Syria: Makloube and the Election

I remember that May afternoon like it was yesterday. We had just finished eating makloube at my uncle’s home. Makloube translates to “flipped over” in English. The food itself—consisting of meat, rice pilaf, and eggplants—is layered and cooked then served upside down. It was my aunt’s specialty.

Makloube—consisting of meat, rice pilaf, and eggplants—is layered and cooked then served upside down.
Makloube—consisting of meat, rice pilaf, and eggplants—is layered and cooked then served upside down.

After my stomach was well satisfied, I suddenly had an epiphany: the Syrian Arab Republic was holding a referendum to determine the approval rate of the incumbent President Bashar Al-Assad, and for the first time in my life, I was eligible to vote.

After an hour of deliberation, I finally convinced my father to take me to an election center. My uncle informed us that the nearest ballot hall was located at the Karen Jeppe Secondary School in the predominantly Armenian Meedan neighborhood; the school where I endured most of my suspensions and beatings. Today, Meedan (referred to by Armenians as Nor Kyough) is the favorite destination for the mortar bombs launched by the opposition.

The aftermath of the mortar bomb attacks on the Meedan neighborhood of Aleppo.
The aftermath of the mortar bomb attacks on the Meedan neighborhood of Aleppo that took place in the days leading up to the June 3 Presidential Elections.

Even though my options were limited to a YES or NO vote in favor or against the incumbent president, I was excited. When we finally arrived to the school, I realized that there was no voting booth. I was supposed to cast my vote while two mukhabarat intelligence officers stood beside me.

When I got my hands on the ballot sheet I paused and looked up towards the officers. They were courteous. They smiled at me in a manner that ensured that I made the “right” decision. And indeed I did; on that day, I contributed to the 97 percent approval rate of President Assad.

Of course, a lot has changed in Syria since the 2007 “elections.” Between the barrel bombs of the regime and the mortar bombs of the opposition, the country has become a mere shadow of its former self. Half of Syria’s population has been displaced internally or as refugees. And now, for the first time in a very long time, the country is holding elections where more than one candidate is running for the presidency.

Certainly the outcome of the June 3, 2014 Syrian elections is not in doubt; barring a miracle, President Assad will start a third term as the head of the state. But while western governments and the mainstream media would like us to believe that the election is a farce, the reality is otherwise.

In the past several days, millions of Syrian refugees and compatriots have submitted their absentee ballots at more than 40 Syrian embassies around the world, including in Lebanon, Armenia, Jordan, Russia, and elsewhere. According to most reports, the vast majority of the Syrians who have cast their absentee ballots have voted for President Assad.

The mainstream media has provided numerous explanations for the massive turnout. The BBC concluded that Syrians are voting for the incumbent president out of fear. In fact, in the case of Lebanon, some sources have even suggested that Assad’s ally, Hezbollah, has threatened Syrians and forced them to vote.

Other sources have asserted that the election is a farce because the other two candidates, Maher Hajjar and Hassan Al-Nouri did not have the proper means to campaign. And still, others have implied that the aforementioned candidates are mere puppets of the Assad regime.

The Lebanese news agency, Future TV, notorious for its anti-Assad rhetoric, questioned the logic of the Syrians who were voting for the incumbent president. The Future TV reporter asked a Syrian man wearing a Thawb—the traditional Arabian gown—“Why are you voting for the same regime? In the same fashion?”

The man from Aleppo replied, “The regime did not force us to leave our country. The terrorists did.” Future TV concluded its report by labeling the upcoming elections as, “Entrenched in Blood: the Tragedy of Democracy.”

Of course, holding elections while the country is embroiled in a destructive war is less than ideal. More importantly, the legitimacy and allegiance of the two presidential contenders, Hajjar and Al-Nouri, is subject to scrutiny. However, on the political front, the 2014 Syrian Presidential Election represents a step forward; it certainly is a step ahead of the 2007 referendum that I was a part of.

