Make Democracy Promotion Great Again
Why Trump Supporters should support Democracy Promotion and oppose President Trump’s cuts to USAID democracy and governance spending.
In his recent budget proposal to Congress, President Trump announced his intention to increase spending for the US military by $52 billion, while cutting spending for the State Department and USAID by 37%. Also included in the budget cuts are USAID spending on Democracy and Governance Programs and the State Departments Department of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, two programs that play a significant role in American democracy promotion. Understandably, Donald Trump is most likely partial to the “Peace through Strength” doctrine and, moreover, with all the ongoing leaks, he is likely suspicious of the liberal politics of those who are drawn to the field of diplomacy and development.
This is a mistake. America’s programs for democracy promotion are among the most cost-effective policies America has for building stronger partnerships with our allies and creating new friends from among old enemies. They are cheaper, less time consuming and less resource demanding than armed military intervention in the name of regime change, such as Mission Iraqi Freedom. Even more significantly, democracy promotion is a conservative policy established by Ronald Reagan himself and championed by President George W. Bush.
When compared to the use of armed intervention, democracy promotion is by far the better strategy. In 2003, the United States both began its long war in Iraq, as well as expanded its program of democracy promotion in Georgia. Both states up to that point were ruled by authoritarian regimes — Saddam Hussein had ruled Iraq for 24 years, while Eduard Shevardnadze was increasingly limiting civil rights in Georgia. While Iraq suffered from a separatist movement in Kurdistan and a sectarian division between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, Georgia was beset by the Abkhazian and Ossetian independence movements. Lastly, both countries harbored large populations sympathetic to Iran and Russia, two of America’s long-term geopolitical rivals. However, after 14 years, the armed intervention in Iraq has led to the current disaster of Da-esh and the neutral regime of Haider Al-Abadi. Meanwhile, Georgia is an eager advocate for NATO, most often votes with the United States out of all the member nations in the UN General Assembly and is the largest per-capita contributor of troops to America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What did it cost the United States to create a quagmire in Iraq and a close bilateral partner in Georgia? According to a Reuters report from 2013, the Iraq intervention cost taxpayers $1.7 trillion. According to explorer.usaid.gov, from 2003 to 2016, the US government spent $590 million on Democracy and Governance aid to Georgia across all government agencies. That is a little more than three ten-thousandths, (.03%) of the money devoted to the war in Iraq. Even when democracy aid to Georgia includes the amounts since the start Bill Clinton’s presidency, the US only spent $690 million in Georgia.
Creating and Strengthening Partnerships
Unlike the military’s track record at creating new American friends, American democracy promotion programs have been critical in creating new allies and strengthening old partnerships. As with aforementioned aid to Georgia, US spending on democracy assistance to other post-Soviet states have created American friends even in Russia’s backyard. According to Maija Paasiaro in the Central Asian Survey, American democracy promoters were critical in coordinating the efforts of protesters, civil society and politicians in the color revolutions in Ukraine, Moldova, and Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan’s Manas Air Force base was critical to supplying American troops in Afghanistan. As an “island of democracy” in Central Asia, it is the only country in the region poised to elect a new President in free and fair elections.
Democracy aid from USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy were also critical in ousting the authoritarian regimes of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Chun Do-Hwan in South Korea. Both countries contribute significant numbers of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq and oppose America’s rival, China.
The Conservative Origins of Democracy Promotion
Democracy promotion boasts not only cost-effectiveness and success, but also conservative credentials. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced the policy of democracy building in a speech to the House of Commons in London. In response to the growing crises of dictatorships arising in recently decolonized countries, Mr. Reagan posited the following solution: “to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.” After his speech, the US Congress established the National Endowment for Democracy and its four core institutions: The International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the Center for Private Enterprise and the Solidarity Center — one each for the four pillars of American society, (Republicans, Democrats, Business and Labor).
Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, the NED and later USAID, have quietly worked with politicians and citizens around the world. Democracy promoters teach critical skills that are already familiar to the common American political consultant: fundraising, voter targeting, messaging, speechwriting and much more. George W. Bush championed this approach just in time to support the Color Revolutions, while Barack Obama, who wanted “to nation-build here at home”, cut spending for democracy promoting programs.
Make Democracy Promotion Great Again
Despite the evidence presented here, democracy around the world is under threat, and not because of Donald Trump’s election as some Progressives allege. Ukraine is mired in civil war, South Korea just impeached its President, President Duterte of the Philippines is the most pro-Chinese president in Philippine history. America’s foes are rolling back American gains at precisely the moment our new American president wants to turn his back on the world and make “America First”.
Ronald Reagan, once said “Expanding contacts across borders and permitting free interchange of information and ideas increases confidence, while sealing off one’s people from the rest of the world reduces it”. If Donald Trump and his supporters desire to increase American confidence and rejuvenate the American spirit, they must follow the guiding principles of those first immigrants to the Americas and re-make our nation into a “city on a hill”. Increase spending on democracy building programs and show the world that the best things about America are not guns, jets and bombs, but free elections, the rule of law, and those inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This article originally published on our website, www.thedecembrist.com