by Stephen P. Pizzo
First the good news. Democracy – real democracy – is still alive and well.
The bad news is, just not here.
Americans like to see the US as democracy's Mecca. Nevertheless evidence mounts by the day that the ideal of democracy, while never quite achieved in full, is currently, (hopefully temporarily,) moribund within the borders of it's birthplace.
If you are looking for real democracy in action you have to look abroad where, those of us from the 1960s and 70s will recognize the way it once was here.
In Turkey last week the streets were filled with protesters demanding that Turkey remain a secular state. They had good reason to worry it would not. Turkey sits directly on the fault line that separates secular Europe form the bubbling cauldron of Middle Eastern Islamic fundamentalism. And Turkey has been working overtime to become a member of the European Union.
For three quarters of a century Turkey has held Islamic fundamentalism at bay. That struggle began in the 1920s when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk transformed post Ottoman Empire Turkey into a representative, secular state.
To this day the Turkish military establishment considers Ataturk's reforms the scared cornerstone of the Turkish state and democratic governance. On more than one occasion when secular politicians were either too weak or too timid to stand up and protect their democracy from Islamic fundamentalist, the military did. Each of those times it took the military to say “no,” to Islamists whose aim was to return Turkey to the dark ages.
On the surface military interference would seem the antithesis of democracy. But the Turkish military has become Turkey's strongest and most steadfast protector of their nation's secular democracy. Over the decades they has gained the trust of the Turkish people, by doing the right thing, only at the right time. Doing the right thing, is never the wrong thing to do.Yes, it's a dangerous game. But so far at least, the Turkish military has walked that razor's edge with the utmost reluctance, restraint, skill and honor.
Change the venue for a moment. Recent public opinion polls show that well over two-thirds of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. Two-thirds... a super-majority. A veto-proof super-majority. Imagine if Pentagon brass – which has long known there was nothing to “win” through military action in Iraq – reacted to those poll numbers. And if the Joint Chiefs of Staff went to the President and laid down the law.
“Mr. President, we are the US military. Our job is to defend and protect the American public and the American homeland. Our job is not to maintain a war the public does not support simply because you and those around you don't want to have to admit you made a terrible mistake. We also have a responsibility to the troops we command. We are not to misuse the troops for purely political reasons, which is precisely what you are asking us to do now. Therefore, here in this folder are several options we have develope and are prepared to enact on y our command. Each option is designed to wind down US military operations in Iraq as quickly as possible and in ways that minimize – as much as possible – the inevitable negatives from such disengagment. We are offering you thirty days to choose one of these options, or to come up with a better one that gets us to the same place. If you don't we will we go to Congress and the public this matter.”
Mutiny! Really? I'm not so sure about that. When I was in the Marines I was taught that I not only had the right, but the obligation, to oppose unlawful orders. I assumed then, and now, that that rule binds the lowest private all the way up the those star-spangled Generals at the Pentagon. In the scenero above the military is not trying to "subvert" civil authority, but to empower it with the clear thinking, planning and expert opinion and advice. Going diretly to Congress and the American poeple when they believe their Command-in-Chief is up to no good, is the consumate act of honor and duty to their country and the democracy they are there to protect.
I had assumed that career generals had learned something about the danger of blindly following combat plans drawn up by conniving politicians like “General” Lyndon B. Johnson and “General” Richard M. Nixon. Apparently not. Only in Turkey do we find a officers who understand that, at the end of the day, a military that is not supported by it's people and ignores their will, morphs a national army into a kind of domestic political mercenary force.
One more observation on the Turks and their apparent love of secular democracy. The Turkish people filled the streets in protest when it appeared the religious fundamentalist were about to gain control. They understand something that the majority in America does not understand: that religious fundamentalist – of all and any flavor – are anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-democratic morons. Dangerous people who honestly believe they are following the orders of a heavenly spirit. The Turks get that loud and clear. Maybe it's because they were a lot closer to Taliban-run Afghanistan than we were. Or maybe it's because they can already see the signs of creeping Islamic fundamentalism on their streets in the form of growing numbers of burqua imprisoned women.
