Monday, September 25, 2006

Democracy promotion in the post-Bush world

“One major piece of fallout from the Bush foreign policy era is the discrediting of America's role in promoting democracy around the world,” according to Suzanne Nossel at Democracy Arsenal. Fortunately, for all concerned, time is running out on the Bush administration’s hold on power and it is not too early to begin thinking about the framework of an American post-Bush foreign policy.

Despite the bad name the Bush administration has giving democracy promotion; Suzanne Nossel believes it should remain an important cornerstone of the U.S. involvement in the international arena. She offers ten specific observations following the Bush years.

1. The U.S. must remain at the forefront of promoting democracy worldwide - The hangover of the Bush years will lead many to
urge retreat from efforts to advance democracy in farflung places, on grounds that such work is costly, dangerous, and bound to fail. While the impulse is understandable, this would be a huge mistake. America's role in fostering democracy and aiding democrats the world over helped fuel us to superpowerdom during the first half the twentieth century, and keep us there during the second….

2. Democracy is not the same as pro-Americanism - One of the rationales behind American support for democracy is the idea that Democratic regimes are more inclined to support the US. While this is true in the long term, the effect is neither immediate nor universal, as we've learned the hard way in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and - arguably - Iran. … Americans need to understand that fostering democracies around the world will benefit US interests over time, and not to expect immediate gratification in the form of pro-US governments.

3. Democracy delayed will be seen as democracy denied - The US cannot afford to take the position that where democratic elections may result in the rise of extremist or anti-US elements, such elections should be indefinitely postponed….

4. Elections are necessary but not sufficient for democracy - Rather than downplaying the importance of elections, US policymakers should place more emphasis on dimensions like the development of democratic institutions; the building of an independent judiciary; freedom of the press and of expression; civic education; a firm state monopoly on the use of force, and more….

5. Pro-democracy and anti-corruption must go hand-in-hand - The big lesson of Hamas' victory is not that elections were a bad idea, but that West's erred glaringly in failure to ensure that the previous Fatah-led government provided adequate levels of law and order and social services to sustain its hold on power. By most accounts, Hamas' win reflected less popular extremism than abject frustration with the corruption and ineptitude of the Fatah regime. Similar tendencies are reportedly behind Hezbollah's popularity in Lebanon….

6. Democracy must be seen as homegrown - It seems obvious that a system of self-rule cannot be imposed from the outside, though evidently not so to team Bush….

7. You can't eat political freedom, nor hide behind it - Populations that are hungry, destitute, or terrorized by violence may well have priorities that come before political freedom. If democratization fails to address people's most basic needs, they will be miserable and restive irrespective of the sanctity of their right to vote. If those promoting democracy, including the US, are oblivious to issues of
popular welfare, their political agenda will be suspect….

8. Democracy must coexist with, not trump, cultural and religious heritage - Tricky but true, if democracy is seen as overriding deeply-held cultural and religious beliefs, it will be rejected in many quarters….

9. Populations that resist authoritarianism at home will reject it on the world stage as well - The same instincts that lead populations to overthrow dictators and demand a say over their affairs cause them to resent American policy diktats in the global arena, and to insist on more multilateral approaches…

10. Proponents of democracy will see their own democracies held up to scrutiny - Ever since the US began assertively promoting the spread of democracy, skeptics around the world have pointed to flaws in our own system. This happened during the Eisenhower era when American policies on race were exposed as an affront to our own professed values, and more recently in the scandals that have surrounded Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Hurricane Katrina. To serve as a beacon for democracy around the globe, the US must be prepared to hold itself to a higher standard at home…

Read the entire article here.

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