In 2007, Syria was a totalitarian state. A revolution was bound to happen. Since March 2011, the regime and the opposition have been guilty of spilling Syrian blood, destroying homes and creating a refugee crisis. But if at the beginning of the uprising the Syrian people were able to associate themselves with the demonstrators who were demanding democracy, freedom and reform, that is not the case today.

In the past three years, President Assad’s military strategy and political resilience has ensured his survival longer than anyone could have anticipated. And by surviving the worse, Assad has managed to make a makloube out of the Syrian revolution, turning it upside down. Of course, President Assad cannot take all the credit for this turn of events. The opposition has played a significant role.

When in April 2013, Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition forces, decided to resign from his post, it was clear that the opposition in Syria was in shambles. The lack of unity within the ranks of the opposition and the resilience of President Assad, have led us to where we are now.

Today, the opposition has no identity and zero credibility. The moment foreign fighters emerged in the country was the moment the Syrian Revolution ceased to exist. After all, it is inconceivable that foreign fighters from 80 different countries are fighting to bring democracy to the Syrian people. More importantly, this is one of the reasons why the opposition is rapidly losing its grassroots support.

President Assad’s imminent victory in the June 3, 2014 Syrian Presidential Election, is merely a reflection of the current reality in Syria. The Syrians will elect President Assad, not because they are afraid, but because they already know what to expect from his regime, whereas the opposition, with all of its factions, remains a dark mystery.

In fact, whether the western governments like it or not, in today’s circumstances, President Assad would win any free and fair election that takes place in Syria. And after all, that’s what Democracy is all about, right? After three years of destruction, the Syrian people will choose peace and security in exchange for their silent obedience. And no one has the right to blame them.

Moreover, Assad’s victory in the upcoming elections will be a resounding defeat for the Western rhetoric. Assad might not have won the battle on the ground, but for now, he has won the propaganda war.

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Sarkis Balkhian

Sarkis Balkhian is a contrarian, political, and human rights activist focusing on the Middle East and the South Caucasus regions. He is the advocacy director of the Aleppo Compatriotic Charitable Organization, a group supporting Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. Balkhian holds a B.A in government and international relations from Clark University and an M.A. in diplomacy and international relations from Yerevan State University. He is based in Yerevan.

27 Comments

  1. It is with great sadness that I read the above, clearly the devil you know attitude reigns with a war weary people bombarded into submission by their own government. Such is life under the tyrants of the Middle East. To equate this to democracy winning through, is to distort the meaning of the word, I prefer to describer it as a gangster and his mob offering one a deal or death, the kind you cannot sensibly refuse. By any standard of Middle East tyranny the Assad family must be ranked amongst the vilest to offer a deal one simply cannot refuse. They are nothing more than a bunch of gangsters.
    Leslie

    • Leslie, I think you should go and educate yourself about Syria. Maybe the Asaad government has been there long enough. For fifty years Syria and Syrians lived a life that brought them comfort and peace and “security”. I don’t know where you live, but I visited Syria many times before these western Gangesters and their oil Barons wanted to destroys this beautiful and historical country. I felt safe everywhere I went in Syria that I have never felt in any western so called “civilized” countries. Believe me, these bastards would do anything to destroy a country so they can go and control it later with the pretext of so called “democracy”. So, open your eyes Leslie, they could do the same in my country Armenia. Only because they don’t give a stuff about people, they only care about making profit. And my people, Armenians, wake up because we can be next, and if we are not careful, we might even loose Arstakh (Gharapakh).

    • You don’t say where you’re from but I’m guessing the US or Europe. I agree with Zohrab. I am English and I visited the Middle East from ’05-’07 for several weeks alone – Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt. The only place where I was able to move about unharassed as a woman was Syria and likewise the only place I even dreamed of walking about after dark was Damascus. It was the most beautiful ME capital I visited and I am heart broken that it is destroyed. Assad is a dictator, correct and many people were afraid of falling foul of the regime but name me a ME country that isn’t run by a dictator? Assad is by no means the worst and I am hugely disappointed with him that he did not try and make some moves to change his father’s old guard regime. I don’t know enough about it to understand why not, it seemed like a perfect opportunity. Maybe he was afraid, too dependent on the military, unwilling to dismantle his father’s legacy – who knows. However, if you think that you would prefer to live under a western approved regime like the Al Saud’s than under Assad (of the old Syria obviously not right now)then really, you need to inform yourself before you comment.

