Democracy Demotion

Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has some harsh words for critics of democracy promotion:

I’ve seen too many peoples dismissed as not ready for self-government. First it was Asians, and then Latin Americans and Africans were there for a while. I know for a while black Americans were, too.I’ve seen it said, well, you know: They’re illiterate; how could they vote? And then you see in Afghanistan people line up for long, long lines. Because somehow they know that making a choice matters.

This is the Bush Administration’s last gasp. Raising cultural, political, and social objections to democracy promotion is now the equivalent of racism. Never mind the fact that the past eight years have validated nearly every criticism of the Administration’s “elections at all cost” strategy.

This should go without saying, but it isn’t racist to point out that certain cultural contexts are extremely inhospitable to a liberal, egalitarian political tradition. Democracy did not develop in the United States overnight. Our political system represents the culmination of a extremely long process. The fact that the majority of stable democracies are Western countries is a testament to the importance of certain cultural precursors. It may be unfortunate that people in the Middle East aren’t acclimated to our political tradition, but for the foreseeable future, it’s an immutable fact of life that will continue to impede liberalization. This doesn’t mean that Arabs are intrinsically stupid or barbaric or deserving of another barrage of cruise missiles – it just means that we should be more judicious about imposing our own political institutions overseas.

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Filed under Culture, Foreign Policy

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