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Timothy J. Lynch
School of Social and Political Sciences University of Melbourne, VIC 3010 email@example.com
2011). it was clear to several commentators that the Arab Middle East – the central focus of Bush’s ‘freedom agenda’ – had showed the least democratic improvement (see Traub. and queries how far his rhetoric was. Tripoli. in the Middle East especially. Bush’s foreign policy remains the focus of intense debate. and Tunis had been overthrown and the peoples of Bahrain and Syria were in open revolt. secondly. firstly. This stunning and largely unpredicted revolutionary wave invites the question of how far George W. however. 1 . Within weeks. This paper assesses Bush’s democracy promotion (DP) efforts. By February. even as he seemingly lost faith with its inevitability later in his term. Arab dictatorships began to fall. regimes in Cairo. Bush can be credited with its beginning.INTRODUCTION1 Despite assertions of a strong democracy promotion agenda – by both its proponents and detractors – George W. how far that strategy can be credited with a catalytic role in the 2011 Arab Spring. By August. 1 This paper is in the process of revision and completion – apologies. Barack Obama had joined a war to end the four-decade rule of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi. This analysis and attendant argument will also allow us to place Bush’s DP efforts alongside those of his predecessors – and of his successor. matched by an operable strategy and. Did it fail because it promoted too much democracy or too little? Did it succeed because it embraced the universality of democracy or because it rejected it? By January 2011. The paper’s argument is that Bush’s impact was neither as great as he would like to believe nor as negligible as his opponents insist.
successful and appropriate: promoter-positive. The fourth type is of a president whose lapsed democracy promotion had negative consequences: non-promoter-negative.Structure of the paper After considering the definitional problems of ‘democracy promotion. The second type does not query the sincerity of his DP efforts but claims they produced negative consequences: promoter-negative. merely rhetorically committed. The third type is of Bush as an insincere. democracy promoter but that on balance this was probably no bad thing: non-promoter-positive. I have chosen a particular case study to illustrate the central features of each type.’ the paper offers a four-part typology of US foreign policy since 2001 (see Table 1). The first type depicts Bush’s DP agenda as both real and. The paper is thus an effort to combine and interrogate an analytical argument – did Bush promote democracy? – and a normative judgement – did he succeed? POSITIVE IMPACT NEGATIVE IMPACT Mearsheimer and Walt (2006) BUSH AS DEMOCRACY PROMOTER Lynch and Singh (2008) Mead (2011) Liberal Hawks Case studies: Iraq and Libya Traub (2011) Smith (2007) Proscriptive realists Relativistic liberals Case studies: Afghanistan and Iran BUSH NOT A DEMOCRACY PROMOTER Carothers (2007) Prescriptive realists Case study: China Kagan (2007) Neoconservatives Classical liberals Case study: Saudi Arabia Table 1: Bush as democracy promoter: a typology of the literature 2 . at least in part.
‘For decades. Even the existence of a ‘process’ is widely disputed. Its genesis is hotly contested. yet these policies gave us neither’ (Bush. Whether the process is seen as chaotic or ordered. George W. accidental or purposeful. Iraq. Its end point is far from clear. Whilst I am highly sceptical of this claim (see Lynch. Syria). How far President Obama appreciates the inevitability of this process – and Bush’s place in it – can be deduced from his response to the 2011 Arab Spring – a subject to which we shall return. This process has not been smooth or linear. and. Tunisia. Egypt. perhaps. Bush needs to be assessed within it – if only to better evaluate claims that his ‘freedom agenda’ was the key accelerant of the 2011 conflagration in the Arab world. American policy sought to achieve peace in the Middle East by promoting stability in the Middle East. 2010). Some have attributed this approach to a Trotskyism inherent in Bush’s internalisation of a neoconservative paradigm.An explicit rationale of Bush’s democracy promotion strategy – in so far as it was defined in his public rhetoric – was to abandon a reliance on stasis and stability as the objective of US policy in the Arab world. Whilst this paper does not claim to resolve these debates it does attempt to locate Bush’s place in them. 3 . it does raise the interesting conjecture that Bush’s rejection of the status quo set in train a process that is now bearing fruit: from crisis (the original disaster of the Iraq war and its aftermath) to uncertainty (the grasping for democratisation in Iraq and the ongoing revolutionary wave) to democracy (or at least the removal of regimes opposed to it – in Afghanistan. Libya. 2006b). Its progress is irregular.
