Wednesday, September 12, 2007


By William Fisher

Democracy was a word scarcely heard in the just-concluded Congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

The principal reason, according to a new report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is that despite sweeping rhetoric about the global spread of democracy, the Bush Administration has significantly damaged US democracy promotion efforts and increased the number of close ties with "friendly tyrants."

Security interests, such as the war on terrorism, and US energy needs have led the Bush Administration to maintain friendly, unchallenged relations with more than half of the forty-five "non-free" countries in the world.

According to the author of the new report, Thomas Carothers, Carnegie's Vice President for Studies, the Iraq war has been a principal cause of democracy backsliding. Autocratic Arab leaders - long-standing US allies -- have been able to "use the war to reinforce their long-standing message to their citizens about the perils of rapid democratic change," Carothers writes.

"Even a cursory look at Bush policy reveals a substantial gap between talk and action on democracy, whether it is the continued cozy relations with the Saudi government, the US embrace of Pakistan's military dictator Pervez Musharraf, or the largely uncritical line toward China's continued authoritarianism".

The report, entitled, "US Democracy Promotion During and After Bush," charges that despite the Bush Administration's "florid" rhetoric about promoting democracy throughout the world, this objective has been consistently trumped by the "Global War on Terror," resulting in American embrace of anti-democratic dictators within and outside the Middle East.

Carothers writes, "Day after day Arab citizens see on their televisions tens or even hundreds of Arabs dying as a result of a 'democratic experiment' in their region. The spillover problems of the war-refugees, new terrorist groups, rising Shia-Sunni tensions-cause other Arab governments to feel less rather than more latitude to try political openings...The democracy agenda is continually put forward (at least rhetorically) by the United States, whose policies in the region most Arabs detest, taints the very concept in many Arabs' minds."

The report suggests that Bush Administration rhetorical efforts to promote democracy are seriously hampered by the world perception of hypocrisy. It declares, "The Bush administration's trampling of the rule of law in its antiterrorist pursuits -- the repeated, shocking abuses of detainees and prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo; the secret CIA prisons; the unauthorized domestic eavesdropping; the stripping away of rights of designated 'enemy combatants'; and all the rest-has done grievous, even devastating harm to America's status as a promoter of democracy and human rights in the world."

It adds, "Although difficult to measure, the power of positive example has long been one of the most important -- perhaps the most important-means by which established democracies assert a pro-democratic influence in the world. It is enough to talk to any democracy or human rights activist abroad, many of whom have traditionally relied on US leverage to bolster their position, to understand how damaging the loss of US legitimacy in this domain has been under Bush."

Carothers recalls the President's messianic second inaugural address, which set out what came to be known as his "freedom agenda," declaring that "America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs.... It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture."

But he concludes that "The actual extent of the Bush commitment to democracy promotion is much less than the president's sweeping rhetoric would suggest. Although the administration insists that the Iraq intervention was a democratizing mission from day one, this proposition remains intensely debated at home and abroad. Bush policy in the rest of the Middle East temporarily diverted from the traditional line of supporting autocratic Arab allies but has returned to it during the past year."

He adds, "The hope of advancing a regional democratic agenda has been deeply undercut by the Iraq war. Major elements of the Bush approach to the war on terror and to foreign policy in general have significantly damaged the cause not only of democracy but also of democracy promotion."

Negative views toward democracy and democracy promotion, he writes, are not limited to Iraq. The whole of the Middle East, "remains stuck in authoritarian rule. The spread of democracy has stagnated in the rest of the world, with democratic reversals or backsliding outweighing gains."

The Iraq War and other Bush Administration initiatives, the report states, have also been responsible for the erosion of pro-democracy support at home. "Under George W. Bush, democracy promotion has been widely discredited through its close association with the Iraq war. Only a minority of the US public now supports democracy promotion as a US policy goal, and both the Republican and Democratic parties are internally divided on the subject."

The report notes that democracy promotion achieved significant bipartisan support within the US policy community and public from the late 1980s until the early years of this decade, "that consensus has shattered."

The Republican Party, Carothers notes, "is riven by disputes between realists determined to pull Washington back from transformative goals abroad and neoconservatives still ferociously attached to such ideas."

And the Democratic Party, "although less clearly fractioned, is also divided. A strong vein of liberal internationalism runs through the community of Democratic foreign policy specialists, but significant skepticism about America's ability to project its political values abroad is common in the Democratic ranks."

Moreover, the report finds, "The US public is increasingly doubtful regarding democracy promotion, with the Iraq war triggering a substantial decline in public support for it. In a recent U.S. poll, fewer than half of the persons polled (45 percent) agreed with the proposition that the United States should promote democracy abroad. A partisan divide marks the public's views on this subject as well: Only 35 percent of registered Democrats accepted the idea, while 64 percent of registered Republicans did."

While acknowledging that "the future of democracy promotion as part of US foreign policy is uncertain," Carothers asserts that if the next US president seeks to resurrect domestic and international support for democracy and its promotion, he or she will have to adopt a new three-point policy framework.

"First, democracy promotion must be decontaminated from the negative taint it acquired under President Bush. This can be accomplished by improving U.S. compliance with the rule of law in the war on terrorism, ending the close association of democracy promotion with military intervention and regime change, and reducing the inconsistency of U.S. democracy policy by exerting real pressure for change on some key autocratic partners, such as Pakistan and Egypt.

"Second, democracy promotion must be repositioned in the war on terrorism. The idea that democratization will undercut the roots of terrorism is appealing but easily overstated. Promoting democratic change may in some countries help encourage moderates over radicals, but it is far from an antiterrorist elixir. The next administration should deescalate rhetorical emphasis on democracy promotion as the centerpiece of the war on terrorism and escalate actual commitment to the issue in pivotal cases where supporting democratic change can help diminish growing radicalization.

