Democracy Arsenal

January 30, 2008

Africa, Democracy, Human Rights

In Women’s Absence, No Security for Kenya
Posted by Marie Wilson

Today, the National Council of Women of Kenya decried their exclusion from the current mediation talks being lead by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.  The Council’s chair, Isabella Karanja, condemned Kenya’s disregard for UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that supports women's participation in mediation.  I’ve been paying close attention to Kenya’s dramatic social and political breakdown, and I can assure you that the exclusion of women from the mediation process is not only unjust – it is a grave sentence for the Kenyan people and their nation’s future.

The country’s rapid descent into violence and relative chaos was sparked by a crack in the veneer of its successful democracy, and attributed to tribal anger and the back-and-forth of ethnic reprisals.  But the violence that Kenyans are suffering, and that we witness in disturbing daily imagery, is rooted in the nation’s lack of access to jobs and healthcare, inequalities in land and resources – all glaring disparities which are funneled into ethnic tensions.  Kenya’s current malaise will only be cured through the acknowledgement of human security as fundamental to state security.  And the issues which make up human security are the issues that women have continually championed worldwide: basic human needs like economic and environmental justice, safe streets, healthcare and education.

Kenya is not unique.  With few exceptions, women have found themselves systematically closed out of the security debate – with severe consequences for national and global security.  Which is why The White House Project, along with a myriad of other groups across the globe, have come together to permanently shift the way we think about, and enact policy, on security. 

In November of 2007, The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in partnership with The White House Project, the Council of Women World Leaders and the Women Leaders Intercultural Forum, convened the historic International Women Leaders Global Security Summit in New York, bringing together over 75 of the worlds most powerful women leaders in a Call to Action on international security.  Under the leadership of co-hosts Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada, they worked together to tackle the world’s most critical security issues. And in the Summit’s aftermath, hundreds of women and men alike have signed on to this critical cause, committing their resources to uphold the bold imperative of crafting policy that holds human security to be intimately intertwined with state security.  I encourage you to join this vital effort and sign the Call to Action as well.

We are witnessing moves in the right direction, and I am heartened by the women and men around the world currently working on issues of human security.  When I was researching the new afterward to my book, Closing the Leadership Gap, I was buoyed by how far women have come in the field of security since the book’s original publication four years ago.  But there is so much further that we need to go in order to normalize women’s leadership in this area, and truly listen to the women working on the ground when we craft national policy.  From Kenya’s post-election violence to the devastation in Iraq, we need women’s voices to be an integral part of the conversation.  As the scale of violence and human insecurity continues its rapid escalation, the critical paradigm shift on security cannot wait a moment longer.

August 03, 2007


Was Kos Questioner a Military Plant?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I was just informed that the guy in uniform this morning.....the one who posed a question to the panel about Progressives and the Military..... was a plant from the Right Michelle Malkin to be specific, who has a blog called hot airbags or something self-referential like that.

More on this later. If this is true, it represents the most egregious, ugly, shameful and anti-American tactic I've ever witnessed in my own experience of studying and trying to improve US civil-military relations.
I'm not going to link to her blog, which I just checked out...and indeed, she's accusing the conference of stifling dissent. QED Malkin, you are an idiot.

February 08, 2007


American Jews and Israel: A Vital Discussion
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Last night I lingered over kitchen cleanup to listen to a program on NPR called "American Jews and Israel." It was just excellent. Listen to it here.

Although I have never been to the Middle East except for a stint as a tourist in Egypt, I have followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years. I wrote my final paper on Israel's creation in college...then kept up with it over the years as a student of conflict resolution. Still, this radio program really captured so much of the important discussion that is breaking out all over (from anger over Jimmy Carter's latest book to the Walt-Mearsheimer article last year to the implications of the FBI probe of AIPAC)

I hope these debates crack open the brooding and uncomfortable silence that has persisted on this topic in the USA. From my experience working in Congress...its true that as far as this topic is concerned, dialogue itself has become subversive. Our inability to have a public discussion is stymied in both directions--from criticism of Israel on the Right to criticism of Palestinian human rights issues on the Left. I remember as a staffer trying to put together a simple series of dialogues for a willing group of American Jews, Israelis, Palestinians and others from Arab countries---and being shocked at the offices that either dismissed it outright or refused to help, sponsor, acknowledge or even lift a finger to allow it to be successful.

