April 10, 2010

US Democracy Backtracking Around The World

US foreign policy is heading towards a critical mass. With the Obama administration losing control of Israel and watching error after error crop up in Afghanistan, a secondary group of suspects is threatening to overload the White House’s final years.

Their common denominator: backtracking democracies under America’s watch.

Sri Lanka

To President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his millions of supporters Sri Lanka is a shining beacon of democracy and economics, ready to forge a prosperous nation for all of its citizens. Seeing that Tamils were never treated like first class citizens, it’s difficult enough to believe a better future awaits them.

The latest poll results could be nails in the coffin.

Sri Lanka is winding up its parliamentary elections which saw 117 of 180 seats go to Rajapaksa’s United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) party, or 65%. 225 total seats are set to be filled, reducing UPFA’s total to 52%, but the majority of the rest, “will be picked from a national list on the basis of votes the parties receive countrywide.”

UPFA has more votes coming then. One official said the party expects it to pick up the seats necessary to cross the 66% threshold, opening the door for constitutional reform.

“I appealed to you to elect a strong parliament capable of crushing any challenge against the motherland,” Rajapaksa told his supporters. “You have presented the UPFA with its greatest ever victory in the three-decade history of the proportional representative system. I consider this as an endorsement of the ‘Mahinda Chintana’ policy.”

Tamils are presumably terrified of his policy.

Reports indicate that Thursday’ turnout was the lowest in Sri Lanka's post-independence history; just over half of Sri Lanka's 14 million registered voters cast ballots. Tamils were a significant reason why, with the vote in Jaffna, the north’s nerve center, estimated at 20%. A senior government politician attributed the low voter turn-out to the UNPers accepting defeat.

Rather than correct itself at this “defining moment,” that moment is long past. Tamil disenfranchisement already struck once in the presidential election and the parliamentary election just widened Sri Lanka’s political schism.

Unfortunately US inaction has forced Europe to apply economic pressure on Sri Lanka to hold an independent investigation into humans rights violations. The imprisoned, hungry-striking former general Sarath Fonseka raised no alarm in Washington.

Beijing is too deep in Colombo.

“The 2.5 million strong Tamil population cannot be wished away,” writes Sandeep Gopalan in The Huffington Post. “Unless the Sinhalese find a way to bring them back into the mainstream quickly, chances are that another cycle of separatist violence is only a few years away.”

We feel the same way as him except for his conclusion: “Sri Lanka must not miss this historic opportunity to establish a lasting peace after winning a just war against the LTTE.”

That is exactly what we fear has happened - the opportunity is gone. Our intention isn’t to denigrate Sri Lanka’s democracy and those who participate in it, but warn that their country is drifting back towards conflict, an insurgency different than the last but just as real.


A problematic aspect of US foreign policy is that Washington’s reaction to democracy isn’t universal. Two subgroups create a primary filter, whether elections and revolutions work for and against US interests. Silence, denial, or support is then chosen to implement those interests.

Silence wins out in Sri Lanka silence just as denial sounds from Kyrgyzstan. While the “conservative media” scolds Moscow’s hand, the “liberal media” is repackaging the same message with a democratic bow. Except questions abound whether this “democracy” the US media speaks of ever existed.

The latest propaganda from The New York Times on the Red revolution: “Kyrgyzstan needs to break the cycle. And the United States needs to help encourage the change.”

Because it did such a good job the first time. The NYT admits the White House, “was far too willing to overlook President Bakiyev’s brutal and corrupt ways - a fact the new leadership has bitterly criticized.”

So naturally, “The United States should be prepared to counter new efforts by Russia and China to persuade the new Kyrgyz leaders to evict the Americans. The Obama administration can prove its value as an ally by committing from the start to support democratic values and clean government. Kyrgyzstan’s new leaders say they are committed to both.”

The NYT concludes, “It’s certainly a pitch neither Moscow nor Beijing will make. It may help the Americans keep the base. It may even help Kyrgyzstan get a cleaner and more democratic government.”

The significance of this editorial isn’t its contradictions so much as the same contradiction are found in US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley’s press briefing.
“Let’s start with this point. The situation is ongoing. We will be governed by the facts. We will operate in accordance with U.S. law. I think one of the important factors by law is the question of a military coup. There’s no indication that the military or security services played any role or any meaningful role in what has happened in Kyrgyzstan. Our interest is in seeing a peaceful resolution and we will work with the government ministries and Kyrgyz officials to see the restoration of democratic rule as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Was that democratic rule really there before?

