Jan 23

I know that the following isn’t exactly on-topic for a Colombia weblog, but we’re at a historic moment for U.S. foreign policy and some things just can’t go unremarked.

For decades, many activists, scholars and groups like CIP have been calling for a U.S. foreign policy that promotes democracy. At the very least, we have called for a U.S. foreign policy that does not support tyranny around the world. Latin America in particular has seen far too much U.S.-supported tyranny, from the murderous military regimes of Central America, Argentina and Chile to pro-U.S. strongmen like Somoza, Trujillo, Duvalier and Fujimori.

If you take at face value the soaring rhetoric of his inaugural address, it would seem that President Bush has taken to heart at least the first part, about promoting democracy worldwide. “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world,” the president told us on Thursday.

Leave aside whether this is an after-the-fact justification for invading Iraq without WMDs. The idea of a U.S. foreign policy that actively supports democracy and opposes tyranny is something that we’ve been advocating for a very long time, and it’s good to hear a president say it so forcefully. When liberal internationalists like us have spoken like that, we’ve normally been rebuffed by self-proclaimed “realists” in power – usually in President Bush’s own party – who have insisted that promoting democracy (and its inseparable corollary, human rights) often runs counter to the security or economic interests of the United States. (Look no further than a touchstone document of the neoconservative movement, Jeane Kirkpatrick’s 1979 essay “Dictatorships and Double Standards.”)

We welcome Bush’s words. But we want to see some action. Putting his words into practice would require the president to do two things that, taken together, would represent a true revolution in U.S. foreign policy. First, he would have to tolerate elected leaders who oppose the United States (there are few of these, but Hugo Chávez is the obvious test case). Second, he would have to stop aiding dictators who support the United States.

Notice that I didn’t say “actively opposing” pro-U.S. dictators; neocon pundit Charles Krauthammer has a point when he argues that we can’t undermine dictators if it appears likely that whatever succeeds them would be either chaos or an even worse dictatorship. “In friendly dictatorships we push for democracy only up to the point of instability. We dare not risk regime change—yet,” Krauthammer contends.

But there’s a big difference between “not undermining” pro-U.S. dictatorships and actively propping them up, strengthening their instruments of repression by arming them and making them more lethal. The Bush administration continues to give massive amounts of military and police assistance to dictatorships worldwide, many of them Middle Eastern.

The amounts of military aid are more than you’d expect. You can look it up for yourself – not in the works of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, but in the documents and reports published online by our own Department of State. The list below is what you get when you juxtapose military aid and arms sales data (available in the State Department’s annual Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations) with assessments of how well recipient countries honor basic freedoms and tolerate dissent (from the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices).

  • Egypt ($1.293 billion in military aid and $1.101 billion in military sales in 2003, the last year for which definitive data is available): “In 1999, President Hosni Mubarak was reelected unopposed to a fourth 6-year term in a national referendum. … The Government’s human rights record remained poor and many serious problems remain … Citizens did not have the meaningful ability to change their government. … The 1981 Emergency law, extended in February for an additional 3 years, continued to restrict many basic rights. The security forces continued to mistreat and torture prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, hold detainees in prolonged pretrial detention, and occasionally engaged in mass arrests. Local police killed, tortured, and otherwise abused both criminal suspects and other persons. Police continued to arrest and detain homosexuals. The Government partially restricted freedom of the press and significantly restricted freedom of assembly and association. The Government placed some restrictions on freedom of religion.”

