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Occupation Thwarts Democracy | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Occupation Thwarts Democracy

Under pressure from the Bush Administration, political parties campaigning in this weekend's so-called "election" in Iraq did not proposed timetables for the withdrawal of US troops from their homeland.

This constraint upon the debate effectively denied the Iraqi people an honest choice. Polls suggest that the majority of Iraqis favor the quick withdrawal of US forces, yet the voters of that battered land were cheated out of a campaign that could have allowed them to send a clear signal of opposition to the occupation.

Despite this disconnect, when the voting was done, Administration aides declared a victory in President's Bush's crusade for "liberty." And thus was born the latest lie of an Administration that has built its arguments for the invasion and occupation of Iraq on a foundation of petty deception and gross deceit.

That democracy has been denied in Iraq is beyond question. The charade of an election, played out against a backdrop of violence so unchecked that a substantial portion of the electorate-- particularly Sunni Muslims--avoided the polls for reasons of personal safety, featuring candidates who dared not speak their names and characterized by a debate so stilted that the electorate did not know who or what it is electing.

Now that this farce of an "election" in Iraq is done, the fight for democracy should move from Baghdad to Washington. It is in the US Capitol that members of Congress, if they are serious about spreading democracy abroad and strengthening it at home, need to begin advocating for the rapid withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Americans need to recognize that, in addition to the lives and dollars this occupation has cost the United States, it has also assaulted democratic ideals handed down by the founders of America's experiment with democracy. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and their kind did not warn casually against the "entangling alliances" that go with empire building. Having revolted themselves against an occupying force, they well recognized the necessity that democracy be homegrown.

"We should have nothing to do with conquest," warned Jefferson, who believed the US must lead by example, not by force. The invasion and occupation of other lands would, the founders feared, turn America into precisely the sort of empire against which they had so recently rebelled.

When he served as Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams explained the principle best: "(America) knows best that by enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom."

None of the twisted "spin" about spreading democracy that will be mouthed in coming days by members of the Bush Administration, its allies in Congress and its amen corner in the media will be sufficient to counter the truth handed down by those who founded the American democracy.

Liberty is not spread at gunpoint, nor by the occupation of distant lands. There will be no real democracy in Iraq until the occupation of that country has ended.

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John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) will be published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial."

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