Democracy must come from within

by John Stiles

In the more than two and a quarter centuries since the founding of our nation, we have exchanged the life and limb of the most capable among us for causes both noble and fool hearty. And on more occasions than we'd like to remember we have even entered into that gruesome exchange for a combination of the two.

Unfortunately, if and when, probably a lot more of the latter than the former now, we unleash the dogs of war the next time, it will be for a root cause which has always proved the most foolish and costly for this country.

Because if we truly intend to inflict a ''regime change'' on the people of Iraq it will not be the first time. But if we accomplish the feat, something probably only our children's children will witness, it will be one of very few times in our history at least, it's worked.

We Americans seem to have convinced ourselves and to a certain extent some others in the civilized world, that our form of government and the means by which we arrive at it — democracy — is the single best answer to that age old human dilemma, self rule.

We're so convinced as a matter of fact that we've sacrificed no small amount of blood and treasure trying to prove it. But, unfortunately, we have seldom if ever succeeded.

Our penchant for interference has probably always been a part of our national character. We inherited it from our English roots, as Great Britain has been no doubt suffering under the very same illusion for much of its history.

Perhaps that is why Britain's current support -- so far the only support garnered -- in our march toward war with Iraq is more than just a bit historically à propos.

From our less than honest dealings with the first inhabitants of this continent to the disastrous interventions of the last century, America has never lost its taste for these fool hearty adventures.

Need we be reminded of our costly meddling in geographic locations across the globe? We have either stirred the pot from the safety of the shadows or actually risked American lives on every continent and in just about every archipelago on earth.

Just the fiascoes here in our own hemisphere would fill the pages of a book the size of War and Peace.

There is not a single country in Central America that has escaped our fiddling, from our fake popular uprising in a province in Colombia, known as Panama, in order to swing a deal to build an intra-ocean canal, to the overthrow of an elected government in Guatemala because our banana monopoly was in danger and just about every crossroads in between.

We've had our bloody hands in the coup and murder of a popularly elected Marxist in Chile that placed the reins of power in the hands of a butcher by the name of Pinochet . Our fingerprints were also all over the murder weapon that ended the life of the Congo's Patrice Lamumba.

In the most painful of these incidents, we flatly went against international convention and refused to allow a scheduled election to reunite the two Vietnams (North and South) which was part of the agreement ending the French Indochina War.

We did this in order to assure that our puppet Ngo Dien Diem, as opposed to Ho Chi Minh, could maintain control in the South with our considerable help.

Then we end up dumping him into the hands of a few murderous army officers a few years later because he wasn't doing a good enough job to suit us.

So we still wind up expending 58,000 American lives over more than a decade for an outcome that would have saved everybody a lot of devastation and grief 20 years earlier.

This won't even be the first time we've gone after such a ''regime change'' in Iraq's corner of the world. In the 1950s we engineered a coup to oust a socialist-leaning prime minister in Iran, supported the resurgence of the Shah Pelavi only to suffer the popular uprising that brought Islamic fanatics back to power in the late 1970s.

That's not the first time that happened. In Cambodia we helped another regime, that of Gen. Lon Nol, who proved as inept at political power as he was at the practice of military skills, oust Prince Norodum Sianouk because we didn't like the way he was handling things, only to condemn those people to the deadly utopian ideas of one Saluth Sar (Pol Pot). That fiddling cost an estimated 2 million Cambodian lives.

We've even sworn to change the Marxist regime of Cuba, a boast we've kept floating for the last 40 years. But boast seems to be all we can do since we left upwards of 1,200 Cuban exiles -- many of whom were simply reentering an island they were chased off of as henchmen for the brutal dictator (Batista) who preceded Fidel Castro -- to their fate at the ''regime change'' operation known as the Bay of Pigs.

Come to think of it, in all the long sordid history of American foreign adventures there is scarcely an instance where our obsession with ''regime change'' has worked out anything close to the way it was advertised when we set out.

And in more than a few of those instances we were such abject failures that the outcome was the exact opposite of the one we so nobly laid out at its start.

You know, about the only time such bold political/military action ever worked out to even the slightest resemblance of something like our favor was when we decided for ourselves to exchange a king for our current republican form of government.

And even that certainly remains a work in progress with more than its share of major craters in the long and winding road.

But the key phrase in this entire historic adventure of ours over the last 226 years is ''DECIDED FOR OURSELVES.''

What we forget when we get up on our white charger every few years or so, is that no power on this earth can make that decision for another people regardless of the dire circumstances those people may find themselves in.

Not even the United States of America can install democracy at the point of a bayonet.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website October 19, 2002

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