Push to Export Democracy Produces Surprises

President Bush says the spread of democracy is a major foreign policy objective. Now comes Hamas. Debbie Elliott speaks with Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute and Nikolas Gvosdev, editor of The National Interest.

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DEBBIE ELLIOT, host: President Bush says the U.S. will cut off aid to the Palestinian authority unless Hamas renounces terror and stops calling for Israel's destruction. In an interview with CBS, the President said the U.S. wouldn't provide help to those who wanted to destroy "America's ally and friend." Hamas' victory at the polls presents a quandary for the Bush Administration. One year ago, in his inaugural address, President Bush declared that promoting self-government around the world was the calling of our time.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

ELLIOT: With those words, MR. Bush seemed to sweepingly redefine his foreign policy, putting the spread of democracy at the top of the list. We're joined in studio by Reuel Marc Gerecht, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute and Nikolas Gvosdev, editor of the journal The National Interest. Welcome, gentlemen.

GUESTS: Thank you, pleasure.

ELLIOT: So how well has the Bush Administration done so far in democracy building, Mr. Gerecht? You first.

Mr. REUEL MARC GERECHT (American Enterprise Institute): Well, I think on the broad brush stroke issues, the Bush Administration has done reasonably well. Where it has fallen perhaps a bit short is that it has been in what I would call the nudge and encourage the dictatorship phase. That is, its been trying to encourage the individuals, the rulers in the Middle East, to see the merits of having a more open, more politically responsible societies. In Egypt it didn't do all that well, I think we had a great many problems that the arrest of, Imon Nure(ph) the Egyptian liberal. But it has to be said that you did have actually an election in Egypt and I don't think you would have had that if had it not been for the Bush Administration's response to 9-11 and its adoption of a pro-democracy policy in the Middle East since 2003.

ELLIOT: Mr. Gvosdev?

Mr. NIKOLAS GVOSDEV (Editor, The National Interest): I think that what you've seen is you had a new change in direction that started off with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy at the beginning and then as problems have begun to pop up along the wayside, the enthusiasm wanes and then we're also running into some difficulties because some of the assumptions were made, that the spread of democracy and the growth in American influence would go hand in hand hasn't always been borne out by some of the election results, and at the same time, preferred candidates and parties that the United States would have liked to have seen come to power not only in the Middle East, but we also have to look at Latin America, parts of Eurasia, parts of East Asia, as well, didn't always do as well in the polls as we had expected and that, I think, is leading to this reassessment, particularly with regard to the Middle East. Few people saying, oh maybe the good old days of our friendly dictator is better than dealing with the uncertainties of the democratic process.

ELLIOT: Well, both in Iraq and now in the Palestinian territories, radical groups have won elections. Do you think the Administration is maybe getting more than it bargained for?

Mr. GVOSDEV: I think that the Administration is running into some difficulties because, for many people here, they've taken the experience of democratization in Eastern Europe for the last fifteen years. Where you had a specific set of circumstances where radical movements, for example the communists, when they came into power in elections, tended to be much more moderate, they tended to moderate their positions to pursue reform. You also had a situation in Eastern Europe where, as countries democratize, they did move closer to the United States so that the spread of democracy in Eastern Europe led to the expansion of NATO, led to the expansion of the European Union.

And I think some of these assumptions are being put to the test now in the Middle East. Are we going to see that, if a radical group in opposition comes into power through elections, does the pothole theory of democracy work where they're forced to become more responsible, they're forced to become more moderate in order to govern. The jury, I think, will be out on that. And then also, this question of developing constituencies in other parts of the world where people want to vote for pro-American movements and parties because they feel it's in their interest to do so. And I think the Administration didn't quite make the connection between the fact that people will vote for democracy, not simply because its in their values but also because it's in their interests.

ELLIOT: Mr. Gerecht, you've actually said that it's a good think that Hamas came into power this week. Can you explain?

Mr. GERECHT: Yeah, I think it was, the result of that is, one, it was easily expected and two, you should not be discouraged by it. With Fatah in power you're going to have no evolution. You're going to have the continued radicalization of the Palestinian society. With Hamas now being the principal political party in the Palestinian territories, you actually have the chance for internal evolution. The issue is not the peace process. The issue is whether Palestinian politics, Palestinian ethics, start to evolve. I think

I think they will. But I think we have to expect--and there were some in the Bush administration who I think were naïve about this, that democratization moves forward in the Muslim Middle East it is going to increase anti-Americanism. That's fine. That is part of the healing process. That's part of the evolution.

Just imagine Latin America where anti-Americanism actually grew, I think, with the democratic growth. But triple it. Quadruple it. I mean, it's going to be a lot more intense. But you have to look upon this as sort of the fever working itself out.

The objective here, and this is where I do compliment the president, is that he understood after 9/11 there was a transcendent issue here. And that is that you weren't going to get away from this conundrum, this cul-de-sac that created bin Ladenism, unless the tyrannies changed. This is in fact, the perverse nexus between tyrannies and Islamic radicalism that gave birth to evermore-militant forms of Islamic radicalism.

ELLIOTT: Mr. Gvosdev, is President Bush's policy goal to promote democracy or to promote something different, may be a pro-American democracy?

Mr. GVOSDEV: Oh, I think that for some people in the administration, and this I think points to this question of some people being naïve in the administration in approaching this. They sort of assumed it would be one and the same; that by promoting democracy you would of necessity would have pro-American regimes.

But the lesson that everyone talks after World War Two, and they say well, we reconstructed Japan and Germany, and they came into the Western alliance. But it wasn't simply because democratization. It was also creating very concrete interest; business communities, ordinary people who felt they had a stake in the relationship with the United States, and therefore, were willing to vote for politicians that promoted a better tie with the United States.

So if our strategy is we're simply going to open up a political system and then our job is done because virtue is its own reward, and pro-American movements will just simply appear out of nowhere, then that's a misguided strategy. It leads to this situation where elections will produce results that we don't like.

ELLIOTT: Nikolas Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest and Reuel Marc Gerecht is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. GERECHT: Pleasure.

Mr. GVOSDEV: Thank you.

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