The Core of U.S. Foreign Policy

Paula J. Dobriansky

Thomas Carothers' article "Promoting Democracy and Fighting Terror" (January/February 2003) critiques the Bush administration's democracy promotion record and offers some broad recommendations on how best to integrate human rights causes into American foreign policy. The author's long-term involvement in democracy-related activities and his passion about this subject are commendable, but both his analysis and his policy prescriptions are unpersuasive.

Carothers alleges that, driven by imperatives related to the war on terrorism, the administration has come to cooperate with a number of authoritarian regimes and turned a blind eye to various antidemocratic practices carried out by these newfound allies. This claim is incorrect. The administration's September 2002 National Security Strategy, which lays out our post-September 11 strategic vision, prominently features democracy promotion. The strategy describes it as a core part of our overall national security doctrine and commits us to help other countries realize their full potential:

In pursuit of our goals, our first imperative is to clarify what we stand for: the United States must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere.... America must stand firmly for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property.

It is also a matter of record that this administration, whenever it encounters evidence of serious human rights violations or antidemocratic practices in specific countries, has raised a voice of opposition to such violations and sought to address these problems. This is certainly the case with such countries as Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia, as well as Russia, Uzbekistan, and China. In general, we do this irrespective of the identity of the offender and, when circumstances merit it, criticize even some of our close allies. We manifest our concerns through a variety of channels, including diplomatic dialogue, both public and private, and the State Department's reports on human rights, international religious freedom, and trafficking in persons.

Bilateral efforts aside, a great deal of our multilateral diplomacy, including American engagement at the UN and the Organization of American States, is shaped by the imperatives of human rights and democracy promotion. Although greatly distressed by the selection of Libya to chair the UN Human Rights Commission, the United States intends to remain a driving force at the commission and will challenge this forum to fulfill its mandate to uphold international standards on human rights. We have also worked hand in hand with other democracies to strengthen the Community of Democracies (CD). I led the American delegation to last November's CD meeting in Seoul, where delegates adopted an ambitious plan of action with many specific initiatives designed to enable emerging democracies from different parts of the world to share "best practices" and help each other.

For the Bush administration, democracy promotion is not just a "made in the U.S." venture, but a goal shared with many other countries. We also seek to broaden our partnerships with local and global nongovernmental organizations and international organizations, so that we can work together on democracy promotion, advancement of human rights, and humanitarian relief. In fact, the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, and other organizations have played pivotal roles in the development of a democratic culture and the strengthening of civil society.

Ironically, many of the world's countries, including some of our allies, often chide us not for failing to do enough in the democracy arena, but for trying to do too much, for elevating democratic imperatives above those of trade and diplomatic politesse. Yet we remain committed to doing what is right. President George W. Bush observed in his June 1, 2002, West Point speech, "Some worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak the language of right or wrong. I disagree. Different circumstances require different methods, but not different moralities." When appropriate, we go beyond words and subject persistent human rights violators to economic sanctions and other forms of pressure. I cannot think of any other country that has been as willing as the United States has to use both soft and hard power to promote democracy.

To be sure, some have argued that we should do even more, and specifically that we should withhold military and intelligence cooperation from certain of our allies whose human rights records leave much to be desired. As they see it, we improperly allow realpolitik considerations to trump the human rights imperatives. But this argument is myopic. No responsible U.S. decision-maker can allow our foreign policy to be driven by a single imperative, no matter how important. Thus, our policy toward a given country or region is shaped by a variety of considerations, including security concerns, economic issues, and human rights imperatives. The most difficult task of our statecraft is to strike the right balance among these imperatives and arrive at the policy mix that best advances an entire set of our values and interests. Invariably, it is a nuanced and balanced approach that produces the best results. And invariably, this administration has struck the right balance. For example, in the post-September 11 environment, as we began to engage a number of Central Asian governments whose help we needed to prosecute the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban, we simultaneously intensified our efforts to improve the human rights situation in these countries. By cooperating on intelligence and security issues, we have actually enhanced our leverage on democracy-related matters. Although a great deal more needs to be done, we believe that this integrated approach is working.

Any effort to juxtapose or contrast our efforts to win the war against terrorism and our democracy-promotion strategy is conceptually flawed. Pan-national terrorist groups (such as al Qaeda) and rogue regimes (such as that of the Taliban or of Saddam Hussein) pose grave threats to democratic systems, as do the xenophobic, intolerant ideologies that they espouse. Accordingly, fighting against these forces is both in our national security interest and a key ingredient of democracy promotion. And democracy promotion is the best antidote to terrorism. Significantly, the Seoul Plan of Action, adopted at the 2002 CD meeting, contains a series of actions that democracies can take to counter emerging threats through the promotion of democracy.

