Democracy News

CCD Hosts Discussion on Open Letter to President Obama on Democracy Support in Foreign Policy
November 30, 2012
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Left to Right: Steven Steiner, Charles Heck, Amitai Etzioni, Dan Whitman; Bob LaGamma, Robert Hunter, Rebecca Aaberg

On November 29, participants from government and civil society gathered to discuss the open letter to United States (US) President Barack Obama concerning democracy support as an aspect of US foreign policy. The letter, originally sent to the presidential candidates in September, includes “Recommendations for the Revitalization of the United States Policy on Democracy.” The 15 points outline a stronger role for advocating democracy abroad through strengthening intergovernmental institutions and supporting democracy activists in civil society. CCD released the recommendations as a blog post in November.

CCD Board of Directors Chairman Robert Hunter welcomed the 18 participants, and CCD President Bob LaGamma gave a brief overview of the project. CCD Board member Pauline Baker prepared questions for discussion:

1. What do you think of the letter? Without word-smithing the document, is there any major point that has been omitted?
2. What advice do you have about disseminating the letter?

3. What other follow-up steps do you recommend?

4. Where should democracy support be ranked in the hierarchy of foreign policy priorities (as opposed to counter-terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, state-building, economic development, the geopolitical shift to the Pacific, the challenge of the Arab Spring, etc.)?

5. Are there any lessons learned from previous democracy promotion efforts that should reshape our approach? For example, democracy advocates whom the US has helped in civil societies in Iran and Russia have been singled out by their governments for retribution. How do we get around that hurdle without further endangering local activists? How do we reconcile democracy promotion with our silence on Bahrain and other geo-strategic allies who are suppressing democracy? And how do we deal with other countries who are back-sliding, such as Hungary?

Experts from American University, CSIS, Freedom House, George Washington University, the German Marshall Fund, the US Institute of Peace, and the US Department of State engaged in a conversation about where democracy promotion is needed and how it is best accomplished. CCD Vice President Dick Rowson said that “Democracy is the concern of the rest of the world,” particularly when those countries have signed international agreements to protect the rights of civil society activists. (Read Rowson’s blog post on this subject by clicking here.) Freedom House’s Bobby Herman warned that authoritarian governments are now “exporting…worst practices,” teaching each other how to better repress opposition. Ivan Vejvoda from the German Marshall Fund suggested revisiting US experiences for supporting dissidents during the Cold War. The discussion also touched upon where democracy policy fits as an objective alongside other aspects of foreign policy. CCD Board member Charles Heck suggested that democracy policy should be woven throughout all of US foreign policy to make a more coherent vision. GW professor Amitai Etzioni and CCD Board member Pauline Baker also mentioned the role of religion in new democracies throughout the Arab world. In many of these countries and elsewhere, democracy is not necessarily the answer to “freedom” but rather to “justice.” According to Baker, it is possible that citizens are turning toward religious values as a mechanism for obtaining justice.

To read the letter in full, please click here.

To read CCD letters from previous elections, please click here.



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