Madeleine Albright speaks at Princeton: Fourteen Points about democratization
[NOTE: This is a bit different than usual Belmont Club fare, but I nevertheless thought that at least some of Wretchard's readers would be interested in my coverage of Madeleine Albright's speech at Princeton this afternoon. As of a couple of hours ago, there was no press coverage of the event, so this report, tedious as it may be, is a Belmont Club/TigerHawk exclusive.]
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 Madeleine 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 my home away from home, TigerHawk.]