Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy?
Perhaps it is time to change U.S./Middle East policy by defunding federal pro-democracy agencies like the National Endowment for Democracy.
Senator John Walsh wrote, in his 14-page Masters paper: “During the 2000 presidential campaign Bush and his advisors made it clear that they favored great-powers realism over idealistic notions such as nation-building or democracy promotion” (NYT page 1 images. This sentence turns out to be copied from a Foreign Affairs article by Thomas Carothers.)
Senator Walsh’s then quotes President Bush’s 2005 inaugural address, or does he? The sentence in yellow in the image at right is identical to that in a paper “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror” (the source article is cited in footnote). The next sentence has a quote from from the 2005 inaugural address. Then comes the block quote on Middle East policy, which one might think is also from the inaugural address. But it isn’t.
As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready to export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo. Therefore the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.
Instead, the quote on Middle East policy is from a speech two years earlier at 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy. This brings us back to the initial view of President Bush as a foreign policy “realist” during his first campaign, before the September 11th attack. The National Endowment for Democracy though had been in operation for two decades. One would guess that in the foreign policy realist-idealist debate, National Endowment for Democracy (NED) operations have been in the idealist camp, trying to promote democracy around the world. Or perhaps more realistically, NED funds have been more for supporting federal agency and Congressional travel, and diverting millions more to Republican, Democrat, Union, and Chamber of Commerce friends and supporters here and abroad.
U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid spending is strongly influenced by Public Choice dynamics that churn world affairs into justifications to send money to special interests groups, for-profit or nonprofit, in the U.S. or overseas.
Twenty years ago, foreign policy analyst Barbara Conry offered a sceptical perspective on the Endowment:
The National Endowment for Democracy is a foreign policy loose cannon. Promoting democracy is a nebulous objective that can be manipulated to justify any whim of the special-interest groups–the Republican and Democratic parties, organized labor, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce–that control most of NED’s funds. As those groups execute their own foreign policies, they often work against American interests and meddle needlessly in the affairs of other countries, undermining the democratic movements NED was designed to assist. Moreover, the end of the Cold War has nullified any usefulness that such an organization might ever have had. There is no longer a rival superpower mounting an effective ideological challenge, and democracy is progressing remarkably well on its own.
NED, which also has a history of corruption and financial mismanagement, is superfluous at best and often destructive. Through the endowment, the American taxpayer has paid for special-interest groups to harass the duly elected governments of friendly countries, interfere in foreign elections, and foster the corruption of democratic movements. (Source.)
Many want U.S. foreign aid reduced significantly, citing research that much or most aid money doesn’t reach those it intends to help, plus tends to create dependency and dysfunction. But consider the National Endowment for Democracy, a foreign aid program that doesn’t try to do development or assist people in poverty around the world. Instead, the Endowment is supposed to promote the U.S. brand or style of democracy, with many of its faults, to developing and transitional countries. Barbara Conry explains:
NED is a little-known foreign aid program intended to promote democracy abroad. It is a nominally private organization, but all of its funds come from the federal treasury. Although small in comparison with other federal programs- its annual budget has ranged from a low of $15 million in 1987 to a high of $27.5 million in 1992–NED has been controversial throughout its 10-year history, engendering intense congressional debate that cuts across party lines. Moreover, although it is a child of the Cold War, NED continues to be a strong point of contention in the post-Cold War era. This year, for instance, NED represented only $35 million of a $23 billion Senate appropriations bill, yet it attracted more speakers to the floor than any other item in the bill.(1)
NED’s budget is over $100,000,000 now, and its accomplishments so far make it a candidate for riding off into the sunset. Perhaps Congress can tap other programs to cover travel expenses for future junkets:
NED’s handling of its discretionary grant money has also met with harsh criticism. Audits have indicated that much of that money is used to subsidize travel–“political tourism”–for NED board members and friends, although the four core grantees also spend money on junkets. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recalled: “They would go down in the wintertime, back in 1983, 1984, and 1985, and they would meet in the Bahamas and swim out on the nice sandy beaches. . . . They would call it very important meetings.”(6) In 1990 the AFL-CIO’s FTUI reported excursions to Romania every few months, where NED visitors stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, the most expensive lodging in Bucharest. Two Romanian labor leaders also traveled–courtesy of NED–to Las Vegas for a Postal Workers Union convention.(7) Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) has described NED’s largesse as “first class airfare for everybody.”(8) (Source.)