This debate is painful and sometimes raw, but airing the issues will help the emotional temperature level out. For my own purely selfish reasons, I so want this issue to move forward successfully and for the national tone on the issue to become problem-solving oriented. Why? mostly because--to me--Jewish American philosophy and idealism are the heart and soul of progressive America. Indeed, of liberal democracy itself. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has sucked so much of the attention and energy out of this vital community-- Energy and commitment is a scarce resource. I want more of it put to work here at home, in the trenches, with everyone who is working to set this country back on track.

January 19, 2007


Needed: A New Rubric for Democracy Promotion
Posted by David Shorr

One more post to conclude this guest stint to cover for Suzanne during her maternity leave. I'm passing the guest blogger baton to Rosa Brooks and look forward to reading her contributions.

After Iraq, the folly of viewing elections as a transformative panacea is plain to see. Democracy can't be achieved in one great leap to the ballot box. There need to be favorable political, social, and economic conditions. This leaves a very important question. The essence of democracy actually is the popular mandate. So if we have to approach it gradually, what is it that we're promoting along the way? What changes can and should societies undergo before they have free, fair, competitive elections?

Continue reading "Needed: A New Rubric for Democracy Promotion" »

January 15, 2007

Democracy, Middle East

Time for Pharaoh
Posted by Zvika Krieger

It was the summer of 2005, and the air in the Middle East was full of hope. Lebanon had just ousted the Syrians, Iraqis were voting, and democracy was on the march across the region. In Egypt, where I had been living, the Kifaya reform movement was taking to the streets and Mubarak was allowing multi-party elections for the presidency. Even the US was hopeful, dispatching Condi to Cairo to pressure Egypt to follow through on its promises for reform. Well, we all know how this story ends. Lebanon and Iraq fall into chaos, and Egypt remains the same old authoritarian state we’ve grown to love.

It seems like the time has passed for the US to pressure Egypt on reform—both the presidential and parliamentary elections in Egypt have come and gone, and politics seem pretty much dead until Mubarak decides to pass on the throne to his son, err, retire. Not so, argues Michelle Dunne is a new paper from the Carnegie Endowment. Dunne, whom I met in Cairo last year while we were both attending the annual convention of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, has a reputation for being quite the insider on the Egyptian political scene. According to her report, the Egyptian government is in the process of introducing a slew of new legislation that would give more power to the parliament, allow political parties more breathing room, and finally abolish the dictatorial Emergency Law. While I wouldn’t get too excited just yet—the Mubarak regime has a long track record of dashing expectations—Dunne makes a convincing case that now may be precisely the right time for the US to return its attention to Egypt.

The larger issue at hand is America’s relationship with the “Axis of Good”—the benevolent dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia that have gotten a free pass on reforms because of their generally pro-American behavior. Isn’t the central tenet of the Bush democracy doctrine that repression breeds terror, regardless of how Bush-kissing these dictators are? I don’t want to underestimate the value of having these leaders “on our side,” but there is a middle ground between militarized regime change and absolute negligence. Remember that most of these regimes are on our team because it benefits them—whether it’s countering the rise of Iran or preventing the spread of militant Islam to their own countries. Even just a little bit of nudging on reform could go a long way with these countries—and might be a way for us to do something good for democracy in the region.

