Third World Models for the Bush Regime

January 24, 2004
By Justin Podur
ZNet Commentary

January 24, 2004
By Justin Podur
ZNet Commentary

People concerned with the plight of people in poor countries often object to US interventions in the third world. They object not only to the military interventions, the bombings, and the support for reactionary elites that characterizes first world treatment of the poor countries, but also to the imposition of economic and political models – the imposition, for example, of International Monetary Fund restructuring that destroys the social sectors of an economy and turns poor countries into ‘debt-repayment machines’ that have no hope of development and no end in sight. These kinds of objections could be unfair to third world regimes, however, because they deny that influence can go in the other direction. The Bush regime (and others among the rich and powerful countries, notably Canada) seems to have patterned itself on various third world regimes.

Uganda in the Congo as the model for the Iraq invasion

Many liberal critics of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq make an analogy to the US invasion and destruction of Vietnam decades before. Africa scholar John F. Clark uses the Vietnam analogy to make a different point (1). He argues that Uganda, intervening in the Congo in 1998, had no clear goal or strategy and consequently has gotten sucked into a ‘quagmire’ that is corrupting, isolating, and ultimately weakening the Ugandan regime, just as occurred with the United States in Vietnam. He is careful to point out the differences, however: Uganda has a direct border with the Congo, unlike the US with Vietnam, and hence has a greater stake in what happens there. Uganda is a small, weak, African state and not the global superpower. Clark’s analogy is flawed in other ways. Vietnam was not a ‘quagmire’, and the United States knew what it was doing when it got involved there: it was destroying what Noam Chomsky calls ‘the threat of a good example’, teaching a lesson to third world liberation movements that to take an independent path meant destruction. And, as Chomsky argues, the US succeeded in teaching that lesson.

Uganda had no such motives in its intervention in the Congo. That is why the US invasion of Iraq is a better analogy. Uganda did make the argument that invading the Congo was necessary for its security, to prevent cross-border raiding (which was, unlike the threat of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, real). But Uganda’s intervention did not make Uganda any more secure. Uganda’s regime had a lot of international good will, for example from the IMF and World Bank who admired its neoliberalism. It dissipated a lot of that good will in its invasion of the Congo, however.

Uganda did, and does, earn a lot of money from plundering the Congo. Clark says: “The extraction and export of Congolese natural resources, including timber, coffee, gold, diamonds, and other commodities, via Uganda has in some regards had a salutary effect on Uganda’s national economy.” (pg. 152) Meanwhile, the plunder is corrupting the Ugandan army and regime: “At the petty level, soldiers in Uganda’s troubled regions often conspire with local rebels to steal money and property from local residents. On a grander scale, senior officers, most notoriously the president’s own brother, Salim Saleh, profit by selling (often defective) arms to the government at inflated prices.” (pg. 153) Uganda’s regime has handed out Congo’s resources as patronage to build loyalty. It has also used the invasion to drastically increase its defense budget.

Since the invasion of the Congo by Rwanda and Uganda, followed by Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia, occurred some five years before the US invasion of Iraq, it is quite plausible that the Bush regime modeled its invasion and plunder of Iraq after Uganda’s actions in the Congo. The similarities are quite striking, and the effects on the invaders are likely to be similar. Clark warns: “Those who are posted to the war zones will inevitably become imbued with a culture of violence and corruption, which civil war and occupation inevitably breed, instead of learning the economic skills of an honest civilian life… the levels of repression and corruption in [the] government have escalated, while [the] citizens have a diminished sense of their president’s respect for the rule of law. Even the putative goal of improving the country’s internal security situation has not been realized…

“All that remains is the inevitable withdrawal in defeat and the full manifestation of the negative consequences.” (pg. 161)

The Mexican Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) as the model for the Republican Party

The current regime of Mexico is one of President Vicente Fox’s ‘Partido de Accion Nacional’ (PAN). PAN defeated the PRI, the ‘Institutional Revolutionary Party’, that ruled over Mexico for over 70 years, in elections in 2000. The PRI used a variety of tactics and tricks to maintain its 70 year dictatorship in Mexico. These included bribery, corruption, repression, and the outright theft of an election (gasp!) in 1988. The opposition (‘Partido de la Revolucion Democratica’, PRD) almost certainly won that election, but the PRI claimed ‘computer failure’ and annulled the results. The PRD, afraid of repression, decided not to mobilize its supporters to defend its victory.

