The competition that America and Western Europe are facing on a global level from Russia and China, and the local level from a host of countries including Iran, India, Korea, Brazil, etc., is not meant to change the nature of the game, that is, the game of power projection through military and economic might, including operating viable nuclear programs, exercising control over energy sources and routes, involvement in arms production and sales, and engaging in imperialist actions under different guises and while offering all different sorts of justifications.
In other words, the competition is not about making the world a better place for all, or constructing a fairer international order that protects the basic rights of all. No. What we have here is a competition between ruling elites in all these countries over shares and quotas, and that in no way constitutes a struggle for changing the nature of the game, nor is it meant to improve our lot in the world. Fairness, justice and freedom are not the issue here. All current ruling elites play using the same rulebook. But some are better positioned or more skilled than others, which is why they come on top more often, inspiring so much anger, envy and hate in the rest.
But, where democratic systems, no matter how flawed they happen to be, offer a degree of popular participation in the decision-making process, and show greater difference to protecting the basic rights of their peoples, popular participation is almost completely absent in countries such as Russia, Iran, China and elsewhere. Victory by these powers in any ongoing showdown with Western democracies will not inch us towards a better place, as some contend, as it will validate the authoritarian and exclusivist ways of the victors.
People who criticize the West and its alleged imperialist designs fail to understand the nature of the current global dynamics. It’s not about a competition between East and West anymore. The competition is between ruling/leading elites from around the world, and the only chance for effecting the outcome and steer it into the promise of light is to support the democratic powers in the world where debate and political participation are still possible.
While decision-making in democratic societies is a participatory process, no matter how flawed and subject to manipulation, the ruling elites operating in nondemocratic states operate under no such restraints: their decisions are seldom subject to popular review, and there is little popular pressure on them to reform their ways. While the elite in democratic states are coming under increasing pressures to curb their foreign adventurism, especially military, elite in nondemocratic states are giving more and more reasons to embark on adventurist policies in their near abroad and beyond, if they can. And they can always galvanize political opinions in their ill-informed societies to gain support for these policies, no matter how flawed and potentially disastrous they could prove.
As such, the opponents of foreign intervention who live in democratic states and apply more and more pressure on their governments to curb their “imperialist” impulses, are actually playing into the hands of nondemocratic actors, further emboldening and facilitating their much more costly and less reported on foreign entanglements. As the democracies’ footprint around the world shrinks, the void is getting filled by nondemocratic actors, who bear an ideological grudge to boot. The struggle for making the world a more peaceful place and for making requires a far more nuanced approach than simply opposing foreign entanglement by democracies. It calls for reaching out to and empowering prodemocracy activists around the world, an approach that sometimes requires “intervening” on their behalf in their fight against their authoritarian and corrupt regimes. Such intervention does not have to be military, but the military component cannot be gratuitously waived.
There is no shame in supporting democracy promotion. Those who oppose democracy stand not on principle but on greed and prejudice. We cannot change certain people’s worldview overnight, and we cannot reduce democracy to the issue of free elections, but we cannot keep pushing it down our list of priorities just because it represents a daunting challenge. Because without finding ways for facing and overcoming this daunting challenge we cannot make this world a better place.
- Democracies allow for peaceful course correction; autocracies seldom do.
- The old game of power projection hasn’t changed.
- A just global order will not emerge just through reaching a balance of power between democracies and autocracies. Modern autocracies survive, and occasionally thrive, by exporting their problems abroad and blaming external powers for their miseries and ineptitude. They are far more susceptible to the “primal call” of imperialism than democracies.
- A multipolar world is not a better world if it preempts the ability to prevent mass slaughter and combat systematic oppression, if it empowers nondemocratic, Fascist and criminal forces.
States attempt to project power beyond their borders by using people who are close to them ethnically and/or ideologically. Saudi Arabia and other GCC states use ideological Sunni groups; Iran does the same in connection to Shia communities scattered around the world, and on occasions, and in order to compensate for their status as a demographic minority, they also support Sunnis groups, such as Hamas, operating under the banner of the Resistance Axis. Russia uses native Russian natives living in former Soviet colonies, and former members of the communist and socialist parties that used to be supported by the Soviet Union. The ideology might have died, but not necessarily the institutions, or the desire for the good old perks. Vendetta is also a factor, and anti-Western sentiments.
Only democracies, it seems, continue to think that it is controversial to provide support to prodemocracy activists operating beyond their borders. But then, democracies are indeed supposed to allow for issues to be debated. The need here is for adjusting the debate, not ending it, or preventing it. Moreover prodemocracy activists are not supposed to fight as propagandists and fighters acting on behalf of democracies, as is the case with those groups supported by Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The point being stressed here is that there is a confluence of interests between democracies and prodemocracy activists around the world, and people living in democratic states should not be oblivious to that.
The interests of ruling elites from around the world often clash, but the elites have far greater access to avenues where they get to talk, negotiate and coordinate their actions and policies than their people.
The ruling elites in on democratic countries use ideology, and might believe in it even, but they are often willing to depart from it to serve an immediate interest. Their addiction is to power not ideology, except in rare instances. To them, ideology is a means, an instrument of control and mobilization, even as serve the ideology as the basic source of intellectual sustenance to the people. The older these regimes get, the less ideological they get. But that does not make them any less dangerous.
Our task as opposition movements and prodemocracy activists has always been about forging an alliance with Western powers to combat our ruling elites, but we failed. Why? Because: we were not organized enough. Many of us stumbled onto political involvement late in the game. More importantly, the nature of the task by itself required us to be truly open to and accepting of Western democratic values. Yet, it is a fact that opposition movements and prodemocracy networks are dominated by Islamist and leftist elements – people and groups who are anti-Western in their ideological worldviews. But, how can be prodemocracy and anti-West at the same time? How can we prodemocracy yet consistently stand against the countries that infused democracy as a viable political force into the fabric of history, and are still the ones trying, no matter how reluctantly at times, to promote it around the world?
Those who would marshal countries like India, Brazil, Japan and South Africa as examples of non-Western democracies fail to see, or are willingly blinding themselves to, the intimate connection between westernization and democratization that is taking place in these countries and elsewhere. Yes, we do often hear anti-Western, and specifically anti-American, rhetoric coming from these countries, but that’s more an indication of the fact that democratization is still an ongoing process there, and that there still exist many powerful groups these whose parochial interests and ideologies are not in harmony with the democratic transformation taking place: the democratic transformation is either taking place at their expense, or is threatening to empower others groups and segments in their societies against whom they have a certain historic grudge.