Con­doleeza Rice wor­ries about the fu­ture of democ­racy.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Twit­ter: @Car­losLozadaWP

Early this month, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son de­liv­ered a speech in which he sep­a­rated Amer­i­can val­ues from Amer­i­can in­ter­ests. Even though val­ues — in par­tic­u­lar, U.S. sup­port for free­dom and hu­man rights — are “con­stant,” he as­sured, there will be times when over­rid­ing eco­nomic or se­cu­rity in­ter­ests dic­tate that we set such val­ues aside, or at least that we not make such a fuss over them “in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion.” Essen­tially, the United States has de­clared that it will stand for lib­erty only when the costs of do­ing so are suf­fi­ciently low.

Among Tiller­son’s in­flu­en­tial back­ers is for­mer sec­re­tary of state Con­doleezza Rice, who en­dorsed the one­time ExxonMo­bil chief ex­ec­u­tive for his new gig. So it is a de­li­ciously awk­ward bit of tim­ing that just days af­ter Tiller­son’s speech, Rice has re­leased a 500page book im­plic­itly re­pu­di­at­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “Amer­ica first” world­view, and warn­ing against the per­ni­cious ef­fects of pop­ulism, na­tivism, pro­tec­tion­ism and iso­la­tion­ism, dub­bing them “the Four Horse­men of the Apoca­lypse.”

Rice wor­ries that the ad­vance of na­tion­al­ism in the United States and else­where could up­end the in­ter­na­tional or­der that has sought to spread free­dom. “Democ­racy has gained ad­her­ents in the con­text of this global or­der,” she writes. “Can it con­tinue to do so if Amer­ica and oth­ers with­draw from the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the sys­tem they cre­ated? What will hap­pen to those who still seek lib­erty in a world told to go its own way? What be­comes of those still liv­ing in tyranny if we cease to tell oth­ers that democ­racy is a su­pe­rior form of gov­ern­ment and that its tenets are univer­sal?”

In a trav­el­ogue of sorts, Rice takes us to Rus­sia, Kenya, Colom­bia, Poland and Iraq, among other spots, and re­vis­its each coun­try’s demo­cratic strug­gles. She mixes re­al­ism and ide­al­ism; this is a book that gazes at the stars with its feet shack­led to the ground. “There is no more thrilling mo­ment,” she writes, “than when peo­ple fi­nally seize their rights and their lib­erty. That mo­ment is nec­es­sary, right, and in­evitable. It is also ter­ri­fy­ing and dis­rup­tive and chaotic.”

To tem­per that chaos, we have in­sti­tu­tions, and Rice is noth­ing if not an in­sti­tu­tion­al­ist. Democ­ra­cies en­dure when they strike a bal­ance be­tween cen­tral and re­gional au­thor­ity; be­tween civil­ian and mil­i­tary leadership; be­tween the state and civil so­ci­ety; and, of course, among the leg­isla­tive, ju­di­cial and ex­ec­u­tive arms of gov­ern­ment. “In func­tion­ing democ­ra­cies,” Rice writes, “in­sti­tu­tions are in­vested with pro­tect­ing that equilib­rium.”

A free press. The rule of law. A vi­brant pri­vate sec­tor. Reg­u­lar and fair elec­tions. In the na­tions she con­sid­ers, such in­sti­tu­tions are not al­ways present, or when they are, they’re rarely strong enough.

In early post-Soviet Rus­sia, Rice ar­gues, “the abrupt shift to cap­i­tal­ism out­paced the es­tab­lish­ment of rule of law and in­sti­tu­tions that could reg­u­late against its ex­cesses.” When Boris Yeltsin’s promis­ing gov­ern­ment de­gen­er­ated into oli­garchy, cor­rup­tion and er­ratic pres­i­den­tial be­hav­ior, it was not hard for Vladimir Putin to step in and con­cen­trate power, leav­ing the Rus­sian peo­ple with “no in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized way to ex­press their views,” Rice writes.

In Kenya and Colom­bia, solid in­sti­tu­tional frame­works strug­gled to as­sert them­selves against un­der­ly­ing so­cial di­vi­sions. Kenyan trib­al­ism over­pow­ered re­gional and party af­fil­i­a­tions, while Colom­bia’s demo­cratic tra­di­tions and prac­tices “were un­able to con­tain com­pet­ing in­ter­ests — ru­ral and ur­ban, rich and poor, so­cial lib­er­als and re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives,” Rice ex­plains.

And she warns that Poland, a demo­cratic suc­cess story for which she has “al­ways had a soft spot in my heart,” is veer­ing off course, with the il­lib­eral Law and Jus­tice Party un­der­cut­ting the ju­di­ciary and the news me­dia. “In Poland to­day, the resur­gence of deeply conservative so­cial at­ti­tudes, in­clud­ing re­li­gious piety, is clash­ing with evolv­ing and more lib­eral Euro­pean val­ues,” Rice writes. “Poland’s democ­racy is not likely to be de­stroyed by the cur­rent chal­lenges . . . . Yet the cur­rent cir­cum­stances in Poland re­mind us that democ­racy’s de­vel­op­ment is never a straight line.”

There is some­thing slightly tau­to­log­i­cal about the in­sti­tu­tional ar­gu­ment for democ­racy — if democ­racy sur­vives, it must be be­cause the in­sti­tu­tions were strong enough; if it crum­bles, clearly, the in­sti­tu­tions were too weak. A sim­i­lar logic per­vades de­vel­op­ment eco­nomics, with emerg­ing economies be­ing told that what they re­ally need for long-term growth is strong fis­cal in­sti­tu­tions, a proper reg­u­la­tory frame­work, clear prop­erty rights and other items on an end­less list of re­forms.