  • Jordan ($607 million in military aid and $255 million in military sales in 2003): “Citizens did not have the right to change their government. Citizens may participate in the political system through their elected representatives to Parliament [lower house only]; however, the King has discretionary authority to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister, Cabinet, and upper house of Parliament, to dissolve Parliament, and to establish public policy. Reported continuing abuses included police abuse and mistreatment of detainees, allegations of torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, lack of transparent investigations and of accountability within the security services, denial of due process of law stemming from the expanded authority of the State Security Court and interference in the judicial process, infringements on citizens’ privacy rights, harassment of members of opposition political parties, and significant restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association.”
  • Saudi Arabia (no military aid, but $842 million in military sales in 2003): “Saudi Arabia is a monarchy without elected representative institutions or political parties. … The Committee to Prevent Vice and Promote Virtue, whose agents commonly are known as Mutawwa’in, or religious police, was a semiautonomous agency that enforced adherence to Sunni-Wahhabi Islamic norms by monitoring public behavior. … Members of the security forces committed human rights abuses. … The Government’s human rights record remained poor … Citizens did not have the right to change their government. There were credible reports that security forces continued to torture and abuse detainees and prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, and hold them in incommunicado detention. There were cases in which Mutawwa’in continued to intimidate, abuse, and detain citizens and foreigners. There was no evidence that violators were held accountable for abuses. … The Government continued to restrict freedom of speech and press, although there has been an increase in press freedom over a series of years. The Government restricted freedom of assembly, association, religion, and movement.”
  • Pakistan ($226 million in military aid and $314 million in military sales in 2003): “In October 1999, General Pervez Musharraf overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. … The National Assembly met during the year; however, no bills have been passed since 2002, with the exception of the national budget. President Musharraf, the intelligence services, and the military continued to dominate the Government. … Security forces used excessive force, at some times resulting in death, and committed or failed to prevent extrajudicial killings of suspected militants and civilians. … Police abused and raped citizens. Prison conditions remained extremely poor and life threatening, and police arbitrarily arrested and detained citizens. Several political leaders remained in detention or exile abroad at year’s end.”
  • United Arab Emirates (no military aid, but $493 million in military sales in 2003): “The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates established with no democratically elected institutions or political parties. … Citizens do not have the right to change their government. The Government restricted freedom of speech and of the press. The press continued to practice self-censorship. The Government restricted free assembly and association.”
  • Singapore (no military aid, but $335 million in military sales in 2003): “The Government has broad powers to limit citizens’ rights and to handicap political opposition, which it used in practice. … Caning, in addition to imprisonment, was a routine punishment for numerous offenses. … The Government continued to restrict significantly freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as well as to limit other civil and political rights. … The Government significantly restricted freedom of assembly and freedom of association.”
  • Kuwait (no military aid, but $334 million in military sales in 2003): “Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al-Sabah family, who governs in consultation with prominent families and community leaders. The Constitution provides for an elected National Assembly; however, it permits the Amir to suspend any or all of its provisions by decree. Approximately 14 percent of citizens have the right to vote (only males age 21 and over who have been citizens for at least 20 years and are not in the military or police forces). … Citizens do not have the right to change their government. … Security forces occasionally monitored the activities of persons and their communications. The Government placed some limits on freedom of speech and the press. The Government restricted freedom of assembly and association. Journalists practiced self-censorship. The Government placed some limits on freedom of religion and freedom of movement.”
  • Bahrain ($90 million in military aid and $97 million in military sales in 2003): “The Al-Khalifa extended family has ruled the country since the late 18th century and continues to dominate all facets of society and government. … The Constitution gives the elected Council of Representatives a role in considering legislation, but most legislative authority still resides with the King and he appoints members of the Shura (Consultative) Council. … Citizens did not have the right to change their government. The Government prohibits political parties, and none exist. … The Government restricted the freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and association. Journalists routinely practiced self-censorship. The Government also imposed some limits on freedom of religion and freedom of movement.”
  • Oman ($82 million in military aid and $65 million in military sales in 2003): “The Sultanate of Oman is a monarchy ruled by Sultan Qaboos Al Bu Sa’id, who acceded to the throne in 1970. It has no political parties; however, the Consultative Council (Majlis Al-Shura) is a representative institution whose members are elected directly by voters. … [H]owever, the Consultative Council, which may recommend changes to new laws, has no binding legislative powers. … Citizens did not have the right to change their government. … The Government restricted freedom of expression and association. The Government must approve the establishment of all associations and prohibited human rights organizations.”
