Self interest

Bush’s former speech writer David Frum mingled among some protestors yesterday:

We began to chat, and soon more gathered, and I was talking to about a dozen people – all of them speaking with that quiet politeness and literacy that stabs even the most culturally secure North American with a twinge of admiration and envy for the deep civilisation of this ancient country.

At one point, one of them asked me to explain what I thought Mr Bush was trying to do in the Middle East. I told him that I thought the president was trying to deal with the evils that had grown up in the Islamic world while the United States had been preoccupied with the Soviet threat during the Cold War.

How he was discovering that 50 years of seeking the lesser evil had bred greater evils than any American had ever thought possible.

How he was upending five decades of policy and trying to do in the Middle East what the United States and its friends had previously done in Western Europe, then Central Europe, then Central America and East Asia – champion democracy not out of benevolence, but out of hard-headed concern for our own safety and security.

I ran out of words after three or four minutes, and one of the protesters suspiciously asked: “Why doesn’t President Bush ever say these things?”

I sighed, and started one more time. He has said them, again and again and again – and now he has flown to your city, and in front of your cameras and your reporters so all of you can see and hear, in plain words and in full public view, that he endorsed everything you say you believe.

You say democracy is the answer? You say we must stop putting oil ahead of human rights? You say we should stop coddling wealthy and oppressive regimes and press them to change?

Everything you say, he has said. So the issue is not, why won’t he speak? The issue is: why won’t you hear him when he does speak?

Why won’t they listen? Because Bush is the president of the USA and if you are British or European and consider yourself to be ‘left-wing’ the very idea that an American president, let alone a Republican American president, could be espousing the idea of a ‘global democratic revolution’ rather goes against the grain.

In fact it more than goes against the grain. It stands in acute and stark contrast to the decades of the cold war when the US backed dictatorships in order to restrain other dictatorships.

And many people simply refuse to believe that Bush and his administration do actually believe that they need to support a democratic revolution in the Middle East and support liberty elsewhere. That is why the ‘left’ scoffed at the idea of liberating Afghanistan and Iraq. America couldn’t liberate those countries because America is the world’s most powerful capitalist nation who has supported repression and death squads in order to defend its own interests. Impossible. Can’t happen.

We hear this view echoed in those patronising calls for those of us on the left who supported the removal of Saddam to remember Chile, remember Nicaragua etc etc. How can these people be in favour of helping the oppressed to be free? Do we really think that the leopard has changed his spots?

Of course not. America remains the most powerful capitalist nation on earth and whether George Bush is a nice guy or not is beside the point.

The point is made perfectly by Frum, America has decided to: “champion democracy not out of benevolence, but out of hard-headed concern for our own safety and security.”

It’s in America’s interests. And if you want you could add, concern for profits too. I’m no economist but I suspect that in the long term it is better for advanced capitalist nations to do business with friendly democracies than to rely on the whims of unreliable dictators.

You don’t have to believe that Bush has become a bleeding heart liberal to understand the process that is at work. In fact you can even believe he is a capitalist bastard and still see what is happening:

As Frum puts it: President George W Bush – George Bush of Harken Energy, son of George HW Bush of Zapata Oil and the Carlyle Group, the George Bush who selected Richard Cheney of Halliburton as his running mate, that George Bush – announced the demise of the American alliance with the House of Saud.

It just so happens, for a series of reasons, not least of which was the September 11 atrocity, that the Americans have decided to adopt another strategy to the one that served them during the cold war – a strategy of containment and alliances with local elites dominated by the priority of stability.

Or if you want me to put it in language that neither Frum nor Bush would ever use: the American ruling class has realised that a bourgeois-democratic revolution in the Middle East needs to be encouraged. Such a revolution, bringing with it the rights enjoyed by the European and North American working class and other strata, is objectively in the interests of the masses in that region.

No, of course its not socialism, it is not an answer to all of the world’s problems. But given that even George Monbiot recently admitted that he and most of the anti-globalisation movement don’t know what they want to replace capitalism with it seems a little selfish to insist that our dislike for capitalism should lead us to reject the idea of democracy for those who are stuck in semi-feudal societies.

This revolution is then a step forward and a historically necessary one. And, as we know from history, it isn’t the first time that the interests of the bourgeois coincide, temporarily, with those of the oppressed masses.

Its time for a discussion about how the left should react to these changes but one thing I am sure of is that total opposition is not the way forward.