Yes, in­sti­tu­tions are vi­tal, but they can also feel like a catch-all ex­pla­na­tion.

Rice’s writ­ing style won’t send me to the streets in protest, but it doesn’t ex­actly in­spire free­dom from cliches, ei­ther. She is ob­sessed with “the nar­ra­tive” — iden­ti­fy­ing it, rewrit­ing it, seal­ing it — and in her tales of diplo­macy dur­ing the Ge­orge W. Bush years, ex­cite­ment is al­ways pal­pa­ble, tasks are al­ways un­en­vi­able, and words al­ways go un­minced. Some of her per­sonal rec­ol­lec­tions, such as an un­for­tu­nate Ukrainian cam­paign poster that read “Vote for us and you’ll never have to vote again,” are mem­o­rable. But many of them feel du­ti­ful, as though she were fill­ing in In­sert Anec­dote Here prompts in her man­u­script.

Rice de­votes her long­est chap­ter to the Mid­dle East, where she de­fends past con­tro­ver­sial po­si­tions and take the long view. She blames the Pen­tagon for com­mit­ting too few troops to se­cure Iraq af­ter the 2003 in­va­sion and slams en­voy Paul Bre­mer for dis­band­ing the Iraqi army, among other screw-ups of im­pe­rial life. Rice con­fines her own fail­ings to her role as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser dur­ing Bush’s first term, when the Pen­tagon and State Depart­ment of­ten clashed. “I felt that I had failed to wire the var­i­ous parts to­gether into a co­he­sive whole,” she writes. And she re­calls an in­fe­lic­i­tous re­mark dur­ing the 2006 Le­banon war — “We are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the birth pangs of a new Mid­dle East,” she said — that she now thinks was cor­rect. “The tu­mul­tuous events of the last decade have in­deed torn apart the map of the area and cast aside the pil­lars of the old or­der,” she writes. “A new Mid­dle East is emerg­ing through war, un­rest, rev­o­lu­tion — and in a few cases, re­form.”

Any dis­cus­sion of U.S. for­eign pol­icy prin­ci­ples should rec­og­nize that there have of­ten been gaps be­tween val­ues and in­ter­ests; Tiller­son may be merely ac­knowl­edg­ing that re­al­ity. And Rice has fallen short of high-minded rhetoric, as when she re­lied on le­galisms to de­fend en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques. But in diplo­macy, mes­sages mat­ter, and a speech Rice gave in Egypt early in Bush’s se­cond term pro­vides the sharpest con­trast with Tiller­son’s re­marks, es­pe­cially be­cause she up­holds lib­erty as a univer­sal value.

“For 60 years, my coun­try, the United States, pur­sued sta­bil­ity at the ex­pense of democ­racy in this re­gion here in the Mid­dle East — and we achieved nei­ther,” Rice de­clared. “Now we are tak­ing a dif­fer­ent course. We are sup­port­ing the demo­cratic as­pi­ra­tions of all peo­ple.” Again, Rice be­lieves that she will be proved right. “De­spite re­gional cir­cum­stances less fa­vor­able to­day than in 2005, I stand by that state­ment,” she writes. “A sta­ble Mid­dle East will one day have to be a demo­cratic Mid­dle East.”

When an early ver­sion of this book ar­rived, the cover fea­tured a note: “The epi­logue found in this gal­ley is cur­rently be­ing re­vised to in­clude anal­y­sis of events from af­ter the 2017 In­au­gu­ra­tion.” In the new epi­logue, Rice does not men­tion Pres­i­dent Trump by name — she refers only to Amer­ica’s “new pres­i­dent” — but she calls out those politi­cians who scape­goat im­mi­grants, stoke na­tion­al­ism and seek to tear down in­sti­tu­tions rather than work through them.

Even so, she de­cides, the no­tion that Amer­i­can democ­racy is threat­ened is “alarmist and pre­ma­ture.” It’s an in­trigu­ing con­clu­sion to a work ob­sessed with the in­sti­tu­tional ar­chi­tec­ture of democ­racy, es­pe­cially when Trump has been in­tent on dele­git­imiz­ing judges, jour­nal­ists and many norms of the of­fice he holds. Democ­racy was built to weather dis­rup­tions, Rice ar­gues, so per­haps we can trust that Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions — our “spirit of con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism,” as she puts it — are up to the chal­lenge.

But this book should give us pause. When mod­ern democ­ra­cies fal­ter, it is usu­ally “a story of ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity that is out­sized in com­par­i­son to other in­sti­tu­tions,” Rice ex­plains. And strong­men, she says, are sneakier than they used to be. “In to­day’s in­ter­con­nected world, the creep­ing and sub­tle au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism of il­lib­eral elected lead­ers is a greater threat to democ­racy than if they were to crush it with tanks in the city square.”

The story of the Trump pres­i­dency can feel like an epi­logue end­lessly rewrit­ten, never caught up. So I’m grate­ful that Rice made the ef­fort. But her ar­gu­ments and con­clu­sions don’t al­ways mesh. Per­haps it’s early for de­fin­i­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tions. Or maybe Rice’s words are just a lit­tle bit minced. Car­los Lozada is the non­fic­tion book critic of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

For­mer sec­re­tary of state Con­doleezza Rice warns in her new book about the dan­gers of pop­ulism and iso­la­tion­ism.

By Con­doleezza Rice. Twelve. 496 pp. $35.

DEMOC­RACY Sto­ries From the Long Road to Free­dom

Car­los Lozada

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.