Washington Likes Democracy — When People Vote Right

The U.S. government is a big proponent of democracy — as long as foreign peoples do what they are told.  Washington pushed for early elections in Gaza and the result was … oops!  A victory for Hamas.  So now Washington doesn’t like democracy and won’t talk to the victors of a democratic vote.

Now the pattern risks repeating itself.  Vice President Joe Biden recently visited Lebanon and told the Lebanese how much America likes democracy — as long as they vote for the parties that the Obama administration prefers.  Reports Associated Press:

Vice President Joe Biden said Friday that future U.S. aid to Lebanon depends on the outcome of upcoming elections, a warning aimed at Iranian-backed Hezbollah as it tries to oust the pro-Western faction that dominates government.

Confident its alliance will win, Hezbollah criticized Biden’s visit as a U.S. attempt to influence the June 7 vote and held a mass rally to show its popular support.

Biden is the highest-level U.S. official to visit Lebanon in more than 25 years and the attention shows American concern that the vote could shift power firmly into the hands of Hezbollah. U.S. officials have said before they will review aid to Lebanon depending on the composition of the next government, apparently meaning military aid.

“The election of leaders committed to the rule of law and economic reform opens the door to lasting growth and prosperity as it will here in Lebanon,” Biden said. The U.S. “will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the composition of the new government and the policies it advocates.”

The U.S. considers Hezbollah a terrorist group and Biden’s one-day visit was clearly timed to bolster the Western-leaning faction led by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora ahead of the vote. He expressed strong support for the government.

Given the disastrous record of foreign aid over the years, I’d rather the administration simply stop handing out Americans’ money, irrespective of the government in power in a particular nation.  But Washington certainly should stop trying to publicly, even ostentatiously, buy votes.  Imagine how Americans would respond to a similar threat from another country:  “We’ll pay you if you vote our way, but forget the cash if you choose the other guys.”  Most Americans, whatever their personal political preferences, would not be amused, shall we say.

There’s good reason not to like Hezbollah, but Lebanese politics is more complicated than many U.S. policymakers seem to realize:  some Christian factions are allied with the Shiite group.  Moreover, Hezbollah’s focus is on Israel, not America.  There’s no reason to turn another fractious and well-armed group into an enemy of the U.S.

I know it would be a revolutionary change for  Washington, but how about just staying out of other nations’ affairs?  Show our respect for democracy by not trying to buy the result that we want.  Treat others as we would expect them to treat us.  And stop meddling in political disputes in which we can do no evident good.