Monitor Board of Contributors: Democracy’s tragic strategic lapse
Ukrainian Maria, 23, right, and Vanui, 22, hold posters against Russia's military intervention in Crimea, in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Russia's parliament approved a motion to use the country's military in Ukraine after a request from President Vladimir Putin as protests in Russian-speaking cities turned violent Saturday, sparking fears of a wide-scale invasion. The poster in the right side reads in Ukrainian: "I am from Russia, please protect me and remove the weapons and soldiers from Ukraine." (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A woman passes by a barricade in a street heading to Kiev's Independence Square, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Relieved investors sent stocks sharply higher Tuesday after Russia pulled troops back from the border of Ukraine. The rally erased steep losses from Monday caused by fears an escalating conflict. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Pro Russian soldiers guarding Ukraine's infantry base in Perevalne, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Tensions remained high in the strategic Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea with troops loyal to Moscow firing warning shots to ward off protesting Ukrainian soldiers. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
A Ukrainian man wearing camouflage uniform yawns as he asks for donations to support the Ukrainian military with the slogan on box reading "collecting money for Cossacks' needs", at Kiev's Independence Square, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Vladimir Putin ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine's border to return to their bases as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was on his way to Kiev. Tensions remained high in the strategic Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea as troops loyal to Moscow fired warning shots to ward off protesting Ukrainian soldiers. Cossacks were originally a 14th century military force predominantly living in Ukraine and southern Russia. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
FILE - In a Sunday, June 24, 2012 file photo, Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh waves the Palestinian and Egyptian flags during celebrations of the victory of Mohammed Morsi in the Egyptian presidential elections, in Gaza City. An Egyptian court ruled on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 to ban activities of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Egypt in a move likely to fuel tension between Cairo's military-backed government and the Islamic group that rules the neighboring Gaza Strip. Egypt's interim leaders maintain that Hamas is playing a key role in the insurgency by militants in the northern region of the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Hamas-ruled Gaza and Israel. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa, File)
A gas mask lies among other debris at a barricade where Secretary of State John Kerry was visiting, Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at the Shrine of the Fallen in Kiev, Ukraine. The Shrine of the Fallen, located on Institutska Street, honors the fallen Heroes of the "Heavenly Sotnya" (Hundred). Over the course of the EuroMaidan protests, almost 100 protesters were killed by police. (AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque, Pool)
Ukrainian soldiers, left watch as a Russian soldier guards the gate of an infantry base in Perevalne, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow reserves the right to use all means to protect Russians in Ukraine as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was on his way to Kiev. Tensions remained high in the strategic Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea with troops loyal to Moscow firing warning shots to ward off protesting Ukrainian soldiers. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
It has happened over and over again since the end of the Cold War. Nascent movements for democracy have arisen all over the world in response to people bravely rebelling against autocratic regimes and striving for freedom, only to have their dreams crushed by the quick return of demagogues, the over-reaching of fragile electoral majorities, the resurgence of tribalism, the corruption of markets by oligarchs, leading to the return to power of autocratic regimes, whether by elections or by coups. It has happened in post-Soviet Eastern Europe – look at the Ukraine – in Iraq, Egypt and Libya, in a number of African countries and perhaps most fatefully in Russia itself.
Populations turn to strongmen when these young democracies fail to guarantee a level of good government, including a measure of order and stability, that their revolutions have promised. Voters find that elections are easily subverted by naive and power-hungry leaders. Power vacuums lead to power grabs by precisely those kinds of leaders that those hopeful, color-coded “revolutions” had sought to depose.
As Steven Erlanger of the New York Times put it, in a recent article on the fragility of the new Ukrainian government, “Whether Egypt or Libya, post-Soviet Georgia or Ukraine itself a decade ago, recent history is littered with failed or broken dreams of new democratic beginnings. The forces of the old order retreat, regroup and capitalize on the instability or inefficiency of the new.”
History tells us that people will cede their freedoms to those who offer security, as in Egypt, and will refrain from more than symbolic protest when even blatantly manipulative and corrupt autocrats offer them some level of economic stability, as in Russia.
Much, if not all, of this might have been prevented. What has been tragically lacking is a highly regarded international body, something like an “Emerging Democracies Foundation” – equivalent to the International Monetary Fund but focused on good government and supported in similar fashion to the IMF by established democracies. This foundation would provide highly skilled cadres of technical and political experts to help guide new democracies to a firmer footing.
Imagine what might have happened in the Ukraine, after the earlier “Orange Revolution,” if such a team of experts had guided Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko to avoid making the kinds of preventable political mistakes that lost them popular support within a few years and led to the return of the very Viktor Yanukovych whom the protesters of Kiev have had to throw out once again.
Imagine a different fate for Mohammed Morsi’s democratically elected government in Egypt, if a similar high-profile team of experts had helped offset the pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood to turn a slim electoral majority into a religiously driven takeover. Imagine where Libya might be today if such a team had been invited in to assist that country after the overthrow of Ghaddafi.
Imagine if such a cadre had intervened at the time of the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, to help prevent the misguided Shia-biased policies that have led to a revival of militant Sunni insurgents. Imagine if such a well-regarded foundation stood ready to assist in Syria’s transition, to blunt fears that only extremists will run the show.
Under the nominal leadership of someone of great stature – such as the late Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi –an Emerging Democracies Foundation cadre of experts would have maximum impact at the very beginning of the post-revolutionary period, before the euphoria of liberation had worn off and factionalist, robber baron or tribalist influences were allowed to fill the political void. By funneling financial aid through such a foundation, even greater international pressure could be brought to bear without raising the same nationalist backlash against individual Western governments. By threatening to withdraw both technical and financial assistance if their advice were brusquely ignored, these cadres would at very least signal to the world that a new democracy was in crisis and could generate vital cautionary influences, both within the country and internationally.
Of course, there is no guarantee that headstrong new “democratic” leaders would heed the advice of an Emerging Democracies Foundation team. But look at the affect that the IMF has had all over the world, where governments feel compelled to follow what may be locally unpalatable economic advice.
Absent a high-profile, well-funded and politically unaligned group of advisers, new democracies have been left to sink or swim in the turbid waters of tribal, ethnic or regional passions.
Those of us who advocate for the spread of democratic government all over the world are left to shake our heads at the loss of opportunity. Those of us who wish to see America turn away from fighting wars in tribal regions and reassert a role as champions of liberty are dismayed at our inability to invest a fraction of our war budgets to support fragile democratic movements.
(Robert L. Fried of Concord recently retired as director of the Upper Valley Educators Institute in Lebanon. He is the author of “The Passionate Teacher” and “The Game of School.”)