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State of the Union
Promoting Freedom: The Seven “Don’ts”

Democracy and freedom are in decline around the world. What should the United States do to reverse this trend? Better yet, what shouldn’t it do?

Published on: January 31, 2014

David J. Kramer is president of Freedom House in Washington, DC.

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  • free_agent

    There does seem to be a problem in the Obama administration that they think that what one *says* is of great importance and influence. Whereas in reality, what one says is important only if it reflects what one is prepared to *do*.

    • Corlyss

      For Obama speeches=action.

      • Jim__L

        He probably figures that “raising awareness”, or better yet “consciousness”, is an accomplishment.

        • Tom

          I really hope that’s not the case, because even the Iraq war is better than a slacktivist foreign policy.

  • dloye

    talk softly, and carry a big stick TR

    • Serious Black

      President Obama talks tough (‘Assad must go!’) and carries no stick at all.

  • Corlyss

    Well, for starters, we could fire this lot of venal, morally bankrupt, obtuse, viciously partisan of amateurs and ignorant ideologues . . . .

  • Fred

    To be fair to Obama, liberal democracy developed naturally only in Western Europe and even there only after a millennium and by small degrees. Only once has true democracy been successfully imposed, on Japan. And that was only after violence on a level no American today would accept. Except for Japan, Israel, and Australia, no country outside of Western Europe or North America has the cultural, historical, or economic wherewithal for democracy other than of the “one man, one vote, one time” variety or semi-authoritarian regimes hiding behind the forms of democracy. The “decline of freedom” is nothing more than barbarians returning to their natural state, or more accurately, giving up the facade that hid their natural state. I think it’s time to bring out John C. Calhoun again:

    Liberty, then, when forced on a people unfit for it, would, instead of a blessing, be a curse; as it would, in its reaction, lead directly to anarchy — the greatest of all curses. No people, indeed, can long enjoy more liberty than that to which their situation and advanced intelligence and morals fairly entitle them. If more than this be allowed, they must soon fall into confusion and disorder — to be followed, if not by anarchy and despotism, by a change to a form of government more simple and absolute; and, therefore, better suited to their condition. And hence, although it may be true, that a people may not have as much liberty as they are fairly entitled to, and are capable of enjoying — yet the reverse is questionably true — that no people can long possess more than they are fairly entitled to.

    • Bob Bentley

      What about India, the world’s most populous democracy? Or Costa Rica, democratic for 60+ years?

      • Corlyss

        Good catch. I don’t know about Costa Rica, but I can say about India I would not count a hundreds-years-old British colony as a state crushed in war and then deliberately rebuilt upon its ashes. Indian democracy was created over the colonial period, just as happened in so many British colonies that became Commonwealth nations.The Indian relations with Britain began as trade and that was its principal basis. That is, there was a mutuality from the start that disqualifies it from consideration in the category Fred is talking about. I recall a documentary about the early efforts to measure the height of Everest before there were really good tools to do that definitely. In it the Indian official was asked why they tolerated the British colonial presence. The Indian official replied, “Because we wanted the technology.” That has the ring of truth. There was much to admire in Western scientific and technological superiority for native populations with the intelligence to exploit the association which the Indians exhibited. Not many did.

        • Fred

          Ooooo. One counter-example the democracy of which was a result of colonization (something else no American would accept today) by a democratic power. I believe my point still stands.

          • Corlyss

            But it’s not a one off. Democratic post-colonial government was the singular characteristic of many British colonies. That’s how we got the Anglo-sphere.

      • Corlyss

        Odd coincidence, I had to test my printer and went to RealClearPolitics to pick an article to used as a test subject. This was what I picked: http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2014/02/01/costa_rica_flirts_with_chavismo.html

        Hosannas to Costa Rica’s wisdom in picking democracy may be premature, depending on what happens in Sunday’s elections.

    • Corlyss

      Ooooo. Gold stars for a reference to John C. Calhoun. Bravo!

      “Only once has true democracy been successfully imposed, on Japan. And that was only after violence on a level no American today would accept.”
      I’m too lazy to undertake research in a depth sufficient to satisfy me that I had a reasonable grasp of the issues in American post-war shaping of Japanese government, but I’d say in both Germany and Japan the political system that America crafted for them admitted so much fractional representation, with way too much control by labor unions, that it precluded any notion of rule by majoritarian consensus like the US favors (perhaps nostalgically). If we think it’s hard to get anything done with the system of divided government we have, I don’t know how those two nations accomplish anything significant. It’s for darn sure they don’t accomplish it agilely when necessary. Look how long it’s taken both of them to man up to their obligations to maintain the international system. 70 years a tad too long for my money.

    • ltlee1

      Actually, US founding fathers were anti-democratic.

      “It is ironical that the Constitution, which Americans venerate so deeply, is based upon a political theory that at one crucial point stands in direct antithesis to the mainstream of American democratic
      faith. Modern American folklore assumes that democracy and liberty are all but identical, and when democratic writers take the trouble to make the distinction, they usually assume that democracy is necessary to liberty. But the Founding Fathers thought that the liberty with which they were most concerned was menaced by democracy. In their minds liberty was linked not to democracy but to property.” (THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION by Richard Hofstadter.)

  • Bretzky1

    “View our interests with respect to other states as a three-legged stool: We have economic interests, security interests, and democracy/human rights interests.”

    Democratization of authoritarian states is simply not an interest of the United States. The US should not engage in democracy promotion unless it can be shown that such activity improves our security. There is little evidence that a democratic Russia or China or Iran would be any less antagonistic to US security interests as they all have populations with visions of regional hegemony in their heads. As such we shouldn’t be wasting resources on something that has little chance of improving our security position. In fact, successful democracy promotion, to the extent that it actually improves the economic health and political stability of geostrategic rivals, could actually have negative long-term ramifications for US security.

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