Thursday, December 02, 2004

Democracy is the New Imperialism

Although this went up a week ago, I'd really like to respond to this chap in the Guardian who paints Western (though he puts it all on the US) democracy promotion efforts in general and the Ukraine events in particular as some sort of U.S. - masterminded scheme aimed at "engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience." And we're so good at it that "the methods have matured into a template for winning other people's elections."

There's a lot to say to this kind of silliness (we're vilifying civil disobedience now?), and there's a tiny little buried kernel of a worthy point. (Which is that some of the organizations he's named are known for only supporting the opposition parties. And because of this, they've been barred from working in many countries. Regardless, I think it a bit naive to chalk up the scene before us to George Soros, and amusing in the extreme to paint Soros as a tool of the Bush Administration...)

This is a backhanded way of saying that the U.S. is popping about, toppling regimes, only we've gotten a bit more clever about it since the heavyhanded CIA days. It's interesting too, because we have a lot of help doing this from European donors, European organizations, and many of these projects are implemented by European groups. But never mind that.

You know what we do? Why don't we take a look at this subversive scheme. We send experts in electoral law to put their heads together with local legislators and come up with recommendations for improvements. We send party activists from Australia, Canada, the U.S., and Europe to work with opposition AND government party members on campaign strategies, message development, organization, finance. We send journalists over to work with journalists there on how to raise advertising revenue, how to budget an organization, and how to negotiate that fine line between self-censorship and the ideal of objectivitiy. Grassroots? Sure. We give money to communities to start local NGOs, Student Councils, interest groups. We train domestic election monitors on the roles and responsibilities of that important role, because there are a lot of people who want to be involved in the process but don't know what they're supposed to do. We pay for exit polls and parallel vote tabulation because those are valuable checks in a democracy and can help identify fraud. Alternatively, and in a few instances, they have actually proved that the unpleasant incumbent regime did actually win. Even against the wishes of the United States.

Where I stand, that's called supporting democracy, encouraging democratic development. We are never there against the express wishes of the host government, though sometimes they get nervous. We do this, by the way, practically everywhere. There are not, however, revolutions everywhere. Why are we seeing this in Ukraine, and not in Azerbaijan? Or Kazakhstan? Or Armenia? We have LOADS of manipulative money going there. Could it be that something internal needs to happen? That Western aid is just one component leading a nation to the tipping point?

Are you forgetting that there is no doubt that this election was stolen? That activists in Ukraine are capable of looking over at Georgia and Serbia themselves and deciding that they want some of that action? We did not make Yanukovych rig this election, nor did we make people take to the streets. We may have had some part to play in preparing people on how to respond. We may have had something to do with raising their expectations (though not nearly as much as Georgia and Serbia have). But I certainly won't apologize for having played a part in identifying fraud and supporting those who would demand a fair accounting.

And you, sir? Mr. Ian Traynor? You have a lot of company in your estimation of democracy promotion, but not the sort of company you'd bring to a dinner party. You also have a response from Timothy Garton Ash, and he's got a few questions for you.


Post a Comment

<< Home