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The Brave New World of Democracy Promotion

Author: Robert McMahon, Managing Editor
January 12, 2009
Foreign Service Journal


President George W. Bush made democracy promotion the cornerstone of what he described as his "freedom agenda" and, in a departure from previous U.S. practice, the focal point of his Middle East policy. The policy was equally central to second-term Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's call for "transformational diplomacy." Yet with the exception of the Iraq War, few of the administration's foreign policy initiatives have been as bedeviled and confused as that one, at least in terms of its execution.

In his second inaugural address (January 2005), Pres. Bush promised "to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." His administration claimed its military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan had liberated more than 50 million people from authoritarian rule, opening the way for free and fair elections. And in her first months as Secretary of State in 2005, Condoleezza Rice spoke frequently about the obligation "we on the right side of freedom's divide" have to help those living under nondemocratic rule.

The administration's second-term freedom agenda initially rode a wave of momentum. The so-called "colored revolutions" in Georgia (Rose) in 2003 and Ukraine (Orange) in 2004 had already brought to power pro-U.S. governments from the former Soviet sphere seen as committed to fighting corruption. Lebanon's 2005 Cedar Revolution led to the ouster of Syrian troops and promised greater freedoms for that country. Even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak relented under U.S. pressure and held multiparty elections that year.


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