The administration of George W. Bush has made democracy promotion a central aim of U.S. foreign policy. The president devoted his second inaugural address to the subject, the 2006 National Security Strategy focused on spreading democracy abroad, and the White House has launched a series of initiatives designed to foster democracy across the globe, not least the military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the Arab world where the prospects for democracy once seemed promising -- Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and Egypt -- U.S. efforts have not succeeded. In none of these places, as the Bush administration enters its final 18 months in office, is democracy even close to being securely established. This is a familiar pattern. Virtually every president since the founding of the republic has embraced the idea of spreading the American form of government beyond the borders of the United States. The Clinton administration conducted several military interventions with the stated aim of establishing democracy. Where it did so -- in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo -- democracy also failed to take root.
Yet the failure of Washington's democracy promotion has not meant the failure of democracy itself. To the contrary, in the last quarter of the twentieth century this form of government enjoyed a remarkable rise. Once confined to a handful of wealthy countries, it became, in a short period of time, the most popular political system in the world. In 1900, only ten countries were democracies; by midcentury, the number had increased to 30, and 25 years later the count remained the same. By 2005, fully 119 of the world's 190 countries had become democracies.
The seemingly paradoxical combination of the failure of U.S. democracy promotion and the successful expansion of democracy raises several questions: Why have the deliberate efforts of the world's most powerful country to export its form of government proved ineffective? Why and how has democracy enjoyed such extraordinary worldwide success despite the failure of these efforts? And what are the
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