America’s wariness about democracy is always worrisome


Years ago, as Americans vociferously criticized Saddam Hussein and orchestrated a relentless media campaign against him, most Iraqis harbored a sense of optimism, believing that the US would liberate them from their oppressive regime. However, two decades following Saddam’s removal and subsequent execution, largely influenced by American intervention, Iraqis find themselves mired in a nation bereft of hope and ravaged by conflict. America, while professing to rescue them, has in reality exacerbated the nation’s woes, transforming a once-stable Iraq into a cauldron of turmoil.

Yet it seems the Arab world failed to heed the cautionary tale of Iraq. They once more fell into the American snare, nurturing dreams of democracy by toppling Muammar al Gaddafi in Libya. On October 20, 2011, Gaddafi met his end at the hands of Western mercenaries, and since then, a once-flourishing Libya has devolved into an unending nightmare.

Similarly, the United States deployed troops to Afghanistan under the guise of rescuing the Afghan people from the clutches of radical Islamists and the Taliban. The Afghan populace placed their faith in the assurances from Washington, with countless individuals rallying behind America’s crusade against Islamist extremists. Numerous Afghan men and women volunteered, cooperating with US military forces and intelligence agencies, offering critical information on strategic targets. For years, Afghans held the belief that America had liberated them from the malevolent grip of Islamists and jihadists, viewing the United States as their protective saviors.

However, on August 31, 2021, the US President Joe Biden abruptly announced the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, leaving a multitude of Afghans vulnerable to Taliban reprisals. Despite the imminent danger faced by thousands who had collaborated with the US, Washington seemed largely indifferent to their plight. Ultimately, America’s twenty-year sojourn in Afghanistan has left the entire nation susceptible to the brutalities of Taliban rule.

In the era of the Cold War, the Vietnam conflict was emblematic of the ideological divide that gripped the world. North Vietnam, having ousted French colonial rule in 1954, aspired to unify the nation under a single communist government, taking cues from the Soviet Union and China. Conversely, South Vietnam aimed to establish a governance model more in line with Western ideologies. While US military advisors had been present in Vietnam in limited numbers since the 1950s, their deployment escalated significantly starting in 1961, with active combat units arriving by 1965. By 1969, the US had a staggering 500,000 military personnel stationed in Vietnam.

Simultaneously, the Soviet Union and China were funneling weapons, supplies, and advisors to North Vietnam, which reciprocated by providing support and manpower for the insurgency in the South. The escalating costs and casualties became unsustainable for the United States, leading to the withdrawal of US combat units by 1973. Two years later, South Vietnam capitulated to a full-scale invasion from the North.

The human toll of this protracted conflict was devastating for all parties involved. It wasn’t until 1995 that Vietnam disclosed its official casualty figures, revealing that up to 2 million civilians from both sides had perished, along with approximately 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong combatants. The US military estimates that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers lost their lives. In 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was unveiled in Washington, DC, etched with the names of 57,939 U.S. service members who were either killed or missing due to the war. Subsequent additions have increased this number to over 58,200, including at least 100 names of Canadian citizens who served in the US armed forces.

For the United States, the Vietnam War remains a poignant chapter in its history, marked by a humbling defeat at the hands of the resilient Vietnamese populace. The last American combat soldier, Master Sgt. Max Beilke, departed from Vietnam on March 29, 1973, symbolizing the ignominious withdrawal of US military forces.

The war also cast a dark shadow due to the numerous war crimes committed by American soldiers, including acts of sexual violence against Vietnamese civilians. According to American scholar Elisabeth Jean Wood, such wartime atrocities were often overlooked because they were tacitly tolerated by US commanders. Weaver noted that these crimes against Vietnamese women were not only disregarded in the international legal discourse that followed the war but have also been largely dismissed by modern feminists, anti-war activists, and historians.

Some American veterans posit that the sexual violence perpetrated against Vietnamese women was fueled by a toxic blend of racism and sexism, reflecting the social upheavals that were shaking the United States during the early 1970s. Astonishingly, between 1965 and 1973, only a paltry twenty-five cases of rape committed by US Army personnel and sixteen by US Marines led to court-martial convictions involving Vietnamese victims.

While the US initially entered Vietnam under the guise of preventing the spread of communism, it ultimately left behind a nation scarred by heinous acts and indelible memories of brutality.

Fast-forward to April 2017, Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, stated in an interview that regime change in Syria was among the Trump administration’s top priorities, signaling a continuation of American interventionism in countries embroiled in internal conflicts.

