Does U.S. Foreign Policy Push for Democracy Too Much or Too Little?

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
November 14, 2008
Elections in Afghanistan

The push for democracy has been at the fore of U.S. foreign policy. Secretary Rice has said that if the United States does not remain its champion, democracy could move off of the international agenda.

Does U.S. foreign policy push for democracy too much or too little?



Virginia, USA
November 14, 2008

John in Virginia writes:

Somehow, the U.S. push for democracy has become associated with the idea that only U.S.-style democracy is acceptable. I don't see that in U.S. documents or policy statements, but I do see it in critiques of U.S. policy. That's too bad, because self-determination is a fundamental human desire. Sure, every country will have their own style, but whether it's a British parliament, or a sheik representing your tribes views to the national government, it's still a form of democracy.

November 14, 2008

Luis in Mexico writes:

The U.S. should support and enhance democracy efforts in countries ready and willing to move towards the responsibilities of an open democratic system. A push for democracy can be dangerous in societies plagued by years of ethnic and sociocultural strife and strong socioeconomic divide. Democracy cannot survive in which government and/or the governed have too little respect and appreciation for the basic rights of their countrymen. Key economic and sociocultural shifts need to occur for democracy to prosper. Funny how the U.S. pushes for a democracy in other countries that didn't exist in the U.S. until late in the 1960s and fully expressed in the election of a black man to the US presidency in 2008. Just as certain legal and psychological changes needed to take place in the United States, so too the aforementioned must be effectuated in countries targeted for political shift or regime change.

It seems that democratic systems are pursued to create stable markets for business interests that don't necessarily trickle down to address the concerns of the ordinary citizen. The US needs to be sincere in it's pursuit to "democratize" other cultures and nation-states with a long-term commitment to helping people learn how to tolerate and respect and the importance of making informed decisions in an open society before being granted the right to vote.

New Mexico, USA
November 14, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

I posted the following on another thread (Albania), and I'd like to repost it here and expand on it a bit. So I hope the Dipnote staff will bear with me a moment to let this give pause for thought.

---as posted--

The Dept of State has this video contest "Democracy is...." and in the case of our recent election I think it is self evident that America has the ability to inspire by example.

We've certainly lent blueprints to those we've liberated to be able to build their own democracies with the building materials they have to work with. But this sharing of of an idea never was intended to have another nation's democratic aspirations manifest exactly like ours. Democracy exists in many forms and structure, and its form must be chosen freely by the people as they ratify a constitution.

But what is Democracy?

Essentially it is an idea put to motion by people willing to plant the seeds of social change.

And in this context, this following film may serve as a beautiful metaphor for the transformation of societies that have endured the wasteland of tyrany, and what is possible.


Posted on Fri Nov 14, 2008

-------end post----

Having planted over 30,000 trees for the US forest service in the late 70's and early 80's I know the hard work involved and there's more than just a metaphorical example involved in my posting the above link to this film.

It has real world application not just in the greening of a society, but the ecological restoration of a nation.

I'm posting this to inspire a practical solution to a serious problem:

It is not that democracy be pushed too much nor to little, if thought of as an ongoing process that must be consistantly nurtured as one would plant a forest, knowing it will take generations to mature.

Would it suprise anyone that we create our own reality?

No more suprising than a single individual planting an entire forest as an investment in a sustainable future.

It is my hope that the Dipnote staff will forward the link to the film to the US embassy-Kabul and through the Ambassador to Hamid Karzai himself.

And thus hopefully inspiring his people to plant trees instead of poppy. And inspire nations to fund the effort.

Thanks for your consideration folks.

November 15, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- How many different jobs have you done? I thought like I had the record in my CV! (LOL)

The links you recommend us Eric are fine for further thinking, but -- I have a sincere question: DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT THE PRIORITY PROBLEM IN AFGHANISTAN is planting and creating forests they do/did not ever had?

I think that the priority for all of us, concerning Afghanistan, should be to establish a "Western type of Democracy, values and a new non-Taliban thinking model" first! That means: educate the guys there...

Otherwise, they will destroy even the new trees, anyway!

New Mexico, USA
November 15, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ John in Greece --

A) if you take a look at the satilite images on the link provided, you can assess for yourself the extent of deforestation over the last 30-40 years.

B) Our priority was from the begining to help create an Afghan style democracy, for the Loya Jirga (council of elders, as such) is inherently a traditional Afghan democratic fora. This has been restored, the Afghan people have ratified their constitution, held elections and now the main priority is to ensure its sustainability, security and the government's ability to serve all the people of Afghanistan.

C) Afghanistan has always had an agricultually based economy and without that economic base, nothing we do to help them will be sustainable.

D) I do believe that in order to resolve problems that are indeed priority for the Afghan government, that planting trees will do the following to address them.

1) create jobs
2) offer an alternative to growing poppy if the effort is funded properly...somone must grow the seedlings before they're replanted.
3) So far, the Afghan gov. has imported over 1 million trees from the US, Iran, and Pakistan because they know inherently that the health problems associated with the conditions created by desertification (especially in Kabul) will be mitigated by reforestation.

Basicly John, such an effort will address more than one priority problem and support the goal America has as its first priority, which is to create a sustainable democratic Afghanistan.
So I don't separate this from priority numero uno, as reforestation becomes a tool to achieve it.

As far as the number of jobs I've had over my lifetime, I've pretty much lost track. Bounced around a lot in my youth. "Jack of all trades, master of none." perhaps is descriptive....(chuckle).

Kentucky, USA
November 15, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

I do not think promoting democracy should be our top foreign policy objective. In fact, refraining from the desire to reshape another country's political landscape will keep us from becoming entangled in prolonged unpredictable situations containing outcomes detrimental to our goals.

Personally, I think that we should support reform movements and factions only if we obtain greater leverage over that country AND the back-lash of doing so, on the national and international level, does not create effects more costly than the profits gained.

If people want democracy they can come to America.

What we have is the quandary between Power and Responsibility. On one hand, the ability to alter or influence another's political situation, whether for our benefit, or the foreign people's, or both, is an awesome power which could be used as tool or a weapon and foolish not to use if it's the best method towards obtaining our goals. Diplomacy with out some degree of influence is a toothless tiger, just as the velvet glove needs the iron fist. The power to pressure other governments to our benefit should be honed sharp enough to engender respect but not dulled by continual use.

On the other hand, "playing fair" is a universal sociological and psychological component to mammalian existence. We punish those that step outside of those lines. Sociology studies show that a person will sacrifice their own profit to penalize someone who they catch cheating. As the international consensus seems to agree on the golden rule, we frown upon countries that meddle in other's domestic affairs. We don't want Russia or Israel or Mexico attempting to influence our elections and political thought, why should we think that our overt interference is some how exceptional?

The more times we step outside the bounds of respected behavior, without a counter agent to reverse the resulting negative trend, we will lose prestige and international support. Some of that can be mitigated when you have a powerful draw. We'll endure a dinner or two with a an over-bearing, pushy, opinionated guest- as long as they're fabulously wealthy. But without that draw, people and nations quickly lose support of their allies.

Alliances are built on mutual concerns, profit, and shared values. We need Europe more than Europe needs us right now, so unless we make ourselves more agreeable we will soon find it hard to operate in a hostile continent. In the future, when we have stabilized and re-established our power, we can act more boldly.

Despite Russia's often unfair treatment and bullying of others (from over staffing their embassies abroad while restricting our personnel on their home soil to cutting off oil and gas to their neighbors) because of their economic clout and physical proximity, the EU is slowly swinging to "their side". If we do not either improve our standing with concrete economic/military reforms OR generate political good will by staying out of other countries' business for a bit, there will soon be a European/Russian security and trade alliance which I doubt we will be invited to.

Democracy is a fine model, I personally recommend it, but I would also strongly caution against implementing it in other countries simply for the sake of doing so. I like having my values championed by the elected stewards of public trust, voting and influencing the legislature for the betterment of myself and my neighbors. I would like all people to have those rights, but we also must face the reality that those changes come from within, from the people, not by incessant prodding from foreign powers to adhere to some alien set of standards. It would be as if socialist China continually sent us pamphlets on how to run a better government. We can easily see their flaws and reject their premises as easily as they can see ours.

If we are going to force other nations to bend to our will we should make them bend towards something that provides us with specific benefits rather than a political ideal. Leave the crafting of government to the people of that nation. If they want a particular freedom badly enough they will rise up and take it by the throat, one way or the other. We need not be involved.

Should we promote democracy? Yes. Should we let that desire dominate or even hinder our policy. Absolutely not.

Those who embrace democracy with the same zeal as some of those who embrace religion quickly wear out their welcome. The thought that adopting a democratic model will some how make all problems go away is wishful thinking.

I, for the most part, like the way we do things, and would be happy to see other countries follow our path, but not at the expense of our international reputation and respect which is the currency of power. Besides, if every country ignored their inherent cultural strengths and weakness instead of building on them to be just like us than the global whole would just become an average.

And mediocrity is the enemy of excellence.

Tennessee, USA
November 15, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

With the current crash of financial systems worldwide and money being the tool of development, it is obvious that if the fiscal system fails, we will move toward a more Socialistic system for the mass and a more chaotic system for those less fortunate. It will be a system of dominance and chaos for the undeveloped.

Democracy will simply be reinvented as the latitude to have the means to exist comfortably for many and opportunity will be controlled more by Governments. As there will be less for the homeland of many, there will be less to give to those less fortunate and Nationalism will take precedence. World dominance and power will move toward those governments who can provide regardless of political structure, as we can already see with Russia, China and India.

I am afraid Ms Rice is correct.

November 15, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico & Joe in Tennessee -- "Master nowhere"? It's because you have a PhD everywhere "Jack". (OK! no more flattering!) I did not disagree with you on Afghanistan. I just wanted to "hear" more from you on this issue.

And I think that this is a huge topic, since the New Administration will "focus" in Afghanistan even more. So, I personally apply for even more commenting of yours on this!

I would also kindly ask Joe in TN to comment a little bit more on ("World dominance and power will move toward those governments who can provide regardless of political structure, as we can already see with Russia, China and India."), because I think that he underlines an extremely important point.

Best regards gentlemen!

New Mexico, USA
November 17, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

You asked a fair question John, and properly prioritizing resources is important to success.

Obviously reforestation is a long term effort without immediate visable's what it accomplishes in decades that can't be done any other way that makes it a national priority for the Afghan people to begin now.

Let me ask you this, what is the government of Greece doing to replant the areas that were burned when your country had serious forest fires? Do they consider it a priority?

Climate change and the carbon footprint...trees eat carbon dioxide for breakfast...and off-gass O2.

Think of forests as a planetwide atmospheric scrubber...yeah, we can reverse man's footprint on the climate if we really get to the nub of the solution in time.

Perhaps you're getting the idea by now that I'm trying to hone in on a common program that will prove essential to resolving multiple problems simultaneously over time. This would be correct.

As for PhD's John, somedays I feel like it's being Piled Higher and Deeper in complexity and the experts still haven't a clue.

When in doubt, simplify the equasion to common denominators, not zero sums.

I trust Dr. Rice's assesment. Even though I think the spread of democracy and free markets are self sustaining as a working model for human development and potential, folks that are struggling to become free should not be abandoned by their advocates as it will inevitably slow the pace of democratic reform.

Not to put words in Joe's mouth, but I think the basic point he's trying to make is that economics have a way of running roughshod over personal freedoms and human rights, and that the economic interests of nations are at odds with democracic reform in some cases, even reverse it in extreme political circumstance.

My question is what exactly is being "provided" (referencing the context of the quote)?

This is a viable alternative perhaps?:

Or this? And I strongly suggest no one has lunch before viewing the results of the last time a twisted blend of socialism and nationalism were let loose on the world....

Democracy is by its very nature being constantly reinvented to better serve the people. Certainly has its way of defying the expectations of its detractors as well.

Thus the Marshall plan of post WW2. And today's global efforts that dwarf it.

I think the G-20's recent meeting and subsequent agreements on dealing with the financial problems directly addressed Joe's valid ponderings on the issues he's raised.

Including the sustainability of foreign assistance on an international level.

( Sunday double feature movies are brought to you by those with a moral interest in the matter).

November 17, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- Thanks for your reply and your question Eric. I personally feel like saying a BIG THANK YOU, especially to John D. Negroponte and Henrietta R. Fore, Acting Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Acting USAID Administrator.

U.S.A. and these two people -- among other thousands across the Atlantic, of course Greek-American community too -- really, truly and disinterestedly helped my country, while other countries (Russia etc.) were attempting to sell Aerial firefighting services (planes) "due to" the crisis. Private sector helped too!

You ask me: "what is the government of Greece doing to replant the areas that were burned when your country had serious forest fires? Do they consider it a priority?"

The answer to your question my dear Eric is a: No!

Of course, I only represent my views. Somebody else in Greece may have a different opinion. But, I am afraid that it's CERTAINLY NOT a priority. And the worst is that nobody -- according to my opinion again -- heard or evaluated -- during the crisis -- what Mrs. Fore wisely said: "but we want to be sure that it's guided as you would wish it to be, so that it's coming in the ways that are most helpful for both immediate needs as well as for the medium term and the long term."

(According to me again) The phrase that can describe "recent" Greek fires is: "crash and burned", and unfortunately never "returned".

PS and the "unexpected": This hugest fire in Greece's modern history started in a small (10 people population) village, where my father was born. Although my parents visit this village 2-3 times per year, "they were there" this day. Bad luck. Thank God, they live though! Unfortunately many other people died...

November 18, 2008

F in Turkey writes:

A super power must take super responsibility.

Maryland, USA
November 18, 2008

Neil in Maryland writes:

I agree with Secretary Rice, but the question is wrong. It should be "Does U.S. foreign policy push the the issue of democracy the right way so that the meaning of democracy is properly heard and understood?" There can hardly be "too much" democracy in the world, pushed by the U.S. or by anyone else. The U.S. needs to lead by influence and not simply through power. The issue is quality and less quantity.

Tennessee, USA
November 19, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

1. Quote: Master of what? Our leadership in the Free Market is one wonderful example of Masters of their craft is it not?

Unfortunately, our obsession with putting mandated degrees by professionals who are the Masters of their crafts: Political, Economic and Judicial have brought this country and the world to where it stands now. So, any Master nonsense is exactly that by finite example.

2. As I stated, I do not get on often due to the consistent irrelevance to subject matter and obvious altering of information loads on this site; which are recognizable from a week to two weeks previous. Too similar to the old psychological Batteries I used to grade in college. Yes, I graded them and recognize patterns extremely well.

3. Without any education any American will attest to the following truth statements: How free you are is determined by how much money or power you posses. Yes or No? How much justice you receive is determined as Buchanan's old cross stitched framed quote over his desk read: How much justice can you afford? Yes or No? Today, even the element of running for political office is often determined by: How much can you spend? Yes or No? We predicated money before all?.that's America to most our foreign powers who are civilized. We are about money first. This is part of our weakness, not strength and setting up a system which trended toward monopolistic gain predicated on greed and hidden under the auspices of a collapsed free market system which includes the stock exchange, we set no leadership for democracy anywhere else in reality. We set up a system of money without any moralistic grounds of intent for the betterment of humanity in general. Just the chosen?.Trust me, this is still the best country to live in rich or poor. I realize this, but we need to take ourselves out of our sphere of direct influence to see the effects.

4. We, the USA, set up the foreign aid system in reality. We did it by providing trade, infrastructure, USAID and money. Our allies have a democracy, where it exists, due to the basic symbiotic monetary system rotating by what we established and our example. Unfortunately we are now left with this simply circumstance: Just as the head of any household, the leaders of other countries must maintain their independence and growth and the reality is: if America cannot provide, they must move on to new alliances. It is only natural?.Right now Russia is offering work, China fiscal aid as well as mobilizing their work forces and moving them into resource rich areas including South America and India is providing cheap upper level engineering for technical development to any nation?.America cannot even provide health for our people, pay our Veterans, provide fair work, loans, housing and certainly does not provide equal opportunity to entrepreneurs ?.We do not even have the criteria of EXAMPLE to use presently. Russia does, China does and India does as well.

Both my Father and Jacob S. had the same ideology about life ie: I was told I was loyal to a fault and honest to a fault because I would not take a low road which would profit me. It can be attested by all that both were very successful given the cards in life they held "very much so".

In my mind: Anything bad to be done for the greater good was fine, otherwise I would not participate?which is a sound American principle; but as both stated independently of each other: what do you have to show for it?

A synopsis was best stated by Jack: Money has no color, no politics, no religion and you have to get it whatever way you can?.you cannot help anyone without it, including yourself. This is also the same premise that a church used for selling narcotics: it is not how you get your money; it is how you spend it. Hover was right on this one?

So, what America is represented by the democracy we put out there now if we cannot back it up except by military means? WHAT IS AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AS REPRESENTED TODAY, not in books; but as it exist?

5. Now is a good time for any country to lever for US money by just looking at another country for aid. You touted Libya like some magical new ally not long ago, yet Russia made what fiscal deals with them afterwards? We have no realistic power left other than to offset some situations for others as in India. The agreements with them are only because they seen Russias fiscal grip closing on them and they want an independent power base, they are tired of being controlled by outsiders throughout their modern history.

...Other countries will do what is best for their citizens, with or without us. What choice do they have?

America needs to be put back together before our enemies tear it apart any further. Do you honestly think that anyone of those who put America in this situation care? The rich got richer, the Masters of their craft who failed have not suffered...what is American Democracy...the opportunity to fail and profit?

California, USA
November 19, 2008

Richard in California writes:

Democracy at all costs is far too costly for not only our foreign policy interests, but also for citizens in those countries which are not in influential positions. As we saw with the fall of the Soviets there is room for exploitation of an unprepared population, savvy businessmen and politicians grabbing power and money at the expense of the masses. The world needs prepping for democracy, not a gun barrel or dangled food aid.

Tennessee, USA
November 19, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

The truth is simple: What America are we talking about when referring to expanding democracy?

The world leaders are not going to continue to believe our constant failures then turn around and buy into the: Oh my gosh, America has a new leader who is going to make it all right again. Their political structures far supersede our experience and the increased educational level of citizens worldwide is having the same dynamic effect on us as it did in Communistic societies which had to make alterations. People do not like us because they understand only what they see and cannot separate the greed of American corporations from the Government we have. This is probable due to the fact they are so regulated by their governments. The short comings were easy to realize and nothing was done, if Democracy fails, and it has for millions of Americans and not a few, it was done by some of the brightest minds the world had to defend it. That is very scary when you put it into that perspective is it not?

I would like to know who superimposed the ? after many sentances and misspellings after I purposely worded them... your own OT if you feel it is not valid information. It is valid...100%

DipNote Bloggers write:

@ Joe in Tennessee -- The blogging application converts unknown characters into questions marks. The best way to ensure that the unwanted question marks do not appear is to submit your comments in "plain text" -- if you are copying and pasting your comments from a word processor.

Florida, USA
November 20, 2008

Gregory in Florida writes:

APEC Forum November 2008

The State Department Spokesman to The United States
Honorable Mr. Sean McCormak

Friday, November 07th, 2008

Very Respectfully Isay:

Dear Mr. Sean McCormak,
Intellegence understand that Al-Qaeda, Hezbolllah, Hamas and the FARC formed a planetary level coalition since, they coordinate and operate together.
Intelligence also understand that Al-Qaeda and their allies, once again, will attack American, British or Israelian personalities or interests, at any part of the world. Most likley, using weapons of mass destruction, jointly or alternative, and a cybernetic attack.
Facing this actual and basic intelligence alert indicators; the predictive intelligence designers, have enough tools to establish to Heads of Governments, a probable crisis sceneraio for the APEC Forum on this November 2008 at Lima-Peru.
Understanding the vulnerabilities: What the Secretary of State Department to the United States will do about the appointment of Mr. Yehude Simon as Prime Minister to Peru, who in 1992 was sentenced for terrorism and in 2000 indulted by a leftist transitory government?

Cordially yours.

New York, USA
November 20, 2008

Ron in New York writes:

U.S. should not PUSH Democracy....It should deepen and broaden it at home and around the world...How?.....Remember USIA?....Global Inter-Cultural Sharing...

Why does USA PUSH Democracy via threats of aid-loss if governments do not comply with U.S. demands?

There are so many other ways.....Be a Better America and the world will want to emulate U.S.

District Of Columbia, USA
November 21, 2008

Anna in Washington, DC writes:

Democracy, the "worst form of government" -- except for all others!!! Not all democracies will look the same, and each democracy must determine for itself how it will govern. Yes, the United States could work on its own democracy, and there are current threats - both internal and external - to American democracy. But there always have been. The promotion of democracy strengthens our country. How can we -- particularly a people who enjoy democracy's benefits -- oppose its promotion? I can understand being critical of the methods of promotion but not the substance.

New Mexico, USA
November 21, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Joe, I suggest you question your reality instead of attemting to speak for millions of Americans who make democracy work for them.

I for one have reason to believe that your subjective opinion is just that....subjective. And only based on your interpretation of the values you were raised with.

I'm not buying what you're selling.

One of hese days you make wake up and realize that money isn't everything, and can't buy you happiness or security.


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