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With Friends Like These, Who Needs Democracy?

Posted on Jan 17, 2011
AP / Christophe Ena

Women smile as they walk past a torn photo of ousted Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in the center of Tunis. Tunisia sped toward a new future after its iron-fisted leader fled, an interim president was sworn in and formation of the country’s first multiparty government was ordered.

By Barry Lando

Officially, the Obama administration greeted Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution”—named after that country’s national flower—with open arms, calling for free and fair elections as the United States scrambled to get aboard the democratic bandwagon.

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However, celebration is restrained in Washington. There’s serious concern about who will take the place of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the corrupt, 74-year-old dictator, who, until the end, was considered an important American ally in the war against terror.

Assuming the Tunisian military actually agrees to hold free elections (not at all a sure thing), will the generals really throw open the doors to all political groups? Nationalists? Islamists? Marxists? Anti-militarists? What forces will roil to the surface after decades of political repression? Will they throw in their lot with America’s war against terror, or join the ranks of those in the Middle East who increasingly see what’s going on as America’s war against Islam?

Washington’s ambivalent view was evident even before the revolution was victorious. In Doha on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lectured Arab autocrats and others meeting there on the urgent need for reform and an end to corruption if they wanted to save their regimes.

But just a couple of days earlier, as young demonstrators were being gunned down in the cities and towns of Tunisia, when Clinton was asked which side the U.S. was on, she replied that the U.S. was “not taking sides.”


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American officials have reason to hesitate. If uprisings were to occur across the Middle East and Central Asia, that could spell disaster for American policy.

There is no way, for instance, that Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 30 years, will permit a democratic opening. Thanks to his ironclad dictatorship, only one group has been able to organize politically, the Islamic radicals. More secular-minded opponents have been co-opted, imprisoned or cowed. The influence of the religious extremists has grown throughout the country. It’s only the military that stands between Mubarak and chaos. 

Like a deer frozen in oncoming headlights, Washington seems immobilized. On the one hand, there’s the corrupt, despotic and failing Mubarak. But he’s a friend. On the other hand, free and fair elections would almost certainly bring leaders to power much more virulently anti-Israel and opposed to U.S. policies. Perhaps Washington is hoping for the Egyptian military to step in again to save itself and its privileges—and the U.S.

Elsewhere throughout the region, from Saudi Arabia to Jordan to Yemen to Ethiopia to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the picture seems markedly similar: U.S. allies are invariably corrupt dictators, maintained in power by lavish patronage and the military.

In Lebanon, where the public has had a growing voice in national politics, it’s the anti-American and anti-Israel Hezbollah that has ridden popular acclaim to become the decisive voice in the country.

Popular participation has also benefited America’s most outspoken enemy in Iraq: Moqtada al-Sadr, whose followers fought bloody battles against the U.S. after the invasion. Seemingly vanquished, he has returned from three years in Iran to exercise a decisive political voice in Iraq. He demands the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and bases from his country.

Because of the elections in Iraq, the country that will almost certainly be calling the shots there in the future will not be the United States—but Iran.

Meanwhile, moderates pushing for something akin to democracy and secular rule are losing ground. In Pakistan, the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who had been outspoken in his fight against religious fundamentalism, was killed. The soldier responsible for the murder was showered with rose petals while many of the country’s lawyers—who had once gone to the streets demanding democratic reform—celebrated the murderer as a national hero.

And democracy in Israel? A true democracy with a vote for every person—Jews and all the Arabs under Israeli control—including those living on the West Bank? Forget it. It would be the end of the Zionist dream of a Jewish state. We don’t hear Clinton or President Barack Obama talking much about that these days.

Indeed, at the end of her lecture to the Arab leaders in Doha, one member of Secretary Clinton’s audience asked why the U.S. wasn’t doing its share to fight the war against Islamic fundamentalism by putting more pressure on Israel to deal with the Palestinians. Her answer—pointing out that the U.S. paid more to finance the Palestinian Authority than did most of the Arab countries—simply dodged the issue.

