“The low priority of democracy promotion is apparent across the Administration. At the National Security Council, the senior directorship for democracy and human rights likely won’t be filled. Those responsibilities are divided between two staffers who work on multilateral institutions and development. At Foggy Bottom, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor job remains empty”.
June 6, 2009 – WSJ
A pleasant surprise in President Obama’s Thursday speech on the Middle East was his rhetorical shift on democracy. His audience at Cairo University applauded his commitment “to governments that reflect the will of the people” and “freedom to live as you choose.” So why is his Administration cutting support for democracy promotion?
Start with Egypt, where U.S. support for democracy programs was reduced to $20 million, from $50 million, in the budget Congress adopted this spring. Funding for independent democracy groups will drop 70% or more despite record spending on just about everything else. The U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, last month cut some $11 million in funding controlled by the State Department for civil society programs. From now on only groups approved by the ageless regime of Hosni Mubarak will qualify for these “economic support funds” — essentially a local veto over U.S. aid. That was U.S. policy before the Bush Administration changed it in 2006, and now it is again.
Due to be cut is the “New Generation” program run by Freedom House that brings Egyptian activists to the U.S. Mrs. Clinton met with a group of them last week in Washington and declared that, “I think that there is a great awareness on the part of the Egyptian government that with young people like this and with enhanced communications, it is in Egypt’s interest to move more toward democracy and to exhibit more respect for human rights.” But those young people and Mr. Mubarak’s regime take away the opposite message from the funding cuts, which we’re told were made to remove “a nuisance” in relations with the Egyptian government.
The low priority of democracy promotion is apparent across the Administration. At the National Security Council, the senior directorship for democracy and human rights likely won’t be filled. Those responsibilities are divided between two staffers who work on multilateral institutions and development. At Foggy Bottom, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor job remains empty.
In her first visit to China, Secretary Clinton elided human-rights concerns. America’s “restart” with the Kremlin lets Vladimir Putin limit discussion to arms control and missile defense and gloss over a beleaguered civil society and Russia’s threats to neighboring democracies. Talking recently about Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates tempered support for a free society, saying, “If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose.”
Those choices reflect the rise of a neo-realist foreign policy crowd as well as an allergy to the Bush Administration. If it’s any consolation, Mr. Bush flagged in his support for dissidents in Mideast countries like Egypt and was late to recognize the darker side of the Putin regime. But the better argument is, as Mr. Obama said, that democracies “are ultimately more stable, successful and secure,” and it’s in America’s interest to see freedom spread in the world.
We hope the Cairo applause lines signal a recognition that democratic advocacy belongs to a long and bipartisan tradition. Now’s an especially good time to redouble efforts, with authoritarianism on the rise from Russia to Iran and Venezuela. Mr. Obama can start by backing up this week’s rhetoric with more tangible support.