Carothers also criticizes what he terms an "instrumentalization" of our democracy promotion. In essence, he complains that, for example, the administration's efforts to promote democracy in a post-Saddam Iraq and, more generally, to advance democracy across the Arab world are somehow tainted because we have other reasons for our actions -- e.g., removing the threat that Saddam's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and his long-standing defiance of the international community pose to the world. Democracy promotion, it seems, should not only trump all other foreign policy imperatives; it should always be the one and only policy driver. This, of course, would immunize human rights offenders and despots who also present security threats -- not an outcome that anyone who cares about human rights causes should welcome. More generally, the fact that we are advancing policies that simultaneously promote democracy over the long haul and mitigate the security threats that we face in the near term underscores the extent to which human rights causes have become integrated into our foreign policy. In a very real sense, this is American statecraft at its best.

Despite the enormous demands of the war against terrorism, this administration has found time for and evidenced keen interest in launching several major new democracy-promotion initiatives. Although human rights and democracy causes have a long bipartisan pedigree, it has been the Bush administration that has reordered the country's approach to development assistance so as to reward and encourage "good governance" through a pathbreaking initiative: the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). In 2003 alone, the administration has requested $1.3 billion for the MCA, which means 15 percent of our foreign assistance will be dedicated to good governance, investment in people, and economic development. In addition to changing our own policy, the leadership and commitment President Bush displayed at the March 2002 Monterrey summit on financing development have convinced many of our allies, international lending and aid-delivery institutions, and the un to change the ways in which they do business.

The administration has also launched a high-level initiative to improve political, economic, and cultural participation by women and combat discrimination against them. This effort began in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime practiced what amounted to gender apartheid, and grew into a broad, sustained campaign focused on those governments that deprive women of political and economic opportunity. This strategy is spearheaded by the Office of International Women's Issues at the State Department and has featured participation by the president and the first lady, Secretary of State Colin Powell, presidential adviser Karen Hughes, and numerous other senior administration officials. Our overarching goal is to improve women's access to education and health and ensure that nowhere in the world are women treated as second-class citizens, unable to work, vote, or realize their dreams. We have also launched a Middle East Partnership Initiative that seeks to support political, economic, and educational reform in that region.

Overall, the promotion of democracy is a key foreign policy goal of the Bush administration. This sentiment is reflected in all of our international endeavors and is animated by a mixture of both idealistic and pragmatic impulses. We seek to foster a global society of nations, in which freedom and democracy reign and human aspirations are fully realized.

Paula J. Dobriansky is Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs.


I am frankly astonished that Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky attempts to refute the central thesis of my article: that the war on terrorism has impelled the Bush administration to seek friendlier relations with authoritarian regimes in many parts of the world for the sake of their cooperation on security matters. It is simply a fact that since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has sought closer ties and enhanced security cooperation with a host of authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes -- in Algeria, Bahrain, China, Egypt, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and even Syria.

Dobriansky claims that the administration always strikes the right balance between democracy and security, and that whenever the administration has encountered antidemocratic practices on the part of its security partners, it has raised a voice of opposition. As I highlighted in my article, in some cases, such as Uzbekistan, the administration has indeed tried to leaven its new security embrace with urgings to do better on human rights and democracy. Even in such situations, however, the overall message of the new relationships -- with their friendly, public words of praise during high-level visits, their heightened security cooperation, and, often, their enlarged aid packages -- is one of support for undemocratic regimes. Moreover, unfortunately, in some cases the administration has not voiced any substantial objection to overtly antidemocratic practices.

For example, the renewed U.S.-Pakistan relationship developed precisely in a period when President Pervez Musharraf was carrying out a series of antidemocratic actions, including rewriting key parts of the Pakistani constitution to ensure his continued rule. President Bush has repeatedly avoided making any criticisms of these measures. At a press conference last August, he made America's priorities with Pakistan crystal clear when, in response to a direct question about Musharraf's manhandling of the constitution, he said the following: "My reaction about President Musharraf, he's still tight with us on the war against terror, and that's what I appreciate." About the Pakistani leader's abridgment of human rights and democracy, Bush could manage only a tepid statement: "To the extent that our friends promote democracy, it's important. We will continue to work with our friends and allies to promote democracy."

The point of my article was not to excoriate the Bush administration for struggling with the tension between the war on terrorism and democracy promotion. Rather, it was to discuss the problem openly and clearly and to identify where and how the tension can be better mitigated.

Dobriansky's insistence that there is no tension, and her relentless portrait of the United States as a country uniquely devoted to democracy promotion, is part of a pattern of rhetorical overkill by administration officials that weakens rather than strengthens this country's credibility in the eyes of others. People around the world are quite capable of seeing that the United States has close, even intimate relations with many undemocratic regimes for the sake of American security and economic interests, and that, like many other countries, the United States struggles very imperfectly to balance its ideals with the realist imperatives it faces. A more honest acknowledgment of this reality and a considerable toning down of self-congratulatory statements about the United States' unparalleled altruism on the world stage would be a big boost in the long run to a more credible pro-democracy policy.

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