After her civics lesson in Doha, Clinton returned to Washington, where, even after the lurid shootings in Arizona, U.S. legislators dare not even discuss clamping down on firearms, because of the powerful gun lobby. It’s the same Washington where American officials, from Obama on down, are terrified of taking on the conservative pro-Israel lobby—not because the lobby represents the views of the majority of Americans—or even a great majority of American Jews, but because it wields a very undemocratic power far beyond its numbers.

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moonraven's avatar

By moonraven, January 19, 2011 at 8:40 pm Link to this comment

The US gini and that of Mexico, last I heard, were both 0.49.

In this hemisphere, Venezuela went from that pushing 0.50 gini 12 years ago to 0.41.

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By rollzone, January 19, 2011 at 8:34 pm Link to this comment

hello again. Mr. MacDonald, i appreciate your interest
in sharing with me a coefficient table, and believe you
consider Americans are ignorant servants- but your
other point about my comfort level being less than that
of a Tunisian, and that i have less opportunity to
change my position in society than that of peoples
living in dictatorships: just reads alike revolution
without a cause (i write publicly, while in my mind

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By Alan MacDonald, January 19, 2011 at 1:34 pm Link to this comment

rollzone, it may surprise you (it certainly did me) that the GINI Coefficient of Income Inequality of Tunisia is lower (at .40, that means more fair) than that of the US (which the CIA is still listing as .45).

See charts:

[Note: that the US GINI is more recently noted by Alan Greenspan, of all people, in his latest book, “Age of Turbulence”, as 0.49, and even this figure has probably gotten worse (more inequality) since the great financial fraud and looting of 2008 to 2011 continues.]

rollzone, when I first compared and thought about this critically regarding Tunisia I was surprised that Tunisia would not have a GINI closer to Robert Mugabe’s dictatorial plutocracy of Zimbabwe (GINI 0.53), or the the disguised global corporate/financial/militarist Empire which now fully controls our former country.

I was somewhat surprised that the citizens of Tunisia would actually be revolting, since the CIA warns that only countries with a GINI above 0.45 are likely to experience ‘civil unrest’, social upheavals, and potential revolution——(it may well explain why ‘our’ CIA continues to use the old US GINI of ‘only’ 0.45 and not the newer Greenspan figure 0.49 or the above 0.50 figures that many economists believe the US has actually risen to after the latest/greatest financial looting in history).

However, rollzone, after some thought I would suggest that the US can allow its own level of GINI of Income Inequality to rise far above that of all functional democracies (in Europe and Japan, which range from the very low and egalitarian 0.23 to 0.34), above even Russia and China, and up to the levels of overt African dictatorship, royal family oil monarchies, and the worst countries on earth, and that US ruling-elite hidden Empire control can tolerate such a massive level of both Gini Income (and Wealth) Inequality, because the US populace is far more distracted by sophisticated media propaganda and far less aware of reality under this modern Two-Party ‘Vichy’ sham of democracy than are the people of Tunisia—- who, under a less guileful control are actually more aware of their oppressors than are America citizens.

As soon as I had the presence of mind to parse this conundrum myself, I immediately remembered the extensive study by Michael Norton of Harvard Business School (which was buried by the US corporatist media, but which is linked below), which compellingly proves that Americans are vastly unaware of just how inequitable a society they live in.

[ HBS Norton: ariely in press.pdf

BW review:

“Most scholars agree that wealth inequality in the United States is at historic highs,

with some estimates suggesting that the top 1% of Americans hold nearly 50% of the

wealth, topping even the levels seen just before the Great Depression in the 1920’s

(Davies, Sandstrom, Shorrocks, & Wolff, 2009; Keister, 2000; Wolff, 2002).”]

In summary, rollzone, it makes sense to me that the people of the US, since they are highly uninformed (or intentionally mis-informed) of their plight under a well disguised and hidden Empire of Illusion, seem to be tolerating a level of Income Inequality (as well as guileful and sophisticated spying and other soft police-state security measures) that would cause people less deceived by sophisticated Empire, like those in Tunisia, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Italy, and even the UK, to be “in the streets” and at a far more substantial level of civil unrest bordering on revolution.