In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union”, Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, outlined Washington’s priorities in Syria: defeating the Islamic State, curtailing Iranian influence, and the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, after years of attempting to topple Assad, the US eventually shifted its stance, opting to mend fences with the Syrian leader. Yet, as has often been the case, American initiatives concerning Bashar al-Assad proved ineffectual.

On December 7, 2010, the United States, under President Barack Obama, orchestrated a movement known as the ‘Arab Spring’, aimed at toppling rulers across Arab nations and installing “democratic forces”. Consequently, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was compelled to step down in February 2011. With covert American backing, Muhammad Mursi, an Islamist linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, ascended to power. At this juncture, it seemed as though Egypt was teetering on the edge of becoming another Lebanon or worse. However, the Egyptian populace was spared this fate when General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Mursi on July 3, 2013. Once again, America’s geopolitical maneuvering fell short of its objectives.

In Tunisia, the ‘Arab Spring’ led to the removal of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had been in power for over 23 years, in January 2011. Nearly 12 years after Ben Ali’s departure, the Tunisian people continue to grapple with the aftermath. The promised fruits of American-style democracy have yet to materialize; instead, the nation confronts a myriad of challenges and hardships.

According to the United States Institute of Press (USIP), Tunisia’s journey toward democracy is still a work in progress and faces significant challenges. The presidential actions taken in 2021 to suspend the parliament, dissolve the government, and draft a new constitution have not improved the socioeconomic landscape. Instead, conditions have worsened, and the risk of civil unrest has escalated. The lofty goals set forth by the 2011 revolution—establishing the rule of law, ensuring accountability, achieving economic prosperity, and upholding human dignity—remain largely unfulfilled.

Further emphasizing the precarious situation in Tunisia, the UK Government issued a travel alert on September 26, 2023, warning that “Terrorists are still very likely to try to carry out further attacks in Tunisia, including against UK and Western interests.” The alert also noted a series of self-initiated attacks that have occurred in 2023. For instance, on July 3, a National Guard officer was assaulted with a knife in the La Goulette area of Tunis.

These developments underscore the complexities and challenges that countries like Tunisia face in the aftermath of movements like the ‘Arab Spring,’ which promised democratic reforms but have often resulted in instability and unmet expectations. The role of external powers, including the United States, in shaping these outcomes continues to be a subject of scrutiny and debate.

In the African context, the US involvement in nations like Nigeria under the guise of fostering democracy and the rule of law echoes similar interventions in the Middle East and North Africa. While Washington touts its commitment to democratic ideals, the on-the-ground realities often tell a different story. For instance, the US has provided military aid and training to Nigerian forces in the fight against extremist groups like Boko Haram, ostensibly to stabilize the region and promote democratic governance. However, this support has come under scrutiny due to human rights abuses by the Nigerian military, raising questions about the efficacy and ethical implications of American involvement. Much like the unfulfilled promises of the ‘Arab Spring’ in Tunisia and the complex legacies in Vietnam and Syria, US actions in Nigeria and other African nations often result in unintended consequences, leaving these countries grappling with instability, human rights issues, and a democracy that remains elusive.

Similarly, the US involvement in Somalia serves as another example of foreign intervention under the banner of promoting democracy and the rule of law, yet yielding complex and often troubling outcomes. The US has been actively engaged in Somalia through various military operations aimed at combating extremist groups like Al-Shabaab. While the stated goal has been to create a more stable environment conducive to democratic governance, the situation remains fraught with challenges. Despite years of military engagement and financial aid, Somalia continues to struggle with political instability, corruption, and ongoing conflict. Moreover, the US-backed efforts have been criticized for contributing to civilian casualties and for not adequately addressing the root causes of extremism and governance issues in the country. As seen in the cases of Tunisia, Vietnam, and Nigeria, the US’s role in Somalia raises questions about the effectiveness and long-term impact of its interventions in foreign nations, particularly when the pursuit of democracy and rule of law leads to unintended consequences and unfulfilled promises.

Indeed, the pattern of US involvement in various countries often aligns more closely with strategic interests or resource wealth than with the altruistic promotion of democracy, rule of law, and freedom of speech. Whether it’s oil reserves in Nigeria, geopolitical positioning in Somalia, or the complex interplay of politics and resources in Sudan, the US’s foreign policy decisions frequently appear to be driven by factors beyond the simple advancement of democratic ideals. This selective engagement raises questions about the sincerity and objectives behind such interventions. For instance, the US has largely remained silent on issues of democracy and human rights in countries like Brunei, which may not hold the same strategic or resource-based allure. This selective approach not only complicates the narrative surrounding America’s role in global democracy promotion but also casts a shadow over its foreign policy, inviting skepticism about the true motives behind its international engagements.


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