  2. Much like in this article, I have read elsewhere, and also heard Syrian Christian leaders at Heritage Foundation make reference to combatants from 80 foreign countries waging this destructive war in Syria. The images the figure casts to my mind are the bearded extremists who have infiltrated the country illegally and resort to extreme violent acts.

    Then other questions pop in mind. What about combatants who are legitimately there, by their own admission, such as much disciplined and ferocious Lebanese as Hizballah combatants and Iranians from their national guard? There are also Russian military advisers in the country. And when reports claim – much like what is said in this article that: “it is inconceivable that foreign fighters from 80 different countries are fighting to bring democracy” – I wonder if fingers also being pointed to these potent foreign fighters, cohorts with the Syrian Arab Army?

    What I am alluding to is the following, reporting about the civil war in Syria is mostly “Makloube”. What we see on the table to report about is not necessarily the true depiction of what was and is being cooked in this deadly and destructive conflict.

    • What I like to say Vahe, is that this is not about Syrians wanting to bring their government down. Of course, there are people in Syria who are not and were not happy with the Asaad government. That is fine. But the real issue is that this war is nothing to do with Syrians fighting each other. This is a war to Screw the Russians, to get rid of them out of the middle-east, to change the GAS rout, and of course destroy the country in the hope that they will go in and build a new Syria, control financially, control the country, (a good example of this is Iraq)and than LEND them money through IMF so Syria will be burdened for the next 50 years. How about that. Look what they are doing in Ukrain. We, Armenians have to be ready for this, because the OIL and GAS from Azerbaijan is more IMPORTANT to these GREEDY BASTARDS than the BLOOD of the Armenian People. Wake up.

  3. Great article Sarkis, keep up the good work.

    One thing I would actually modify, when you said the “opposition” remains a dark mystery, in fact I think many Syrians know what’s awaiting them as the alternative: genocide. If whatever is fighting in Syria today takes a hold of the country, to begin with, not a single Alawite would make it out alive, nor any Christian: Arab, Armenian or otherwise. Next they would go after the Sunnis who “collaborated with the government and backstabbed them”. Of course the “them” in this case means extremist Chechens, Turks, Azeris, Pakistanis, Afghanis, Saudis, Libyans, and whatever else.

    Thanks to the internet, today with a small and simple search effort the lies of the “mainstream media” is quickly revealed. All news sources have flaws, but at least in the US, anyone using CNN, FOX, MSNBC and the like as their main news source, especially for foreign events, are far removed from reality. Take for example the clueless first post above, straight from outer space. He/She has a problem with the Assad family, but Alqaeda terrorists with their mass murder, cannibalism and beheadings are a-ok in their book. The perfect indoctrinated “mainstream news” consumer.

    Too bad for them, there is enough information out there today to overcome the lies of the lunatic hungry-for-war neocon rats.

    Today’s mainstream neocon news was funny though, as their social media tool of choice for the “Arab Spring” backfired on them. As they were publishing articles claiming the Syrian election was a “grotesque parody of democracy”, Assad’s facebook campaign page was getting “likes” at the speed of light and it was clear he had a substantial number of supporters not just in Syria but all over the world. Of course their next step, using “human rights activists”, was to “criticize facebook”.

    So when a Sultan wannabe dictator named Aliyev gets more than 90% vote, it is conveniently ignored by these hypocrites, and they even have the audacity of calling the Azeri government a “secular democracy”, but when a dictator they don’t like all of a sudden becomes popular and actually -does- get that many votes, it becomes a “grotesque parody of democracy”.

    Now as far as “grotesque parody of democracy”, I wonder, so the US has the fool-proof “real” practice of Democracy, with its “electoral college” deciding whether to allow or disallow the popular vote according to their needs? If that’s not a “grotesque parody of democracy”, I don’t know what is.

