It has been at least a decade since American academic journals and other studies began publishing indicators of “democracy dying”, “democracy declining” and such other phrases that all is not well on the ideological front.
How serious is the issue really? All lofty principles are tested in their practice. Action speaks for the principle it claims to uphold. The rest is cast as rhetoric yet to be translated into deeds. Hence discrepancies raise doubts and unsettling questions. Those at dominant positions in setting agendas at the helm of related affairs should bear the brunt of the resultant blame and burden.
It’s embarrassing for the British prime minister to be kowtowing to Saudi crown prince for sheer expediency within days after the mass execution of 81 people ordered by a kangaroo court verdict in the shadows of a “tyrant”, rued a scribe writing for the Guardian news outlet. “The West is certainly not as potent or as committed as it needs to be to stop unsavoury regimes killing innocent people en masse.”
Scramble for oil
In a bid to choke off Russia from the flow of oil revenue, the United States-led West sanctioned Russian oil, which fuelled steep price spike. They pinned their hopes on foreign executive heads they not long ago condemned as repressive.
During the 2020 US election campaign, Joe Biden vowed that he would make the Saudis “pay” the price for murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He saw “very little social redeeming value in the present government” in Riyadh. The American intelligence agency, CIA, claimed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the killing.
To paraphrase a saying, every nation has its day.
A desperate Biden frantically seeking phone conversations with the Saudi de facto ruler and UAE’s powerful Sheikh suffered an unprecedented rebuff. It was payback time. Biden’s election campaign blast caught up with him two years later, when the two Arab rulers stayed away from his call. A British news outlet, iNews, criticised Johnson for “rehabilitating” the Saudi crown prince “with his servile visit” to Riyadh in April.
Ostracisation is the ball game operated in full blast, today. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Putin a “drug dealer” with the ability to “blackmail” the United Kingdom over oil. Biden branded his Russian counterpart “a war criminal”. Such speeches are pressure tactics to compel Putin sympathisers to distance and denounce the “war monger”, which might, however, act as a powerful precedent for reference in future when tables turn on the other side.
Russian artistes, athletes and billionaires, among others, are targeted for hounding them out of jobs and/or their assets are frozen. Their choice to avoid being such targets is to publicly—and without ambiguity—to distance themselves from anything to do with Putin and denounce his action in Ukraine. At the same time, the US and the European Union have banned Russia’s state-backed channels RT and Sputnik. Their deep influence has ensured similar undeclared ban in many other countries as well.
Democracy should not be made a living lie. Under the stench of blatant expediency, which only eats into the self-declared champions of democracy, who lose much of their moral fibre. This makes their assertions of defining, interpreting and evaluating democracy for the entire world sound empty. Opportunism should not define any political narrative designed on democratic canvas.
There are numerous sections that term the US-led 20-year war in Afghanistan a humanitarian crime, revile the lie told for invading Iraq in 2003 proclaiming that Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons of mass destruction.
Little wonder then that Carl Bernstein, of the Watergate scandal exposures made in partnership with Bob Woodward for the Washington Post in the 1970s, concludes: “Our democracy, before Trump, had ceased to be working well.” These are times of a new thinking with the potential to set in motion a tectonic shift in global power equation. Existing practices at the ground level do not jell with the lofty ideals touted as democratic norms for all to comply with.
The British miss their imperial period and savour it in nostalgia. A recent survey showed that 43 per cent of Britons look back at “those good old days” with pride. Johnson and Biden, who on the eve of the Ukraine crisis were embroiled in controversies and criticisms from various quarters at home, are at the forefront of condemning Putin. If Johnson faced controversies over dubious patronage and illegal parties at London’s 10 Downing Street, Biden’s popularity had fallen to less than 33 per cent as late—or as early—as January that marked the completion of his very first year at the White House.
In the 1980s, Ronald Regan sold weapons clandestinely to Iran through a circuitous route for circumventing senate’s directive not to fund the Contras fighting the leftist Sandinista forces in Nicaragua. Profits from arms sales to Iran were funnelled to the pro-American Contras. The black irony was that Iran and the US-backed the US-supported Iraq were fighting a war that lasted nearly nine years taking up much of the 1980s.
Earlier this year, a commentator in the British newspaper, The Telegraph, complained: “Joe Biden is so bad he’s making Donald Trump look good.” On the other hand, most Russians see Putin as having restored their national pride unlike Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin —favourite Russians in the West — or Hamid Karzai and Mohammad Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan. The latter quartet are despised by their compatriots even if lauded in the Western press and Western political platforms. When Gorbachev contested presidential election after the 1991 Soviet Union breakup, he polled a half percentage of the total votes cast. And, mind you, Putin is by no means a saint and no less aggressive than his foreign counterparts when it comes to the question of Russia’s “security interests”.
Comparisons are only to be expected. Many American analysts view as illegal America’s support for the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 war. Israel receives $ 4 billion in military aid annually, as a reliable backup to American military strategy in West Asia.
Hence, the message decoded from the past and ongoing events reads: Play by the rule book for a consistency that bolsters credibility, and don’t act in haste as if there is no tomorrow. What’s done in haste for an immediate gain today might, in future, be weaponised as a precedent against the very ones who originated it. Cherry picking carries the logic of an eventual boomerang.
(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.)