The Democracy Scorecard

The Washington Post has an interesting piece on the Bush Administration’s progress in supporting democratic movements worldwide. They highlight the case of Egypt, the #1 recipient of US foreign aid, and also an autocratic country where opposition leader Ayman Nour remains a political prison, held on trumped-up charges by the Mubarak regime, a nominal ally of the US.

The Bush Administration deserves some credit for putting democracy on the front burner in places like Ukraine, where we supported Viktor Yushchenko despite the fact that he openly planned to remove Ukrainian troops from Iraq, and the very quiet bilateral pressure applied on Syria to withdraw by Lebanon by both the United States and France. The idea that the US and the French would be working together at the UN to bring democracy to an Arab country seems to be like something out of Bizarro-World, but it happened nonetheless. US action has helped to spread democracy, not only in Iraq:

“The glass is a quarter full, but we need more of it,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, a group that promotes democracy. “The administration deserves credit, but it’s just a start.”

In its annual survey ranking nations as free, partly free or not free, the group upgraded nine nations or territories in 2005 and downgraded four. Among those deemed freer were Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, where peaceful revolutions overthrew entrenched governments; Lebanon, where Syrian occupation troops were pressured to withdraw; and Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, where trailblazing elections were held. Overall, Freedom House concluded, “the past year was one of the most successful for freedom” since the survey began in 1972.

More can and should still be done. Global geopolitics demands that we can’t lean too heavily on regimes like Russia, China, and Pakistan, but that doesn’t mean that more subtle pressure can’t be applied. Iran, North Korea, and Burma remain some of the most oppressive countries on the planet. Belarus is still a puppet of Moscow led by the authoritarian Aleksandr Lukachenko. East Africa remains mired in corruption and autocracy.

It remains absolutely critical that this and future Administrations put democratization as a key priority of American foreign policy. Programs such as the Millennium Challenge Account encourage fiscal transparency and openness. American diplomacy no longer regard “stability” as the predominant focus of American foreign policy. While the democratic transition in Iraq has been loud and noisy, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Palestine, and even Saudi Arabia are taking steps towards democracy from headlong plunges to tentative first steps.

The Bush Administration’s record on democratization so far is mixed, but the fact that it’s at the forefront at all is a positive first step. The events of the past few years have painfully and indelibly shown that the international status quo could no longer be sustained. The autocracy of the Middle East has supported and fueled Islamic terrorism by divorcing millions of Arabs from being able to decide their own political futures. Societies in which political change can only come about through the barrel of a gun tend to be societies that foster rather than combat terrorism.

Democratization takes time, sometimes generations. However, it is critical that American foreign policy works towards democratization as a critical goal not only to win the war we’re currently fighting, but to help prevent conflicts in the future.

2 thoughts on “The Democracy Scorecard

  1. It is a given in international relations that democracies do not attack each other.

    There is no doubt that one of the best ways to safeguard our own peace and security is to spread liberty abroad.

  2. “It is a given in international relations that democracies do not attack each other.”

    “There is no doubt that one of the best ways to safeguard our own peace and security is to spread liberty abroad.”

    Ah, but what kind of democracy are we talking about? Liberal democracies don’t attack each other; illiberal have no such constraints. Russia, most of the former soviet republics, and much of the middle east, South America and Africa hold “elections”- but that doesn’t mean that we should trust them any further than we can throw them.

    Democracy without a system of liberal checks and balances and an educated populace is NOT a panacea.

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