    • American people don’t anymore choose their President. Every Candidate who aspires to become the president of the USA must VISIT ISRAEL to be ACCEPTED otherwise they have no chance of running as a president. How stupid this is and the American people is accepting this. How shameful.

    • Zaven Balian

      With a stroke of your pen you characterized the thousands who were killed fighting in this war to bring about change in the governance of their native land as mercenaries serving the interests of foreign powers in their own country. I believe the family members of these victims will find your characterization insensitive to say the least.

      The former speaker of the U.S. House famously declared that “All politics is local”. This deadly conflict in Syria is very much local and the foreign powers are there at the invitation of the warring factions and not against their will, to push their cause with a misguided sense of solving the social and political grievances in Syria with a brute force, and I am referring to all warring factions.

    • “so the US has the fool-proof “real” practice of Democracy, with its ‘electoral college’”

      Yes, the U.S. has fool-proof democracy. That is why it has existed for over 200 years. That is why 1 million people annually, including thousands of Armenians, choose to make the U.S. their permanent home. That is why it rules the world, while pathetic states such as Syria and Armenia are ruled by others. The electoral college is part of that democracy. It ensures that smaller states get slightly greater voice. Only the enemies of America (Putin and co.) and their spokespeople do not get it. If Syria had a real democracy such as the U.S., it would not be torn in this civil war. If Armenia were a true democracy, it would not be Russia’s slave.

    • “yes the US has fool proof Democracy”.

      You have no clue what Syria is.
      You have no clue who Syrians are.
      You have no clue what Armenia is.
      You have no clue who Armenians are.

      You don’t even have a clue as to what a “Democracy” is.

      I suggest you go back to wikipedia and familiarize yourself with basic terminology before coming here to hurl your cheap shots and making a fool of yourself as always.

      The US is a republic not a “democracy” and the republic operates under democratic principles, not by pure democracy. The US has an electoral college precisely to (supposedly) undo the flaw of a “democratic election”. And in every case those “democratic elections” are democratic within a narrow spectrum with two parties dominating it, and which at the end of the day are in fact one party, save for superficial “opposing viewpoints” and name-calling on TV. And in the last election, if 100% of the American public voted for Romney, Obama would still become President – that’s how American ‘Democracy’ works.

      What rules America is money and special interests. People do not come here to “practice democracy” – their vote does not count for a damn thing. What people do come to America for mainly is economic success.

      This all being said, America does offer certain freedoms one can’t enjoy anywhere else and you don’t have a monopoly in claiming the US is great. Yes the USA is a great country, in spite of YOU claiming it is. It does not mean its government is not corrupt or has not been compromised. And it does not mean that everything about it can be applied to other countries like a simpleton who knows nothing about anything past his nose.

    • “The US is a republic not a “democracy” and the republic operates under democratic principles, not by pure democracy.”
      Clearly you have no clue about what democracy is. A successful democracy (such as the U.S.) does not mean a pure democracy. Pure democracy (i.e. a direct democracy, such as the Athenian democracy) is the worst democracy, which is why it fails. The fact that the U.S. is a representative democracy instead of a pure democracy does not mean that it is not a democracy. It just means it is a better democracy (and as proven by history, the most optimal democracy). Electoral college is just one feature of that system.

      “in the last election, if 100% of the American public voted for Romney, Obama would still become President” No, he wouldn’t. I suggest you stay away for a while from conspiracy theories and stop making a fool of yourself.

      American’s economic success is a result of its democracy. Still, people do not come to American only for economic success. Many Armenians who come here are not economically successful, but they do not return. Many Armenians come here because they are sick of lack of rule of law, lack of hope, and lack of justice in Armenia. These features, too, are a result of the American democracy.

      I never said that everything in America can be applied to Armenia. There are thousands of local jurisdictions in the U.S., each with its own laws. However, there is no reason that the U.S. constitution cannot be adopted in Armenia. It has made the U.S. the greatest country, and thousands of Armenians choose to live under it. Instead of having Armenians come to the U.S., it only makes sense to move the U.S. (system) to Armenia.

