US has no right to lecture others on democracy

It is a very old story. Even when slave owing was legal in the United States before the American Civil War (1861-65), the country insisted on presenting itself as a democratic model to the world. Not even the bloodiest civil war ever fought to that point by any European or North American country changed its self-regard in this respect.

And for almost two-thirds of the 20th century, the most humiliating and vicious segregation-often enforced by lynching, torture and murder-was practiced across the US' southern states even as legions of US troops apparently fought to defend democracy in endless wars, usually on behalf of merciless tyrants, around the world.

The idea that the US exemplifies the only model of democracy and legitimate government around the world is inherently absurd. For if the "freedom" that US politicians and pundits love to endlessly wax eloquent about means anything at all, it should be freedom to at least tolerate diversity. But the neoconservative moralism enforced by successive US administrations over the past 40 and more years is very different. "Freedom" is only officially free according to them if it is in accord with US national interests, policies and prejudices.

This obvious absurdity and exercise in blind arrogance was used to justify the continued US micro-management and de facto occupation of countries from Afghanistan to Iraq and the continuing US military presence in Syria in flat defiance of the expressed requests of the Damascus government and of international law.

Saddam Hussein was perfectly acceptable to the Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan administrations in the 1970s and 1980s when Iraq was fighting Iran in the bloodiest war in the history of the Middle East. He became "the embodiment of evil" and of tyranny in the eyes of the US only when he invaded Kuwait in defiance of US wishes.

It should be self-evident even in Washington that there cannot be only one model of democracy. Late British political philosopher Isaiah Berlin, whom I was privileged to know and study under, always warned that any attempt to impose one and only one model of government on the world, whatever it was, would inevitably lead to conflict and, if successful, could only be maintained by the enforcement of tyranny.

Lasting peace and progress only come when the most technologically advanced and militarily powerful societies acknowledge that different forms of government exist around the world and that they don't have the divine right to go around trying to topple them. This is the secret of the success of China's trade, development and diplomatic policies, as it seeks mutually beneficial relations with other countries regardless of their political system and ideology they follow.

China's government model, so maligned in the US and by its allies around the world, has helped the country lift more people out of poverty in the past 40 years than any other country. The Chinese government has been empowering its people with growing prosperity, economic security and individual dignity such as they have never known before.

This is why China's has become an admired and increasingly emulated model for an increasing number of societies. Which in turn explains the US' frustration, rage and envy toward China.

How democratic can the US system of government be when for the past half a century it has presided over the decline of living standards of its own people?

Also, the patterns of infection and death in the COVID-19 pandemic show that many minority ethnic groups across the US including African Americans, Asians and Hispanics-and Native Americans who remain "penned up" in their impoverished "reservations"-are still discriminated against in so many aspects.

Until these great injustices are remedied or at least greatly ameliorated, it ill-behooves US leaders to go on lecturing others on democracy.

The author is a senior fellow at the American University in Moscow.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.