2012)? Is it the core of US foreign policy or merely one of its outward limbs and flourishes (see Dobriansky and Carothers. It is deployed by its proponents and detractors to illustrate a central justice or injustice in American foreign policy. Is the response to 9/11 US democracy promotion? Or is DP merely a feature of a wide-spectrum reaction to those attacks? Is it.The problem of definition Much debate over the existence and subsequent claims about the efficacy of democracy promotion begins with definitions of the phenomenon itself. Lynch and Bouchet. 2003)? Is DP synonymous with counterterrorism or a politically correct cover for it? Is the war on terror better understood as a militarised version of democracy promotion (as Smith 2007 and 2011 argues)? Is DP exclusively about the use of hard power? Soft power? or a blending of both? Does the US government aggregate democracy promotion in its foreign aid budget? The answer to most of these questions is ‘it depends. Bush. indeed. 4 . Definitional disputes are compounded by the various methods by which DP can be measured and otherwise be made subject to empirical verification. who closed his term with more people living under something other than Arab autocracy than at its beginning? What does ‘democracy promotion’ mean? We should be careful not to conflate the term with Bush’s foreign policy generally.’ Democracy promotion is a loaded concept. The world was ‘less free’/‘more communist’ at the end of Harry Truman’s term as president than at the beginning (the Chinese revolution of 1949 having severely dented his plus column). Would this rather crude measure render his version of democracy promotion inferior to that of George W. of a much older vintage. a consistent theme of US foreign policy since the birth of the nation itself (see Cox.
its republicanism is an effort to ameliorate the problems of democratic rule. was solved by a system which filtered out those tendencies. Democracy promotion and the democratic peace Bush’s DP strategy – and the debate about it – is necessarily framed by a larger ideational and theoretical framework that neither US foreign policy nor those that study it have escaped: the democratic peace theory (or hypothesis) and ‘the end of history’ thesis. 5 . neither of which a strictly democratic system is very good at. The tyranny of the majority loomed large in the constitutional debates of 1787. Government is supposed to be fashioned by reflection and choice. The problem of mobocracy. Indeed. American constitutionalism is not synonymous with American democracy. That nation is a republic before it is a democracy. of the unwashed masses having the predominant influence on government policy.Some definitions of ‘democracy promotion’ include the following: [Insert] Assertions that democracy promotion is basic to US foreign policy often avoid the complicated attachment to democracy in the United States itself. The former exists as an impediment to the latter. So when we use the term ‘democracy promotion’ it is worth recalling that the American experiment itself is founded on the checking of democratic impulses. If we consider how the US has itself wrestled with this issue we can better appreciate the problems of promoting democracy abroad.
tended to be optimistic. especially after 9/11. It was a causal connection that George W. a best-seller then and strong-seller now. 1993. Unlike the focused police response to the first attack 6 . Tony Smith has been highly critical of the impact of this theory on modern foreign policy. The End of History and the Last Man (1992). 1996). it was the thesis propounded by Francis Fukuyama that provided a populist version of it.The democratic peace theory (DPT) claims that democratic states are highly unlikely – if not institutionally and/or normatively incapable – of going to war with each other (see Brown et al. Clinton and Bush each capitalized on a theory which reassured them not only that the spread of democracy would augment US security but that that spread was inevitable. The policy prescriptions drawn from them. Whilst DPT framed much of the research agenda of western IR theorists in the 1990s. According to him. 1997). and Brinkley. Bush embraced whole-heartedly in the aftermath of 9/11.’ The author was actually pessimistic about this state of affairs. speculated that with the demise of communism mankind may have reached the end point of its ideological evolution. Its logic was highly attractive to democratic governments after communism’s collapse. Liberal democracy was (perhaps?) ‘the final form of human government. There is no doubting that Bush saw in democracy a cure for terrorism that a narrowly judicial response to 9/11 did not. however. 2007). In this new era American security would be achieved less by confronting or containing an enemy than by enlarging the ‘zone of democracies’. Bill Clinton explicitly predicated his early foreign policy on the theory (see Lake. democratic peace took on the attributes of a religious faith – ‘liberal fundamentalist Jihadism’ (Smith.
