In one of his last State of the Union Addresses, United States President George W. Bush declared that the policy of the United States would be to promote “freedom.” He did not say that it was the policy of the U.S. to promote “democracy.” These words are incorrectly being used interchangeably by the politicians, the media and other commentators.
Freedom is a state of being. Specifically, it is the state of being free. Democracy, rule of the people, is a form of government. There may be freedom with or without democracy, and democracy with or without freedom.
There is a difference between a democracy and a representative republic. The American Founding Fathers distinguished between these two forms of government (See Federalist #14 by James Madison). Democracy is the direct rule of the people, whereas a representative republic is ruled by representatives. Representatives may be appointed or elected. If they are elected, the form of government is sometimes called “representative democracy.”
When the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq were overthrown in 2001 and 2003, respectively, by coalitions led by the U.S., the Afghan and Iraqi peoples were thereby liberated. Democracy was not “imposed” upon them; they were allowed to be free. Indeed, it is impossible to “impose” freedom, for it is the natural state of being. Although provisional governments were established, as is necessary under a military occupation once major combat operations cease, the Afghans and Iraqis then exercised self-determination in choosing a parliamentary democratic republican forms of government. But they were already free from oppression once their oppressors were no longer in power.
Although freedom is usually associated with democratic states, some rulers get elected and then usurp democracy and govern as tyrants, often much more less free than the non-democratic regime they replace, as I have noted repeatedly. Napoleon and Hitler are infamous examples in world history. There have been numerous examples in the post-colonial period in Africa, most notably Robert Mugabe, who is still in power. Haiti’s John Baptiste Aristide and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez are recent examples about whom I have posted. In 2009, the Honduran President, inspired by Chavez, intended to usurp democracy, but was thwarted constitutionally by the Honduran government (See my post, A Coup for Democracy, from June of 2009).
This phenomenon has also occurred in the Islamic World. The Iranian Revolution was ostensibly democratic, but led to a despotic regime far more brutal than the one it replaced – one that became the greatest state sponsor of terrorism. Lebanon became democratic, but the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization first became part of the governing coalition, and, as I mentioned in my last post, has now become the governing majority of the Lebanese republic. It remains to be seen whether or not it will govern democratically.
It also remains to be seen whether the Tunisian and Egyptian democratic Revolutions I have posted about have been successful. They were ostensibly democratic, but included a significant number of anti-democratic Islamists among the opposition who could get elected like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Whether these revolutions lead to freedom will be the measure of their success, not whether they lead to democracy – especially one that allows anti-democratic forces to usurp freedom.
There have been protests in the republics of Algeria and Yemen and in the absolute monarchies of Jordan and Bahrain, all of which are allies of the United States in the War on Terrorism, as well as in the dictatorships of Syria and Iran, which are both state sponsors of terror. Libya, where there have also been protests, renounced terrorism, but is still ruled by an authoritarian dictator.
I hope that these protests lead to freedom in all of those states, especially if they do not replace allies with foes and do replace foes with allies. If they do lead to freedom, they will represent the fulfillment of Bush’s policy regardless of the forms of government they produce, for it is better to be ruled by a benign dictator while free than to be enslaved by a democrat. Therefore, his successor must take care to focus more on freedom than on the forms of government these regime changes produce.