Democracy promotion is polluted by national interest
for Democracy was an idea THE SUMMIT developed Joe Biden who wanted to introduce the sharing of democratic values as a pillar of America’s foreign policy in reaction to Trump for whom democratic rule did not constitute a particularly important asset. The meeting is presumably intended to strengthen democratic institutions, promote the protection of human rights and support the struggle against corruption. If these are the goals, one would assume that those countries that are invited are either fully democratic or at minimum have a democratic system of government that they are interested in improving. But that seems not be fully the case. The imperatives of foreign policy have led the Americans to make exceptions such that some countries that could be considered as being “somewhat” democratic were not invited while others that can easily be classified as “not so democratic” were not snubbed, all depending on America’s judgement based on its national interest. In this way, invitation to the conference has developed into another instrument of American foreign policy that indicates whom they favor or cannot ignore and whom they are unhappy with and care less about.
The US has decided once again not to invite Turkiye to the online meeting of democracies. There is no question that Turkiye has slowly been slipping away from liberal democracy and is no longer classified as such by agencies that measure democratic performance. Yet, its government is determined and legitimized by elections. Since some other countries that are no different than Turkiye have been invited, one must conclude that Turkiye’s exclusion was deliberate, indicating that it is no longer valued as an integral partner in building an anti-Russia and China security community. In the long run, this may turn out to be a blessing in disguise but currently it is disturbing.
In its efforts to promote democracy, the US is ignoring that liberal democracies are facing major challenges even in lands where they are well established. The democratic consensus, i.e. the broad agreement that a society will solve its problems through competitive politics, is breaking down in many places. Populism, often manifesting itself as right-wing radicalism, is undermining the consensus under which democratic societies have been operating. The last example is Israel where the government whose policies have fallen prey to religious radicals allowed by a prime minister interested in saving himself from corruption charges, has proposed to reduce the independence of the judiciary and render it more responsive to the government’s preferences. Reducing the independence of the courts is hardly in harmony with democratic rule that is based on checks and balances, but that is the point: radicals do not want to be constrained by courts. Israeli society has been deeply divided on the issue. Extensive protests have forced Mr. Netanyahu to postpone the consideration of legal change. He has not given up on the project, however. Will Israeli democracy survive the anti-democratic challenge unscathed? It is too soon to tell.
Israel is not the only example. In Brazil the losing side tried to cling on to power by claiming that the results were manipulated and inviting the military to intervene. It failed, but it could have easily succeeded. And, of course, there is also a glorious example that our American friends are likely to overlook. Under Mr. Trump, the US lived through an experience where the democratic consensus for which America was well known appeared to be breaking down. Even before the presidential elections were held, Mr. Trump and his supporters began to argue that the election would be stolen. After he lost, without any evidence, his supporters became convinced that Biden was declared the victor although Trump had won the election. These manufactured truths led to an effort on the part of a motley crowd of right-wing organizations to attempt a takeover of the Capitol Building as the process of counting the votes of the members of the Electoral College were progressing. The attempt failed, but the perpetrator of it all, Mr. Trump is trying to make a comeback while some of his disciples have been working to achieve control of electoral boards in several states so as to be able to manipulate results.
The challenge of the breakdown of democratic consensus in established democracies is a more serious challenge to the survival and the sustenance of liberal democratic systems than the decline of the democratic performance of some states that were never fully established democracies in the first instance. If the US is truly interested in expanding the number of political democracies in the world, it might do better by trying to meet the challenges established democracies are facing before trying to enhance the chances of democracy in other societies. It would also help if promoting democratic governance is not polluted by imperatives of American foreign policy that invites some questionable “democracies” to the Summit for Democracy while excluding others that might be no less “questionable” but not to America’s liking. America’s democracy promotion, if sincere, should not be polluted by national interest.