Is relative economic decline likely to undermine the United States’ capacity to advance democracy?
“Partly it is about resources,” says Richard N. Haass, the president of Council on Foreign Relations, and author of the forthcoming book, “Foreign Policy Begins at Home.” “But it is also about reducing your vulnerability to the machinations of currency markets and potentially hostile central bankers.”
“When we appear to be dysfunctional, as we have in recent times, it makes it hard to be the model for the democratic, capitalistic model we say we want to be in the world,” he tells The New York Times.
His views are echoed by a former aide to Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s ‘Af-Pak’ envoy who dies in 2010:
Vali Nasr, who will soon publish “The Dispensable Nation,” argues that the debt, among other economic woes, has allowed Mr. Obama and other Democrats to justify a retreat from global engagement. “It’s made it far easier to say ‘We can’t do more,’ ” said Mr. Nasr, the dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “And without addressing the debt issues, it will be easier to make that argument for years to come.”
A departing senior diplomat at the State Department who requested anonymity, ruminating on the outcome of the confrontation on the fiscal crisis, said that the failure to attack the long-term debt issues would become another reason “to turn our backs on the Middle East and trim our sails on the new focus on Asia.”
Some analysts fear that the poor performance and economic decline of the world’s democracies is creating space for autocratic states to expand their global footprint and influence, not least in the embryonically transitional countries of the “Arab Spring.”
“[Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed] Morsi has played this very smart, asking the Chinese whether they are willing to invest in Egypt the way they have in Kenya or Uganda,” Nasr said. “What’s happened is that we’ve been able to hide behind the economic argument to justify why we are no longer the venture capitalist of democracy.”
Daily Beast contributor David Frum suggests that would-be Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has the credentials to join the Obama administration, citing the wise words of his 2004 Foreign Affairs article, “A Republican Foreign Policy,” including his argument that “increased funding for the National Endowment for Democracy, is a good start on an ambitious and pragmatic program for change in this region [the Arab world]. Sustainable democracy will depend on institutions that support education, women’s rights, and private-sector development.”