A Disgrace to Democracy

The Summit for Democracy, touted by the Biden administration as a major contribution to the cause of democracy, does more harm than good due to its flawed invitee list, double standards, and the US's own deeply sick state of democracy, according to Gilbert Achcar.


Source > Gilbert Achcar blog

US president Joe Biden and his team held over three days, March 28 to 30, the second edition of their (mostly virtual) Summit for Democracy. This exercise in hot air with little impact is a pet project of the Biden administration, which presents it as a major contribution to the cause of democracy. Except that it actually does a major disservice to the very cause that it purports to serve.

The problem starts with the invitees: the previous summit, held in December 2021, included such great democrats as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and India’s Narendra Modi. Meanwhile, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan—arguably not farther than any of those three from democracy’s minimal criteria—was excluded. This year, the participants included that other great democrat, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, at the very same time when a major section of the Israeli population itself is describing his government as fascistic. Erdogan remained excluded, whereas Modi was again a star of the show despite his further steps down the road of suppressing the “largest democracy in the world”. Brazil’s truly democratic new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, did not participate. Like Erdogan, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán, the leader of yet another NATO member state, was not invited to this summit nor to the previous one, even though he is no less “democratic” than his neighbor, Polish president Andrzej Duda who took part in both.

The Middle East provides a good illustration of the deep flaws of US-sponsored “democracy promotion”: other than Israel, the only Middle Eastern state invited to the summits has been Iraq. It is also the only Arab participant. Lebanon, arguably a more democratic state than many of the summit’s participants, is not invited. The two states of the region that Washington has historically fostered and shaped, the Saudi kingdom since World War II and the emirate of Kuwait since 1991, are not invited too—for good reason in their case. And if Iraq, of which the George W. Bush administration intended to make a showcase for democracy in the Middle East, did maintain a very defective form of parliamentary democracy, it is primarily due to the precarious balance between conflicting paramilitary forces within the country, ranging from pro-Western Kurdish militias in the North to pro-Iran Shiite militias in the South.

Washington’s pretense to be the global standard bearer of democracy is entirely discredited in the Global South where its double standard is most evident. One case in point—other than the obvious issue of the illegal occupation of Arab territories since 1967 and the apartheid inflicted on the Palestinians by US protégé, Israel—was precisely the invasion of Iraq, which Washington and London led in 2003 in the name of democracy among other false pretexts. This claim had zero credibility in the Middle East for the simple reason that the invasion was launched from the territory of the Saudi kingdom, one of the most undemocratic states on earth and the oldest US ally in the region.

To all the above must be added the deeply sick state of democracy in the United States itself. Its pretense to be the world beacon of democracy in the aftermath of the Second World War was already much discredited by the disenfranchisement and racial discrimination of which Afro-Americans were victims for more than two decades. Today, the US political system is experiencing the deepest crisis in its history, with Donald Trump providing a magnifier to its limitations. The comical result is that Washington’s present-day arch-rival, China—against which the Summit for Democracy has mainly been conceived (Taiwan has been invited both times in violation of the One China principle recognized by the United States)—is perceived by its population as more democratic than the United States is by its own. This is according to Democracy Perception Index 2022, a survey conducted by the Alliance of Democracies, founded by ex-NATO Secretary General and former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. According to that survey, China scores the highest, with 83 percent of polled nationals asserting that it is democratic—as opposed to less than 50 percent for the United States!

If Joe Biden and his team believe that they will go down in history for their so-called Summit for Democracy, they are heavily illusioned. It will only join the long list of misfired state-staged propaganda stunts, and further increase the already deep skepticism of a majority of the world population toward Washington’s claim of upholding democratic values, and—sadly—often towards these values themselves.

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Gilbert Achcar’s newest book is The New Cold War: The United States, Russia and Ukraine, from Kosovo to Ukraine (2023).

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