UPDATE: Looks like Condi did not take my advice: Rice Speaks Softly in Egypt, Avoiding Democracy Push (NYTimes)

January 14, 2007


Hey, I Heard About This Democracy Concert
Posted by David Shorr

A lot of blog has already been spilt over merits and pitfalls of organizing democratic nations into some kind of alliance, but I'd like to take my shot. In case anyone missed it, the issue was the subject of an extended debate over on America Abroad; this tag gives a partial sampling. Formal articulations of the idea can be found by Daalder and Lindsay in American Interest and Ikenberry and Slaughter in their final Princeton Project report (potential terms as a basis for a concert of democracies are in an annex, but the entire report is a must-read).

My main problem is with the extremely strange timing of an American push for a major new international organization. This is hardly the time for the United States to go forum-shopping. I just don't know how to square this with the depletion of our moral authority account.

Continue reading "Hey, I Heard About This Democracy Concert" »

December 08, 2006


Hong Kong and Human Nature
Posted by Marc Grinberg

HONG KONG -- I've always assumed that political freedom is a fundamental human desire.  Men would sacrifice great treasure and, for some, life itself in pursuit of this liberty.  Recent events seemed to confirm this assumption - Iraqis risking death for the chance to vote, students in Iran facing violent reprisals and jail time for protesting the government, the Orange Revolution, etc.

However, after spending a week in Hong Kong, I'm no longer convinced that the fundamental-ness of this desire is universal.   While I still believe that political freedom is a universal desire, I'm not sure that it is universally fundamental - that is, that for all people it trumps all (or most) other desires.

I asked a Hong Konger (yes, that's the nationality of a person from Hong Kong) friend of mine to tell me about democracy in Hong Kong.  "It sucks," he replied. "Because it is not democracy at all."  In Hong Kong the chief executive is hand picked by China.  The legislature has 60-seats: 30 elected by direct election and 30 elected by functional constituencies, that is interest groups with close ties to Beijing.  Freedom House scores political freedom in Hong Kong a 5 out of 7, where 1 is completely free and 7 is Belarus.  Not what you expect from "Asia's World City."

"Why then does the status-quo persist?" I asked. "Why don't the people of Hong Kong push for greater democracy?"  Hong Kong, after all, is one of Asia's most Western cities - the people are certainly exposed to liberal ideas about democracy.  And opinion polls show large majorities of Hong Kongers do in fact want greater democracy.

"People in Hong Kong are practical," he responded.  By this, he meant that a push for greater political freedom would inevitably cause instability and, at least short term, interruptions in the economy.  Most Hong Kongers are first and foremost driven by money.  This may now be cliche, but from my observations it seems to be true (I have dozens of stories if you ask nicely).  If the fight for political freedom causes even short-term drops in wealth, then it is not a sacrifice most are willing to make.

So what does this tell us about democracy and human nature?  Is it possible that the desire for political freedom arises not from nature but from nurture?  That is, do we yearn for democracy because we have been taught (through culture and education, etc.) that it is a fundamental right and not because it is an intrinsic human instinct?  And if this is the case, does it change how those of us who support the promotion of democracy abroad go about doing it?

October 11, 2006

Democracy, Middle East

Abu Aardvark's Puzzle: The Stickiness of Autocracy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Marc Lynch (aka Abu Aardvark) poses the question of why Arab autocracies have proven so durable, seemingly immune from the winds of reform? After all, weren’t we talking about the blossoming, blooming, burgeoning “Arab Spring” just last year? As Lynch notes:

Many of the things which [USC economist Timur Kuran] expected to spark this bandwagon have in fact now happened:  the Iraq war toppled Saddam, the post-Hariri Lebanese protests drove out the Syrians, some brave activists began demanding change (Kefaya), Arab satellite TV broadcast it all widely.  But Arab regimes look as entrenched as ever. That has to be something of a puzzle. 

Of course, Lynch is goading us a bit here. It’s really not as mysterious as it sounds and I’m sure Abu Aardvark is well aware of how Spring turns to Summer.

