Instead of being driven by public opinion, Bush and Blair decided to go to war at a time when there was no public support for a war. They then launched an enormous propaganda effort to convince their own public, which started by largely opposing the war. In Britain, it was only after the war had actually started that opinion polls showed a majority supporting it. In 'convincing' the public, Bush and Blair deceived them massively as to the scale of the threat that Iraq posed. They used fake evidence, and deliberately produced inaccurate dossiers to build up a sense of danger. It succeeded to the extent that, by the time the war broke out, a majority of the US population believed that Iraq was behind 9-11 (up from 3% after 9-11). And, although the US army were able to invade Iraq and pulverise their army in a matter of weeks while Iraq was unable to hit the US with so much as a single bullet, a majority of the US population believed that Saddam Hussein posed a real and imminent threat to the US! So, according to this version of democracy, the rulers decide what to do and then manipulate the population into backing them by using deliberate lies.
While the US and UK were able to succeed in terrifying their populations to a certain extent, public opinion in the rest of the world remained massively opposed to the war. Bush and Blair's response to this tells us a lot about their conception of democracy. They applied every available pressure to persuade governments around the world to defy their populations and support the war. In their efforts to garner the support of the UN Security Counsil, the US talked openly about massive payments in return for votes and was even caught bugging the apartments of diplomats on the council. When that failed, those governments that did actually follow the will of their people were systematically attacked and vilified in the media. When Turkey's parliament finally sided with over 90% of the population and refused to allow the US to use their airbases, they became a target of US denunciation. The government lacked "democratic credentials," according to former US Ambassador Morris Abramowitz, now a distinguished elder statesman. The government is "following the people," he wrote, instead of following orders from Washington and Crawford Texas. That is plainly unacceptable in this new version of democracy.
Another feature of this democracy is that, by no means must people be allowed to rule themselves. Even before the war started, the Bush junta were making it clear that the Kurds would not be getting independence. Recently Donald Rumsfeld stated that "an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country" "isn't going to happen." Not even if the majority want it. They also emphasised the importance of preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq, without even pretending to care if that is what the Iraqi people want. It seems that in this form of democracy, the people get to choose neither the form of the state, nor the content of its government.
Once the invasion had succeeded, we had another chance to see what this democracy - or liberation - meant in practice. After destroying the country's infrastructure and killing thousands of people, the US was surprised to find itself still opposed by many Iraqis. This opposition has been shown in frequent demonstrations as well as an escalating campaign of assassinations and ambushes against the occupying army. The US response to this has been to attempt to crush it with overwhelming force while dismissing it as "terrorist groups seeking to spread chaos" and "foreign fighters" linked to al-Qaida. Yet, the overwhelming message from the scene is that hostility to the occupying forces is growing for the most simple and compelling reasons. In the latest of many examples, Amnesty International has documented the inhumane treatment handed out to young Iraqis picked up by US forces. Being tightly bound with plastic handcuffs, and denied access to water and toilets, is not the best way to win hearts and minds.
Britain's failure to account for some 4,000 prisoners-of-war who are entitled to the protection of the Geneva conventions is also most disturbing. US troops have fired into crowds of demonstrators, killing dozens, and every time that a US soldier is killed, scores of Iraqis, selected almost at random, are slaughtered in response. Therefore, in this democracy, opposition is to be crushed by massive use of force.
Then there is the question of how Iraq is ruled under this 'democracy'. Currently the country is ruled by appointed US administrators without any mechanism whatsoever for consultation with the Iraqi people. The US has put no timescale on this direct, military rule and, despite the fact that they initially talked about a brief occupation, Bush recently referred to it as a "massive and long-term undertaking ahead". It is clear that, however long it turns out to be, the decision to end the occupation will be taken by the US alone, and the Iraqi people will have absolutely no say in it.
Although they now seem settled in for a long occupation, it is likely that the Bush administration will try to install an Iraqi government at some stage. From a PR point of view, it would look much better to have a native government and some type of formal democracy. However, it has already been made abundantly clear that the Iraqi people will have no say in this government. The various departments of the US government will be the electors and will install a government that will do their bidding. We have already seen their attempts to build up Chalabi as a future Iraqi ruler. His backing comes entirely from branches of the US government, while being virtually unknown in Iraq. Whatever government is finally picked, it is certain to be a puppet of the US.
So, the Iraqi people are facing a situation where they have no say in how their country is governed, and certain political groups are to be absolutely excluded from power (like Kurdish leftists and pro-Iranian Shi'ites). Their country is subject to an occupation of indefinite length and all opposition is to be crushed with overwhelming force. Meanwhile their oil is taken over by US multinationals and their cities lie in ruins. At some stage in the future, they will probably be given a government carefully selected by the US. This is what they mean by democracy. A world run by the powerful where every step must be taken to systematically exclude the people from having any say whatsoever in the running of their affairs.
This edition is No76 published in August 2003