It is worth researching National Endowment for Democracy programs in transition economies after the fall of communism and later in the Middle East.
Then Congressman Ron Paul quotes British Helsinki Human Rights Group Director Christine Stone, criticized operations of NED funds used by Democrats–the National Democratic Institute (NDI)– and Republicans–the International Republican Institute (IRI).
“Both (IRI and NDI) are largely funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) … which, in turn, receive money from the American taxpayer. Both have favoured the return to power of former high-ranking Communists which has also meant co-opting foot-soldiers from the new left who have extremely liberal ideas…”
Skender Gjinushi, speaker of the Albanian parliament, thanks the IRI for its assistance in drafting the Albanian constitution in 1998. What the IRI does not say is that Gjinushi was a member of the brutal Stalinist Politburo of Enver Hoxha’s Communist Party until 1990 and one of the main organizers of the unrest that led to the fall of the Democratic Party government in 1997 and the death of over 2000 people.
President Stoyanov of Bulgaria…: “Without IRI’s support we could not have come so far so fast.” Indeed. So far did they come that Ivan Kostov (who supplies another encomium to IRI) was catapulted from his job teaching Marxism-Leninism at Sofia University to being prime minister of Bulgaria and a leader of ‘reform.’”
I’ve written in earlier posts that promoting economic freedom is a better foreign policy goal than promoting “democracy.”
In offering a critical look at National Endowment for Democracy programs–and citing a twenty-year old study–I’m not claiming the organization is spreading chaos and confusion around the world. Some NED forums and publications seem valuable. This 2013 forum Reconsidering Democratic Transitions
Sponsored by The International Forum for Democratic Studies provides a thoughtful discussion of post-Arab Spring and Color Revolution transitions. This NED event was sponsored by The International Forum for Democratic Studies.
Winners of the 2013 NED Youth Activists Awards are listed here. One of the winners, Vera Kichanova from Russia, was interviewed by Reason.com when she came to the U.S. to receive her award.
Also, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) is a program of NED, and this CIPE program in Jordan promoting the Young Entrepreneurs Association and small and medium sized businesses seems valuable in promoting economic development there. Clicking any country in the Middle East and North Africa column on the right brings up a list of NED grants to that country with amounts, program goals and sometimes partners.
Again, it may be that many of the programs are helpful and educational and help move the ball forward in the transition to democratic and rule of law institutions in Middle East countries. On the NED Egypt page is another CIPE program promoting free-enterprise reforms with a $293,332 grant. There are twenty-two NED grants for programs in Egypt listed, including one “Supporting Youth Advocacy in Port Said,” whose goal is described as:
To enable young civic and political activists in Port Said to address community issues and advocate solutions to local government. The project will train 80 youth activists in small working groups to analyze local community issues, propose policy solutions and develop advocacy campaigns. Following a series of debates, the group with the strongest advocacy plan will be identified and supported in implementing the proposed initiative.
So how valuable is this $22,500 program? From the Egyptian government’s point of view, these U.S. funded “working groups” are likely viewed with suspicion. How capable will these 80 “youth activists” be to “analyze local community issues, propose policy solutions and develop advocacy campaigns”? Whoever leads the program will influence these young people toward preferred “advocacy campaigns.”
Readers can guess from the grants list which programs are Chamber of Commerce pro-enterprise CIPE programs, which are Democrat NDI, which the Republican IRI, and which were funded by the AFL-CIO arm of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Solidarity Center.
It took some searching to confirm The Solidarity Center was funded by NED. The Solidarity Center website says funding information for 2011 and 2012 is available in the Annual Report. However
the 2012 Annual Report (pdf) does not list funding sources other than one general source: the federal government. The Annual Report lists 2012 “Federal awards” of $31.247, 492.
On a history of NED page, I found listing of Solidarity Center, which used the be the Free Trade Union Institute and later American Center for International Labor Solidarity.
Interesting Solidarity Center programs include funding efforts to increase minimum wages in Hong Kong, pushing for migrant “workers rights” to organize and go on strike in the Middle East, and organizing and promoting unions in Gaza (“Gaza’s Unions Under Fire”):
On an ordinary working day, activists from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)-Gaza conduct labor rights education and outreach to worksites around Gaza. In the past six months, Organizing Department Head Ahmad Hillis and other union officials have visited more than 180 workplaces including hospitals, pharmacies, universities and construction sites.