  4. The situation in Syria demonstrates the sad reality of how Armenians are being used by dictators, whether its Arab dictators or Putin. Syria is a dictatorship where the minority elite (Shia/Alewi) oppresses the majority (Sunni). To do that, they use Christian minorities, including Armenians, giving them the impression that the government “protects” them. Same was the case in Iraq, where the minority (this time Sunni), headed by a dictator, ruled the majority, and used Armenians and other Christians as a support base. Those Armenians who think Assad’s Syria is “safe” need to realize that this arrangement is bound to collapse. The majority always wakes up, and the Armenians as always pay the price for allowing themselves to be used by a murderous dictator.

    Regardless of the mistakes of the Syrian opposition, it is clear that Assad is going to go. Whether now or later, he is done. He is a mass murderer, and the people are not going to tolerate him forever. For Armenians, siding with such a murderer is a recipe for tragedy. Unless Armenians want to flee yet another country, the best thing they can do is to stay neutral.

  5. “Unless Armenians want to flee yet another country, the best thing they can do is to stay neutral.” In other words, what the Turkbaijani guest from above is saying, is that the Armenians of Syria should not attempt to repel the Turkish/Azeri supported Islamic terrorists, such as Al-Qaeda, from attacking and looting their communities. It’s obvious that he/she would state something as ridiculous as that, because after all, he/she is attempting to defend its Turkbaijani terrorist compatriots.

    Anyway, it’s imperative that the Armenians of Syria form some kind of a self-defense organization to protect their community. They cannot afford to wait any longer. This is something they must do right now to save what’s remaining of their damaged community. They need guns and they need to learn how to use those guns to defend themselves.

    • Another sleep-inducing and irrelevant response from the “Armenian” poster. Anyway, I never said Syrian-Armenians should not defend their homes. However, such defense has to be local and limited. The civil war is not about Armenians. If Armenians join the pro-Assad forces (as foolishly suggested by the poster) instead of remaining neutral, they will be wiped out in no time.

    • “If Armenians join the pro-Assad forces instead of remaining neutral, they will be wiped out in no time.” That’s another foolish and illogical response by the Turkbaijani guest.

      Whoever said that the Armenians should join the pro-Assad forces? Having guns and using those guns to defend themselves against the attacks of the Turkish/Azeri supported Islamic terrorists, has absolutely nothing to do with President Assad.

      It’s rather amusing how this particular guest states that my comments cause him/her to sleep, but yet, he/she continues to return back to my classroom for further education.

    • Time for educating our Turkish guest some more.
      “Whoever said that the Armenians should join the pro-Assad forces?” You did. I will break it down for you, since you clearly have trouble with basic reading. I stated that Syrian-Armenians need to be neutral. You strongly disagreed. That means you are suggesting that Armenians do not stay neutral, which by definition means siding with one of the players, such as Assad. Yet another foolish post of yours debunked by me.

    • Why don’t you show me the exact place where I stated that “Armenians should join the pro-Assad forces”? You obviously can’t because I never stated such a thing.

      “I stated that Syrian-Armenians need to be neutral. You strongly disagreed.” Yes, I did indeed strongly disagree with your comment which again shows that you wish for the Syrian-Armenians to be neutral and therefore be subjected to violent attacks from those Islamic terrorists. And once again, as I was saying earlier, the Armenians of Syria need to arm themselves with guns and proceed to form a self-defense organization that will defend their community from the enemy.

  6. {“The US is a republic not a “democracy” and the republic operates under democratic principles, not by pure democracy.”}
    (Hagop D // June 13, 2014 at 11:16 pm //)

    Used to be a Republic, [HagopD]. No longer.

    {“ What rules America is money and special interests.”}.
    Quite correct, as demonstrated by a recent study.

