What's Left

November 11, 2003

When a billionaire's buying elections is called "promoting democracy"

By Stephen Gowans

Today's Washington Post says "George Soros, one of the world's richest men, has given away nearly $5 billion to promote democracy in the former Soviet bloc, Africa and Asia." ("Soros deep pockets vs. Bush).

Saying Soros promotes democracy is kind of like saying Augusto Pinochet restored democracy to Chile -- it works, if you're willing to really stretch and allow a certain laxity in the use of the word "democracy." Otherwise, the claim is pure nonsense.

Soros doesn't promote democracy. He spends money to get his favored candidates elected, usually ideologues who will implement "free market reforms" to allow Soros to add to his growing billions.

Naturally, the recipients of this electoral largesse are expected to return the favor, by ripping up anti-privatization laws, auctioning off state assets, selling off state-owned companies, and opening up public services to private control -- whatever will help Soros, and investors like him, find a home for their surplus capital.

These days Soros has set his sights on ousting George Bush in the next presidential election, an ambitious objective Soros hopes to achieve by signing over a king's ransom to such liberal groups as MoveOn.Org and America Coming Together (ACT), hoping they'll help get out the anti-Bush -- that is, the pro-Democrat -- vote come next November. (Soros says Bush's rhetoric reminds him of the Nazis.)

Predictably, the Republicans are outraged, complaining that "George Soros is trying to create a more open society by using an unregulated, under-the-radar-screen, shadowy, soft-money group to do it."

Christine Iverson, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, charges that Soros is "buying the Democratic Party."

Under normal circumstances, the Republicans would outspend the Democrats. This time around it seems the gap won't be so large, though Soros's bankrolling of the anti-Bush forces won't put the billionaire in the position he's accustomed to: being able to confer an enormous electoral advantage on his favored candidate. Bush still has a whole whack of money behind him.

Not too many years ago, Soros was pitch-forking money into the pockets of anti-Milosevic forces in Yugoslavia. The immediate beneficiaries were the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), a collection of opposition parties that had coalesced under a single banner at the behest of the US State Department. Soros was to be the downstream beneficiary.

DOS was committed to the kind of economic policies Soros liked: privatization, an end to subsidies, tax cuts, the whole gamut of indulgent to foreign capital, harsh to the domestic population policies called "free market reforms."

In fact, Soros was using "unregulated, under-the-radar-screen, shadowy," means to oust the incumbent under the guise of promoting an open-society -- in effect, what the Republicans complain he's doing to Bush.

Except, back then, the Republicans weren't complaining. And neither were a lot of other people. When it was revealed that Soros and the US State Department were working behind the scenes, bankrolling, training and advising DOS, and the student resistance group, Otpor, the revelations were ignored, even by influential members of the American Left. Where massive outside interference in the elections that saw Nicaragua's Sandinistas swept from power had spurred Leftists in the US to speak out in outrage, outside meddling in Yugoslavia's elections was greeted with silence.

To the Left, Milosevic was far from the sympathetic character Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista comrades were, and so the beleaguered president was left out to dry, an act tantamount to springing to the defense of a falsely accused murderer of glowing attributes, while leaving one who isn't your cup of tea to the hangman.

Soros's involvement in the Balkans doesn't end there. He's also bankrolling the Hague Tribunal, the kangaroo court set up by NATO to try Milosevic, and other (mostly Serb) figures of the recent conflicts in the Balkans, conflicts the West itself had a hand in sparking.

So why is Soros trying to buy the outcome of the next US presidential election? The answer may have a lot to do with Bush's form, as opposed to his substance.  Bush is far more inclined than any president in living memory (with the possible exception of Reagan) to adopt the kind of strutting, macho, go-it-alone, style that rankles opponents and inspires opposition. Plus, he's irretrievably connected to big oil.

Soros, one suspects, was much happier with Clinton. Clinton was widely seen to be the humanitarian president, who kept major allies on side, and intervened in Yugoslavia, to stop a genocide.

By comparison, Bush comes across as a madman who lies liberally to justify wars waged for oil, undertaken in brazen violation of international law and over the objections of major allies. It's easy to picture Bush sporting a short moustache, dreaming of world conquest. Clinton's more likely to be seen dreaming of conquests of an altogether different -- and sexual -- nature.

That's the perception, anyway, but Bush and Clinton are not so different, Bush's dreams of world conquest and Clinton's dreams of intern conquest, aside.

Clinton trampled international law to attack Yugoslavia and lied boldly about his reasons for doing so.  A genocide was in progress, he said, but when forensic pathologists scoured Kosovo looking for evidence of the genocide, they found none. Many left, complaining bitterly that they'd been deceived by Clinton's "war propaganda." (Before there were claimed weapons of mass destruction that couldn't be found, there was a claimed genocide that couldn't be found.)

And Clinton, who sent cruise missiles hurtling toward Sudan, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia without UN authorization,  and who ordered the bombing of Iraq without a UN imprimatur, was as contemptuous of international law -- and world opinion -- as Bush is. Clinton's genius, however, was that he was able to behave exactly as his successor would, without inspiring a lot of opposition, and startlingly, managing to enlist the backing of liberals.

Soros says he supports Democratic presidential contenders John Kerry, Richard Gephardt and retired General Wesley Clark, his comrade in the battle to oust Slobodan Milosevic. Clark led NATO's 78-day air war on Yugoslavia.

The retired warrior's conduct as head of NATO forces was far from exemplary. Dubbed an antiwar candidate by his backers, Clark was known to jump from his chair during the Kosovo campaign, slap his fist on the table, and shout, "I've got to get the maximum violence out of this campaign -- now!" (Washington Post, September 21, 1999).

Human Rights Watch, the watchdog connected to the US foreign policy establishment, complained that Clark's forces committed grave breaches of humanitarian law. Read: they committed war crimes, at Clark's behest.

But you don't need Human Rights Watch to flesh out Clark's career as a war criminal. The deliberate bombings of factories, electrical power stations, bridges, and even a radio-TV building were all amply covered by the media. It's curious then that the real butcher of Belgrade, should be backed by Soros in the presidential race, while the alleged butcher of Belgrade is on trial for war crimes before a Soros bankrolled tribunal.

But then Clark's charm, good looks, and Rhodes scholar CV make him the kind of candidate Soros can back: ready, like Clinton, to do his part in opening up societies for Soros to invest in, while being deft enough not to make the same mistake Bush has made -- looking too much like a Nazi while doing so.

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