Here are three considerations which may help clarify the matter, the first of which should be obvious to even the most unseasoned observer:

  1. US policymakers cannot pretend to be puzzled at the Arab world’s “democratic deficit,” because they are a big part of the problem. Despite all the fanfare to the contrary (i.e. the sweeping Wilsonianism of early 2005), the Bush administration continues to actively lend economic, military, and moral support to some of the region’s most stalwart dictators, including those in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. Yes, it’s a long list. Well, then, why do we support these dictators? Because, apparently, or so we’re told, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. We’re afraid that Islamists will come to power through democratic elections. So we opt for sham, façade, imaginary      democracy. With that said, the “Islamist dilemma” is not an easy one to resolve and there are legitimate concerns about how to handle it. I’ve tried to address this here, here, and here.

  1. The existence and strength of political Islam is also an important factor from the standpoint of Arab domestic politics. In Eastern Europe and Latin America, the primary cleavage between regime and opposition was economic. However, in the Middle East, religion is the primary cleavage (i.e. Islamism vs. secularism) and this fact complicates matters quite a bit. In such a context, divisions between government and opposition are not a matter of differing public policies, but rather one of the raison d’etre of the state itself. Politics, thus, becomes an existential concern and, in extreme cases, a matter of life and death, as it was during the fated Algerian elections of 1991. The zero-sum nature of Arab politics makes democratic compromise that much more difficult.

Here’s another way of looking at it: guaranteeing regime actors that (after they are voted out of office) their private property and Swiss bank accounts will be protected is one thing. Ensuring that their very way of life will not be “affected” is altogether another. Rich people can still live rich under a leftist regime. The “bourgeois” lifestyle, on the individual level, will not be affected in any significant way. An Islamist-led regime, however, will initiate at least some changes which would have direct bearing on the private sphere (i.e. family law, private status law, women’s issues, artistic expression, alcohol consumption). Generally, people are more able to reconcile themselves to changes in public policy. The private sphere, on the other hand, is often seen as “untouchable.” Understandable fears of future Islamist intervention in “cultural production” may, then, provoke relevant regime actors to act in ways that are not necessarily in accordance with their rational self-interest. A good barometer of this is the, I suspect, uniquely Arab phenomenon of secularists and liberals warning that they will “leave” if Islamists come to power.

Continue reading "Abu Aardvark's Puzzle: The Stickiness of Autocracy" »

October 02, 2006


What Comes First - Elections or Institutions?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It is usual for opponents of democracy promotion to belittle elections and elevate institutions. This is a variation of the prerequisites argument – that before you push for democracy, you must first have various indices satisfied (i.e. strong middle class, liberal elites, economic growth). This argument often doubles as a high-minded way of saying that third-world peoples – and particularly Arabs – need to be like us before they can enjoy democracy. 

With that said, there is no doubting that it is better to have democratic institutions then not to have them. Democratization in, say, Egypt would be a less risky and contentious affair if well-rooted, legitimate institutions were in place.

In emerging polities, the question has always been whether institutional arrangements have the capacity to absorb the participatory demands of the electorate. Where institutions are weak, what Samuel Huntington calls “wild democracy” or “mass praetorianism” is more likely to take hold. Where institutions are autonomous and legitimate, even the most reckless demagogues will fail in their efforts to transform the political structure. This is why the Bush administration has failed and will continue to fail in its bid to do away with the Geneva conventions, legitimize torture, establish military tribunals, and impose Orwellian legislative projects (i.e. the now-defunct Patriot Act II). The lesson here is that institutions matter.

However, there are some problems with applying such a lesson to the Middle East. The US-supported autocrats now in power have gone out of their way to erode and stunt the development of indigenous institutions, for such institutions present a formidable threat to their unquenchable thirst for power and control. Which is why it is not surprising that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has spent a good chunk of his reign harassing the country’s venerable and relatively independent judiciary (one of the few holdovers of Egypt’s pre-1952 “liberal era”) and making the establishment of new political parties a nearly impossible endeavor. The Mubarak regime, one might argue, has tried to build (or maintain) some kind of "middle class" – but a “middle class” which is dependent on government largesse and therefore rendered incapable of exerting democratic pressure on Egypt’s rulers. One would hope that something as basic as a “Vice President” would exist in the netherworld of Egyptian politics. It does not. There is no institutionalized mode of succession. Then again, I suppose you don’t need one if you’re planning on making your country into a monarchy.