    [America is an oligarchy, not a democracy or republic, university study finds]
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/apr/21/americas-oligarchy-not-democracy-or-republic-unive/
    {America is no longer a democracy — never mind the democratic republic envisioned by Founding Fathers.
    Rather, it has taken a turn down elitist lane and become a country led by a small dominant class comprised of powerful members who exert total control over the general population — an oligarchy, said a new study jointly conducted by Princeton and Northwestern universities.} (Monday, April 21, 2014)

    As to the reasons why people from all over the world immigrate to US.
    The last thing they come here for is ‘democracy’.
    The main reason is economic: either escape from poverty, or much better opportunity for those coming from more prosperous countries.
    US offers unmatched opportunity for an immigrant to achieve economic success.
    Many reasons: business friendly atmosphere; strong contract law; a vast consumer market; business friendly infrastructure.

    If democracy was the reason for immigration to US, people _from_ the following very (and more) democratic countries in Europe and North American would not immigrate _to_ US:

    Total 2000-2010
    United Kingdom: 800,000.
    Canada: 785,000.
    Germany: 610,000.
    Poland: 470,000.
    Italy: 366,000.

    • Avery,

      I wanted to thank you for bringing that Washington Times article to our attention. As usual, you’re very diligent in the research you do. This particular article, once again shows that the United States is an extremely poor example of a democracy; in fact, according to this article written by an American newspaper, the United States doesn’t even fit the description of a republic. Now that’s truly shameful!

      “The U.S. government now represents the rich and powerful.” This explains the reason why there are over 46.5 million impoverished people in this country, which happens to be a huge superpower country with an abundance of everything you can possibly imagine. The rich are getting richer, while the middle-class and lower-class are getting poorer. As for the millions of Blacks who live in those miserable ghettos, and the millions of Latinos who live in those miserable barrios, their depressing situation is becoming more and more fatal as time passes by.

      “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” This again explains the reason for America’s shameful poverty stats, as well as the enormous amount of inequality that exists in this country.

      “It (America) has taken a turn down elitist lane and become a country led by a small dominant class comprised of powerful members who exert total control over the general population-an oligarchy.” Hey, the other huge superpower country in this world (Russia) also fits that description. This comes to show that Russia isn’t any worse than the United States.

  7. Regarding the earlier mentioned “America is oligarchy” study, here is an interesting revelation from Gilens, the author of the study himself:

    “this notion of America being an oligarchy seems to be a dominant meme in the discussion of our work. It’s not a term that we used in the paper. It’s just a dramatic sort of overstatement of our findings.” http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/princeton-scholar-demise-of-democracy-america-tpm-interview

    Thus, despite some folks’ curious over-excitement that “America is officially an oligarchy,” the label is a “dramatic sort of overstatement.” Of course, one study does not establish the truth, and as with any study, review and debate will determine if it’s correct. Regardless, the study (widely available on the net) does not state that America is not a democracy. In fact, it plainly states that “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association.” p. 24. What it does is point to a problem (disproportionate influence by the wealthy) and states that if the problem continues, American democracy will be under threat. This is nothing new, America has always faced problems, and the reason that has overcome them is precisely because the American democracy has allowed people to point to its flaws.

    Regardless of its problems, the American democracy attracts more people, including thousands of Armenians, than any other country, which has led the U.S. to become the strongest and richest country in the world. Features that attract people to come over (economic opportunities, rule of law, freedom) are all results of the American democracy. If Armenia wants to grow stronger and richer and attract Armenians, it only makes sense for Armenia to adopt that kind of democracy.

  8. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/princeton-scholar-demise-of-democracy-america-tpm-interview

    Gilens, the author of the study said the following:

    {I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups — of economic elites and of organized interests.}

    Let us highlight the part that screams Democracy, Not: “…ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States”.

    Virtually No Influence.
    The very definition of Democracy, Not.

    In a Democracy ordinary citizens have a great deal of influence, in fact determinate influence, over what _their_ government does.

    { You say the United States is more like a system of “Economic Elite Domination” and “Biased Pluralism” as opposed to a majoritarian democracy. What do those terms mean? Is that not just a scholarly way of saying it’s closer to oligarchy than democracy if not literally an oligarchy?

