The reason why, I wish I knew

But this I'm sure, and dead sure too I do not like you, George Bush two (with apologies to Tom Brown)

MAYBE IT'S his supercilious smirk. Or his arrogant mumbling. Or his cynical opportunism. Whatever the reason I find it hard to admire George W. Bush. His reckless adventuring abroad and his irresponsible overspending at home are in my view seriously damaging his country's long-term interests. When America sneezes most of the world catches a cold, and highly economically dependent countries like Jamaica get pneumonia. So the man is just plain bad news all around.

But then I also had similar feelings about Ronald Reagan, who whatever his shortcomings turned out to be one of America's more successful post-war presidents. So who knows, Dubya's follies may one day be seen as prescient policy. Still his invasion of Iraq was arguably an unjustified act of aggression and its occupation was incredibly poorly planned. Yet for all the divisiveness and disorganisation, the thought occurs that left to the U.N. Saddam might still be brutalising his people.


Whatever the dubious justifications and questionable methods used to remove him, the real question is whether the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam. And I don't see how any supporter of democracy and human rights could answer anything but yes. Today's Iraq is a messy and dangerous place, but its problems are infinitely less than they were under a vicious dictator who murdered hundreds of thousands. I too distrust America's motives ­ though no one would benefit more from cheap oil than Jamaica. But at least there is now some chance that Iraqis will be able to freely choose their own leaders in the foreseeable future. The possibility of real self-determination under the Baathist tyrant was zero.

Everything has pros and cons, and life is usually a choice not between black and white but between lesser and greater evils. Bush's blundering is a thousand times preferable to Saddam's slaughtering. I have my doubts about whether political solutions can or should be imposed from without. But for all America's condescending arrogance, only the selfish and short-sighted could not want to see Iraq become a functioning democracy.

The argument that 'democracy can never work in the Arab world' reminds me of the imperialist colonial claim that 'people of that sort - i.e., non-Anglo-Saxons - are not capable of governing themselves'. But politics has nothing to with race and everything to do with attitudes and beliefs. Even 'mother of parliaments', Britain, was just another absolute monar-chy before 1688. And the English-speaking Caribbean has proven to be one of democracy's greatest success stories.

This even more than cricket is our chief glory. No group of countries outside Western Europe can boast of such uninterrupted democracy. Only once has our wonderful tradition been interrupted, and the Grenada revolution was a one-off accident. A free press, the rule of law, and fair elections - these are as much birthrights to West Indians today as they are to Englishmen. We have shattered the racist myth that democracy can only function properly in rich white countries and are a shining example to the world.


This being so our leaders' stance on Zimbabwe has been disappointing. It was pleasant to see Jamaica on the six-country Commonwealth committee which recently upheld Zimbabwe's suspension. But our region's leaders should have shown themselves worthy of their freedom-loving people by making a unified statement condemning Robert Mugabe's flouting of every democratic principle from stealing elections to suppressing the press to perverting the rule of law.

Now my sympathy for the white farmers who are suffering for the racist sins of their fathers is limited. But Mugabe's forced expropriation of white-owned farmland was sheer populist propaganda. After all he had 20 years to oversee a smooth transition from white to black farm ownership but did virtually nothing except give his political cronies choice bits of land. Even then I would forgive him if he was using the seized farms productively, but the country is being beggared as its prime agricultural land falls into disuse. For all the talk of Mugabe versus white land owners, it's poor black Zimbabweans who are going hungry.

Any West Indian leader who employed Mugabe's bullying tactics would be universally ostracised, and those who loudly defend freedom at home and yet justify such tyranny abroad strike me as hypocrites. It's unconscionable for supposed upholders of democracy to call the courageous Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai a foreign stooge. He is after all merely fighting by legal means for the right of his people to freely decide who governs them. Why should others be denied the freedoms we enjoy?


Now this is not pleasant to write, for as a youth I greatly admired Robert Mugabe for his courage as a freedom fighter and his restraint when he became president. But though there is no joy in the contemplation of fallen heroes, facts are facts. And whatever he may have been in 1980, today's Mugabe would seemingly prefer to destroy his country rather than give up office. It's the same sad old story of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

I personally cannot understand those who use race to excuse tyranny, for it is not how men look but how they act that counts. Mandela, Churchill, Sun Yat Sen and Gandhi were heroes regardless of hue, while Idi Amin, Stalin, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein were all butchers under the skin. Democracy - as we West Indians know better than anyone else - is colour-blind.

Kevin Chang may be reached at changkob@hotmail.com.

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