Continue reading "What Comes First - Elections or Institutions?" »

September 24, 2006

Democracy, Weekly Top Ten Lists

Democracy after Bush: 10 Lessons for Progressives
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

One major piece of fallout from the Bush foreign policy era is the discrediting of America's role in promoting democracy around the world.  A few days ago, I heard a Senate candidate recounting what I assume was a line he uses on the stump; something to the effect that by making the mistake of holding elections amid a population that suffers from poor education, an absence of civic institutions, and no tradition of the rule of law, you will wind up with Hamas in power.   

While Americans are right to conclude that elections alone do not a democracy make, this does not mean its wrong to support free elections in places that fall well short of the criteria for full-fledged democracy.   Here are 10 conclusions I draw after 10 years of democracy promotion the Bush way:

1.  The U.S. must remain at the forefront of promoting democracy worldwide - The hangover of the Bush years will lead many to urge retreat from efforts to advance democracy in farflung places, on grounds that such work is costly, dangerous, and bound to fail.  While the impulse is understandable, this would be a huge mistake.  America's role in fostering democracy and aiding democrats the world over helped fuel us to superpowerdom during the first half the twentieth century, and keep us there during the second.  This drive was behind many of America's greatest contributions to the international system - including the creation of the multilateral order and the rise of great democracies on all continents.  We cannot throw the baby of democracy promotion out with the bathwater of Bush Administration policies.

2.  Democracy is not the same as pro-Americanism - One of the rationales behind American support for democracy is the idea that Democratic regimes are more inclined to support the US.  While this is true in the long term, the effect is neither immediate nor universal, as we've learned the hard way in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and - arguably - Iran.  Where there are longstanding grievances, immediate resentments, and/or political elements who rally support based on anti-Western and anti-American agendas, the democracy won't necessarily temper these sentiments.  Americans need to understand that fostering democracies around the world will benefit US interests over time, and not to expect immediate gratification in the form of pro-US governments.

3.  Democracy delayed will be seen as democracy denied - The US cannot afford to take the position that where democratic elections may result in the rise of extremist or anti-US elements, such elections should be indefinitely postponed.  If there are reasons to believe feasible, relatively quick steps can be taken to foster more free and fair elections, there may be nothing wrong with advocating that those happen first.  But a position that only once US-friendly parties are poised for victory does a population deserve to elect its own government will be seen as self-serving and hypocritical. 

4.  Elections are necessary but not sufficient for democracy - Rather than downplaying the importance of elections, US policymakers should place more emphasis on dimensions like the development of democratic institutions; the building of an independent judiciary; freedom of the press and of expression; civic education; a firm state monopoly on the use of force, and more.  These get short shrift because they take more money and time, and don't provide the same photo ops as peasants waving ink-stained fingers in the air.  In Eastern Europe and elsewhere, the US, other Western governments and international bodies have gained experience promoting a full range of democratic accouterments.  We need to get to work as energetically in these areas as we do in the business of holding elections.

5.  Pro-democracy and anti-corruption must go hand-in-hand - The big lesson of Hamas' victory is not that elections were a bad idea, but that West's erred glaringly in failure to ensure that the previous Fatah-led government provided adequate levels of law and order and social services to sustain its hold on power.   By most accounts, Hamas' win reflected less popular extremism than abject frustration with the corruption and ineptitude of the Fatah regime.  Similar tendencies are reportedly behind Hezbollah's popularity in Lebanon.   It is no surprise, and is laudable, that voters prize competence and reject corruption.  The West needs to do what it can to ensure that they don't need to vote in violent extremists in order to get them.

Continue reading "Democracy after Bush: 10 Lessons for Progressives" »

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