wave of democratic change is spreading around the world, from
Afghanistan to Iraq to Ukraine, from Lebanon to Kyrgyzstan. These
historic events demonstrate that we live in a truly interconnected
world. President George W. Bush's words, spoken in his second
inaugural address and State of the Union speech, are resonating
around the world and moving crowds.
promotion of democracy remains an important goal of U.S. foreign
policy. The ADVANCE Democracy Act (S. 516 and H.R. 1133), currently
being considered by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and
House Committee on International Relations, is intended to further
this goal but could actually hinder it. The U.S. should continue
its tradition of aiding burgeoning democracies around the world,
but it should do so in a way that also takes into account U.S.
vital interests, especially national security.
Equally important, the U.S. should promote
democracy without limiting the executive branch's ability to
conduct foreign policy. Formulating and conducting diplomacy is an
exercise in balancing U.S. interests abroad, including America's
relations with its allies in the war on terrorism and other
military and business priorities. Diplomacy should be conducted
with a dose of healthy realism. It cannot ultimately serve U.S.
interests if it blindly pursues ideology.
good example to follow is Ronald Reagan's focus on the "evil
empire" of the Soviet Union and his Administration's championing of
democracy promotion as a foreign policy priority in the USSR,
Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Reagan eventually succeeded and
tossed communism into the dustbin of history. Similarly, the
soaring rhetoric of President Bush's second inaugural address will
require practical and realistic implementation. Learning from
Reagan's example, this means making strategic decisions about which
regions of the world to prioritize as the focus of American
resources and involvement. It also means that democracy promotion
is only one tool in the foreign policy toolbox, which also includes
free trade promotion, economic development, multilateral
cooperation, and, in some rare cases, the use of force.
Needed. The ADVANCE Democracy Act serves the American
public by emphasizing the role of democracy in U.S. foreign policy
in general and at the State Department in particular. The bill
reaffirms U.S. political support for democracy and allocates funds
to support the Community of Democracies, an international forum of
However, Congress should avoid the
temptation to micromanage U.S. foreign policy. Democracy overseas,
in particular, does not lend itself to management by foreign
officials, especially diplomats, who are trained to interact with
host governments and report back home.
bill sets out to spread "universal democracy" worldwide, but its
expansive legislative language sacrifices foreign policy
flexibility and agility. Simply put, it is written too broadly. In
particular, the ADVANCE Democracy Act dilutes the executive
branch's constitutional role in conducting foreign policy by
over-prescribing analytical frameworks and tools. It assumes that
all non-democratic states are de facto hostile to U.S. security.
This is simply not the case.
bill's language requires mechanically classifying every state as
"democratic," "partially democratic," or "non-democratic," ignoring
any nuances or differences. In fact, the State Department may wind
up fighting not to place states in "negative" categories in order
to preserve good relations with host governments in pursuing other
U.S. interests, such as trade and security.
Ignored. The bill ignores the war on terrorism as the main
imperative of U.S. foreign policy. Instead, it should explicitly
target countries that allow terrorist organizations to function
within their territories or otherwise support terrorism. It should
also focus on repressive regimes that ban political opposition,
thus breeding terrorism.
proposed legislation also ignores the organic nature of democracy
by not acknowledging the importance of culture and history to the
development of democracy in a country. It de facto imposes Western
concepts of democracy instead of allowing it to grow locally. The
bill ignores the fact that democracy is a process, not an event,
and substitutes elections for democracy.
act also disregards the possibility of electoral outcomes inimical
to U.S. foreign policy goals, such as Islamists seizing power
through elections in the Middle East, as could happen with the
Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Egypt or Jamaat Islamiya in
Pakistan. Elections are not a cure-all for dictatorship. If
democracy does not take root, it can open the door to
totalitarianism, as Weimar Germany demonstrated in 1933.
Finally, this bill could alienate regimes
that remain supportive of U.S. policies and are gradually evolving
into democracies, such as Jordan and Morocco.
Should Do. To advance democracy, Congress should:
the language reaffirming U.S. political support for democratic
- Add a
clause specifying that support for democratic governance should be
pursued after a full assessment of this policy and its value to
U.S. vital national interests, including security priorities in the
war on terrorism, through an interagency process led by the
National Security Council.
- Recommend a comprehensive review of
financial assistance for the promotion of democracy to ensure
efficiency and effectiveness.
funds for implementation of democracy programs to the National
Endowment for Democracy and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
rather than expand the State Department bureaucracy.
the intelligence community's role in engaging in political warfare
and promoting democracy in countries where U.S. diplomats and NGOs
U.S. promotion of democracy on the Muslim world without harming
America's vital interests in the war on terrorism.
Conclusion. Democracy varies from
country to country. It is not "one-size-fits-all." In helping
freedom to blossom and take root, the U.S. should do what is
possible and necessary, taking into account U.S. national interests
while avoiding what is unrealistic.
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.,
is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies in the
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, and Helle C. Dale is
Director of the Sarah and Douglas Allison Center for Foreign Policy
Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage