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August 22, 2007

Democracy Promotion Needs a Plan of Action
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Matt Yglesias, referring to the failure of the Bush "freedom agenda," gets it right:

The president gave a speech about the democracy agenda, but he never put a democracy agenda together. In all policy areas, but especially in foreign policy and diplomacy, saying things isn't the same as changing policies. Like if you want to cut taxes, you can't just say "let's cut taxes" you need to submit budget documents, work with members of congress, do some calculations, etc.

Circa early 2005, President Bush's rhetoric on democracy was wonderful (Michael Gerson is a great speechwriter). But the gap between rhetoric and actual policy was never bridged. I'm a believer in the necessity of "vision," but a vision that stays merely on the level of sentiment, of something to be wished and hoped for, is a vision that is doomed to fail. A vision, to succeed, needs more than a declaration of intent; it requires follow-through. It requires actionable items. It requires policies. Bush claimed he wished to end tyranny. But how? The "how" of it all was never addressed in any serious way. With that said, where I may disagree with Yglesias is on the presciptive side. He says:

I sometimes think people have unfairly criticized Bush for not "doing something" about autocracy in Pakistan but when it's not clear what should be done, but that's just the point it's not clear what should be done.

Actually, I don't think it's nearly as "unclear" as Matt suggests. Democracy promotion is difficult, but on some points (assuming you endorse the objective), it is actually quite clear what should be done. Each year, we give close to 2 billion dollars of economic and military aid to Egypt, one of the most repressive dictatorships in the region. The least we could do, and the least the Bush administration should have done, was move towards making aid to Egypt conditional on political reform. Egypt would have to demonstrate that it is making progress on various indicators, among them respect for opposition rights, protection of civil liberties, freedom to form and join political parties, and judicial independence. This is not asking that much. It's not asking that Egypt become a democracy tomorrow. It's simply asking that Egypt, if it would like to continue receiving me and Matt's tax dollars, has to start making some progress on reform.


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You're exactly right about Egypt. But now tackle the tough cases--Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In both cases, our need for security cooperation is so great that we have no leverage right now to demand politcal reform, even though political reform would be in our security interest in the long term.

Which gets at the gray area between the two poles of your favorite dichotomy--liberal interventionism vs. self-interested realism. In the long run, most liberals would like to see just the sort of foreign policy you're suggesting here (though some of us will bristle at calling it "interventionism"). But until we extricate ourselves from Iraq and get a better grip on the hearts and minds of Afghanistan, it's not a policy we can effectively pursue.

Bob beat me to it. It's easy to say "Let's put pressure on Egypt." Except that we're also supporting dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and, of course, China.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that Yglesias was saying that Pakistan (and Saudi Arabia as Bob and Mike pointed out) are the tough cases where no one seems to have crafted the 'right' response, so it's understandable that Bush didn't have one either. Though the silly back and forth with Egypt, elections, and Ms. Rice just undermined the whole 'democracy' thing Bush said he was promoting.
That was Matt's point, Bush's democracy agenda was essentially autopilot for almost everywhere, plus a war in Iraq. Oh, and can anyone remind me, what was Bush's grand plan for Israel / Palestine again? Wasn't it something with an election solving everything?

Perhaps the current administration is afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood, and what it might do if democracy got a foothold in Egypt. Among other things, they may fear that leaders from that group will take a more hostile attitude towards Israel.

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