So, I guess we could say, “that’s another thing our hidden Empire is doing for us”, or as Bill Murray might say, “at least we got that going for us”!

Alan MacDonald
Sanford, Maine
“Democracy over Empire” Party headquarters

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By rollzone, January 17, 2011 at 10:37 pm Link to this comment

hello. financial inequalities do not slow my rate of
popcorn consumption. when they do, i am fully
prepared to stop eating popcorn. then there will be
warehouses full of popcorn, and i will be eating
cookies. when the financial inequalities deprive me
of cookies, i will work my way down the staples
spiral; until i am reduced through abject poverty, to
bread and water (or commit a crime and get three hots
and a cot). the financial inequalities are cruel
towards those less gifted by God, and more
compassionate human beings would never collect
excesses of wealth to flaunt their perceived
superiority- but this is the ego of capitalism. until
realistic adjustments to capitalism are achieved, we
must fight for enforcement of laws which protect
unwitting victims, and restore justice to those
powerless to help themselves- in our country. if a
tyrant fled our country with millions or billions, i
vote that his wealth be seized and returned to the
victims; every last cent. i pity the people of
Tunisia and their financial loss to thievery, and the
same for Haiti and Baby Doc- but they have to ask us
to get involved. global financial inequalities
requesting gallant crusades, would be of my national
interest- by invitation only. it should not surprise
those peoples they can handle their own affairs.

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By radson, January 17, 2011 at 10:11 pm Link to this comment

The last paragraph in the article should raise a few eyebrows,something which goes incognito for the most part in America ;it could be summarized as who’s country is this anyhow.

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By Morpheus, January 17, 2011 at 9:49 pm Link to this comment

This is a sad truth about our country. We need to fix American.

Join the Revolution
Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( )

We don’t have to live like this anymore. “Spread the News”

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moonraven's avatar

By moonraven, January 17, 2011 at 9:02 pm Link to this comment

“Surprisingly enough, this ex-president of Tunisia has made his sanctuary in that wonderful democracy, so beloved by all American power-brokers and wheeler-dealers, called Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi Arabia is to crooks, dictators, prezes on the run in that hemisphere

as Miami is to crooks, dictators and prezes on the run
in this hemisphere.

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By berniem, January 17, 2011 at 1:32 pm Link to this comment

Whatever the outcome of the current situation in Tunisia, be certain that the fingerprints of Gollums such as Sens. Inhofe and Coburn along with the Coe family and their reactionary, fundamentalist “capitalists for jesus” crowd will be pulling the levers for our country’s esteemed oligarchs and the MIC! Democracy, freedom, justice, blah, blah ,blah mean nothing to these people! Just say that you love jesus and money and are willing to allow the Amerikan corporatocracy run things for you and all will be fine! FREE BRADLEY MANNING!!!!!

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, January 17, 2011 at 12:54 pm Link to this comment

Actually I believe guns and Israel are rather popular among the folk, who are themselves descendents of the God-guns-and-guts types who enslaved and exterminated lesser breeds, soft as they may be today.  My forays into the hinterland are only occasional, but that’s the impression I get.

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By Jim Yell, January 17, 2011 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This brings us to Sean Hannity’s latest exercise in slippery speak. He seems to think Iraq should pay us for the invasion that has killed so many of its people and dismantled what passed for their country. Well slave holders always did think the slave should make their own slave collars.

Further he conveniently forgets that it was a Republican Official who answered Sadam’s question of “what would the US do if they had trouble with Iraqi’s neighbors?” and the answer was “The US has no interest in Iraqi’s backyard”, which led Sadam to conclude he had the green light on his dreams of expansion. He also forgets that it was largely Republican Adminstrations that encouraged and supported Sadam’s theft of the Iraqi Government. So who owe’s who?

