U.S. Democracy Promotion During and After Bush

The main U.S. presidential candidates have voiced support for democracy promotion, but not yet outlined plans to put it back on track.
Published September 5, 2007 by Carnegie Endowment
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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 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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About the Author
Thomas Carothers is vice president for studies—international politics and governance at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. A leading authority on democratization and democracy promotion, he has researched and worked on democracy-building programs around the world for 20 years with many U.S., European, and international organizations. He has written numerous books on democracy promotion including most recently Confronting the Weakest Link: Aiding Political Parties in New Democracies and Promoting the Rule of Law Abroad: In Search of Knowledge.

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About the Democracy and Rule of Law Program

The Carnegie Democracy and Rule of Law Program rigorously examines the global state of democracy and the rule of law and international efforts to support their advance.

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