Friday, April 28, 2006

Madeleine Albright speaks at Princeton: Fourteen Points about democratization 

This year, which is the 75th of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, four Secretaries of State have spoken at Princeton, and I have been fortunate to see them all. Condoleezza Rice spoke at the beginning of the academic year, George Shultz and James Baker this winter, and Madeline Albright this afternoon. She gave the keynote address for the annual Princeton Colloquium on Public and International Affairs, this year devoted to "Woodrow Wilson In The Nation's Service." No transcript of the speech is yet available, and I haven't detected any press coverage. Until Princeton posts the video next week, this post seems to be the only coverage.

Secretary Albright was eloquent and charming, and cracked a few to the audience of Princeton faculty, students and alumni. Best non-partisan line: "South Korean intelligence said that Kim Jong-il is crazy and a pervert. He's not crazy." She should know, having been the highest ranking American to have met with Kim.

The topic of the Colloquium being Woodrow Wilson, Albright spoke about the Bush administration's democratization strategy. She referred to Secretary Rice's speech at Princeton last fall, which focused on the progress in that strategy. "At the time, her analysis was only somewhat rosier than reality." Since September, Albright said, the situation has deteriorated considerably, and not just in Iraq. The glimmers of liberalization that we thought we had seen from Egypt to Lebanon to Saudi Arabia have been stamped out, and Iraq is a model that not even the democrats in the region want to emulate.

Secretary Albright's core point was that the Bush administration has done a terrible job of implementing a fundamentally good idea, and that the strategy was failing. These perceived failures are, according to Albright, arming critics who variously argue that we should revert to emphasizing stability or, alternatively, simply decide that democracy in other countries is not a goal worth pursuing. She rejected both these approaches, and instead offered "fourteen points" that should sit at the center of the next administration's strategy for spreading democracy. Most of them are sound, even if platitudinous, and are reproduced below from my notes. My commentary, such as it is at this hour on a Friday night, is in italics.

One, "it is both right and smart to promote democracy around the world."

Two, "democracy must grow from within."

While this may be useful advice for people who live in mildly authoritarian countries because they can loosen their bonds incrementally, this does nothing for the millions who live under ruthless dictators.

Three, we need to "increase support for building democracy around the world, including in Iraq." Albright was sharply critical of the Bush administration's paltry funding for democracy-building efforts in Iraq, claiming that the total funds budgeted for that purpose are equivalent to six hours -- one quarter of one day -- worth of military operations in that country.

This criticism seems correct to me. The federal government seems to lack effective mechanisms for promoting democratic ideals. Even the most obvious ideas have not been implemented. It is astonishing and depressing that, *cough*, Juan Cole had to promote the idea of translating the great works of Enlightenment political philosophy into Arabic (not because I begrudge Juan Cole a good idea, but because the administration didn't have it three years ago).

Four, "democracy building is a team exercise." Secretary Albright called for the United States to work within international organizations, including but not limited to the various agencies of the United Nations.

Five, "democracy building is bottom up, not top down." In the partisan crack of the afternoon, Albright said that "according to President Bush, American has a calling from beyond the stars." [Knowing and scornful laughter all around.]

This is a platitude. Yes, institutions need to be built, and they are probably more durable if built from the bottom up. But there are plenty of examples of effective institutions that were imposed by outsiders, including Japan's constitution. How many of India's basic institutions of civil society were genuinely homegrown, rather than "imposed" by the British?

Six, "in assessing gains, free elections are essential but not sufficient." Long term, it is also necessary that there be equal treatment under law, "for without it democracy will curdle into fascism."

Agreed. Democracy need not be secular, but it must never be dangerous to lose an election.

Seven, "democracy must deliver." Where corrupted versions of capitalism have failed and where the people cannot own and trade their property in an honest system, authoritarians will rise again. The most obvious example of this is in the recent progress of the populist left in Latin America. "A strong economy is built from the ground up, and cannot be assembled from the crumbs of the rich's largesse."

Eight, "we must recognize what democracy can and cannot do. It cannot prevent terror [cites London and Madrid attacks, etc.].... it is a form of government, not a ticket to a fantasy land."

Shorthanded -- or hamhanded -- rhetoric aside, I don't think that even the administration believes that democracy prevents terror per se. The true purpose of the democratization strategy is to offer a coherent ideology that can compete with jihadi ideology, and thereby give ordinary Muslims a reason to fight the extremists. Nobody, even in the Bush administration, seriously believes that democracy is somehow a vaccine against terrorist attacks.

Nine, "democracy should be inclusive." Authoritarian Arab leaders argue that democracy won't work because the Islamists will come to power at the first election. The Arab response has been to ban these parties, when the right approach would be to compete with them. Albright reinforced this point with an argument about the election of Hamas, which "remains a terrorist organization." Hamas, she said, "will be tested as it never has been before. Democracy did not create Hamas, but as the result of democracy Hamas will either moderate in response to it or fail. Either result is an improvement."


Ten, "adopt a global approach." Don't just focus on the key battlegrounds, as the Bush administration seems to have done. We need to return to arguing that human rights are universal. "the Bush administration should push back" against dictators, Albright said, "but instead acts as though international law is a conspiracy to tie us down... If we don't recognize international standards, others will ignore them as well."

There is more to this argument than American hawks are willing to admit. That does not mean that Jacques Chirac gets to sign off on every decision that we make, but I agree with critics of the Bush administration that we send the wrong signal by refusing to engage with international organizations, however flawed.

Eleven, we need to work with non-governmental organizations, who share our interest in openness. Yes, some of them are illegitimate and many of them are very nettlesome, but they give fits to the bad guys and they need our protection. In protecting NGOs, democratic reformers inside authoritarian countries will get needed help from the outside.


