Thursday, November 15, 2007

On American Endeavor for Global Democracy

Whoever the President of the United States is, democracy promotion is a key agenda in American foreign policy. Successful promotion of this ideology bolsters American soft power. As a commemorative event of publishing a new report “US Democracy Promotion During and After Bush” by Thomas Carothers, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace held a panel discussion on September 12.

This event was moderated by Jenifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. As the author of this report, Thomas Carothers, Vice President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, gave a presentation.

Two commentators attended this panel discussion. One is skeptic to the Bush initiative, while the other is pro-Bush.

Skeptic commentator is Francis Fukuyama, Berland L. Schwartz Professor at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University. His reputation is very great for his book, “The End of History.” He was one of signatories to launch the Project for a New American Century, a well known neoconservative think tank to endorse the Iraq War. It is widely known that he has converted to a vocal critic against the Bush administration’s Iraq policy.

On the other hand, pro-Bush commentator is Vin Weber, Former Member of the House of Representative and currently, Chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy, which is a pro-democracy NPO. He was an election strategist of the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign. Despite his Republican background, he co-chaired an independent task force on “US Policy toward Reform in the Arab World” with Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In addition, he is a member of the US Secretary of Energy's Advisory Board.

Let me review the video of this event to explore American policy on democracy promotion under the current and the next administration (Windows, Pod cast, Quick Time, and PDF).

To begin with, Thomas Carothers presented his analysis on the Bush administration’s policy for democracy promotion. Regarding the role of democracy promotion in the Bush administration’s foreign policy, some people say this is the central pillar, while others argue current administration does not take the issue seriously. Carothers says the truth lies in between and things are more complicated. US foreign policy is a mixture of security-and-economic-oriented policies and real democracy assistance.

Regarding democratization in Iraq, Thomas Carothers points out that while the Bush team appears to be passionate about the issue, it has not presented clear vision for this objective. Rather, he says, current administration has made some achievements for democracy in the rest of the Middle East. While US policy for empowerment of Arab citizens is proceeding gradually, this effort has been constrained by realist necessities to maintain close ties with authoritarian regimes in this region, such as Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, and Pakistan. This is because excessively rapid democratization could lead to the rise of anti-Western Islamist regimes.

In the rest of the world, the Bush administration continues the same patterns as those of previous administrations from 1980s to 1990s, according to Carothers. The United States confronts against dictatorial regimes such as Belarus, Burma, and Zimbabwe. Also, America supports people struggling for democracy in Ukraine, Liberia, Nepal, and Peru.

On the other hand, Carothers says that US relations with two strategic challengers, Russia and China, are realist, and determined primarily with economic-and-security interests. Also, the United States needs close cooperation with non-democratic governments in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere in the War on Terror, despite proclaimed agenda for global freedom.

Regarding difference between Bush policy for democracy promotion and those of his predecessors, Carothers suggests three points: attachment to the War on Terror, hard lines in the Middle East, and use of military intervention. He points out that US endeavor for democracy in the Middle East has made little progress, but some achievements have been witnessed in the rest of the world, such as in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia. Carothers argues that Bush policy is undermining the legitimacy of democracy promotion, because of excessive focus on Iraq and counter-terrorism. Also, he warns that success of “authoritarian capitalism” in Russia and China could be an alternative model for some countries.

Thomas Carothers outlines US endeavor for democracy promotion very well, though I have some disagreements regarding the war on terror and Iraq. Also, it is understandable that progress in the Middle East is slow, because of political complexity as Reuel Marc Gerecht of the AEI mentioned. I am concerned that he did not mention North Korea whose autocrat regime is posing substantial threat to our free world, regardless of progress in nuclear bomb and Japanese abductee issues. It is desirable to wipe out a state like this in the end. Is US policy to North Korea a realist like those to Russia and China?

Despite some distinctive points in current administration’s policies for global democracy, most of them are consistent with its predecessors. Therefore, I have to reiterate that agendas set by quite a few anti-Bush activists are dubious.

After the presentation by Thomas Carothers, Vin Weber and Francis Fukuyama left comments.

First, Vin Weber argued from pro-Bush position. He comments that President Bush tries to inspire more involvement in democracy promotion through his rhetoric, while Carothers criticizes it empty and unpractical. Basically, Weber agrees with Carothers that democracy promotion is not unique to the Bush administration, and this is a vital agenda for the next president as well.

Weber points out some progress under the Bush administration such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative. Also, he insists that more NGOs launch pro-democracy activities throughout the world, indirectly influenced by Bush policy.

Weber’s comment sounds right. Never have I heard so much of democracy promotion before. This is partly because of the War on Terror. We are in a critical era, and any US president could have taken approaches like current president has been doing.

Francis Fukuyama argued from another perspective. He insists that Iraq has distorted US policy for democracy promotion. Fukuyama points out that democracy was the third reason for intervention to overthrow Saddam Hussein, after WMD non-proliferation and the War on Terror. Also, he criticizes the Bush administration’s approach to use democracy promotion as a national security policy instrument, because it appears foreigners that the United States is hypocritical to use democratic ideals for its strategic interests. Fukuyama argues against Weber, saying that lofty rhetoric for democracy by the Bush administration will inspire people aspiring liberal society, but also inspire people having negative image about America.

It is right that democracy promotion should not be linked to strategic objectives excessively. Though I agree with Francis Fukuyama on this point, I think it necessary to remember that liberal ideals and security interests are coincided in US foreign policy.

This event presents well balanced views and comments on Bush policy on democracy promotion. Apparently, anti-American radicals are wrong to argue that democracy promotion is a neoconservative plot. Understanding this discussion is a key to foresee pro-democracy policy of the next administration.