State appointments suggest curve turned on democracy?

State appointments suggest curve turned on democracy?

The Obama administration has come under fire from democracy advocates for failing to match rhetorical commitments with appropriate policies and personnel. The administration has rejected the charge, and some recent appointments would seem to support their assertions.

Middle East democracy expert and former Brookings analyst Tamara Cofman Wittes has been appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, with specific policy responsibilities for democracy and human rights (including the Middle East Partnership Initiative).

And Arturo Valenzuela has finally taken up the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. His nomination had been blocked by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in a protest over U.S. policy following the coup in Honduras.

Over on the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog, the Wittes appointment has persuaded Scott Carpenter, her predecessor in the position, of the seriousness of the administration’s approach. Other analysts take a similarly positive view, including Carnegie’s Michele Dunne who suggests that the administration could not have made a better appointment, citing Wittes’ studies and critiques of U.S. democracy assistance and development programs in the Middle East.

Also at MESH, Stephen Peter Rosen and Martin Kramer link to a helpful summation of Tammy’s take on of what must change in U.S. policy in the region.

A consistent democracy advocate, an insight to her likely policy approaches in government may be gleaned from her recent insistence that MEPI had “helped build a network of Arab democracy advocates and activists who welcome American democracy assistance, and created a positive ‘brand’ for U.S. democracy promotion.”

Supporting such actors is especially important, she wrote, with fellow Brookings’ analyst Andrew Masloski, because they are the main transmitters and translators of democratic ideas into their home societies.”

They argued against consolidating democracy assistance under USAID which would militate against MEPI’s success in coordinating funding and diplomacy. USAID’s democracy and governance activities tend to be associated with large-scale, high-cost programs while MEPI demonstrates the virtues of investing in small-scale programs that reflect genuine, locally-driven needs and priorities.

A specialist on Latin American democracy, Dr. Valenzuela has served on the board of directors of the National Democratic Institute and the editorial board of the Journal of Democracy.

The southern hemisphere’s “dark nights of authoritarianism” are long gone, he told a recent meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy. Between 1930 and 1980, 40% of governmental change in Latin America came through military coups, he said. But now different challenges present themselves, including acute social inequalities that have fed the rise of authoritarian populism.

Valenzuela also contributed to Latin America’s Struggle for Democracy, a Journal of Democracy book.