  • Uzbekistan ($12 million in military aid and $1 million in military sales in 2003): “Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state with limited civil rights. … President Islam Karimov and the centralized executive branch that serves him dominate political life and exercise nearly complete control over the other branches. Following a January 2002 referendum judged to be neither free nor fair, the President’s term in office was extended by 2 years. Previous elections were neither free nor fair. … The Government’s human rights remained very poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Citizens could not exercise the right to change their government peacefully. Security force mistreatment likely resulted in the deaths of at least four citizens in custody. Police and NSS [National Security Service, former KGB] forces tortured, beat, and harassed persons. Prison conditions remained poor. … The number of persons in prison for political or religious reasons, primarily individuals the Government believed were associated with extremist Islamic political groups but also members of the secular opposition and human rights activists, was estimated to be between 5,300 and 5,800. Police and NSS forces infringed on citizens’ privacy. The Government employed official and unofficial means to restrict severely freedom of speech and the press, and an atmosphere of repression stifled public criticism of the Government.”
  • Tunisia ($6 million in military aid, and $12 million in military sales in 2003): “The Government’s human rights record remained poor … There were significant limitations on citizens’ right to change their government. Members of the security forces tortured and physically abused prisoners and detainees. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals. … The Government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. Security forces physically abused, intimidated, and harassed citizens who voiced public criticism of the Government. The Government continued to impose significant restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press. Editors and journalists continued to practice self-censorship. The Government remained intolerant of public criticism and used physical abuse, criminal investigations, the court system, arbitrary arrests, residential restrictions, and travel controls (including denial of passports), to discourage criticism by human rights and opposition activists. The Government restricted freedom of assembly and association.”
  • Azerbaijan ($8 million in military aid, and $1 million in military sales in 2003): “The Government’s human rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. The Government continued to restrict citizens’ ability to change their government peacefully. … Police tortured and beat persons in custody, including several opposition members, and used excessive force to extract confessions. … After the election, authorities conducted a wave of politically motivated detentions and arrests of more than 700 election officials, opposition members, and journalists; more than 100 remained in custody at year’s end. The Government continued to hold many political prisoners and infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. The Government continued to restrict some freedom of speech and of the press, and police used excessive force and continued to harass journalists during the year. Government officials sued journalists for defamation. The Government restricted freedom of assembly and forcibly dispersed several demonstrations held without a permit, and law enforcement officers beat protestors at several demonstrations during the year. The Government continued to restrict freedom of association by refusing to register some political parties and harassing domestic human rights activists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).”
  • Yemen ($3 million in military aid, with much more expected for 2004, and $100,000 in military sales in 2003): “There were limitations on citizens’ ability to change their Government. Security forces continued to arbitrarily arrest, detain, and torture persons. … Despite constitutional constraints, security officers routinely monitored citizens’ activities, searched their homes, detained citizens for questioning, and mistreated detainees. … There continued to be limits on freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government continued to harass and intimidate journalists despite a decline in detention of journalists from last year. Journalists practiced self-censorship. The Government at times limited freedom of assembly. The Government imposed some restrictions on freedom of religion and placed some limits on freedom of movement.”

There are other tyrannical regimes whose security forces get U.S. aid, but these are probably the largest amounts.

President Bush made quite a promise on Thursday. “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors,” he said. “When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” Next time you hear lofty rhetoric like this, think of the nations in the shameful list above. Those who “live in tyranny and hopelessness” in these countries are further from liberty, because the Bush administration is arming those who murder, jail and torture them.

 

 

Methodological note: I don’t include here a few smaller military-aid programs, such as Excess Defense Articles or Defense Department engagement programs, which would make military aid figures for 2003 slightly larger.

I used one government report in addition to the two mentioned above in order to estimate arms sales: the “Section 655” report available on the website of the Federation of American Scientists. This report provides data for the licensing of arms sold from U.S. companies to foreign governments. Not all of these licenses are fulfilled, so actual deliveries of weapons may be fewer; the sales figure I quote nonetheless indicates the amount of sales for which the U.S. government gave approval.

Meanwhile, this list doesn’t include dictatorships that don’t get aid but do a lot of business with us, such as China or Equatorial Guinea. Nor does it include aid to the militaries of countries that elect their leaders but routinely violate human rights with impunity, such as Israel, Indonesia, Nigeria – or, of course, Colombia.