Is It Time to Talk about Democracy Again?

 By Scott P. Cullinane, Center for Strategic Research

Two women after having voted.

Photo courtesy of Defense.mil

After 9/11 the United States support for democracy became a center piece of the counter-narrative strategy against Al-Qaeda and despotic regimes. 

However, because of differing definitions of democracy between the US and other countries the strategy went off track.  The US’s “Freedom Agenda” expressed the belief that citizens of pluralistic and democratic nations do not support terrorism or seek out Weapons of Mass Destruction. 

The US maintained that if people around the world were given the chance to vote they would pick leaders who were responsible, and who would uphold democratic ideals.   This precept was undercut by the 2006 Palestinian legislative election that was won by HAMAS. The election preceded the violent takeover of the Gaza strip in 2007 by HAMAS.  Due to the extremist and anti-Semitic nature of HAMAS, the US condemned the election results. This action made America look hypocritical and diminished the credibility of the freedom narrative.

Despite “elections” being held in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, American leaders have become wary of talking about freedom and democracy as they once did.   This is unfortunate because democracy is the foundation of America’s narrative and should not be abandoned. 

In Burma (Myanmar) the military junta is using so-called democracy to reinforce their power; Turkey just underwent a major debate about the nature of their democracy.  In many countries democracy is an immediate and vital political topic and America should not abrogate its leadership in this area. 

What America does need to do is to rephrase and better explain what is meant by “democracy.”   When American’s say “democracy”, they don’t just mean voting – they mean the freedoms and responsibilities that come with democracy.  They mean the involvement of interrelated and indispensable institutions, such as a free press, and a culture where the franchise is extended to all groups. Many nations and cultures misunderstand the connotations that are implied within the American lexicon.  

America would do better to articulate these points in its diplomatic and military engagements. If America can better explain this, our narrative of freedom would gain the traction and credibility it deserves.

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Filed under National Security Reform, Regional Studies, Strategic Studies

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