[lbo-talk] Regime Change and Paranoid Reaction

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Wed May 23 02:29:42 PDT 2007

On 5/22/07, Mike Ballard <swillsqueal at yahoo.com.au> wrote:
> Doug quoted from the Alien & Sedition Acts!

When you lose sight of capitalist imperialism, your vision gets blurred, and you begin to think that the IWW and Leon Trotsky on one hand and the United States government on the other hand, i..e., left-wing revolutionaries and right-wing counter-revolutionaries, mean one and the same thing to the people of Iran, just because they are both "alien" to them (the claim that the government of Iran does not make today, no longer fearful of Soviet imperialism which is now a thing of the past). What would the dead anarchists and socialists say about being equated with imperialists, plotting regime change to make the world even friendlier to the empire of capitalism than it already is, if they could come back to life?

I believe the Iranian government's detention and interrogation of Haleh Esfandiari is wrong, but that is because, to my knowledge, there is no evidence that Esfandiari herself is directly involved in any regime change campaign and it is counter-productive besides, not because I think that the NED, the Soros Foundation, etc. have not played precisely the roles that the Iranian government charges them with playing or that academics never do anything for regime change. As a matter of fact, they have, in many parts of the world.

It is also no secret that the soft cultural side of imperialism has always included scholarship, though corporate media's reports on cases like this always deny or downplay that, and area studies such as Middle East Studies are among the most well documented examples of "what Bruce Cumings has referred to as the 'state/intelligence/foundation nexus,' which orchestrated the production of 'area' expertise" (Lisa Hajjar and Steve Niva, "(Re)Made in the USA: Middle East Studies in the Global Era," MER 205, <http://www.merip.org/mer/mer205/remade.htm>). The long sixties changed Middle East Studies, as well as the rest of academia, to a certain extent -- including sharply critical perspectives on US policy toward the Middle East, sometimes produced by scholars from the region -- at least to the extent that Daniel Pipes and Co., the most ideological right-wingers, find it deplorable. But since the end of that era, especially after the waning of Marxism, criticism of imperialism -- particularly of modernization theory which "envisaged development as an incremental process of internal transformation whereby 'modern' values and practices are diffused to receptive local elites through greater integration into the Western system" (Hajjar and Niva) -- has been eclipsed by resurgent liberalism:

The triumphalism following the Cold War clearly has

influenced the relationship between scholarship and

US policy. The new "Washington consensus" reflects

a global agenda intent on promoting economic privatization

(i.e., "free markets") and integration (i.e., "free trade"). Yet,

the social devastation and instability that often accompanies

neo-liberal "reforms" needs to be supplemented by

market-friendly forms of political liberalization. It is in this

context that one can understand how issues of democracy,

civil society and liberalization more generally have become

an obsession in current debates about development in the

Third World, including some quarters of Middle East studies.

The recent flurry of books, articles and well-funded projects

on these themes is a testimony to the dramatic impact of this

new liberal agenda.25 In many respects, this has created

the possibility for a renewal of a more significant policy role

for Middle East scholars, although the primary obstacle to

the crystallization of a new mission for the field has been

the unwillingness to implement a liberal democratization

agenda in US policy-making on the region.

To be sure, elements of this liberal agenda resonate in

the Middle East, rooted in opposition to the untrammeled

power of authoritarian states and the appalling lack of

human and civil rights across the region. But the scholarship

advancing this agenda tends to resurrect the beliefs of

modernization theory among a new generation of social

scientists. The assumption that the experience of Western

capitalist democracy can and should be duplicated

throughout the rest of the world is being reasserted, only

now the desirable transition is not from "tradition" to

"modernity" but from "undemocratic" to "democratic"

cultures. The effect of such work, as before, is that

the region is being subjected to Western guidance and

tutelage in the search for "civil society."

The new liberal agenda has been remarkably successful

in appropriating conventionally progressive objectives

such as "sustainability," "equity" and human rights. It

appears as if liberalism is becoming what Bellamy has

called a "meta-ideology": a set of presuppositions which

govern thinking across the ideological spectrum and

which is reflected and refracted in wider discourses.26

The rapid advance of the new liberal zeitgeist illuminates,

by contrast, the current pallor of more critical perspectives

on regional political developments. The contemporary

crisis of Marxism and radical development theory is one

factor.27 Another is that while the new fields of cultural and

post-colonial studies appear to be making some inroads into

the field, their anti-representational epistemologies and

critiques of enlightenment values have sharply divided

critical scholarship.28 Greater collaboration among critical

scholars, however, may result from the further development

of political economy critiques of the "development industry."29

(Hajjar and Niva)

Needless to say, resurgent liberalism is consonant with Washington's geopolitical attempts to remake Iran as well as other countries whose governments are not quite in its pocket, except that liberalism gets naturally tempered when it comes to Washington's client states, most importantly the Gulf states, in the Middle East. But the problem is not confined to US policy toward the region.

