American attitudes to democratization
According to a poll, many Americans believe their country should not encourage democratization in the Middle East. The poll, by the Knowledge Networks for the Program on International Policy Attitudes and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, has the following answers when asked “Do you think the US should or should not put greater pressure on countries in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to become more democratic?
All Rep. Dem. Ind.
Should 39% 51% 32% 29%
Should not 51% 43% 62% 45%
No answer 11% 6% 6% 26%
Here is the link to the full survey [PDF], which includes some specific questions on Egypt and other interesting stuff.
I’m not sure how to interpret this and whether there’s been a big change on this question in the last few years, but I do find it surprising that the “should nots” are that high with both parties when this was meant to define the second Bush term and most American opinion-makers have been harping on and on about since 9/11. I’m sure for the Democrats the answer will be partly motivated opposition to the administration in general, but I do wonder where this might mean that the mess in Iraq may have dampened American appetites for democracy-building in the medium term. If so, Bush and his team may have set back American “Wilsonians” for years because they embraced the idea of democratization but implemented it badly. The next US president, whether Republican or Democrat, could make moving away from democratization rhetoric one of their first foreign policy priorities, if only for domestic reasons.
Anyone better informed than I am on US politics has any thoughts on this?
6 Responses to “American attitudes to democratization”
Nur al-Cubicle Says:
October 6th, 2005 at 4:54 pm
Are you sure the questions wasn’t “Do you think the US should or should not put greater pressure on countries in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to become more democratic at the end of a gunbarrel“?
Let’s be frank about a few things. The Greater Middle East Initiative is an ad-hoc (aka, “seat of pants”) strategy developed at the end of 2003 when things spiraled out of control in Iraq to make President Bush look like less of a blood-mouthed lunatic.
Thankfully, most Americans have finally recognized that Bush and his entourage are blood-mouthed lunatics. I think that Americans would have understood “grand imperial project” in the place of “encouraging democratization” upon seeing the question. Behind all the do-gooding is geopolitics, controlling the oil supply, forcing the adoption of neoliberal econmic policies and submitting Arabs to the will of Washington.
The Bush Administration would ditch “democracy” in a New York minute if threatened or if it decides to implement some new strategy.
Personally, I find it hard to understand how US security interests can be reconciled with local democracy, because US security is the overriding concern in Washington.
October 6th, 2005 at 6:09 pm
Wow, there’s a lot in that survey. Find it troubling that Democrats particularly and Americans overall are now less than convinced that spreading democracy is a good thing. The phrasing and juxtaposition of the questions matters, so they were obviously trying to push buttons with the questions on whether promoting democracy “upholds American values” or could bring “Islamic fundamentalists” to power – it’s no surprise that opinion is evenly split when the choice is between two highly emotive phrasings.
I find it really depressing that Americans think democracy is “not for everyone” – it’s reminiscent of the thinking of colonialism. Though of course they are speaking in the context of the Iraq experience, and Cold War experiences in defending “freedom,”, both of which have been ambiguous to say the least, so who can really blame them.
It’s pretty shocking to see that Americans think India and Egypt are about equally un-democratic, but I put that down to ignorance and the general image of both as messy third-world countries.
October 6th, 2005 at 6:52 pm
It seems odd that the Republicans now appear more idealist than the Democrats when it comes to US interests vs democracy trade-offs in foreign policy, but there is some ambivalence because they also believe, by a healthy majority, that democracy doesn’t make the world a safer place and would not support a country becoming a democracy if it meant Islamic fundamentalists coming to power. They’d like to be idealists but maybe they aren’t quite there yet.
October 6th, 2005 at 11:30 pm
The average American does not care much about the democracy in the Middle East, People from the Middle East should not expect America to fight for their freedom. Bush was trying to pressure his Arab followers in a political game.
Global Voices Online » Blog Archive » Egypt: Democratization in the Middle East Says:
October 7th, 2005 at 1:24 am
[…] Issandr El Amrani from The Arabist Network says that majority of Americans believe their country should not encourage democratization in the Middle East. The poll was conducted by the Knowledge Networks for the Program on International Policy Attitudes and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. […]
October 9th, 2005 at 8:24 pm
I’m going to go with “badly phrased questions” and “ignorance of American public” as an explanation here.