Cracks in the Consensus: Debating the Democracy Agenda in U.S. Foreign Policy

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Cracks in the Consensus: Debating the Democracy Agenda in U.S. Foreign Policy

By Howard J. Wiarda
Praeger, 1997
105 pp. $45.00
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This short book accepts the goals of the so-called "Washington consensus" -- that U.S. foreign policy ought to promote both democracy and free economies abroad as a matter of both principle and self-interest -- but argues that the goal is pursued with too little nuance or appreciation for the complexity of democracy-building in the Third World. The author argues that the Clinton administration (and occasionally the nonpartisan National Endowment for Democracy) have pushed too hard and too fast for elections in countries from Ethiopia and Kenya to Mexico, Peru, and Haiti -- societies that either weren't capable of sustaining democracy or were in danger of being destabilized by Washington's favored priorities. While the author quite sensibly urges policymakers to eschew a simple democratic-authoritarian dichotomy and recognize a range of halfway houses that may be more appropriate for many countries around the world, he underestimates the difficulty of building public support in the United States for governments that are only partly democratic.