Did Bush’s version of it work? Can the Arab Spring. even probable. paraphrased it: 7 . democratisation in the polities made the subject of it. as yet highly imperfect and inconsistent. Fukuyama’s 1992 book included a table charting the rise of democracy.on the World Trade Centre in February 1993. we have little reason to question that Bush believed that democracy in the Arab world was possible and that what he did after 9/11 made it possible. or at least began. It was grounded in a popular contemporary social science theory. . sufficiently numerous and close to him. without attribution. not all of it). Free societies are peaceful societies’ (Bush. Promoter: good The first typology accepts that Bush’s democracy agenda was pursued and that it achieved. George W. So in any assessment of democracy promotion as a foreign policy strategy we should remember its theoretical foundations. 2006a). It drew on a tradition in the history of US foreign relations which goes back at least as far as Woodrow Wilson. suggest he was personally convinced of the democracy promotion agenda and theory on which it was built: ‘the only path to lasting peace is the expansion of freedom and liberty . Bush’s solution to the second was the reformation of Arab politics. . Cognitively. The pursuit of DP. Sources. This chosen course was bold but also consistent with assumptions about the pacifying nature of democracy and its global inevitability routed in social science literature (though. was not a recent aberration. Bush doubtless would place himself in this category. assuming we accept that is what the US attempted. of course. and arguably even further. be in any way attributable to what Bush wrought? I. Bush.
As Thomas Carothers argues. foreign policy often take place at the level of symbols. . in part because the epochal upheavals of war provide the opportunity for transformative change of the kind Bush hoped to achieve… Intoxicated by the influence and power of America. there were only 45 democracies on the face of the Earth. only a wartime President is likely to achieve greatness.S.S. 2006a) Iraq. because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. None of his aides afford oil any explanatory weight. at the start of the 1980s. . (Bush. Very general notions about what the United States should or should not do are advanced and debated with disturbingly little reference to the actual record and capabilities of the United States in this domain. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. and other abstractions. 2003) His one-time press secretary. Just 25 years ago. debates over the appropriate role of democracy in U. would be good test of the democratic peace hypothesis. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region. (Bush.. the symbolic value of democracy promotion in the minds of decision-makers is often elided or derided by economic determinists and rational choice theorists: U. Freedom House reports there are 122 democracies.. 2008: 131) Assertions that Bush saw only material interests in the Middle East– most notably the capture of Arab oil – are the preserve of his political detractors. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East. This has been especially 8 . causing other autocracies to crumble: The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values. myths. in a memoir that otherwise excoriates much of his boss’s foreign policy. Today. Bush had decided.freedom is taking root in places where liberty was unimaginable a couple of years ago. As I have heard Bush say. and more people now live in liberty than ever before. Bush believed that a successful transformation of Iraq could be the linchpin for realizing his dream of a free Middle East.. reminds us that Bush was sincere: Every President wants to achieve greatness but few do. (McClellan.
