Benjamin Netanyahu: Democracy’s Biggest Fan?

Cross posted at Interest of the State.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once gave a speech entitled “Fighting Terrorism” at Ashland University. Little did “Bibi” know how relevant his words would be today. His speech was based off of Immanuel Kant‘s essay Perpetual Peace. Right off the bat, Netanyahu said:

He [Kant] said peace with democracies is automatic and it is self-sustaining. You need to do nothing to achieve it or to keep it. Democracies reflect the will of the majority, and most people do not want to go to war, and they do not want their children to die on battlefields. Democracies automatically tend toward peace.

If Netanyahu is such a firm believer in Kantian peace, then why are he and the Israeli government so nervous about Egyptians overthrowing their ruthless dictator of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak?

In the same breath, Netanyahu aptly summarized another of Kant’s points:

Then he [Kant] asked, what is going to keep the peace, opposite a dictatorship? When there is no electorate, there is no bar, no constraint on aggression. Saddam Hussein does not take a poll in downtown Baghdad before he decides to invade Kuwait, right? So what’s going to stop aggression from a dictator? Kant said, nothing. Absolutely nothing inside the dictatorship will prevent aggression and war. He said that the only thing that will prevent a dictator from going to war is an outside constraint.

However, Mubarak was exactly that: a dictator, albeit not aggressive towards other nations. In the most recent 2005 election, Mubarak received an astounding 88.6% of the vote with an even more shocking turnout rate of 23% (remember, these are both Mubarak regime numbers so it is very plausible that both figures are wildly inflated). This very same election was touted as a success by the US government (when Egypt was not a liability):  “Egypt’s presidential election represents one step in the march towards the full democracy that the Egyptian people desire and deserve.”

Later in his speech, Netanyahu acknowledged the Bush doctrine:

They [democracies] defeated it [Nazism], and once vanquished they didn’t leave it. They defeated it, and they planted the seeds of freedom, the seeds of democracy. They built democratic institutions. There are neo-Nazis in Germany; that tendency is there, but it doesn’t get anywhere because that society is ventilated by the natural process of debate, dissent, discussion and choice. That is what democracies give you….

I’m arguing that once these regimes are defeated it is important for the United States to begin to introduce into the Arab and Islamic world the idea of democracy, the idea of pluralism, the idea of a free press, the idea of individual rights. 

So is Netanyahu a fan of democracy? Absolutely not. Bibi and his cabinet are only interested in democracy imposed upon people by the west. This is exactly why he uses Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan as examples: after World War II ended, both countries had their whole futures dictated to them by a select few countries. Their actions were monitored closely and their armies were neutered. It is for precisely this reason that the United States still maintains a massive military presence in both countries (between 1950 and 2000, Germany and Japan have had a total of over 10 million and around 4 million troops, respectively). 

The Prime Minister further reiterated this point by urging “… to take action today against these tyrannies, to begin not only to defeat them but also to plant democracy there. I think this is something required of the bold and courageous leadership that the United States has today.”

Bibi again contradicted himself and got the facts plain wrong when he said, ” The root cause of terrorism is deprivation of natural rights, and human rights, and civic rights.” Actually, terrorism is motivated by what the “aggressors” see as occupation of their land and poor treatment of their fellow people, whether that link be by ethnicity, religion, or state. This theory has been solidified by a duo of researchers, Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman, in their recent book Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It. Also, if Netanyahu took his own idea so seriously, he would not be interested in maintaining the rule of Egyptian president (read: dictator) Hosni Mubarak who has only shown downright contempt for the rights of Egyptian citizens.

Closing the speech, Bibi remarks:

We now have to do two things. We have to uproot terror, and plant the seeds of freedom. This is the job before us. I have every confidence, when I look at the free peoples of the world and especially at America, at Israel and others, and at the leadership provided by President Bush, that we’re up to the task. And armed with moral clarity, and strategic clarity and the will to win, we will win and safeguard our future. Thank you very much.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s simple message is this: I only like democracy when it is imposed upon people by a western power with western values. And since “America is a thing you can move very easily,” it is better for them to get the job done. Alas, all of this will be done with “moral clarity” and without the “deprivation of natural rights, human rights, and civic rights,” just as it was done in Iraq and Palestine. So, on that note, Egyptians should continue to cheer for democracy, but from the comfort of their homes.

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