MR. CROWLEY: We want to help Kyrgyzstan continue on a path towards effective democracy."
Unsatisfied with his responses, Crowley is asked again:
"QUESTION: But wait, just on that – but, I mean, do you believe that Kyrgyzstan was on a path to democracy before this whole incident? I mean, if you had a restoration of the status quo, would that be a return to democracy?

MR. CROWLEY: We have expressed our concerns about Kyrgyzstan and corruption within its government. We want to see Kyrgyzstan continue to develop on a path to democracy.

QUESTION: But was it on that path, I guess, is my – was it on the path before, like, last week?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there – I mean, there was an election in Kyrgyzstan not so long ago. We stated our concerns at the time about the manner in which that election was conducted. At the same time, we recognize that there was a government in Kyrgyzstan and we have been dealing with that government. We are closely monitoring the situation. We are talking to all of the figures involved in this situation and we will continue to encourage them to resolve this in a peaceful way.”
This is really simple: the US government and media, embodied by The New York Times, are encouraging a democracy that America didn’t encourage. Yet they still believe Obama can out maneuver Russia and China.

Both Crowley and the NYT sweated to deny that democracy hasn’t gone well, ultimately cracking in the end, but they would probably deny that too. What they can’t deny is that Kyrgyzstan’s opposition just threw out America’s “democracy.” Why would they believe America could offer democracy now?

Their primary concern is Manas, then Kyrgyzstan’s people.

Kyrgyzstan has shades of Pakistan. We vividly remember the Bush administration pleading for “democracy” as Pervez Musharraf was finally toppled, just to keep its military operations up and running.


Part of the explanation for Sri Lanka’s silence and Kyrgyzstan’s denial is that their geopolitical weight is relatively light compared to other hotspots. Kyrgyzstan would matter without Manas given Russia’s hand, but the air-base puts Bishkek on America's front pages.

Sudan inhabits the opposite end of the spectrum. A heavyweight capable of affecting swaths of Africa and linked to Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran, Sudan demands action. Full speed ahead with what should be a disastrous national election.

“The National Elections Commission has confirmed that polling will begin, beginning on Sunday, April 11,” Crowley said at his Friday press briefing. “The Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLM, and the Umma National Party have announced that they have withdrawn some candidates from competition, but that others may continue. We view these elections as an important step in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended a 22-year war between North and South.”

We’re beginning to wonder if Crowley is in control of US foreign policy.

Other than America only President Omar al-Bashir and his supporters view Sunday’s election as an important step. With Sudan’s entire political opposition set to boycott the vote in the north, the only surer bet than chaos is Save Darfur’s venom headed the White House’s way.

Back in October Obama had warned, “Sudan is now poised to fall further into chaos if swift action is not taken. if swift action is not taken.” Six months later America is Bashir’s only international support, pushing an election the rest of the world is sounding the alarm on.

What a change.

“There are no choices in this election; the two parties are all going in one direction, toward power,” says Ahmed Sabiel, a political and risk analyst in Khartoum. “There is no clear strategy of how to keep the country together, or how to rule the country. There is no clear policy, and there is no clear objective. All the parties are just focusing on power.”

We’re expecting a mockery in Sudan. Former president Jimmy Carter arrived on Thursday, his first act being to “express regret” at the opposition’s decision to boycott. He failed to mention their conclusion that the election is rigged.

"We are glad that everything at this point is peaceful and many parties are participating, so we look forward to successful elections," Carter said. “We are hoping that it will be a fair and honest election, at least for the ones who are participating... There are about 16,000 candidates still involved in the election."

The Carter Center said last month that a short delay to the elections may be necessary because of logistical problems, “Bashir threatened last month to expel election observers after the Carter Centre called for the delay.”

And he still gets a thumbs up from Carter.

At the end of his briefing Crowley drops what is becoming an infamously hollow promise: “The United States will continue to raise concerns where we see them and... we will not hesitate to state when we think that these efforts fall short of international standards.”

This promise has failed in Afghanistan and Israel, and it’s already collapsed in Sudan.

"We expected a more constructive role from the international community, and Washington's backing of Al-Bashir came as something of an unpleasant surprise as far as we are concerned," conceded Farouk Abu Eissa, who oversees Sudan’s umbrella opposition. “The government is trying in vain to ‘save face.’”

But Eissa, SPLM presidential candidate Yasser Arman, and Umma Party leader Sadig Al-Mahdi, should have expected that America often puts expediency before democracy. And the result is usually instability.

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