The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West Is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy

In recent years, democracy seems to have fallen on hard times, while authoritarianism has flourished. In this spirited and contrarian book, Klaas makes the case for pushing back against this global authoritarian tide. He does not defend the West’s many botched efforts at democracy promotion or the misuse of military intervention; instead he argues that the core of Western strategy should be confronting despots rather than seeking pragmatic accommodations with them. Such compromises have led to what he calls “the Saudi Arabia effect,” as the United States and other liberal states cozy up to nondemocratic regimes in the name of geostrategic expediency, only to find themselves one step removed from the role of an active accomplice in oppression. He also warns against “the Madagascar effect,” which finds Western governments setting extremely low standards for “counterfeit democracies” so that they can justify working with them, which is what happened in the wake of the rigged elections held after a 2013 coup in Madagascar. He concedes that the short-term costs of confronting despots are real but maintains that doing so yields long-term strategic and moral gains.

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