Twelve, "we must be true to our own values." Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and warrantless surveillance have undermined our credibility in the Middle East, the "part of the world with the longest memory."

Albright is undoubtedly right, although she would not have been had these stories been reported differently. They are all actually examples of a democracy using its own institutions to redress, or at least examine and adjudicate, alleged crimes by the state. All three of these icons are trivial compared to their counterparts in the Middle East, and all have been exposed by Americans at no small political cost to the leadership. From the perspective of some beaten down guy in an authoritarian country, these "scandals" should be encouraging, rather than discouraging.

Thirteen, "we should support democracy with some degree of introspection." In this, she hinted at -- without acknowledging -- one argument of the Bush administration: that it took the United States an awfully long time to enfranchise its entire population and safeguard their rights in the political process.

Fourteen, "the most important point, that every individual counts."

Not being a liberal, I'm not sure what it means to "count."

The Secretary took three or four questions, including an "excellent question" -- her words, not mine -- from me regarding Iran policy during the Clinton era. I reminded her (politely) of her speech "apologizing" to Iran for past transgressions -- which was greeted with the diplomatic equivalent of a stiff arm -- and the decision not to retaliate for Khobar Towers in the wake of Mohamed Khatami's election in 1997. I observed that the Clinton era policy toward Iran was, in broad brush strokes, somewhat gentler than that of either the preceding or the succeeding administration. My question was, in light of what she knows today, if she had it to do all over again would she advocate a policy toward Iran that was gentler still, or one that was more confrontational? She dodged the question, although she did mount a nuanced defense of the Clinton era policy and further suggested that the Bush administration initiate direct talks with Tehran. Easier said than done, and certainly easier for her to say than do.

[Cross-posted at The Belmont Club.]


By Anonymous M.Vitruvius, at Sat Apr 29, 02:21:00 AM:

Regarding the third point and your agreement with it, I offer this comment:

I do not know, or even care much, whether the failure to fund the obvious efforts at democratization was a Democrat thing, or a Republican thing. But I do observe that to develop, as you say, the mechanisms for promoting democratic ideals throughout Islam would require something we lack: a broadbased consensus that the United States bears a generational responsibility-- no, requirement-- to very actively promote democracy in the region.

We've all heard comparisons to the Cold War in terms of the length of this effort, but we have nothing, nothing at all that indicates Congress really considers this struggle to be of the magnitude, intensity, and duration of that conflict. I think (but obviously do not know) that the Administration has come to this realization, but Congress simply has not.

I don't know whether I am shocked or bemused-- despite the distorting lens of persepctive, the Cold War mentality did not develop overnight. It arguably began in the 1930's, but it took until well after World War II to realize that conflict with the Soviet Union was a semi-permanent affair of such magnitude that it was the focus of the entire Grand Strategy of the West. We are just not there, yet.

There are still many of genuinely good faith who hope the problem will go away on its own if we ignore it, and those who believe it is not our place to do anything about it.  

By Anonymous davod, at Sat Apr 29, 04:30:00 AM:

M. Even during the cold war there were those in Congress who actively supported the Eastern bloc. Remember the Dems who went down to the South American countries with socialist governments. Well they are still doing it, rushing off to Venezuela to see the great liberator.  

By Anonymous davod, at Sat Apr 29, 04:41:00 AM:


Most of the Clinton Administration sounded reasonable. That's how people get on in the world. The fourteen points sound reasonable. It is in the execution where the Dems fall down.

Stop with the Guantanamo being wrong rubbish. From what I have heard none of these people were covered under the Geneva convention. I take this back, they could have been shot for conducting war out of uniform.

The fact that they were even left alive says a lot for American fair play.  

By Anonymous davod, at Sat Apr 29, 04:45:00 AM:

Sorry for three posts at once.

The administration is shutting down Voice of America radio and short wave radio stations and transmitters around the world. Who is picking up the frequencies - Al Jazeera and the Chinese.

Now that is a tactical and strategic blunder of the first magnitude.  

By Anonymous M.Vitruvius@gmail.com, at Sat Apr 29, 05:18:00 AM:

Davod: Yes, there were those on the left who, during the Cold War, supported the Soviets.

But this does not imply that all people on the left hate the United States, or want it to lose, or want it to be damaged, or want the worst of Islam to run rampant.

And let's not forget that the Republicans have their own often intransigent isolationist branch. Remember Bob Taft and the Fortress America mindset that ran very strong through some parts of the Republican party?

I'm not interested in counting up how many Democrats have the right notions and how many Republicans, not if the intent is just to run and point and call them names. I'm not a Republican. I'm not a Democrat. I'm an American, by God, and if the best way to see this thing through is to get enough of both parties to understand the basic facts of the 21st century, then so be it.

This will not be executed properly without full buy-in from one party and at least moderate buy-in from the other. Right now we've got moderate-strong but fading from the Republicans, and lukewarm from the Democrats at best.

This is not enough.  

By Anonymous Purple Avenger, at Sat Apr 29, 08:56:00 AM:

democracy must grow from within

Like it did in Germany and Japan after WWII I suppose...

Were they given a choice?  

By Anonymous Mystery Meat, at Sat Apr 29, 02:20:00 PM:

Do you remember her question to Colin Powell before the Bosnia intervention? (I am paraphrasing) "What's the use of having the best military in the world if we don't use it?  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sat Apr 29, 09:04:00 PM:

Point Fifteen, no kitties should die.

Point Three is excellent, however, as is your extension of it. I believe Bush lost a teaching opportunity when the "scandal" of our paying journalists to run accurate, favorable stories was denounced as propaganda and he retreated. The response should have been "Hell, yes! We're willing to pay money for the truth to get out. Who has a problem with that?"  

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