Obama: "America has never fought a war against a democracy."

In the President’s otherwise excellent Nobel Prize acceptance speech (seen here: http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/12/10/obama.transcript/index.html), this assertion made me raise an eyebrow. Great Britain, when we fought it in the Revolution and the War of 1812, was just about as democratic as we were at the time (they had an unelected monarchy and “rotten boroughs,” we had our slaves). Germany in World War I had at least some democratic institutions. Any others?

And yes, I know about the No True Scotsman fallacy…

If you take “democracy” to infer that the top of the government totem pole is an elected official (thus disqualifying the UK and Kaiser-era Germany), has America ever gone to war with a democracy?

I suppose this opens a debate about the current UK being a democracy since the monarch is still the nominal head but the monarchy in 1776 (or 1812) was a different animal than the one in 2009. I don’t think anyone would consider going to war with Britain today to be “Going to war against Queen Elizabeth.”

Raise an eyebrow? Makes me puke. We’ve done it many times. OTOH, one could argue that we’re in no sense a democracy.

Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederate States of America. Arguably, a country in which slavery is legal can’t truly be considered a democracy, though I don’t know how many people you’d get on-side with an argument that George Washington wasn’t democratically elected.

This is very reminiscent of the good ol’ democratic peace theory. These arguments always get bogged down on details as to what a “real” democracy is and what “war” is.

Even if true, it’s probably insignificant. After all, we might not have declared war and sent troops into fellow democracies but we’ve certainly used other means to overthrow their duly elected governments. So it’s not like we have any high ground to claim.

Hm, Hitler and Mussolini were elected officials, Ho Chih Minh was elected, I am not really confident in any other wars we have been involved in in the 20th century … but I am confident that I can describe Germany and Italy as democracies as they had elected officials, and Vietnam was again a democracy as they held elections for officials.

Not shure how Obama is trying to define democracy, unless it is perhaps government officials approved by the US?

But then again, Hitler was acclaimed in the US, appeared on the cover of Life Magazine, I believe Mussolini was also considered legally elected by the US. Johnson just had a hard on against Ho Chih Minh.

I took a PolySci course on war and the experts in the field looked at the reality of the governmental situations, not the window dressing. WW2 Germany and Italy were despotisms, no matter how they got there. Nor was Iraq a democracy under Hussein, despite the ‘elections’ that were held.

When used in this sense, the term “democracy” is generally shorthard for liberal democracy, in which decisions are invested in freely elected leaders and there are fundamental protections for various civil rights.

The fascist countries we fought in World War II certainly fail to meet this definition, as would Vietnam.

There are certainly illiberal democracies that have elections but either they are not free and fair, or fundamental civil rights are not established or respected.

So why didn’t Obama say, “We’ve never gone to war with a liberal democracy?” Because everyone would go nuts that the Kenyan socialist was threatening conservative democracies, like those that might elect non-socialist leaders.

The Master speaks. (Summary: what you said.)

::blinks twice, amazed::

Did…did my PoliSci degree just become useful?!

Obama’s certainly quoting the (liberal) democratic peace theory. A more accurate statment by our president would have been “Of all the states that score 8 or higher on the Polity IV scale, no pair has ever had a war or militarized interstate dispute (MID) resulting in 1000 or more total deaths.”

So not only has America never fought a democracy, but no democracy has fought another democracy. Of course, this last statement is debated on the grounds that certain conflicts should/should not be counted as wars, and that certain states should/shouldn’t be called democracies. But much more debated is why this is. Does democracy cause peace? Does peace cause democracy? Does, say, economic strength cause both peace and democracy?

For those that wish to look closer at the causes of war, check out University of Michigan’s Correlates of War project.

ETA: Damn. Beaten to it.

Back to waiting, I guess… :smiley:

By the late 1600s the King was no longer top of the totem pole in the UK. Parliament executing a king, then later deposing one and installing a foreigner on the throne shows who really was running the show by that stage.

That’s got a nice catchy ring to it!

Who was it who used to say that a lot-- it was either Reagan, Clinton or Bush I, IIRC.

No. Germany and Italy were not democracies, by any meaningful definition of the word, when the United States went to war with them. They were dictatorships. Hitler and Mussolini abolished the trappings of democracy shortly after taking office.

Serbia was a democracy by the time of its war with NATO, wasn’t it?

What about Finland in WWII? I think they were reasonably democratic. Did any Allies besides the Soviets attack them?

I remeber this discussion when I was a member here about 8 years ago. It’s nothing to do with the USA, no democracy has ever fought a war against another democracy - assuming conventional full representation.

Britain did proclaim war, December 6th 1941, against Finland to placate the Russians. Finland and the western allies never actually fought each other.

The United States has certainly been willing to support civil wars and coups d’etat against democratic governments.

I’m not sure that the “democratic peace theory” so much proves democracies won’t fight each other as it is a sad reminder than until recently we’ve not had very many democracies around.

I think you could also say that we didn’t so much as go to war against them, as they went to war against us. Remember, Germany declared war on the US, so we didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Depends on what the definition of “war” is.

That was a surgical military strike, not a war. Or something like that…