international humanitarian law, and advocating military solutions to complex political problems.” The same writer observes “The State Department under Hillary Clinton resembled in many respects that of her predecessors in the Bush administration for its lack of consistent support for international law and human rights.” This is correct. But this kind of behavior goes way, way back. The U.S. support of the Shah of Iran is an example, and there are many others.

The basic reason for this is that by dealing with a dictator, the U.S. government more easily satisfies its own interests and those of the interest groups that heavily influence who gets nominated, who gets elected, who gets to make policies, and who gets to run the government’s policies. It all can be summarized by the words imperialism or empire.

But no matter what the explanation or explanations are for why the U.S. supports autocratic regimes and takes steps that do not build up democracies, the fact is that it is not producing democracies. Its sanctions policies impede economic development. There is an enormous gap between Washington’s rhetoric and its actions.

10:45 am on September 10, 2013