Is the U.S. better than it used to be at promoting democracy and freedom abroad? 

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The U.S. has the same attitude about democracy and freedom abroad that my girlfriend has recently adopted about letting me pick restaurants. Every once in a while, she'll tell me I'm free to pick a restaurant, any restaurant I'd like, so that we can go there for dinner. The only condition is that the restaurant I choose has to serve chicken Caesar salad.

How does that relate to the U.S.'s attitude toward democracy? Well, our leaders constantly talk about how important it is that other countries are free and democratic. In reality though, freedom and democracy frequently take a backseat to the national craving for chicken Caesar salad.

That's a metaphor, of course. A nation can't actually eat a chicken Caesar salad, especially a nation as big as the United States. The dressing would require 100 million teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce! And who's gonna wash the dishes afterward?

What I'm trying to say is that even though we say that we want other countries to be free and democratic, we quite often don't care what kind of government a country has, so long as they give us what we want.

We stymied freedom in Central America during the first half of the 20th century to widen the profit margins of American fruit companies (hence the term Banana Republic). During the second half, we did the same, only then we added anti-communism to the list of reasons.

Democracy was so far below money and anti-communism on the national to-do list that we even overthrew or helped to overthrow several democratically elected governments. In 1953, we tossed out Iran's democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh because he nationalized Iran's oil industry and dopily flirted with Soviet Communism (Iran bordered the Soviet Union) just to get us worked up. The next year, we helped toss out Guatemala's elected President Jacobo Arbenz. Why? Well, according to E. Howard Hunt, the CIA operative who led the overthrow, we did it because Arbenz's wife was a) a Commie and b) much smarter than her husband.

President Richard Nixon was so impressed by Hunt's commitment to democracy that he hired him in 1970. Hunt served nearly three years in jail for his role in the Watergate burglary.

Last year, President Bush semi-'fessed up to the U.S.'s love/hate relationship with democracy. Repudiating our long history of supporting terrible regimes in the Middle East for the sake of cheap oil, anti-Communism and Israel's security, he said, "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty."

Well said! Too bad he didn't mean it.

The president constantly repeats that Iraq and Afghanistan are doing great because we're nudging them toward democracy. For the sake of space, let's grant him Afghanistan and Iraq, even though neither country can accurately be called a success at much of anything.

That still leaves us with Uzbekistan and Pakistan. Those are but two of the nations in which we're actively ignoring democracy for the sake of getting our chicken Caesar salad. For fuck's sake, people, Uzbekistan is a country that represses religion, media, voting, and, no I'm not kidding about this last one, boils its political prisoners in bubbling water! Do those things bug us? Not really. In fact, the U.S. sends tens of millions of dollars in aid to Uzbekistan's dictator. Why? Because they give us chicken Caesar salad in the form of military bases for American operations in Afghanistan.

Ditto Pakistan. The place is a military dictatorship that harbors al-Qaeda, has sold nuclear weapons to enemies of the U.S., supported the Taliban even after we went to war with them, and has played nuclear chicken with neighboring (and democratic) India. But because Bush deems Pakistani strongman Gen. Pervez Musharraf an ally in the War on Terror (goodness knows why!), he gets a free pass and tons of U.S. cash.

Damn you, chicken Caesar salad! Damn you!


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