Citizen Action Monitor

Biden’s ill-conceived virtual “Summit for Democracy” reflects misunderstanding of “democracy”

The U.S. should start with the reconstruction of its own democracy before preaching to others. —

No 2806 by fw, December 12, 2021 —

My synopsis of key ideas Professor Alfred de Zayas discusses in his paper, reposted below

Alfred de Zayas

Biden’s ill-conceived virtual “Summit for Democracy” will not gain the U.S. any new friends. The U.S. should start with the reconstruction of its own democracy before preaching to others. This year’s summit is supposed to prepare selected participants for a follow-up summit next year. It’s interesting to see who was invited and who wasn’t. Biden’s summit catered to allies, excluded millions, and reflected double standards and puzzling selection criteria.

What exactly is Biden’s understanding of the word “democracy”? It is illusory to pretend Biden’s summit can be considered democratic. This summit has been called by a President who routinely ignores UN decisions and frustrates its actions, especially re Israel. What are the qualities of a “true democracy”?

Biden has chosen to go outside the UN system to propose an “exclusive club”, reflecting a Cold War mentality. Biden’s selective summit ignores the key differing functions between International and Domestic democracies. It’s time to send a wakeup call to the U.S., UK, and EU to understand what “democracy” and “value-based diplomacy” truly mean. Fatuous slogans like “America is Back” and “MAGA” reflect America’s “imperial arrogance” History will judge Biden’s summit for what it is – phony self-praise targeting China, Hungary, and Russia. Practicing the tenets of the UN Declaration of Human Rights would earn US respect again. —Professor Alfred de Zayas, in Truthout

Professor Alfred de Zayas is the former United Nations independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order from 2012-18 and the author of Building a Just World Order (Clarity Press, 2021).

The above synopsis features my selected excerpts from Professor de Zayas’ recent article in which he explains why Biden’s virtual “Summit for Democracy” reflects his deep misunderstanding of the meaning of the word “democracy’, and the U.S. President’s real reasons for hosting this self-delusory event.

Below is my slightly abridged repost of de Zayas’ article, featuring my added subheadings, text highlighting, some bulleted reformatting, images, and links to 2 related articles. Alternatively, read the piece on Truthout’s website by clicking on the following linked title.

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Biden’s Democracy Summit Is a PR Stunt. We Need Real International Democracy, by Alfred de Zayas, Truthout, December 10 2021

Biden’s ill-conceived virtual “Summit for Democracy” will not gain the U.S. any new friends

President Joe Biden’s ill-conceived virtual “Summit for Democracy” on December 9-10 is really a public relations extravaganza that’s likely to backfire on the United States because democracy is not a commodity, nor is it a Kalashnikov to be aimed at geopolitical rivals. President Biden is using an obsolete playbook, and his advisers should have told him that the stunt will convince only those who already believe in the myth of U.S. democracy. It will not gain the U.S. any new friends.

The U.S. should start with the reconstruction of its own democracy before preaching to others

According to the U.S. Department of State website, the Biden administration has proclaimed that renewing democracy in the U.S. and around the world is essential to meeting the challenges of our time. That sounds good, but what does it mean concretely? We can agree with President Biden in recognizing that, “No democracy is perfect, and no democracy is ever final. Every gain made, every barrier broken, is the result of determined, unceasing work,” but we should start with the reconstruction of our own democracy before pretending to dictate to other states how they should practice it.

This year’s summit is supposed to prepare selected participants for a follow-up summit next year

Biden will host not one but two Summits for Democracy, with the participation (and targeted exclusion) of leaders from government, civil society and the private sector. The announced goal is “to set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action.” The summit is supposed to launch a “year of action” in preparation for a follow-up summit in 2022.

It’s interesting to see who was invited and who wasn’t

It is interesting to see who is invited and who isn’t. According to the State Department website, 110 countries were invited, among them notorious “democracies” such as:

    • Brazil, known for its undemocratic land-grabbing and ongoing destruction of its Indigenous population under Jair Bolsonaro, a Trump-like autocrat;
    • Colombia, where paramilitaries continue to kill Indigenous and social leaders with impunity;
    • India, guilty of ongoing genocide in Kashmir and highly undemocratic traditions throughout the territory;
    • Indonesia, that continues to deny self-determination to West-Papuans;
    • Israel, whose apartheid policies against Palestinians have been condemned worldwide by human rights advocates;
    • Spain, guilty of jailing human rights defenders and Catalan advocates of free speech and self-determination.
    • It is particularly amusing that the U.S. invited the undemocratic, unpopular and auto-proclaimed “interim president” of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, while the UN-recognized government is excluded.

