Monday, March 14, 2016

Democracy and Human Rights Promotion in the US Presidential Election

President Barack Obama’s remark that America is no longer the world policeman, has perplexed the global public. But the more important question is whether America is dedicated to democracy promotion in the world. It is popularly believed that the United States still assumes it a foreign policy imperative to prevail democracy. However, during the Obama presidency, Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out that American budget to support democracy assistance has declined by 28%. The US Agency for International Development is the most severely hit victim, as its projects in the Middle East and Africa are drastically curtailed. This is because American citizens and policymakers are increasingly skeptical of democracy aid (“Why Is the United States Shortchanging Its Commitment to Democracy?”; Washington Post; December 22, 2014).

There is no doubt that vehement criticism to the Iraq War on the global stage drove the American public to isolationism, because defensive reactions to 9-11 attacks were blamed so bitterly. The failure of the Arab Spring has made America reluctant to make a commitment to democracy promotion furthermore. Arab opinion leaders blame the West and Zionist for corruption and instability in the region, but most of them are rooted in their societies. In addition to socioeconomic inequality and ethno-sectarian conflicts, Arab nations are hardly united despite pan-Arabism slogans. The rule of law and political participation are insufficient (“The Arab Winter”; Economist; January 9, 2016). Such global and Arab reactions have led to Obama’s withdrawal from the world policeman. It has given a bad impression to the global public that Obama has given away America’s special role to maintain the liberal world order.

American allies achingly desired that this election will elect the president who can overturn Obama’s superpower suicide. But things are rather developing to the contrary. Isolationism is rising on both the Democrat and the Republican sides. That is discouraging to America’s long term allies. Remember that democracy promotion and alliance network are deeply intertwined centerpieces of postwar American foreign policy. Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution tells how both pieces work reciprocally in “The World America Made”. The United States has always fought a war with allies, while both the Soviet Union and China have virtually alone. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, former Warsaw Pact nations joined NATO. Even former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia want to follow this. On the Pacific side, South East Asians like the Phillippines and even former foe Vietnam hope American presence to remove the Chinese threat. Though actually, none of the nations in the region want American or Chinese dominance, but their own independence.

It is widely understood that they embrace American hegemony, because the United States has neither territorial greed nor intention to infringe national sovereignty of others. Also, democratic values solidify American leadership on the global stage. Former senators Joseph Lieberman and Jon Kyl tell it in detail, “For America to lead, security and prosperity—guided by the principles of freedom—must be pursued in tandem” (“Why American leadership still matters”; AEI American Internationalism Project Report; December 3, 2015). Furthermore, both authors argue the relation between promoting American values and pursuing the national interest, “[But] supporting human rights and democratic ideals isn’t just about altruism. Democracies will not go to war with the United States, nor will they support terrorism against it, nor will they produce refugees to flee to it. Democracies do, however, ally with the United States and make for better economic partners” (“The case for American internationalism”; Catalyst; January 20, 2016).

However, not all candidates understand the importance of foreign policy assets. Typically, a Republican candidate Donald Trump argues for a fortress America against Mexicans and Muslims, and disengagement from Syria and North Korea, while a Democrat candidate Bernie Sanders almost entirely focus on domestic socioeconomic inequality. Let me talk about foreign policy of each candidate in this election (“Campaign 2016 --- Candidates & the World”; Council on Foreign Relations). Among current contestants, Marco Rubio is the most dedicated advocate for prevailing American values throughout the world. The fundamental idea of Rubio’s foreign policy is American exceptionalism to assume the special role in the global community, and he laments that the Obama administration wants to make America like the rest of the world (“Rubio: ‘Obama Wants America to Be Like the Rest of the World’”; MRC TV; January 28, 2016). As a result, he argues “Our allies don’t trust us. Our enemies don’t fear us. And the world doesn’t know where America stands” (“Rubio’s ad: “Our enemies don’t fear us’”; Hill; December 30, 2015). He endorses civil empowerment against autocratic regimes from China to Cuba. On the other hand, he voted against the Freedom Act in order to keep tough surveillance on terrorists in the homeland.

