By William Fisher
"America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof."
So spoke President George W. Bush in his second inaugural address last January, vowing to help build democratic institutions and strengthen civil society in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Yet today, the Bush administration is substantially reducing funding for the organizations that are traditionally mandated to transform the president's vision into reality.
In budget requests to Congress, funding for democracy promotion in Iraq has been limited. Some organizations ran out of funds in April; others are trying to make their resources last through the summer.
At risk are projects to teach Iraqis how to create and manage political parties, organize and run think tanks, human rights organizations, a free press, and trade unions.
The decline in funding is being attributed to ballooning security costs, which have already caused the Bush Administration to scale back its ambitious reconstruction programs designed to restore Iraq's infrastructure.
Administration officials admit they are requesting fewer dollars for traditional democracy-building programs, but contend that their efforts to help Iraqis to run more effective ministries also contribute to democracy.
At the beginning of the Iraq war, money was not a problem for the organizations traditionally involved in promoting democracy.
For example, soon after the fall of Baghdad, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), received $25 million to expand its Iraq programs, and eventually received a total of $71 million.
It distributed some of these funds to the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), and its sister organization, the International Republican Institute (IRI), both affiliated with America's two main political parties.
Now the funding for both organizations has dried up. Their sole source of finance are special funds earmarked by Congress last year, as the result of an effort spearheaded by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. The funds will be exhausted later this year.
"The solution to Iraq lies in the political process, and it's reckless for the White House to cut funds to strengthen democracy in Iraq at this time," Kennedy said.
The NED has received its final $3 million, but no further funding source has been identified. "It does feel like everybody's getting squeezed in this area," Barbara Haig, the endowment's vice president, told The Washington Post, adding, "There probably is a commitment to these programs in principle. I don't know how much commitment there is in specificity."
The Bush administration has included only $15 million for the two party institutes in next year's budget. The total for democracy promotion in Iraq for 2007 is $63 million, which would mean that most programs would have to be cut. Another $10 million for democracy promotion was included in the president's supplemental request to Congress. This is a tiny fraction of the ten of millions the US spends in Iraq each day.
Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, an advocacy group, called the situation "a travesty" and said she is "appalled" that more is not being done.
"This is the time to show that democracy promotion is more than holding an election. The US will be making a mistake if it "can't see fit to fund follow-up democracy promotion at this time," she said.
Mary Shaw of Amnesty International USA agrees. She told us, "U.S. support for democratic institutions in Iraq is crucial to the future of human rights in that country. More than three years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, conditions in that country are at a critical juncture, and the security of the Iraqi people hangs in the balance. The US owes it to the Iraqi people to provide the means to rebuild and strengthen not only their civil infrastructure but their societal infrastructure as well. Only then will Iraq be truly liberated."
But another view is expressed by Christopher J. Roederer, Associate Professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law. Prof. Roederer told us, "It is not wholly surprising that funding for democracy promotion in Iraq is dwindling. Democracy promotion was not the reason for invading Iraq, not even the stated reason for going into Iraq. Democracy promotion only came to the fore as a reason for invading Iraq after the invasion and after the 'weapons of mass destruction' justification and the 'connections to Al-Qaeda' justification had been discredited."
The White House and US aid agencies have declined to discuss the budget cuts.
However, the dramatic drop in support for democracy-building programs in Iraq may well signal a quiet Bush Administration decision that these types of programs cannot succeed given Iraq's current state of chaos.
Brian J. Foley, a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, sums up the situation this way: "It looks as if the Administration has 'cut and run' on its alleged effort to bring democracy to Iraq -- though I don't think the Administration was ever serious about giving freedom to regular Iraqis. If so, there would be a referendum for Iraqis to vote on whether U.S. troops should leave -- the debate would not be limited to discussion among U.S. leaders. Creating a government would be an Iraqi initiative, not a US-controlled one. Unfortunately, after the unnecessary invasion and all of the unnecessary death, destruction, and disorder, and the failure to provide services such as electricity and water in a timely manner, U.S. leaders are probably now afraid to let the Iraqi people have any real control over their own country and destiny."