The discussion starts with the Arab region as this is purportedly the main interest of the text, but the reader finds very little U.S. involvement in current events. Further back in history, there is no description of the meddling of the old imperial forces—Germany, Britain, France, Russia, Italy—and their unilateral decisions regarding the people of the region. There is no mention of U.S. dollar support to the Egyptian military, or how the U.S. stood aside and waited apprehensively as the protests in Egypt mounted. There is some indication that the U.S. is concerned with how the military-civilian tug of war in Egypt may play out, but either way is good for the U.S.: “the question remains how the United States will react if the Egyptian military opts for de facto continuation of the prerevolution system.” If the military succeeds in power, the U.S. will be fully content with their puppet regime, just as they were with Mubarak in power. If the civil powers succeed, Islamist or not, they can boast about how democracy is working—while trying to figure out how to pressure Egypt vis-a-vis its partner Israel.
And if Israel is so democratic, why does it have so many theocratic laws, and why does it continue to occupy, oppress, and annex Palestinian territory? No mention is made of the billions of dollars granted to Israel every year along with major military support. Democracy in action? And if democracy is so important, why did the Palestinian elections of 2006, which were declared open and fair, meet with such stiff U.S. resistance? Mostly U.S. geopolitical interests with the natural resources of the region.
The invasion and occupation of Iraq testifies to that, although it is not mentioned in the work, as it was for a while purportedly to create democracy and freedom. Yes, there were elections, the first one forced by the Shiites on a reluctant occupying governor who recognized that the Shi’as would probably win and ally with Iran.
Effectively, the U.S. does not care about democracy, as long as the government of the day is one of their own bastards and does not interfere with their power. Saudi Arabia and Gulf Coast States are the best examples of this, all non-democratic, currently trying to eliminate another non-democratic state, Syria, not on democratic grounds, but on theocratic alignments. The U.S. is allegedly using its arch enemy al-Qaeda as its ally in this war to further contain Iran, and then Russia and China.
For the current debacle in Syria, interventions from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain are mentioned, highlighting the theocratic fight. The authors conclude that “Foreign interference could be significant after a regime change.” Really! But of course the U.S. has nothing to do with all that, not according to this tract.
To achieve a true picture of U.S. interventions in Latin America, I would recommend two texts. Empire’s Workshop by Greg Grandin (Henry Holt & Company, 2006) and Overthrow by Strephen Kinzer, (Times Books, 2006). Both of these books provide the necessary historical background to this region that is so lacking in this monograph. There are also several books available on the effects of the global financial institutions of the Washington consensus describing how the “austerity” measures, as they are now labeled, helped destroy the middle class and the land holding systems of the farming class.
One of the best summative works for the military interventions in these countries, as well as in Asia, Europe, and Africa, is William Blum’s Killing Hope, (Common Courage Press, 2000), and is well accompanied by Rogue State (Common Courage Press, 2005).
The discussion of sub-Saharan African democracy follows a similar path. No real mention is made of historical colonial influences, no discussion is made of post colonial economic colonialism through the western financial institutions. One of the more enlightening works on the economic colonialism is A Blighted Harvest, The World Bank and African Agriculture in the 1980s, Peter Gibbon et al. (Africa World Press, New Jersey, 1993).
This is an amazingly poor section, with no discussion of the U.S. push to eliminate either directly or through proxy, any resistance to their interests in the region. Vietnam had “a series of military regimes until the government collapsed in 1975.” That’s it. That is the historical context for that country. No mention of the millions killed by U.S. military actions, no mention of U.S. support of the various regimes until they were no longer needed, no mention of the cancelled U.N. vote on unification as the U.S. knew its cronies would lose, no mention of the Green Berets or the 500,000 military personnel that circulated through the country.
Similarly with the Philippines and Indonesia, no mention of the hundreds of thousands killed as they resisted the oppression of the state, peasants conveniently labeled “communist” so that they became the ‘other’, able to be killed without recourse to law. The U.S. backed most of these non-democratic regimes until other forces forced them to change their mind and go with the new regimes.
If this is the best that RAND has to offer, it is no wonder that U.S. foreign policy seems so willfully blind and systematically ignorant. To hear the U.S. preach about democracy and freedom is fine if one does not consider their actions around the world, currently or historically. If one wishes to have the sanitized version, this is the work for you.
Otherwise, this work adds nothing to a critical examination of U.S. foreign policy, or defense policy. It is a series of repetitive presentations providing vague common sense rules for establishing democracy, devoid of any U.S. contact.
Now, if in truth there were no U.S. contact, if the world could eliminate its historical interventions, then perhaps we might have a more truly democratic world.