WASHINGTON, Feb 25—The Obama administration faces pressure to pull back U.S. democracy promotion efforts, given the Bush’s administration’s legacy and increasing talk of a global “democratic recession.” However, as leading democracy expert Thomas Carothers argues in two new Carnegie publications, the United States can and should remain an active supporter of democracy abroad. By building a new approach to democracy promotion around the new president’s cardinal values—non-confrontational, measured, cooperative, and empowering—the United States can regain its place as a respected, trusted, and influential ally of democracy around the world.

In Democracy Promotion Under Obama: Finding a Way Forward, Carothers asserts that while a careful post-Bush process of repair and recovery on democracy policy is in order, the idea that President Obama should embrace a broad, realist corrective is a mistake. The key to finding a positive new way forward is changing how the United States supports democracy abroad rather than what emphasis to place on it relative to other interests. Key elements of President Obama’s political style and philosophy translate naturally into useful steps forward.

In Stepping Back from Democratic Pessimism, Carothers offers a wide-ranging assessment of the state of democracy in the world, finding that despite setbacks in the troubled regions of the Middle East and former Soviet Union, democracy has not experienced a global retreat this decade. Good news on democratization, though often less visible, has occurred in roughly equal proportion to bad news, and considerable continuity exists in many places. By taking on this more balanced perspective, the Obama administration can ensure that unnecessary pessimism does not hinder important U.S. support for democracy around the world.



  • Thomas Carothers is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment. 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.