Despite initial fears of a wholesale and unreflective rejection of the previous administration’s Freedom Agenda, the Obama administration appears to have accepted that democracy remains a salient foreign policy objective, with the president recently reiterating his personal commitment to promoting democracy.
But, if the question is not whether but how to do so, the new administration has yet to signal – either through personnel appointments or proposed institutional innovations – how its strategies or policies differ from those of its predecessor.
The Obama administration is certainly not short of advice. A recent analysis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies recommends ditching the “toxic” concept of democracy promotion and instead create greater incentives for reform. Others suggest a review of what works in democracy assistance, a renewed focus on the socio-economic aspects of democratic development, more targeted approaches or reprioritizing democracy assistance in specific regions like Africa or the Middle East
A recent report from the New America Foundation examining democracy promotion under Obama will be the subject of a meeting in Washington, DC, next week. Democracy support should remain a priority on the foreign policy agenda, but reforms are required to ensure that it is more effective, according to Revitalizing Democracy Promotion: A Comprehensive Plan for Reform.
Details of the meeting from the New America Foundation:
Over the past several years, democracy promotion has stood at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. The Bush administration’s Freedom Agenda brought increased resources for promoting democracy overseas and created new programs like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, geared toward spurring democracy and encouraging good governance.
Unfortunately, the Freedom Agenda has not only failed to fulfill its promise, it has likely set back America’s democratization agenda. While the inauguration of Barack Obama has brought with it great hope of a new approach to democracy-related issues, signs so far are unclear.
To date there is still no head of USAID or an undersecretary for democracy, human rights and labor at the State Department and the rhetoric on democracy has been decidedly turned down. Is the country exhausted from trying to promote freedom overseas and will the cause of democratization take a back seat under an Obama Administration? Will the Congress have to take the lead by finally rewriting the Foreign Assistance Act and pushing the Administration to fix what has become an overly fragmented and unwieldy foreign assistance bureaucracy? And after the challenges of the past eight years, what principles and objectives of democratization should be influencing this policy debate?
Join the authors of Revitalizing U.S. Democracy Promotion: a Comprehensive Plan for Reform as they discuss these issues with a panel of experts. 3:30 – 5:00 p.m., New America Foundation, 1899 L St NW, 4th Floor, Washington, DC 20036.
Featured Speakers: Michael A. Cohen, Co-author, Revitalizing U.S. Democracy Promotion, Senior Research Fellow, Privatization of Foreign Policy Initiative, New America Foundation; Thomas O. Melia, Deputy Executive Director, Freedom House; Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution; Chris Homan, Foreign Policy Advisor to Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL). Moderator: Maria Figueroa Küpçü, Co-author, Revitalizing U.S. Democracy Promotion, Senior Research Fellow, Privatization of Foreign Policy Initiative, New America Foundation. To RSVP, go here. For questions, contact Stephanie Gunter at (202) 596-3367 or firstname.lastname@example.org.