Wednesday, April 05, 2006

PRES. BUSH LOVES TO TALK about promoting democracy in Iraq and spreading it throughout the Middle East. But talk is cheap; and as Peter Baker reports in the Washington Post, Bush is taking money away from the very organizations that could teach Iraqis how to build democratic institutions:

While President Bush vows to transform Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, his administration has been scaling back funding for the main organizations trying to carry out his vision by building democratic institutions such as political parties and civil society groups.

The administration has included limited new money for traditional democracy promotion in budget requests to Congress. Some organizations face funding cutoffs this month, while others struggle to stretch resources through the summer. The shortfall threatens projects that teach Iraqis how to create and sustain political parties, think tanks, human rights groups, independent media outlets, trade unions and other elements of democratic society.

The shift in funding priorities comes as security costs are eating up an enormous share of U.S. funds for Iraq and the administration has already ratcheted back ambitions for reconstructing the country's battered infrastructure. While acknowledging that they are investing less in party-building and other such activities, administration officials argue that bringing more order and helping Iraqis run effective ministries contribute to democracy as well.

Sounds to me like the Bush administration wants to help Iraqis run the trains on time. But even if they succeed in that, it will not create democracy -- just as holding elections, stirring as it may be to watch the images of Iraqis walking to the polls and holding up purple fingers, will not build democracy in the absence of democratic institutions.

Kevin Drum writes that Bush has demonstrated his lack of interest in democracy promotion many times and in many ways, and gives us the links to back this up:

Is democracy promotion really something that George Bush cares deeply about? Let's review the bidding.

During the 2000 campaign, Bush derided the very idea of nation building. Promoting democracy in foreign countries was simply not something he believed was a high priority for the United States.

Did 9/11 change fundamentally change George Bush's worldview? The record says no. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Bush barely even mentioned democracy promotion as a reason for war. In the 2003 State of the Union Address he devoted over a thousand words to Iraq and didn't mention democracy once. Paul Wolfowitz specifically left out democracy promotion as a major goal of the war when he later recounted the administration's internal decision making process for Sam Tannenhaus.

Nor did the invasion itself envision democracy in Iraq as its goal. Rather, the plan was to install some favored exiles as proconsuls and reduce our military presence to 30,000 troops almost immediately.

Later, when Ayatollah Ali Sistani insisted on elections, Bush resisted as long as he could, throwing up excuse after excuse until it became clear he had no choice. In the end, he punted the whole issue to United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who finally created a credible plan for Iraqi elections.

What's more, in the surrounding regions, Bush has shown himself to be exactly the type of realist he supposedly derides. Hamas won elections in Palestine and he immediately tried to undermine them. Egypt held sham elections and got nothing more than a bit of mild tut tutting. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia remain our closest allies.

And now this. A man who is supposedly passionate about democracy can't rouse himself to bother funding it. Instead the money is going into security.

These decisions may or may not be defensible, but they are plainly not the decisions of a man dedicated to spreading democracy -- and the fact that he repeatedly says otherwise doesn't change this. So once and for all, can we please stop hearing about democracy promotion as a central goal of the Bush administration? It's just a slogan and nothing more.

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