As to Kuwait? It seems that considering that we provided a service to them in pushing back the Iraqi army, any claims against them is probably balanced by the above facts of our enabling Sadam. Besides, we would need to factor in that Kuwait I think did provide some money for being liberated.

I don’t care about Arab countries, but being fair it doesn’t excuse people like Hannity talking out of turn. These are their countries and it was our aggression which created the difficulties we have with them. Returning back into our own borders would be a much better solution than all the murder and mahaim we commit for the oil industries profit margins. If the Oil Companies had to pay for strong arming other countries they would probably be against military action, but those of us who have the lest to gain from this process of theft of resources, well we are the ones who have to pay the taxes. Surely we can’t expect the mega rich to do so?

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By wrldtrvlr, January 17, 2011 at 11:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Well now, of course everyone points the finger outward
in the hopes the world will focus on the pointed finger
not the pointer. Do as I say, not as I do.  And the
explanation is that if the U.S. were not the greatest
democracy in the world, then why is everyone trying to
come here??????  Hummmmmn!! Why?

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By tedmurphy41, January 17, 2011 at 11:16 am Link to this comment

Surprisingly enough, this ex-president of Tunisia has made his sanctuary in that wonderful democracy, so beloved by all American power-brokers and wheeler-dealers, called Saudi Arabia.

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By Dr. O. P. Sudrania, January 17, 2011 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

If one take a non-partitioned view, there is no difference between US and Islamists. Both are busy in founding their own brands of caliphate to dominate the world. Both are equally good or bad. May be US may perhaps be a little inferior to their counterpart in that the Islamists are totally autocratic,  eccentric and unanswerable. But when the interests of US collide, US is no better either.

Their hands are just as gory. Even today US is fighting wars in almost half of the globe. Whereas we take pride of 21st century scientific enlightenment. Can we equally take the pride like US today? I am not sure if I can? US pretends an apostle of peace but as pointed out above, US is a party to the world’s most corrupt tyrants too in the world today.

US has no set uniform definition on terrorism except in her own interest. They blame Kayani for double dealings but overlook about their own conduct, why? Is
it fair? Therefore I think US is a worst tyrant than Islamists today, may not be an unfair assertion!

Hillary could lecture in Doha but could she look in her own backyard? She has more fossil fuel burning in her own house than in her neighbour which she needs to douse before pointing finger at middle east.

But as the proverb goes, “Rex non potest peccare”.

God bless
Dr. O. P. Sudrania

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By drbhelthi, January 17, 2011 at 9:47 am Link to this comment

Disgustingly accurate, in one sense!
” - - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lectured Arab autocrats and others meeting there on the urgent need for reform and an end to corruption—“.
This takes the cake ! 

Over the last twenty years, the CIA has handed out several hundred millions in the geographical area, corrupting the leadership, illegally providing weaponry, and staffed Junior Bush´s “Al Kaeda” until seducing enough “locals” into the phony group.  Now, AXIS Hilly reprimands them for being corrupt.

AXIS Hilly accepted a two million dollar election contribution.  She did not report it, nor has she been investigated.  The misguided, too-rich man who made the contribution declared the violation on-line with a supportive video.  This violation, preceded by a thirty-year history of shady and corrupt dealings.  Yet, she has the gall to lecture Moslem-types for being corrupt? 

Such hypocrisy reflects the historical stance of the USGov “leadership,” as it continues to assist the “pro-Israel lobby to wield a very undemocratic power far beyond its numbers,”  while Israel continues to murder Palestinians and seize their propterty, while the Family Bush marching orders continue to commit genocide against Moslem types on a much greater scale in the larger region.

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By The Blog Fodder, January 17, 2011 at 8:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If it had not been for Roosevelt America might well have been on the side of Germany.  If Hitler had not declared war on America post Pearl Harbour it is hard to say how it might have turned out.

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By godistwaddle, January 17, 2011 at 6:51 am Link to this comment

The U.S. was founded and continued with slavery,
genocide, massacre, and exploitation.  Who we gonna
side with.  I’m astonished we weren’t an Axis power 70
years ago.  Bad for business?

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