"Democracy assistance" to foreigners, wherever they are, be it conducted directly by US government agencies or indirectly by NGOs or, a mixture of both, by the state/intelligence/foundation nexus, ought to be rejected by the Americans. Governments outside the West usually do not sit idly by when their countries become targets of it, and they generally take measures against it that diminish liberty, though some of the actions, such as restriction or prohibition of receipt of foreign funding, are legitimate. Even liberal imperialists understand this point, except that does not lead them to renounce "democracy assistance" -- they just want to pursue it more subtly:

<http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20060301faessay85205/thomas-carothers/the-backlash-against-democracy-promotion.html> <http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=18070> The Backlash Against Democracy Promotion By Thomas Carothers Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006


In January, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a controversial new bill imposing heightened controls on local and foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the country. The new legislation, which requires all NGOs in Russia to inform the government in advance about every project they intend to conduct, is another marker of the country's dispiriting slide back toward authoritarianism.

The law is also a sign of an equally disturbing and much broader trend. After two decades of the steady expansion of democracy-building programs around the world, a growing number of governments are starting to crack down on such activities within their borders. Strongmen -- some of them elected officials -- have begun to publicly denounce Western democracy assistance as illegitimate political meddling. They have started expelling or harassing Western NGOs and prohibiting local groups from taking foreign funds -- or have started punishing them for doing so. This growing backlash has yet to coalesce into a formal or organized movement. But its proponents are clearly learning from and feeding off of one another.

The recent "color revolutions" in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan and the widespread suspicion that U.S. groups such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), Freedom House, and the Open Society Institute played a key behind-the-scenes role in fomenting these upheavals have clearly helped trigger the backlash. Politicians from China to Zimbabwe have publicly cited concerns about such events spreading to their own shores as justification for new restrictions on Western aid to NGOs and opposition groups. Yet there is something broader at work than just a fear of orange (Ukraine's revolution came to be known as the Orange Revolution). The way that President George W. Bush is making democracy promotion a central theme of his foreign policy has clearly contributed to the unease such efforts (and the idea of democracy promotion itself) are creating around the world. Some autocratic governments have won substantial public sympathy by arguing that opposition to Western democracy promotion is resistance not to democracy itself, but to American interventionism. Moreover, the damage that the Bush administration has done to the global image of the United States as a symbol of democracy and human rights by repeatedly violating the rule of law at home and abroad has further weakened the legitimacy of the democracy-promotion cause.

Just as the sources of the backlash have been multilayered, so too must be the response. To remain as effective in the next decade as they have been in the last, groups that promote democracy must come to grips with how the international context for their work has changed. This will mean rethinking some of their methods. The Bush administration, meanwhile, must also face some unpleasant realities, specifically about how the president's "freedom agenda" is perceived around the world, and must engage seriously an effort to build credibility for its democracy endeavor.

<http://www.ned.org/about/carl/carl060806.html> The Backlash against Democracy Assistance Testimony of Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy to the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate

Washington, DC June 8, 2006

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Legal and Extra-Legal Measures

Of course, governments may legitimately seek to regulate foreign funding of domestic political actors and/or to regulate NGOs. Most democracies have regulations governing and, to some extent, restricting foreign funding and interference in domestic political affairs. But they exist in a context of genuine political pluralism and institutional checks and balances. Nor, of course, are they designed to suffocate or impede relatively young and still-fragile civil society organizations.

Our report details the legal restrictions being imposed on democracy assistance NGOs, drawing heavily on research undertaken by the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law1, for which we are especially grateful. In practice, of course, legal constraints are supplemented and reinforced by extra-legal sanctions, ranging from surveillance and harassment to expulsion of democracy assistance NGOs.

Democracy assistance groups have experienced the following legal and extra-legal constraints:

1. Restrictions on the right to associate and freedom to form NGOs: In China and Vietnam, NGO operations are strictly monitored and controlled, and subject to arbitrary interference by the authorities.

2. Impediments to registration and denial of legal status: In Belarus, NGOs have waited over a year only to be denied registration without explanation. Russia's NGO law requires foreign and – de facto - domestic NGOs to re-register with a state agency which will examine their activities before determining whether they can continue operations.

3. Restrictions on foreign funding and domestic financing: In Venezuela, the Chavez regime is prosecuting civil society activists from Sumate, a voter education NGO, on charges of "conspiracy" resulting from a NED grant to promote education on electoral rights prior to the 2004 recall referendum.

4. Ongoing threats through use of discretionary power: Some regimes, as in Egypt, retain discretionary powers to shut down civil society groups, keeping NGOs in a political limbo in which they are apparently tolerated but remain vulnerable to arbitrary termination.

5. Restrictions on political activities: Governments consistently equate democracy assistance with oppositional activity, "regime change" or political subversion. Zimbabwe denies registration to groups receiving foreign funding for "promotion and protection of human rights and political governance issues."

6. Arbitrary interference in NGO internal affairs: In China, civil society groups are frequently impeded and harassed by bureaucratic red tape, visits by the tax inspectorate, and other below-the-radar tactics.

7. Establishment of "parallel" organizations or ersatz NGOs: Repressive governments have sought to undermine the NGO sector by establishing captive NGOs, or Government-Organized NGOs (GONGOs), as in Tunisia, where state-sponsored GONGOs monitor the activities of independent NGOs.

8. Harassment, prosecution and deportation of civil society activists: Individuals engaged in certain NGO activities can be held criminally liable and fined or imprisoned. In Uzbekistan, approximately 200 domestic nonprofit organizations have been closed. -- Yoshie

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