Robert Kuttner has made an analogy between the Republican Party in the United States and the PRI (2). A series of changes brought by Republicans to legislative procedures in the Congress and the Senate have centralized power and reduced the possibilities for hearings and amendments. Democrats and Republicans have colluded in creating ‘safe seats’, where most incumbent seats are difficult to contest, resulting in a ‘nearly frozen House that is structurally tilted Republican.’ Voting machines are manufactured by companies with ties to the Republican party, and the 2000 election in the US showed that there are many ways voters can be harrassed and prevented from voting. New legislation has made that kind of harrassment even more likely. The Republicans have access to far more money. And the courts are now under Republican control: “if George W. Bush is re-elected, a Republican president will have controlled judicial appointments for 20 of the 28 years from 1981 to 2008”.

The United States record of sending military advisors to Latin American countries to train them in fighting rebellions and social movements is well known. But, reviewing the record of the PRI and the current actions of the Republican party, who can doubt that the PRI has sent its advisors to the Bush team to show them how to create a single-party dictatorship? (3)

The Syrian Police as the Model for Canada-US Security Cooperation

Maher Arar, a Syrian-Canadian, was arrested while traveling through the United States, probably (the details are unknown) because the Canadian intelligence services provided the US intelligence services with ‘information’ that Arar was ‘linked’ to ‘terrorism’. The United States proceeded to deport Arar to Syria, where he was jailed and tortured for ten months. Under torture, the Syrian police elicited a ‘confession’ from Arar that he was in fact ‘connected with al-Qaeda’. A reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, Juliet O’Neill, wrote an article on November 8 quoting a Canadian intelligence source saying that Arar had ‘confessed’ to being a ‘terrorist’. On January 21, 2004, Canadian police raided O’Neill’s house and office, seizing documents for an investigation as to whether she breached Canada’s new Security of Information Act, an act that makes it illegal to communicate leaked secret documents.

The police probably also wanted to find out who O’Neill’s source was, since the Canadian security services don’t answer to the government – the Canadian government has been trying to find out from US authorities how they got the ‘tip’ on Arar in the first place, with little success. Canada’s new (and unelected) Prime Minister, Paul Martin, commented on this incident from the Davos World Economic Forum: “We are not a police state and we have no intention of being a police state and there is a balance between how does one protect the nation’s security and what are the steps taken.” Arar, for his part, launched a lawsuit against the United States today, seeking damages, the clearing of his name, and assurances that no one in his situation will be treated similarly. (4)

Also in Canada last month (on December 8, 2003), civil liberties lawyer Rocco Galati stopped taking high profile ‘terrorism’ cases after receiving what he took to be a ‘credible threat’ which he believed came from Canadian or US intelligence services. At a press conference, he played the tape from his answering machine, which warned him that if he didn’t stop representing ‘terrorists’, he would be ‘a dead wop’. Galati found that the Canadian police refused him any protection, and as a result felt compelled to stop taking the cases he had handled. “We now live in Colombia,” he said, “because the rule of law is meaningless. It means that lawyers cannot represent anyone even in what you profess to be a democracy here in Canada.”

The actions of the intelligence agencies in these cases suggest various models. Galati’s suggestion, Colombia, is a good candidate: in that country, the authorities routinely refuse protection to human rights defenders, who are frequently threatened (and, unlike in North America, frequently murdered by death squads linked to the government and military). Given the practical co-operation between Syria, the United States, and Canada in the detention and torture of Arar, Syrian intelligence services might be helping and advising the North American agencies. Syria’s detention of Arar for 10 months without any semblance of due process or trial could, if it is a general model for how that regime treats prisoners, be the model for the United States prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where over 600 prisoners are being held.

The above are just the tip of the iceberg, of course. The US in particular has been experimenting for quite some time with various economic models from the 3rd world involving breaking unions, repression, and insecure jobs at low wages for the enrichment of a small elite. But influence clearly runs both ways in this regard.

Although there have been no direct sightings of Ugandan, Mexican, Syrian, or Colombian advisors with the North American leadership, it is clear from the direction of policies in North America that these leaders are taking the examples of their southern brothers very seriously indeed. This is cause for celebration. Rather than a unilateral imposition from the first-world to the third world, we have entered an era of two-way cooperation.


1. John F. Clark, ed. “The African Stakes of the Congo War”. Palgrave Publishers, New York, 2003. See Chapter 9, John F. Clark, “Museveni’s Adventure in the Congo War: Uganda’s Vietnam?” 2. Robert Kuttner, “America as a One-Party State,” The American Prospect vol. 15 no. 2, February 1, 2004 . ( 3. Returning briefly to the Uganda parallel, it is interesting that Uganda’s leader, Yoweri Museveni, promotes a political model called “Democracy Without Parties”, banning all alternative political organization. Still, there is reason to suspect that the Bush team has other models besides Uganda, and the Mexican PRI is a likely candidate. 4. Jan 22, 2004, stories: see and

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.