February 21, 2006

Diet Neoconservatism

Okay, time to read this Francis Fukuyama piece everyone's talking about. Let's see: Bush is incompetent? Right. The neoconservatives overreached on Iraq? Sure, sure. It's time to be more realistic about stuff, without being amoral? Fine, whatever. Ah, here we go. Fukuyama gets into how to go about promoting democracy:
If we are serious about the good governance agenda, we have to shift our focus to the reform, reorganization and proper financing of those institutions of the United States government that actually promote democracy, development and the rule of law around the world, organizations like the State Department, U.S.A.I.D., the National Endowment for Democracy and the like. The United States has played an often decisive role in helping along many recent democratic transitions, including in the Philippines in 1986; South Korea and Taiwan in 1987; Chile in 1988; Poland and Hungary in 1989; Serbia in 2000; Georgia in 2003; and Ukraine in 2004-5.

But the overarching lesson that emerges from these cases is that the United States does not get to decide when and where democracy comes about. By definition, outsiders can't "impose" democracy on a country that doesn't want it; demand for democracy and reform must be domestic. Democracy promotion is therefore a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective.
So it seems like Fukuyama would prefer to have the United States "promote" democracy around the world by doing what it did in, say, Ukraine, Georgia, and Serbia, rather than the "invade and liberate" model that, one assumes, was discredited long ago.

But the three examples cited above all involved very assertive steps on the part of the United States—we may not have been "impos[ing] democracy on a country that doesn't want it" (whatever that means), but the United States certainly gave a serious shove. The Clinton administration spent about $25 million on civil society groups in Serbia to oppose Milosevic, groups that eventually led the "Bulldozer Revolution" in 2000. Those Serbian groups, especially the student group Otpor, in turn linked up with the Georgian civil-society groups that helped lead the Rose Revolution—groups that were in turn funded heavily by the Soros Foundation. (Indeed, Otpor now travels the world teaching civil society groups how to organize democratic revolutions.)

Ukranian opposition groups, meanwhile, got some $65 million from the United States in the two years prior to the Orange Revolution, and were helped by third party NGOs such as the National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House, both of which are very active—at times, quite aggressive—in promoting democratic change by nonviolent means, along with Peter Ackerman's International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, which, as nicely detailed by Franklin Foer in the New Republic, has been very active in encouraging democratic revolution around the world, played no small part in the Rose Revolution, and has been eagerly embraced by the State Department looking for a Fukuyama-esque alternative to Iraq-style regime change.

That appears to be more or less the sort of thing Fukuyama has in mind, although he leaves himself a lot of wiggle room. But is this the "right" way to go about promoting democracy? I'm still skeptical. It's certainly true that democratic transitions often depend to a large extent on mass movements from below. But there's a question of whether the Ukranian-Georgian-Serbian model is appropriate for all countries.

After all, all of those revolutions could have easily ended horrifically, resulting in either a crackdown by the ruling regime, or even war in the Ukraine case. That they didn't result in such seems lucky above all; but promoting democratic change in this fashion elsewhere could easily lead to a lot of bloodshed. The 2005 revolution in Kyrgyzstan, after all, where the State Department has spent some $12.2 million funding "pro-democracy projects," ended with violence in the streets and no real meaningful change. The Karimov regime in Uzbekistan, meanwhile, responded with crackdowns next door.

Nor is it obvious that the most recent—and ostensibly "successful"—examples of U.S.-backed democratic revolution will turn out well in the end. Serbia has shown signs of backsliding over the years, having elected Kostunica back into power two years ago and faring somewhat poorly on several governance measures. (Recent reports suggest the country may get axed from EU consideration.) Georgia, as a recent New Republic article by Charles Kupchan noted, may be "reverting to tyranny." And Ukraine is going through its own internal strife that may or may not end well. Meanwhile, having the State Department or USAID fund NGOs that push too aggressively for democracy in dictatorship countries could lead to their expulsion, which could in turn make democratization even more difficult. (Already the Soros Foundation is banned from Belarus, Russia, and Uzbekistan for this very reason.)

Fukuyama would probably agree that this sort of thing is always treacherous and note, as he wrote in his Times piece, that, "Democracy promotion is… a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective." But that leaves the debate over how fast the U.S. should go, and how hard it should push. Was something like the push we gave in Georgia too hard? Not hard enough? Fukuyama just says that this should all be done "effectively." But that doesn't help us much.
-- Brad Plumer 7:37 PM || ||