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The ‘Global Struggle For Democracy’ is Nothing of the Sort

The “democracy vs. autocracy”  framework will bring us to no good end—serving only as a pretext for intervention against both friend and foe alike.

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Falsity defines our politics.

In 1961, the scholar and diplomat George F. Kennan observed that


There is nothing in nature more egocentric than the embattled democracy.  It soon becomes the victim of its own war propaganda.  It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts its own vision to everything else.  Its enemy becomes the embodiment of all evil.  Its own side is the center of all value. 

In the realm of domestic politics, we are told that “our democracy is at stake” by politicians and prosecutors who are seeking, in the manner of Middle Eastern or African potentates, to jail the leader of the political opposition. As such, the untruth of  what our current overlords claim about the allegedly perilous state of our democracy is clear enough.

A similar falsity characterizes America and its relations with the world. 

In a 2022 speech in Warsaw, President Biden declared,

We are engaged anew in a great battle for freedom; A battle between democracy and autocracy. Between liberty and repression; This battle will not be won in days or months either. We need to steel ourselves for the long fight ahead.


The framing of international politics as a zero-sum battle between democracy and autocracy is a fairly new innovation, but it is easily disprovable—one need only look at Washington’s most treasured partners, such as Ukraine’s Zelensky (who has outlawed 11 opposition parties and canceled the presidential election in his country, citing the exigencies of wartime), or the murderous Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, or Israel’s Netanyahu, whose behavior hardly needs expounding upon.

The idea that the world is now riven between two camps is a purely elite project—one that, as polling data indicates, the American people are not buying. Nevertheless, over the past several years, our betters in the legacy and corporate media have conjured up a steady stream of what might be called democratic ideation such as this piece by the neoconservative publicist Anne Applebaum. 

In an essay titled Liberal Democracy is Worth a Fight, Applebaum, discussing the chaotic, ill-planned evacuation from Afghanistan observed, “Rarely is the contest between “open” and “closed” societies, between democracy and dictatorship, between freedom and autocracy so crystal clear; rarely has the victory of the latter over the former been so rapid or so complete.” 

Applebaum’s partner in “thought,” the former Ambassador Michael McFaul, has likewise written, “In the global struggle between democracy and dictatorship, and the fight for a peaceful Europe, Ukraine is on the front lines—not unlike West Germany during the Cold War.” 

The portrayal of what, to be sure, are serious strategic and political differences between rival states as a worldwide struggle serves the purposes of legacy media conglomerates, the defense industry, and the NGO-humanitarian complex in the greater Washington-area, but little else. Linking Donald Trump’s MAGA movement to Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Germany’s Alternative for Germany, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, and ultimately to the “Wizard of the Kremlin” is little more than a journalistic construction—and a flimsy one at that: After all, no NAFTA, no MAGA. 

It was, we should not forget, the conscious, well-planned, policy choices of the American neoliberal elite that brought about Trump. It wasn’t a Eurasian despot who convinced Bill Clinton to gut the American middle- and working-classes by following the advice of Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. Nor was it at the behest of the Kremlin or the Chinese Communist Party that the U.S. Department of Justice, under President George W. Bush, turned a blind eye toward the activities of the Sackler crime family, thereby consigning hundreds of thousands of Americans to early graves. And so, to (further) distract from the culpability of our elites for the acute distress that has had its grip on the nation since 2008, a new global crusade has been dreamt up.

In addition to its obvious hypocrisy, another of the many problems with the “democracy vs. autocracy” framing of international politics is that it is far too expansive, which  renders it all the more dangerous. Recall that during the first Cold War, the battle lines were drawn between communism and anti-communism. Generally speaking, the U.S. threw its support behind any type of regime (democratic, monarchical, dictatorial, oligarchical, whatever)  as long as it was not hospitable to the USSR. The gift of ally-ship was granted as long as a state opposed (or said it did) the communist system—it was, in the philosophical sense of the word, negative.

Today, a state must meet positive requirements to be considered for membership in the “democracies” club—states, even ones that have their democratic credentials in order, must now obey specific diktats emanating out of Washington. That this is so becomes clear enough when one considers the U.S. response to Georgia’s new Foreign Agents law (covered here in greater detail) which requires NGOs and “independent” media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from outside the country to register as organizations “bearing the interests of a foreign power.” Sensible enough—unless of course your “civil society” group is in the pocket of, say, USAID, NED, IRI, the Helsinki Commission or any number of other U.S. government or public-private nonprofits based in Washington.

All too predictably, the law set off a hysterical reaction by the Biden State Department, with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien rushing to Tbilisi to threaten sanctions on those deemed “responsible” for the bill’s passage. Not to be outdone, the White House press secretary issued a none-too-veiled threat from the podium, saying that the passage of the foreign agents will, “Compel us to fundamentally reassess our relationship with Georgia.”

Ultimately, the “democracy vs. autocracy”  framework will bring us to no good end—serving only as a pretext for intervention against both friend and foe alike.