Biden’s summit catered to allies, excluded millions, and reflected double standards and puzzling selection criteria

What credibility can Biden’s summit have when it excludes millions of people from participation? Biden’s team opted for what the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace calls a “big-tent approach,” which inevitably means catering to geopolitical allies, favoritism, double standards, inexplicable distinctions, and accepting the adverse diplomatic pushback by those nations and peoples excluded.

What exactly is Biden’s understanding of the word “democracy”?

Further, what exactly does Biden understand under the word “democracy”?

    • Just periodic elections? Is it not more important to test the reality,
    • whether the elections offer real choices?
    • Whether they can bring about change in domestic and international policies?
    • Whether the electorate has a meaningful opportunity to influence the selection of candidates?
    • Whether the populations are proactively informed by governments and regularly consulted on their needs?
    • Whether there is real correlation between the will of the people and the governmental policies that affect them?

It is illusory to pretend Biden’s summit can be considered democratic

It is the participation by all stakeholders that makes democracy work. Similarly, it is the participation of all states that would give legitimacy to the summit. It is a misnomer, an oxymoron, to pretend that this exclusionary event can be considered democratic.

This summit has been called by a President who routinely ignores UN decisions and frustrates its actions, especially re Israel

A true “democracy summit” can and should be convened by the UN and be all-inclusive, based on multilateralism and sovereign equality. In the light of repeated North Atlantic Treaty Organization provocations against Belarus, China and Russia, what the international community urgently needs is cool heads and détente. No one needs a divisive summit launched by a host who systematically ignores decisions of the UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council and frustrates action in the UN Security Council by vetoing more than 80 resolutions, mostly to shield Israel from criticism or sanctions.

What are the qualities of a “true democracy”?

A truly inclusive summit took place at the UN in 2005 on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the entry into force of the UN Charter. The UN World Summit ended with its “outcome document” unanimously adopted as General Assembly Resolution 60/1, which reaffirms

    • that democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives.
    • Most importantly, contrary to the U.S. claim to hold a patent on democracy, the international community agreed that “while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy, that it does not belong to any country or region,” and
    • reaffirmed the necessity of due respect for the sovereignty of states and the right of self-determination of peoples.

Biden has chosen to go outside the UN system to propose an “exclusive club”, reflecting a Cold War mentality

A Democracy Fund at the UN was established in 2005. Here is where the U.S. could make a significant contribution, rather than going outside the UN system and proposing an “exclusive club” of “good guys” to confront the “bad guys.” This is an obsolete Cold War mentality.

Biden’s selective summit ignores the key differing functions between International and Domestic democracies

  • International democracy means ensuring equitable participation by all and respecting the sovereign equality of states and their right to see things differently than we do.
  • Domestic democracy means respecting a plurality of views, which entails access to information — not homologated corporate news and social control through censorship by government and its echo chambers.

It’s time to send a wakeup call to the U.S., UK, and EU to understand what “democracy” and “value-based diplomacy” truly mean

  • When will the U.S., United Kingdom and European Union understand that “democracy” means people power, pro-actively consulting the public, conducting referendums, achieving social justice?
  • “Value-based” diplomacy as supposedly practiced by the U.S., U.K. and EU would have some validity if it were truly based on values such as peace and human rights, if it were objective and not arbitrary, if it would not apply double standards. Alas, it is a scam.

Fatuous slogans like “America is Back” and “MAGA” reflect America’s “imperial arrogance”

Biden’s “America Is Back” reminds us unpleasantly of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” — both slogans suggesting that the U.S. persists in its imperial arrogance and will continue ordering people around.

History will judge Biden’s summit for what it is – phony self-praise targeting China, Hungary, and Russia

This counterproductive “summit” will be forgotten by most as soon as it has ended. History will judge it as a PR stunt — a phony exercise in self-praise and a provocation against other cultures, including the Chinese, Hungarian and Russian.

Practicing the tenets of the UN Declaration of Human Rights would earn US respect again

It is easy to make the U.S. respected again. It suffices to practice the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which then-President of the UN Commission on Human Rights Eleanor Roosevelt advanced so successfully in 1948.

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January 6 Shows Why Corporate Political Spending Is Bad for Democracy Corporations have no interest in a functioning democracy; they will support any system that protects their bottom line. by Ben Horton, Truthout December 5, 2021

Poll Finds Most Young Americans Say US Democracy Is “In Trouble” or “Failed” The poll comes as young Americans are poised to inherit monumental political, economic and environmental challenges. by Sharon Zhang, Truthout, December 2, 2021

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