The road to liberal democracy is strewn with pitfalls — for Ukraine and the United States | Apr 27-May 3, 2022

Ukraine is on our minds and almost everyone – except for some alt-universe Trumpists – hopes that Ukraine will hold on as a sovereign liberal democracy. The United States is helping Ukraine, especially with President Joe Biden’s leadership in NATO and with the armaments and funding we have sent to Ukraine. It is remarkable that we have almost reached a consensus on this, across the political spectrum. However, we must be careful not to cultivate a sense of triumphalism in the moral leadership of Ukraine’s defense. We have no reason to make this assertion.

In our country, we have a distorted political democracy. Access to the ballot, especially for poor, black and brown citizens, is contested every day. In our country, we neither strive for nor oppose social democracy and economic democracy. We do not provide universal, affordable health care. In our country, daycare for infants and toddlers is beyond the reach of working-class families and runs counter to middle-class monthly budgets. In our state, community college tuition in 1980 was equivalent to $800 a year in today’s dollars. Now it’s over $4,000. We have allowed Internet access, which should be a public service, to be dominated by monopolistic corporations. Household spending for AT&T and Xfinity is triple what we paid for communications before the Internet. The majority of retirees receive a monthly Social Security check of $1,700 or less for economic survival.

In short, we don’t have a liberal democracy in our country, a democracy that allows for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For millions of us, it’s just about trying to make ends meet.

Liberal democracy includes respect for the sovereignty and autonomy of others in other countries. This is why we support Ukraine. Looking in the mirror is the principle that we have repeatedly violated around the world. We allowed a coup d’etat in 1954 for the benefit of the oil companies against the democratically elected leaders in Iran, which resulted in a long autocracy for the Shah of Iran and the longer reign, so far, of the Republic Islamic. We orchestrated a coup in Guatemala in 1954 at the behest of the banana companies, eliminating the democratically elected president. We refused to allow elections in Vietnam and instead embarked on a 15-year war against the Vietnamese people. Our war crimes there cannot be forgotten.

In Vietnam, we instituted chemical warfare, defoliating millions of acres of trees, poisoning water supplies and dropping nearly 400,000 tons of napalm bombs, causing immediate and decades-long death and disfigurement to the Vietnamese people. American soldiers brutally killed more than 500 people – women, children and old people – in the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968. More than 3 million Vietnamese lost their lives in this war, as did 58,000 American soldiers.

But we didn’t seem to learn from Vietnam. Instead, we engineered the 1973 coup in Chile, overthrowing the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and establishing a military dictatorship for more than two decades. We invaded and occupied the small country the size of Tacoma, Grenada, in 1983. We embarked on the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 under a completely false pretext, resulting in the death of a half a million Iraqis and 4,491 US military dead, as well as the Abu Ghraib torture chambers run by the US military. And, of course, there was our occupation and our withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The Biden administration supports the International Criminal Court (ICC) in view of Russia’s war crimes. The ICC is the only permanent international court competent to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. However, the United States has no status within the ICC: we voted against its creation in 1998. Former President George Bush feared being considered for war crimes following the occupation of Iraq, and so Congress passed legislation to oppose any future jurisdiction of the court or its tribunals over US leaders. These actions were the antithesis of liberal democracy.

So, yes, we should be all for Ukraine, but let’s do it with some humility, acknowledging our history of violating sovereignty around the world, not to defend democracy, but rather to create the platform landing ground for global corporate capitalism. Only then can we truly defend Ukrainian liberal democracy.

John Burbank is the retired founder and executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle.