Thursday, January 26, 2006

Why the US exports its ideals

An argument that is rarely articulated by Democrats (sans Lieberman) and other on the left side of the blogosphere is that advancing democracy around the world should be a key point of our foreign policy. That idea was rooted in neo-conservative speak and so wrapped up in the War on Iraq, that liberals haven't touched it. I'd like to think that I've done some championing of it here at Page 132, but my voice is a small quiet one in the blogosphere.

In Sunday's Observer, Will Hutton makes a fine case from the Left for supporting democracy promotion as a primary foreign policy goal.

He writes
Suppose you took the unsurprising view that China and India are going to become economic superpowers during the next 50 years and that the growing dependence of the industrialised West on Middle Eastern oil is set to grow. Suppose you also believed that there is strong evidence that democratic regimes perform better economically, socially and as international partners than authoritarian ones. Invasion or quasi-imperial direction of the Middle East or Asia is impossible; any lingering ambitions have been dispelled by Iraq. How, then, to ensure that the international framework remains peaceful and the oil continues to flow? The only viable option is to do all you can to promote democracy.

Nor is it such a stupid idea, for all its idealism and apparent disconnect from reality. There is a burgeoning interest not just from the right in the US, but from the left, in how democracy sustains economic and social development that goes well beyond the homilies of George Bush. Take, for example, The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace, written by the Open Society Institute's Morton Halperin together with Joseph T Siegle and Michael M Weinstein. Its commitment to democracy puts Bush in the shade, yet the Open Society Institute's backer is George Soros, who is probably George Bush's richest and best-known enemy.

Democratic states, and states moving towards democracy, tend to have more interests involved in government decision-making, to be more open and to have more accountability. Their institutions may be rudimentary but over a period of decades, they tend to manage their resources more effectively and better accommodate themselves to necessary economic and social changes.

The hardening cross-party American attitude is hard to dispute; the issue is how to advance the cause. Support from the US necessarily discredits as American puppets those who make the argument for democracy. The best route is to practise what the West preaches, back it with aid and show countries desperate to alleviate their poverty that the evidence is that a deepening of their nascent democratic structures will deliver what they want.

Europeans certainly sign up for the first propositions, but we instinctively recoil from the idea we should become intellectual crusaders for democracy. There is not the same inquisitive interest in the argument: who in Britain would write in the same vein as Halperin and co or attract the same political support?

But standing back is neither honourable nor in our interests. The US has been so compromised by Iraq that it no longer gets a hearing, but on the wider case for democracy, and for advancing it as best we can, I've begun to think it's unambiguously right.

I. Agree. Unambiguously. Right.