But Americans have not quite gotten that message yet. Here it's still considered "bad taste" and "intolerance" to openly scoff at nonsensical religious doctrines spouted by politicians. Instead we pretend they are not talking nonsense, and even elect them to public office. I saw a startling example of that last night during the GOP debates. The moderator ask the ten wannabe Presidents to raise their hand if they DID NOT believe in evolution. Three of them proudly raised their hand.
The right response – the intellectually honest response – from that audience would have been – should have been – to snicker or hoot right out loud in open derision. Instead most sat silent and expressionless – not even a wrinkled brow in sight. And a few in the audience even nodded in agreement. Not one of the other seven candidates said a word about it either. Why? Because, to them, a vote from a moron is as valuable as a vote from a sane person. They didn't want to risk losing any Christian fundamentalist votes. So they just stood there with expressions on their faces that did display a hint that three men who want to lead our nation are ignoramuses – and proud as hell of it.
So here we are, after seven years of biblically warped Bush administration officials feverishly Talibanizing US public health, environment laws, education, foreign aid and our courts, we are still not in the streets about it.
But the Turks were. They were Johnnies on the spot the second they got wind that pro-Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was in line to become President. Because that would tipping the balance of power between ruling secularists and minority Islamist parties. And they knew where that road led. And they were not about to let their nation take that road. (Editor's note: My Neo-Office spell-checker even knows what's up. Each time I typed the word “Islamist” it tried to change it to “Misogynist.”)
Turkey's presidential vote annulled
PM - Wednesday, 2 May , 2007 18:44:13
MARK COLVIN: In Turkey, the latest power struggle between secular and religious leaders has come to a head, with the country's top court annulling the first round of a parliamentary vote for a new President....The decision has prompted the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to announce that his Islamist-based Government will go to the polls within months to resolve its stand-off with the secular elite....The announcement was given added urgency last week, when the Army threatened to intervene to defend the separation of state and religion, and on the weekend when more than one million people demonstrated against the Government and in favour of secularism and democracy. (Full story)
The other place we can see real democracy in action this week is in Israel. (Yes, I know about the mistreatment of Palestinians by Israel. Plenty of blame on both side there. Besides its as different subject.)
Protesters vent anger over Olmert at rallyThe protesters were demanding that Olmert resign. And the list of reasons why they say he should resign could serve as a nearly precise template to justify the same demand for George W. Bush's resignation. That he send his nation's military into to war at the wrong time, the wrong place, with the wrong commanders, the wrong orders and without proper equipment. And that he failed to meet his own stated goals.
Friday, May 04, 2007: Judy Giladi travelled from Jerusalem to a rally of more than 100,000 people in Tel Aviv last night to register her anger at Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Amir Peretz, his Defence Minister, remaining in office after the failures of a conflict that had risked the lives of her family...."We want them to take responsibility for what happened. I don't believe we can face Hizbollah again with this leadership and I think we will have to face them again," said Ms Giladi...The 31-year-old backs the left-wing Meretz party but at least one of her brothers also at last night's protest voted for Kadima, Mr Olmert's party...."We are from all parties," Ms Giladi said of her traveling companions. (Full Story)
I am betting that democracy in both Turkey and Israel are in fine shape, at least for now. Not so much here in “the home of the brave and the land of the free.” Here we are demonstrably less free than we were just six short years ago. And, while there are still lots of brave men and women willing to serve in our military. they are now being treated like cannon fodder in Iraq. Meanwhile their top commanders – who know better – are not brave enough to stand up to a clearly amoral and twisted Commander-in-Chief.
And, dear reader, just what you nodding about? I remember, “back in the day,” when we shut down Washington DC and surrounded the Pentagon with tens of thousands of protesters. I remember when we forced a President to relinquish his hopes of a second term in office, because he insisted on continuing a war that should never have been waged, and which should have been ended.
So stop nodding. You and I and millions of other Americans have a lot to re-learn about what it takes to keep a democracy fresh, alive, healthy and growing.
Democracy – real democracy – is messy. Unlike the going-through-the-motions kind of democracy we have allowed ours to become. This kind of democracy is neat. In this kind of democracy people do what they're told, put up with what they're given and, should they disagree, keep it to themselves.
In this kind of democracy – our kind – the military brass does what it's told, even if their heart and mind tell them it's wrong.
They call it “sucking it up,” – but it's really the reincarnation of “just following orders.”
What Real Democracy Looks Like
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