This was especially apparent in the wake of Gaddafi’s fall: . . (Carothers. most notably on the part of the administration and its supporters. 2011): Consider how we might explain these figures from Freedom House: Table: Freedom House data [insert] Walter Russell Mead (2011) argues Bush achieved something as profound as it is unrecognised. how should we estimate his actual democracy promotion efforts? Did he catalyse a democratic wave or merely attempt to ride it? Obviously. Perhaps not since President Eisenhower’s CIA helped restore the Shah in Iran has the US loomed this large in the political calculations of Middle Eastern regimes . II. . . He made the US relevant to Middle East politics. . Promoter: bad This assessment of Bush’s democracy promotion efforts is variously sceptical that they achieved their desired objectives. That truth is that the United States has become more powerful in the Middle East today than at any time since the early 1950s. the rise in Freedom House scores in Iraq and Afghanistan are directly attributable to the US invasions and subsequent state-building efforts in those nations (at the estimated cost of between $3.2 and $4 trillion since 2001. The judgement is not that DP was never tried 9 . 2007: 1) If Bush’s sincerity is not in doubt.true in the past five years. there is one fact that needs to be pointed out because nobody really wants this to be true. see Brown University.
Connecting the two is an assertion. Hussein did not get the message and ended up in a hole. political participation and decision-making in the country remain seriously impaired by sectarian and insurgent violence. was the product of ‘a clearly enunciated policy – now known as the Bush Doctrine – of targeting. Gaddafi abandoned his nuclear programme. apparently. 2003). Australia 8th. worsted only by Myanmar – which ties with Afghanistan – and Somalia. Qaddafi got the message’ (Krauthammer. the US 22nd). widespread corruption. This logic is problematized in the Libyan example.’ declared Charles Krauthammer. After 2003. hostile regimes engaged in terror and/or refusing to come clean on WMDs . and the influence of foreign powers. It was a response shared by North Korea. 10 . However. Iraq and Afghanistan are the 175th and 176th most corrupt states in the world. (In Brown University.but that it was tried and found wanting. The strongest protests against the regime took place in the summer of 2009. For example. It did. 2011) According to Transparency International (2010). . The more the US government threatened it the more it saw WMD as its chief protection and bargaining chip. Iran was subject to Bush’s DP. And yet the connection between regime behaviour and Bush policy is often asserted (see x). Pressure by the United States did not spur democracy. by preemptive war if necessary. in 177th (Demark is 1st. cause the Iranian government to speed up its nuclear weapons programme. . Although it has conducted meaningful elections. as Freedom House itself records: Iraq is not an electoral democracy. This ‘Libyan surrender. nominal democracy scores have improved in Afghanistan and Iraq since the US toppled their respective regimes. as we have already observed.
Bush pursued a highly ambivalent diplomacy toward the PRC. Bush included China in the target countries for democratisation (Bush 2006a. However.III. According to this category. foreign policy after 9/11 talked the democracy promotion talk but did walk its walk. rather than the units that comprise it. IV. despites its variations. Like his father. 20xx. The Bush administration. several of whom believed democracy was being forced on foreigners by Bush despite the unproven connection between democracy and peace. tends to be sceptical that the character of governments can explain very much about their foreign policy. The most significant indictment is the horrendous failure of post-war planning in Iraq. very little actual policy was given over to catalysing this process. The paradox in this case however is the frustration Bush’s approach elicited among realists. Realism. in John 11 . to Tony Blair’s chagrin (see Blair. Occasionally. Non-promoter: good This characterisation is routed in the realist paradigm. Non-promoter: bad This assessment can be attributed largely to self-identifying neoconservatives – though not those alone – who regard Bush’s second term as a repudiation of the first. The international system. 20xx). 2010: 441-79). Bush’s problem was not his bad faith in democracy but his inability to pursue democracy promotion with appropriate resources. are explanatory of international relations and especially the frequency of war in those relations.
