Democracy and the National Interest

IDEALPOLITIK AS REALPOLITIK

Nearly five years ago, early in his first campaign for the White House, Bill Clinton delivered a speech at Georgetown University about democracy as a factor in international life. Countries whose citizens choose their leaders, he said, are more likely than those with other forms of government to be reliable partners in trade and diplomacy, and less likely to threaten the peace.

As president, he has put that principle into practice by making the support of democracy a priority of his administration's diplomacy in Latin America, Asia, Africa, Central Europe, and the former Soviet Union. Even in straitened times he has pressed Congress to fund foreign assistance programs that promote elections and the rule of law, arguing that relatively modest expenditures today are an investment in the long-term interests of the United States.

Two years ago President Clinton dispatched 21,000 American troops to Haiti as the vanguard of a multinational force that restored an elected leader who had been deposed in a coup d'Žtat. Earlier this year he urged Russia to go through with its first post-Soviet presidential election, rejecting the view that cancellation would be better than a victory by the "wrong" candidate. And on September 14 the 53,000-strong, NATO-led military force in Bosnia made possible elections that, for all their imperfections and troublesome aftermath, give that shattered land a better chance of achieving lasting peace within its borders and with its neighbors.

Those three exertions of American political will -- and in two cases, of military muscle -- have entailed costs and risks and, therefore, have generated controversy. In none of the three countries is the ultimate triumph of democracy certain. The last several years have provided reminders, in every corner of the globe, of how painful, suspenseful, and downright messy the transition to democracy can be. In many states emerging from decades, if not centuries, of tyranny, euphoria has given way to the sobriety of the morning after.

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