(Kiana) #1

Larry Diamond

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As the White House’s rhetorical and
symbolic emphasis on freedom and
democracy has waxed and waned over the
past four decades, nonproÃts and govern-
ment agencies, such as the National
Endowment for Democracy, the U.S.
Agency for International Development,
and the State Department’s Bureau o”
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,
have taken over the detailed work o”
democracy assistance. The United States
has devoted around $2 billion per year
over the last decade to programs promot-
ing democracy abroad—a lot o” money,
but less than one-tenth o” one percent o”
the total federal budget.
Although the U.S. government should
spend more on these eorts, the funda-
mental problem is not a question o”
resources. Instead, it is the disconnect
between the United States’ admirable
eorts to assist democracy, on the one
hand, and its diplomatic statements, state
visits, and aid Áows that often send the
opposite message, on the other. Barely a
year after he vowed in his second inaugu-
ral address to “end tyranny,” George W.
Bush welcomed to the White House
Azerbaijan’s corrupt, autocratic president,
Ilham Aliyev, and uttered not a word
o” public disapproval about the nature o”
his rule. On a visit to Ethiopia in 2015,
Obama twice called its government
“democratically elected,” even though the
ruling coalition had held sham elections
earlier that same year.
The trap oÊ heaping praise on
friendly autocrats while ignoring their
abuses is hard to avoid, and all previous
presidents have occasionally fallen into
it. But most o” them at least sought to
Ãnd a balance, applying pressure when
they felt they could and articulating a
general principle o” support for free-

ration. Among 37 countries surveyed
in 2017, the median percentage o” those
expressing favorable views o” the
United States fell to 49 percent, from
64 percent at the end o” Obama’s presi-
dency. It will be hard for the United
States to promote democracy abroad
while other countries—and its own
citizens—are losing faith in the Ameri-
can model. The United States’ retreat
from global leadership is feeding this
skepticism in a self-reinforcing down-
ward spiral.

Promoting democracy has never been
easy work. U.S. presidents from John F.
Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Obama
struggled to Ãnd the right balance
between the lofty aims o” promoting
democracy and human rights and the
harder imperatives o” global statecraft.
They all, on occasion, chose to pursue
not just pragmatic but even warm
relations with autocrats for the sake o”
securing markets, protecting allies,
Ãghting terrorism, and controlling the
spread o” weapons o” mass destruction.
Often, presidents have backed the
forces o• freedom opportunistically.
Obama did not set out to topple Mubarak,
but when the Egyptian people rose up,
he chose to back them. Reagan did not
foresee needing to abandon loyal U.S.
allies in the Philippines and South
Korea, but events on the ground left
him no other good option. George
H. W. Bush probably did not imagine
that Reagan’s prediction o” the
demise o” Soviet communism would
come true so quickly, but when it did,
he expanded democracy and gover-
nance assistance programs to support
and lock in the sweeping changes.

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