"Third, US democracy promotion must be recalibrated to account for larger changes in the international context. A host of ongoing developments, such as the rise of alternative political models, new trends in globalization, and the high price of oil and gas, have eroded the validity of a whole set of assumptions on which US democracy promotion was built in the 1980s and 1990s. The next administration will need to respond in large and small ways, such as by drawing an explicit tie between energy policy and democracy policy, reengaging internationally at the level of basic political ideas, reducing the America-centrism of US democracy building efforts, and strengthening the core institutional sources of democracy assistance."

Carothers concludes, "Continued efforts by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to claim that a democratic transformation of the Middle East is somehow still in the making ring hollow against the harsh contrary reality: The Middle East not only remains deeply stuck in nondemocratic politics, it is wracked by violent conflicts in Iraq, in Lebanon between Hizbollah and Israel, in Palestine, and between Palestine and Israel, as well as gripped by rising Shia-Sunni tensions and the growing influence of Iran."

Beyond the Middle East, Carothers writes, Bush policy "is primarily driven by economic and security interests that often clash with support for democracy, such as in China, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, and many other places."

The report asserts that the post-September 11 conclusion in Washington policy circles that "pervasive Arab autocracy is a cause of the violent Islamic radicalism provoked a genuine questioning of the traditional US policy of support for 'friendly tyrants' in the region."

But, it concludes that this "new approach was deeply torn from the start both by an uncertain commitment to it from all parts of the US government and by conflicting imperatives deriving from other US interests."

As examples, Carothers writes, "Although the administration now characterizes its interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq as democratizing missions, in both cases the story is much more complex, with security objectives playing a major role. The intervention in Afghanistan was clearly security driven, although once the Taliban had been ousted the United States helped broker a democratically oriented political reconstruction process. Since the initial intervention, however, the Bush administration has been unwilling to commit a sufficient level of forces to secure order, allowing the elected government of President Hamid Kharzai to come under severe pressure from a renewed Taliban insurgency."

The report also notes that "How much democracy figured in the administration's decision to topple Saddam Hussein is still fiercely debated in Washington, more than four years after the fact."

Carothers writes, "The administration labored to get an elected government in place (after the Iraqi Shia leadership essentially forced the Coalition Provisional Authority to agree to elections) and to help it survive. Yet at the same time the administration failed to commit the number of US forces necessary to stabilize the country, while also showing little interest in democracy aid efforts in the country, and demonstrating a frequent impulse to stage manage post-Saddam Iraqi politics with scant regard for democratic principles."

As for the administration's policy of pushing friendly autocratic Arab allies toward greater political reform, "such efforts have been half-hearted at best," Carothers writes. "The administration exerted the greatest pressure on Egyptian President Mubarak, but even that has ended up largely toothless. The Egyptian strongman has paid no price (other than a delay of free trade agreement negotiations) for pointedly defying the administration's plea for free and fair elections in 2005 and subsequently cracking down on political opposition forces. Other U.S. autocratic allies in the region have felt almost no pressure at all, despite the Bush team's grand pronouncements about its commitment to a politically transformed region."

Administration concern about Iran, the report notes, "has further sidelined the democratization agenda. Seeking to mobilize a coalition of friendly Arab states to check Iran's influence in the region, the administration has recently been tightening ties with friendly autocrats in the region, including offering an extremely large new package of military sales and assistance for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the smaller Gulf states."

Carothers says the Bush administration "describes this effort as unifying the 'moderates' against the 'radicals' in the region, implying that it is actually a pro-democratic policy." But his report notes that "the moderate camp is made up of a collection of firmly nondemocratic states, some highly repressive...."

In prosecuting the war on terrorism, Carothers charges," the administration has embraced various nondemocratic governments it perceives as useful partners. This is a familiar pattern in the Middle East where the close antiterrorism cooperation in recent years between the United States and a host of autocratic regimes, including those in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, is an extension of a long-standing approach. Under the war on terrorism this pattern has spread to other regions, including South and Southeast Asia and Africa."

The Bush team, he says, "has championed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as a key ally in the war on terrorism, overlooking his glaring antidemocratic character for the sake of his (at least hoped for) help in going after Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The administration provides lavish diplomatic support, military assistance, and economic aid to the Pakistan strongman. The Bush bear hug is not tempered by any pro-democratic component-no real push on constitutional reform, free and fair elections, return to civilian rule, or human rights abuses. The absence of any noticeable concern with Pakistan's democratic deficit is partly the result of the administration's intense focus on obtaining Musharraf's cooperation and not wanting to raise troublesome political issues that might muddy the waters of friendship. It is also due to the Bush team's belief that Musharraf is holding together a potentially unstable, dangerous political situation, and that desirable as democratization might be in theory, in practice it is too risky to try."

Similar rationales have been advanced by the Bush Administration regarding energy-rich countries such as Ethiopia and Kazakhstan, Carothers asserts. It has been tough only on states such as Belarus, Burma, Cuba, and Zimbabwe, "where the United States has no significant interests in oil, antiterrorism cooperation, or other issues that would render friendship with the regime beneficial," Carothers observes.

Outside the Middle East, Carothers finds, "it is difficult to find evidence of any major positive US impact on the state of democracy. The report states, "Although the health of democracy in Latin America is clearly vital to America's overall interests in the region, the Bush administration has failed to engage on this issue in any high-level or sustained way." The same is true in Central Asia, China, Russia, and South Asia.