Among the civilized world, democracy is the undisputed champion of governance for the freedom and tolerance it embodies. That does not mean however, that democracies and democratic governance have not lost their way during their history. Democracy is viewed by some through rose colored glasses as the infallible solution to the problems of bad governance and corruption often experienced with autocratic regimes. Democracies despite their good perception have moments that would make any third world dictator smile. The United States, the moral beacon of human rights and freedom has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism for practices such as water boarding and extra ordinary rendition in prosecuting the War on Terror. In addition, one must also consider the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib that pretty much gave Al Qaeda and other sympathetic groups enough propaganda to last a generation. The United States is far from the only democratic country to turn undemocratic during times of war.
Israel in its’ 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon which lasted a brief thirty four days, proceeded to fire cluster bombs down upon civilian areas of Lebanon in the pursuit of Hezbollah fighters. Cluster bombs have a high incidence of failing to explode. Which left these shiny silver canister ball type things through Lebanon for civilians to pick up off the ground, where they then exploded, blowing off many limbs and causing civilian deaths. Russia meanwhile, is a special case because as my former political science professor Daniel Kempton “there the most undemocratic, democratic country in the world.” They’ve committed a variety of similar abuses against populations throughout the North Caucasus region, but can we really call Russia, a democratic country? They have more freedom in travel, internet, and other areas, but many Russians believe in having a strong forceful hand in the Kremlin and accept heavier handed military tactics as acceptable in battling back an Islamic insurgency.
Which brings me to my secondary point that elections and democracy are not the same thing. Elections occur in autocratic countries from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to Lukashenkos’ Belarus with the “popular” autocrat winning reelection by seventy or eighty percent. From these theatrical electoral exercises, these men brutalize their own people and crush opposition. The decline of the Soviet era and elections throughout Eastern Europe brought men like Imam Karamov of Uzbekistan and most infamously Slobodan Milosevic to power in the former Yugoslavia. Milosevic riding a wave of ethnic nationalism presided over a brutal three way genocide that ensnared Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats. There are election numbers to indicate an election took place, but in may soft authoritarian societies these results are suspect. Still these leaders are “elected” which often gives them legitimacy on the international stage, no matter what they do to their people back home just ask Robert Mugabe. In conclusion, I would say that democracy is not perfect and quite fallible in times of crisis and has actually bought quite unsavory characters to power, that is why the citizens of the world need to be aware, sometimes democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.