    ….. What “Economic Elite Domination” and “Biased Pluralism” mean is that rather than average citizens of moderate means having an important role in determining policy, ability to shape outcomes is restricted to people at the top of the income distribution and to organized groups that represent primarily — although not exclusively — business.}

    Highlight the Democracy, Not, part: “…ability to shape outcomes is restricted to people at the top of the income distribution and to organized groups that represent primarily — although not exclusively – business”

    Walks like a duck, sounds like a duck – must be a duck.

  9. A key note about the Gilens study is that it’s about the FEDERAL government (check the author’s interview). The American democracy has many levels, including local and state. At the local and state level, the government is fairly responsive to the average citizen. That is why 43 out of 50 states (86%!) have recognized the Armenian Genocide.

    Regarding the federal government, let’s reiterate that Gilens (the author) expressly refused to use the term “oligarchy.” In fact, he called it a “dramatic overstatement.” Nor did the study state that America is not a democracy. It said it’s “threatened.” Page 24 of study. In other words, it’s a warning, not a verdict.

    “In a Democracy ordinary citizens have a great deal of influence, in fact determinate influence, over what _their_ government does.”

    Not necessarily. Democracy is defined as rule of the people, not influence of the people. In a representative democracy, (such as the U.S.), the rule of the people is indirect. We the people elect officials, and they decide what to do. Unlike in Armenia, no one forces us to vote for someone, no one rigs the elections, no one stuffs the ballots. That makes Armenia a non-democracy and the U.S. a democracy.

    While the average folks’ influence on the federal government may be a desirable feature, it’s not part of the definition of a democracy. The American democracy was designed to separate the elected officials from the voters (at the federal level) to ensure that decisions of national importance are made by an informed and educated elite, protected from the changing passions of the public. The author may not like it, but that is his opinion. In fact, his study admits that:

    “Because of the impediments to majority rule that were deliberately built into the U.S. political system – federalism, separation of powers, bicameralism – together with further impediments due to anti-majoritarian congressional rules and procedures, the system has a substantial status quo bias.” P. 18.

    This feature of the American democracy makes change harder, which has ensured the stability of the U.S. democracy. It forces everyone to think hard, debate, and persuade before making an important change (we Armenians have a good phrase for this wise approach: Տաս չափիր, մեկ կտրիր [“before making a cut, measure 10 times”]). In fact, as the study admits, the system makes change difficult both for the average folks and the rich:

    “narrow pro-change majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted only about 30% of the time.” p. 18. “even overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80% of the public favoring a policy change, got that change only about 43% of the time” p. 18. “proposed change with high support [among economically elite Americans] (four-out-of-five in favor) is adopted about 45 percent of the time.” p. 17 “Policies with strong support … among both groups [the elite and interest groups] are only adopted about 56 percent of the time” p. 17.

    To repeat: even when the rich and corporations team up, they get changes done 56% of the time.

    By the way, the study (and not the casually conducted interview) did not state that average citizens have no influence. It said they have little or no INDEPENDENT influence. P. 2. When they get allies among the wealthy or business groups, they get things done: “ordinary citizens … fairly often get the policies they favor, but only because those policies happen also to be preferred by the economically elite citizens who wield the actual influence.” P. 22. Again, the American democracy, by design, forces people to work hard to achieve consensus with others.

    Whether the conclusions of the study are correct is yet unknown. One problem is that the study looks at 1982-2002. This does not cover the election of Obama (a pro-poor socialist, according to some) or the passage of the universal health care (Obamacare). “Influence” is a vague term. The study seems to talk about DIRECT influence by ordinary citizens (i.e. INDEPENDENT of the rich). It does not answer to what extent average citizens influence the opinions of the wealthy, which in turn influences the federal policies (for example, by passing laws at the state level, which wins allies among the rich, as it happened with the Obamacare). Sure, there are problems. But the American democracy has always faced problems and overcome them.