. Obama and Democracy Promotion The solidity of democracy promotion under Bush should be reflected in its continuance under Barack Obama. to governments that reflect the will of the people. The Arab spring has made realist prescriptions to leave well alone see impolitic. Democracy was to be hoped for rather than promoted. 12 . Those seeing a decisive break with Bush insist Obama has jettisoned a democracy agenda. Whilst he rejected notions that democracy could be imposed on an unwilling people. That does not lessen my commitment. 2011). Obama’s dismissal of Bush’s Middle East strategy has not lead him to disengage with the region nor abandon entirely the democracy agenda. . like Bush (and like Clinton and Bush Sr. especially in the Arab world (see Diehl.) has found himself at war in defense of a Muslim population.’ Consistent with this statement has been a funding commitment that at least rivals that of his predecessor (see Freedom House. 2011). 2007). albeit in a smaller international coalition than that which fought in Iraq in 1991 and 2003.Bolton’s phrase. Obama. however. this time in Libya. His first major speech in the region was in Cairo in 2009. Do we see that? There are both superficial and substantial continuities across both administrations. handed Iraqi’s ‘a copy of the Federalist papers and said ‘Good luck’’ (Bolton. Continuity then is not entirely absent. he did not offer moral relativism in its place: ‘no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other .
there are parallels here. ‘Democracy in the Arab world. He has not been shy in the use of force – from killing bin Laden to complicity in the air bombing of Libya – but he has committed this aggression in synchronisation with ‘the international community. In many ways we are living through George W. This simple metric is difficult to dissociate from his wider ‘freedom agenda. Obama has more adapted to what Bush set in motion than he has pushed against it. .’ Its failure is easier to quantify than its success. Obama recalibrated it for a more global audience. precisely because he seems so liberal. As is often the case. 89 in 2009. was largely written off by Obama’s team as a fantasy of George W. President Bush left office with only four countries in the world freer than at its beginning (85 in 1999. . 2011).Again. we can see that regime change and democracy promotion remain the basis of American strategy in the Middle East — and that force is not excluded when it comes to achieving American aims. Bush’s third term in the Middle East. Eisenhower inherited a discredited containment strategy from Truman. so nice. despite a far more explicit democracy promotion agenda. so vacillating. CONCLUSION Despite a strong rhetorical commitment to democracy promotion. The effect was to render more competent and further embed the strategy of his predecessor. is a more effective neoconservative than President Bush. and neither President Obama’s friends nor his enemies want to admit it . well over half way through President Obama’s tenure in office. 2010). in contrast. . the argument is so irritating partly because it is so true . In 13 . . see Freedom House. . . As Mead (2011) argues: The most irritating argument anyone could make in American politics is that President Obama. . He shifted his rhetorical emphasis and reduced defense spending. The same can be argued about Obama’s adaptation of the Bush Doctrine. Structurally. Bush before the Arab Spring’ (Diehl. Rather than jettison it.’ Bush was unable to achieve this.
assessing how far Bush’s approach created the conditions for the ongoing revolutions in the Arab world we thus face the problem of measurement. This is particularly the case in foreign policy. Expectations for the office and its holder are not synchronised with its institutional capacities. has not fundamentally rejected Bush’s diagnosis of the Arab problem as one of too little democracy. Obama has not been so ‘unBush’ that he avoided war in that theatre on behalf of an oppressed Muslim population (in Libya). 14 . It might be that Bush’s greatest contribution. Absent reliable opinion poll data of protesters in the Arab Spring. especially when it comes to promoting democracy. we should treat with caution – though not distain – assertions that Bush’s strategy of regime change was a substantial inspiration. Presidential failure is now a basic feature of American politics. and of too little US effort to promote it. Woodrow Wilson did not lead the world into a new democratic age. by his actions. of a sort. Men and women saw that dictators could be overthrown and democracies. despite an initial poor return on American investments (of both blood and treasure) was to make democracy a conceivable project in the Arab world. Kennedy and Johnson waged wars for democracy that produced the obverse in southeast Asia. Franklin Roosevelt established the parameters of a cold war with Soviet communism. Truman left office with the world less free than when he found it. Bush’s failure puts him in good company. Most US presidents fail. Obama. could be countenanced in a region seemingly inimical to them. George W. How can we tell? A more robust argument – though still prey to charges that it is empirically dubious – relies on connecting the fate of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of Saddam Hussein in Iraq to the revolutionary fervour of 2011.
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