Browsing articles from "November, 2009"
Nov 30, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Deafening silence on democracy

Jackson Diehl, Deputy Editorial Page Editor for the Washington Post, gives the Obama administration a well-deserved dressing down for failing to support democratic reformers in the Middle East. Diehl writes,

Regardless of what the president may have said in Cairo, Obama’s vision for the Middle East doesn’t include “a new beginning” in the old political order.

Supporting the status quo is a dangerous policy when it is likely to change (e.g., the Government of Iran is beating people in the streets, Mubarak is 82).  The US didn’t cause the Soviet Union to collapse, but supporting reformers made it far easier for the US to find friends when it did.  The Obama administration could also take a lesson from the Soviet era: the US was able to engage reformers and negotiate with the leadership at the same time.

Nov 30, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Obama needs a vision check

Politco’s Ben Smith has a good article on why Obama’s foreign policy of engagement lacks substance.  The money quote is from Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch:

Engagement is one of the most bloodless, uninspiring, and virtually meaningless concepts in American foreign policy. It’s just a process…you need both means and ends, and the means are often uninspiring and boring and plodding and bureaucratic, but the ends have to be inspiring to capture people’s imagination and win their support.

Michael Allen at Democracy Digest has more.

Nov 30, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

What is up with Switzerland?

1027-switzerland-minaretsSwiss voters have approved a referendum banning minarets.  So much for the theory that democracy and high levels of income generate tolerance.

Nov 29, 2009

Grumble and get on with it, OAS

The people of Honduras have voted for their government to get on about its business, and I hope this encourages the states of the OAS to do the same. If the citizenry of Honduras thinks the exercise was legitimate enough to participate in – and they did, with an estimated 60 to 70% turnout – then it will be difficult for Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, and other OAS members to explain why they are not honoring it. The best thing for everyone to do is accept this election – including Zelaya. Once he accepts that he has not won and will not win, he should put the interests of his country ahead of his own and withdraw his protest for the election.

There were certainly protests by expatriates supporting Zelaya and a small boycott at home, but they did not disrupt the process. Furthermore, Zelaya’s term is over, and these elections have been scheduled for some time. As long as observers certify that the election was free and fair, which they are likely to do even though the OAS refused to send a delegation, there is no reason for Honduras to continue to be such a prominent international issue. If this was a “constitutional” coup and the interim government was legitimate, than they have fulfilled their duties. If it was illegitimate, Honduras has gotten rid of it through the most democratic means possible, an election. While there are certainly some issues for Honduras to deal with to straighten out these legal issues, they do not require such intense diplomatic efforts by neighbors.

It is understandable for South American states to be touchy over the issue of military coups, since they have been so unlucky with them in the past. They are afraid Honduras will set a bad example. Yet the Honduran case was clearly not a power grab by the military. The military immediately stepped aside for the civilian government, which held elections as scheduled and has now turned power over to its opposition, which won the vote fair and square. The OAS can feel justified in having condemned what it saw as a coup, but now it needs to let Honduras move on.

Nov 29, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Grim political calculus on Afghanistan

President Obama is set to announce his new Afghanistan strategy on Tuesday and all indications are that he is going to ask for an increase in the number of troops. He is going to have a tough time selling his strategy. Obama’s overall public opinion rating is 49% approval to 47% disapproval. Not surprising, support breaks sharply along partisan lines with 82% of Democrats and 12% of Republicans approving of Obama’s performance, respectively. Support for the war in Afghanistan shows a similar split, with 47% of the country in favor of increasing the number of troops and 48% supporting a reduction in the number of troops or no change. 72% of Republicans are in favor of increasing the number of troops while only 29% of Democrats are in favor of this.  More troubling, 57% of Democrats would like to see a reduction in the number of troops. To add to this misery of political calculus, two-thirds of the country thinks the war is going badly.

By asking for more troops, Obama is taking two huge political risks. One, he risks alienating his strongest base of support, Democrats as they overwhelmingly favor a reduction in the number troops. Two, the group that most strongly supports the war, Republicans, has almost zero confidence in Obama. Thus, it is far from clear that general support for the war among Republicans will translate into actual support for Obama’s policy. And if the recent behavior of the Republicans in Congress and the Tea Party protests are any guide, Obama will probably not be able to rely on them for support. Good luck, Mr. President.

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

Email Subscription to D&S and Blog

* indicates required

Posts by Region

Posts by Topic

Switch to our mobile site