Carnegie: "U.S. Democracy Promotion During and After Bush"

From the summary of a new Carnegie report, U.S. Democracy Promotion During and After Bush:
Despite sweeping rhetoric about the global spread of democracy, the Bush Administration has significantly damaged U.S. democracy promotion efforts and increased the number of close ties with “friendly tyrants,” concludes a new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Security interests, such as the war on terrorism, and U.S. energy needs have led the Bush Administration to maintain friendly, unchallenged relations with more than half of the forty-five “non-free” countries in the world.

Carnegie Vice President for Studies Thomas Carothers argues in his new report, U.S. Democracy Promotion During and After Bush, that the main U.S. presidential candidates have voiced support for democracy promotion, but not yet outlined plans to put it back on track. Carothers analyzes the Bush Administration’s record on democracy promotion and its effect on democracy worldwide, and then presents fresh ideas about the role democracy promotion can and should play in future U.S. policies.
Key recommendations after the jump -- the report argues for new pressure on Egypt and Pakistan. Here's the bit on Egypt in the report:

At the same time, the next administration should do more to push America’s many autocratic friends on democracy and human rights issues. Dramatic or decisive measures are almost never available in such situations, and finding a productive balance between the con- tending interests at stake is always difficult. The temptation to follow the path of least resistance—uncritically embracing the friendly tyrant—is inevitably strong. Yet, in some cases a better approach is possible, one that does not overlook democracy yet is still compatible with other interests.

Egypt is one example. The Bush administration has made a mistake in giving up its push for Egyptian political reform. The Mubarak government is indeed a useful regional security partner for the United States. But as some noted Egypt experts have pointed out, the United States maintained good security relations with Cairo even at the height of the short-lived U.S. push on democracy. Mubarak’s current political crackdown is stifling what was a genuine possibility for badly needed inclusive, pluralistic political change in his country. Washington has only limited influence on Egyptian politics, but it does have some. Focusing diplomatic attention on key issues—such as establishing an independent electoral commission, opening up the legalization process of political parties, and reducing human rights violations—would help increase the chance of a more open, democratic leadership succession in Egypt. Such a transition would be good for Egypt’s long-term political health, which in turn would be good for the U.S. government’s long-term security interests in the country.
There are no indications on how to pursue this, however. As a Bush administration official who worked on this subject once told me, there is no one to talk to in Egypt (within the regime) who is willing to go down the path of even limited genuine reform. It's being blocked at the highest level, and the uncertainty over succession does not encourage bold steps.

Update: Here is a WaPo op-ed by the author of the report, Thomas Carothers.


Key Report Conclusions and Recommendations:

• Democracy promotion must be decontaminated from the negative taint it has acquired under President Bush by improving U.S. compliance with the rule of law in the war on terrorism, ending the close association of democracy promotion with military intervention and regime change, and reducing the inconsistency of U.S. democracy policy by exerting real pressure for change on some key autocratic partners, such as Pakistan and Egypt.

• Democracy promotion must be repositioned in the war on terrorism. The idea that democratization will undercut the roots of terrorism is appealing but easily overstated. The next administration should deescalate rhetorical emphasis on democracy promotion as the centerpiece of the war on terrorism while escalating actual commitment to the issue in pivotal cases where supporting democratic change can help diminish growing radicalization.

• U.S. democracy promotion must be recalibrated to account for larger changes in the international context. A host of ongoing developments, such as the rise of authoritarian capitalism, new trends in globalization, and the high price of oil and gas, have eroded the validity of a whole set of assumptions on which U.S. democracy promotion was built in the 1980s and 1990s. The next administration will need to respond in large and small ways, such as by drawing an explicit tie between energy policy and democracy policy, re-engaging internationally at the level of basic political ideas, reducing the America-centrism of U.S. democracy building efforts, and strengthening the core institutional sources of democracy assistance.

“More than ever, U.S. democracy promotion must square a daunting circle—it must embody strong elements of modesty, subtlety, and the awareness of limitations without losing the vitality, decisiveness, and creativity necessary for success,” the report concludes.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.