29th November 2010.
As Michael McFaul, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, and latterly Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and senior director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the US NSC notes in his preface to Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009). “After eight years of the George W. Bush Administration, most Americans, as well as many people around the world, had grown tired of the United States’ efforts to promote democracy in other countries.”
And yet, while the paramount objective of US foreign policy has always been to defend the security of the American people, from the very beginning of the republic US leaders have consistently defined a special, ethical role for the US in world affairs.
McFaul argues passionately, persuasively, and in great detail against the adoption of a narrowly “realist” or isolationist foreign policy in reaction to the mistakes of the Bush administration, and for the continued relevance of democracy promotion for reasons both ethical and practical.
In the introductory chapter, he neatly summarizes his perspective in a single sentence; “Under democracy, people around the world enjoy better government, more security and economic development. In parallel, the advance of democracy abroad has made Americans safer and richer.”
At the core of his argument is the claim that, “The history of the last 200 years, but especially the last 80 years, shows that American security, economic and moral interests have been advanced by the expansion of democracy abroad, while reliance on realpolitik frameworks [i.e. alliances with autocracies] as a guide for foreign policy has produced some short-term gains, but many long-term setbacks for American interests.”
Advancing Democracy Abroad is therefore essentially an expanded, detailed and very timely restatement of the Kantian argument for the international benefits of the spread of democratic government, in light of the practical concerns of foreign policy, and as such, equally a statement of Democratist’s own broad core position.
McFaul points to the long-term security advantages for the US that have stemmed from enduring alliances with other democracies, as well as democratization, and the economic and reputational dividends of democratic expansion. By way of contrast, he considers the three main problems of alliances with autocratic states have been sustainability (e.g the Shah in Iran until the 1979 revolution), consistency (Nasser in the 1950’s, or Saddam in the 1980’s and 1990’s) and cost (billions of dollars given to Iraq for its war with Iran in the 1980’s).
As such, McFaul calls for a pragmatic and commonsense foreign policy based on “Wilsonian liberalism with a realist core.” He argues that, while at times the US needs to work with autocratic regimes to pursue vital national interests, it must never lose sight of its values, or of the critical importance of internal regime type for its ongoing relationships with other states.
In this regard, he devotes a detailed and useful chapter considering the wide range of instruments the US and its allies have available for the gradualist facilitation of democratic development. These include “dual track” diplomatic engagement; trade and economic incentives; security guarantees, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US’ participation in the OSCE, funding for foreign domestic NGOs and election observers, media resources such as Radio Free Europe, and the International Republican and National Democratic Institutes.
McFaul is also fully aware that the United States’ democratic and human rights failings over the last decade have considerably weakened America’s standing in the world, and made it much harder for US leaders to call for democratic practices in other parts of the world.
As such, the renunciation of military intervention as a tool of democracy promotion, criticism of autocratic allies (including Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia), and the reassertion of democratic values at home are, he suggests, important prerequisites to the successful promulgation of liberty abroad.