Democracy assistance may be more highly politicized and contested than at any time since the Cold War. But the decline in moral authority and financial heft arising from the current economic crisis is likely to put the West at a disadvantage, analysts suggest.
“Promoting democracy-through diplomacy, aid to civil society groups, free media and the like-has never been controversial,” writes Francis Fukuyama, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. The problem is that democracy is now seen as a “code word for military intervention and regime change”, with the result that, even with a change in Administration, “in many parts of the world, American ideas, advice and even aid will be less welcome than they are now.”
An underfunded State Department, one account suggests, has been “ill-suited to carry out an ambitious policy of democracy promotion“. Other agencies are filling the gap. The Pentagon operates more than a fifth of all U.S. government reconstruction projects, with the State Department’s 6,500 foreign service officers amounting to fewer than the number the Army plans to hire over the next fiscal year.
“The promotion of [democracy] by peaceful, cooperative means is exactly where the United States’ comparative advantage should be,” argues Alan Ryan. But elevating democracy as a key foreign policy objective is misguided. “We simply should not kid ourselves that the process will, at best, be anything more than partial.”