U.S. foreign policy professedly championing democracy is like the Rose Bowl’s Wrong Way Riegels. And thereby hangs a tale.
In 1929, the Rose Bowl pitted the University of California against Georgia Tech. Cal’s star center and linebacker, Roy Riegels, recovered a Georgia Tech fumble but unwittingly galloped 60 yards in the wrong direction toward his own goal line. The blunder set the stage for an 8-7 Cal defeat.
America’s foreign policy is similarly earmarked by wrong-way runs in promoting democracy.
In 1953, we orchestrated the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossedeq in favor of the dictatorial and thieving Mohammad Reza Shah Palevi.
In 1954, we engineered the toppling of Guatemala’s democratically elected Jacabo Arbenz in favor of genocidal military dictators.
In 1963, we were complicit in a military coup in South Vietnam and the murder of President Ngo Dinh Diem.
In 1965, we intervened militarily in the Dominican Republic to thwart the political return of Juan Bosch, popularly elected president in 1962.
In 1970, we immediately recognized and supported Cambodia’s Lol Nol after his military coup against Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
In 1973, we collaborated in the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende in favor of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, notorious for torture, disappearances, murder and sister atrocities.
Unlike wine, our efforts at building democracy in foreign lands have not improved with age.
We have occupied Afghanistan for 13 years with barely a dent in its anti-democratic culture and practices. Corruption is rampant. Electoral fraud is pervasive. Virtually limitless power is commanded by the president. And the rule of law is imaginary.
We invaded Iraq in 2003, departed in 2011 and returned in 2014. Despite a decade of American tutelage and encouragement, the Iraq government remains sectarian, corrupt and illegitimate in the eyes of the Sunni, Kurdish and Turkmen minorities. The entire country is convulsed with civil war and violence.
We deposed Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The grim aftermath has witnessed competing parliaments, civil war between a bewildering array of Islamic and secular militias, the murder of the U.S. ambassador, and the evacuation of western embassy personnel.
We regularly employ predator drones in Yemen against al Qaeda suspects and train Yemeni counterterrorism personnel. Our efforts to push Yemen’s political leadership in a democratic direction have come to naught. The nation is disintegrating as Shiite Houthis from the north, al Qaeda Sunnis in the south, and U.S. installed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi compete for power by force of arms.
The United States midwifed the birth of South Sudan in 2011. Our handiwork quickly degenerated into genocidal tribal warfare between the Dinka and Nuer, including the displacements of 1.3 million civilians.
For more than three decades, we used military and financial incentives in hopes of nudging Egypt toward a democratic dispensation. The culmination of our labors has been a military dictatorship lead by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
We are bombing the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, whose predictable effect is to strengthen the sectarian tyranny of President Bashar al-Assad.
We should be humbled by these complete failures. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Or to paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, every nation thinks of changing the world, but no nation thinks of changing itself.
What our foreign policy wizards fail to comprehend is that the best and safest way to promote democracy and the rule of law abroad is to practice them at home. That is a key teaching of the American Revolution — the shot heard round the world.
For more information on Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.