To the contrary, a Democrat Bernie Sanders and a Republican Donald Trump are unenthusiastic, and even at odds with democracy and human rights promotion, as they are extremely inward looking isolationists. Sanders is almost entirely dedicated to domestic inequality and labor issues, though he values multilateral cooperation with allies and friendly partners. As to domestic civil liberty, Sanders objects to strict surveillance for the sake of security against terrorism, as conservative libertarians do. The most problematic candidate is Donald Trump, because he is not just an isolationist. His devotion to American values is questionable from his inflammatory remarks about Muslims and Mexicans. As typically seen in his utterance about nuclear triad and wartime international law, his knowledge in foreign policy is extremely poor. His disrespect to human rights is revealed in the view on waterboarding, which distressed former CIA Director Michael Hayden so much as to say there is a legitimate possibility that the U.S. military would refuse to follow his orders (“Former CIA director: Military may refuse to follow Trump’s orders if he becomes president”; Washington Post; February 28, 2016). His foreign policy views are based on blue collar distrust to the global economy and liberal world order. He does not believe in “The World America Made”. Therefore, he does not trust democratic allies, nor is he interested in democracy promotion (“Trump’s 19th Century Foreign Policy”; Politico; January 20, 2016). He is an exceptional Republican to see diplomatic normalization with Cuba a business opportunity.

Other candidates from Republican Ted Cruz and John Kasich to Democrat Hillary Clinton stand between internationalism and isolationism. They are more or less realist, and not necessarily stanch advocates for democracy promotion. Clinton denounced China’s one-child policy as the first lady in 1995, but as the Secretary of State, her pivot to Asia was more trade oriented. Domestically, she insists on “humane” treatment of immigrants, and supports the Freedom Act for the same reason as Tea Party libertarians do. On the other hand, Cruz is in a delicate position. While he argues for hardline policies to advance human rights in geopolitically adversary regimes, notably China and Iran, he does not believe in “regime change” for fear of long and extensive troop deployments like the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the domestic front, Cruz worked with a prominent libertarian Rand Paul to replace the Patriot Act with the Freedom Act to loosen terrorist surveillance. This is partly due to his supporter bases, consisted of Tea Party libertarians who believe in a limited government and evangelicals who believe in moralism. But that is not the only reason for his antipathy to neocons and deep skepticism to Arab democratization.

Cruz depends his foreign policy heavily on Jeane Kirkpatrick to assume himself a Reaganite. Based on Kirkpatrick’s article (“Dictatorship and Double Standards”; Commentary; November 1, 1979), Cruz is willing to live with unpleasant autocrats like President Bashar al Assad of Syria, in order to avoid risks of unknown confusion resulting from moralistic interventionism (“Ted Cruz’s un-American ‘America First’ Strategy”; Foreign policy; December 16, 2015). Kirkpatrick’s double standard was taken to rival against the Soviet Union. Unlike neoconservatives and progressive internationalists, Kirkpatrick was skeptical of universal progress of civilization, and she was more realist than idealist. However, Cruz dismisses that Reagan did not always follow her advice, as typically seen in his response when pro-American and anti-communist Ferdinando Marcos was overthrown in the Phillipines (“Ted Cruz's New Foreign Policy Isn't Conservative”; National Interest; August 1, 2014). Cruz’s double standard between America’s strategic rivals like China and Iran, and unfavorable Arab autocracies like Syria and Egypt, can undermine America’s global stand as the bearer of freedom and human rights.

Democracy promotion in foreign policy is also correlated to domestic policy. From this point, Donald Trump is the worst candidate. He is notorious for arrogance to the media; inflammatory remarks to provoke mob violence; and insults to minorities, women, and handicapped people. Even if he launches human rights agenda, the world shall not listen to him. Pursuit of universal value and its achievements are foreign policy assets of the United States. I hope that the open letter by national security leaders to denounce Trump’s arrogant and ignorant isolationism will be the real start of counterblow of American internationalism.