In an interview with British newspaper The Times in 2015, former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld vehemently denied that exporting democracy was the main motive for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. "The idea that we could fashion a democracy in Iraq seemed to me unrealistic," he claimed.
However, the senior official was being dishonest. Writing in Mother Jones, Miles E Johnson responded to Rumsfeld's claim by quoting some of his previous statements where he repeatedly cited democracy as the main reason for the US invasion. The war became one of the most destructive since Vietnam.
It was not just Rumsfeld who promoted the democracy pretence quite brazenly. Indeed, "democracy" was parroted by thousands of Americans in government, the military, mainstream media and the numerous think-tanks across the intellectual and political landscape of Washington DC.
I could not help but reflect on this when, on 6 January, thousands of Americans stormed the Washington Plaza, climbed the walls of Capitol Hill and took over the US Congress. A country that has assigned to itself the role of "defender of democracy" worldwide, was unable to defend its own democracy at home.
In Iraq, as soon as US soldiers stormed into Baghdad in 2003 they hurried to occupy all government buildings and every symbol of Iraqi sovereignty. Triumphant soldiers were filmed rampaging through the offices of former Iraqi ministers and smoking their cigars while placing their dirty boots on top of their desks. Bizarrely, similar scenes were repeated in Washington two weeks ago, this time in the offices of US legislators, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
Iraqi ministers were hunted down, with their photos and names circulated on what the US military referred to as "most wanted Iraqi playing cards". In the American version of the chaos, US Congressmen and women were forced to cower in the chamber or run for their lives.
The violent events in Washington have been depicted by US mainstream media as if they were but a temporary crisis, an aberration incited by a president who refuses to concede power peacefully and democratically. The reality, however, is far more complex. There is nothing transitory about any of this and, while Donald Trump is largely to blame for the bloody events of 6 January, the man is a symptom of America's rooted democracy crisis, which is likely to get worse.
Famed American linguist and historian Noam Chomsky has long argued that the US is not a democracy, but a plutocracy, a country that is governed by the interests of the powerful few. He has also argued that, while the US does operate according to formal democratic structures, these are largely dysfunctional. In an interview with Global Policy Journal in 2019, Chomsky asserted that, "[the] US Constitution was framed to thwart the democratic aspirations of most of the public."
This has been evident for many years. Long before Trump became President, the dichotomy of American democracy has expressed itself in the way that the American people interact with their supposedly democratic institutions. For example, according to a Pew Research Centre poll published last September, just 20 per cent of US adults trust their government. This number has remained relatively unchanged throughout previous administrations.
With the US economy sinking rapidly due to various factors, including the government's mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the people's distrust in government is now manifesting itself in new ways, including mass violence. The fact that 77 per cent of those who voted for Trump in the November election believe that Joe Biden's win was due to fraud, suggests that a sizable percentage of Americans have little faith in their country's democratic processes. The consequences of this realisation will surely be dire.
America's constitutional crisis, which is unlikely to be resolved in the current polarised atmosphere, is compounded by an external political crisis. Historically, the US has defined and redefined its mission in the world based on lofty spiritual, moral and political maxims, starting with "Manifest Destiny" to fighting communism and eventually serving as the defender of human rights and democracy around the world. The latter was merely a pretence used to provide a moral cover that would allow the US to reorder the world so that it can expand its market and ensure its global economic dominance.
Thomas Paine, whose influence on US ideals of liberty and democracy is arguably unmatched, warned in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense against the potential tyranny of those who "attempt to govern mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools."
Alas, Paine's warning went unheeded. Indeed, the democracy fraud that Rumsfeld, George W Bush and his clique carried out in Iraq in 2003 was simply a repeat of numerous other fraudulent military campaigns carried out around the world. The "protectors of democracy" became and remain the very people responsible for its undoing.
Unquestionably, the storming of US Congress will have global repercussions, not least the weakening of US hegemony and its self-serving definition of what constitutes a democracy. It is possible that the US democracy doctrine could soon cease to be relevant in the lexicon of US foreign policy conduct as it is indeed predicated on "force and fraud".
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.