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Democracy Promotion's Discontent

Authors: James M. Goldgeier, Dean, School of International Service, American University, and Derek H. Chollet, Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security
August 22, 2008
Huffington Post



As Russia’s military rumbled into Georgia last week, the United Nations Security Council was nowhere to be seen. And how could it be otherwise given Moscow’s veto power? This sad fact would seem to give a boost to the notion promoted by Senator John McCain and many prominent Democrats that the United States needs to forge a new “League of Democracies” to take action when an authoritarian regime like Russia decides to throw its weight around.

Big ideas like that might have appeal, but they are most successful when there’s a clear political benefit to pursuing them. And the politics among both liberals and conservatives aren’t working in the League’s favor right now.

For many Democratic Party partisans, the idea of democracy promotion has become tarnished because of its association with George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda.” After experiencing the debacle in Iraq and seeing Hamas get elected to power in Palestine, some Democrats have had enough of democracy. Recent opinion polls show that far fewer Democrats than Republicans believe that the U.S. should “help establish democracy in other countries.” As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright laments, Bush has “given democracy a bad name.” This is ironic, since the last time a Democrat wrested the White House from Republican hands, democracy promotion was one of the few foreign policy themes liberals embraced.

In the 1992 campaign against George Bush’s father, Bill Clinton made the spread of liberal values globally central to his foreign policy vision.


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