    • Good. We will file it under the header “what goes around, comes around (otherwise known as ‘karma’).”

      Let’s hope this does not create a caliphate that will make Turkey look like a paradise.

  10. “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association.” Well, these three things are also featured in many other countries throughout the world. Returning back to the topic of freedom of speech, we don’t exactly have complete freedom of speech in the United States. As a matter of fact, our freedom of speech is quite often suppressed in this country. What about the news media? The news media in this country is certainly not permitted to express their opinions on numerous national and international issues. On many of these issues, they report what the government orders them to report.

    In terms of association, it’s becoming more and more illegal for Americans to gather together in public squares and protest against the government for its suppression of their constitutional rights. What about young Hispanic-American and young African-American guys? Almost every time the police notice young Hispanic looking guys or young Black guys gathered on the street, they immediately go after them and harass them. I see this all the time in Los Angeles and New York City. Exactly what sort of “freedom of association” is this supposed to be? The truth of the matter, is that as America is becoming more and more a police state, its remaining freedoms are becoming less and less. When you have a police state, the state has all the power and citizens have very little.

    “Regardless of its problems, American democracy attracts more people.” Actually, the reason why people immigrate to the United States is not because of its make-believe, fake democracy. They immigrate here because of the colorful images they have of this country, created by American movies, music, and magazines, which attempt to depict America as a land of economic opportunity, filled with money and luxury.

    On the subject of oligarchy, even though Martin Giles shies away from labeling America as an oligarchy, there are still numerous other American political scientists and former politicians who do classify America as an oligarchy.

    On the subject of democracy, Martin Giles has certainly not shied away from depicting America as not being a democracy. His numerous statements confirm this. He even stated that the United States is more like a system of “Economic Elite Domination” and “Biased Pluralism” as opposed to a majoritarian democracy.

    Let’s go over what a democracy is. A democracy is a form of government which represents all its people in which each citizen has an equal say in the decisions that affect his or her life. That certainly isn’t the case here in America. Furthermore, in a democracy, the citizens are supposed to have the power and the government is supposed to be the means by which the citizens exercise that power. Again, this is not the case here in America. It’s the rich and powerful whom the U.S. government represents. As a result, America is led by a small, dominant class comprised of powerful members who exert total control over the general population.

    • Here’s an article which connects with what I was saying in my above comment: http://www.iefd.org/articles/us_empire.php

      For those of you who are interested in the history of America’s make-believe, fake democracy, make sure to check out this particular article and read it carefully. The following are just a few of the details from this particular article: (1)”From the day that U.S. policy makers, representing big business and finance capital, decided to control world trade, that is, to become the empire of the world, it had to eliminate dissent, and therefore genuine democracy.”

      (2)”There never was an established free press in America; it was always a free-enterprise press, owned mostly by the same business and finance capitalists who controlled the government.”

      (3)”Though many of the idiotic Republicans never understood that Franklin Roosevelt was saving their capitalism for them, it was he who decided to make the U.S. a two-ocean power, by turning Japan into an enemy to stop its industrialization.”

      (4)”And it was FDR who set up the machinery of state to crush serious dissent in America, which his heirs employed to the fullest.”

      (5)”The arbitrary arrest and incarceration of Japanese Americans, even if they were born in the U.S., would later give impetus to Colonel North and his NSA henchmen to set up concentration camps all over the West, and frighten the Latino population into submissiveness when his boss, President Reagan, and the fascist team working for him, decided to crush a legally and very fairly elected Nicaraguan government, because it had the gall to institute the first minimum wage law of Central America ($1.27).”

      (6)”Latin America has 75% of the goodies the U.S. needs to maintain its industrial might, under its ground. The U.S. does not have enough iron, cobalt, bauxite, manganese, diamonds to keep its imperial machinery running. Hence it wants what Latin America has. To get it, it supports every dictator it can bribe, and it opposes every independent government which dares to try to develop its own economy.

      This is also another article which I would like to share:
      http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/05/oligarchy-controls-american-foreign-policy.html

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