Steve Russell: The price of 'sovereignty'

"What is it to the United States that Pakistan is a military dictatorship? Well, right now it's about $150 million a month, at a time when our GIs are bleeding for the cause of democracy in Iraq.

What is it to the United States if it is true, as several correspondents have insisted to me since my last Indian Country Today column, that the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma still can't have free elections because no candidate is allowed to have a list of registered voters? What is it to the United States if my tribe, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, claims the power to disenroll citizens on racial grounds in violation of a treaty without coming clean to the Cherokee voters that treaty abrogation is the issue? Well, President Bush asked for $2.2 billion for the BIA in fiscal 2007, a bit over $18 million a month: chickenfeed.

What's the price of government these days, and does it matter what kind of government?

There was a time when ''sovereignty'' would have answered all these questions. All sovereigns were equal in the days of kings and queens. International law, in its growth period after World War II, had to make no distinction between tyrants and democrats because there were a lot more tyrants and tyrants had no incentive to participate in institutions where they were not the equals of democrats. Democracy was not an ascendant ideology.

Things have changed, not so much because of American foreign policy as in spite of it. The largest authoritarian state left standing, China, is sweating the influx of BlackBerries and cell phones that will come with the Olympic Games because in the 21st century everybody has to claim consent of the governed. The Tiananmen Square massacre was dreadfully embarrassing. The Dalai Lama is honored in the White House, and his presence is a comment on the Chinese presence in Tibet that the Chinese government does not care to hear. Democracy is the gold standard of world opinion to a degree that has never been the case in the past.

How and when will American Indians get to join the party and govern themselves?"

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