Democracy assistance still on the agenda

Source: FT

Source: FT

American citizens are showing little appetite for isolationism, according to a new poll from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Some 76 per cent of respondents consider democracy assistance to other nations to be a “very important” or “somewhat important” foreign policy goal, while 87 per cent attached similar importance to protecting weaker states from outside aggression and 88 per cent supported promoting and defending human rights in other countries.

A majority of Americans believe the US should focus on repairing its image as a means of restoring its influence. The survey found that 83 per cent of respondents consider improving their country’s standing to be a “very important” foreign policy goal.

In this respect at least, public opinion seems to chime with the positions of both presidential campaigns. As president of the International Republican Institute, John McCain has long been committed to democracy promotion. Similarly, as analyst Amy Zegart notes, Barack Obama also “advocates democratization, the spreading of American values and American moral leadership”, albeit through a “kinder, gentler freedom agenda, but a freedom agenda nonetheless.” His leading foreign-policy advisors have argued forcefully for a more muscular American moralism, championed major humanitarian interventions in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, and called for the spread of democracy worldwide.1

A commitment to democracy assistance is also shared abroad, not least in the UK where Foreign Minister David Miliband yesterday addressed the governing Labour Party’s annual conference. “If we want to protect ourselves from terrorism at home, we need to defend and advance democracy and human rights abroad,” he said. “Because a world order with authoritarian governments, oppressing their own people and threatening others, is a source of instability.”

Realist analysts object to what one calls “the habitual liberal error of drawing a straight line between a country’s domestic political system and its foreign policy.” But the Russian onslaught on Georgia is a potent reminder that the internal character of authoritarian states really does predict their foreign policies, argues Bret Stephens in a defense of the U.S. Administration’s freedom agenda:

Would the Palestinian Authority be a more peaceable kingdom if a “secular” tyrant like Yasser Arafat were in charge? Was Lebanon better off when Syria terrorized its citizens (and supported Hezbollah) openly, without a murmur of opposition? Would America’s influence in Pakistan have been enhanced had we stood in the way of the groundswell of popular opposition to Gen. Musharraf after he began rounding up lawyers, judges and civil-rights activists? Would Georgians have been better off under a Belarus-style regime that did the Kremlin’s bidding automatically?

But, with the emergence of a new global authoritarianism, whatever Administration emerges from the current election will be ill-placed to pursue an energetic democratizing agenda, argues Joshua Kurlantzick:

The sad truth is that, aside from expressions of solidarity with fledgling democracies, there may be nothing in the U.S. political arsenal-and nothing in U.S. coffers-that will be powerful enough to counter either the successes of savvy authoritarian capitalism or the rollback of idealistic-but-weak democracy.