DEMOCRACY: The case for transatlantic partnership
Joshua Muravchik

Speech delivered at the Transatlantic Democracy Network Conference on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 in Brussels, Belgium. The conference was a joint initiative of Freedom House, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Following the elections in January 2005 in Palestine and Iraq and this spring`s Cedar revolution forcing Syria`s military withdrawal from Lebanon, the entire Middle East - which slept through the first thirty years of democracy`s `third wave` - is bubbling with political ferment. To some degree this has been stoked by American actions: the overthrow of Saddam, the insistence on the reform of the Palestinian authority, and President Bush`s pro-democracy rhetoric. And yet, ironically, although these policies have begun to achieve their intended results, they have also driven US popularity in the region to a nadir. There is great anger over the US invasion of Iraq and America`s support for Israel. And Bush`s rhetoric is often written off in light Washington`s history of supporting the regional status quo. America`s unpopularity is exploited by the incumbent dictators who fan the flames of anti-Americanism to deflect popular discontent and to shield themselves from US pressure.

The bogeyman of `outside interference` is familiar to Americans who remember how southern racists used to denounce civil rights workers as `outside agitators.` Globally, it has been invoked by Brezhnev and Pinochet and Milosevic and scores of other dictators struggling to fend off domestic pressures and foreign demands for observance of international obligations. Although the tactic is time-worn, it plays to bitter memories in the Arab world of colonial occupation and to a historical legacy of competition between the world of Islam and Christianity.

This has not prevented Washington from continuing to press the region`s regimes for reform and liberalization. But that is only half of what is needed. The work of outsiders in promoting democracy and human rights is always two-pronged. One prong is to pressure the regimes. The other prong, often more important, is to lend support, moral and material, to the indigenous democrats, human rights groups, and other elements of civil society.

It is this second task that is effectively complicated by the regimes` campaigns against `outside interference` and by America`s current state of unpopularity. Washington`s ability to lend support to progressive forces in the region is compromised by the threat that by receiving American aid or even merely moral support, they will be branded `US agents.` This is a charge that bites because with more than a hundred thousand troops in Iraq, the specter of US intervention in the region seems very palpable.

Thus, for example, the Egyptian government, although it has long been America`s closest ally in the Arab world, stokes anti-Americanism as a means of resisting US pressure. Washington leaned on Cairo to release Ayman Nour, the head of the new al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, from jail. But at the same time the Egyptian government used this pressure to portray Nour as America`s candidate in the hope of diminishing his appeal in the coming presidential race. Similarly, when the US embassy announced donations totaling $1 million divided among six civil society organizations, the government orchestrated a fierce campaign against the six, featuring crude newspaper cartoons showing the groups as puppets dangled by Uncle Sam. Egyptians say that these attacks have succeeded in damaging the recipients, notwithstanding the absurd hypocrisy of such attacks coming from a regime that pockets $2 billion annually in US aid.

In the early years of the Cold War, Washington used subterfuge to funnel aid to progressive civil society groups while avoiding their being tainted by accusations of being American agents. Funds were channeled through dummy philanthropies set up by the CIA. But these covert methods were exposed in the 1970s, and the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Aid to foreign democrats must be out in the open. How then can America provide support to liberals and civil society in the Middle East at this moment when it holds the potential to be so effective in tipping the region toward democracy?

The answer is that America cannot do this effectively alone. It must do it in partnership with the other democracies. The way to foil the regimes that raise the specter of outside interference is to coordinate democracy aid among a consortium of democracies. It will be far harder for regimes to stigmatize domestic groups for taking aid from a consortium of democracies than for taking aid from America or even from Britain or France, which are former colonizers of the region. If regimes denounce local groups for accepting aid from such a consortium they run the risk that the denunciations will backfire because the very nature of the consortium will underline the democratic principles at stake. It will make less plausible any claim that this is a matter of neo-colonialism.

If America`s interest in such cooperation is apparent, what is the European interest? First, the principles at stake are no less dear to Europe than to America. Although their diplomatic styles are different, Europeans cherish democracy and human rights no less than Americans. Although most Europeans disagreed strongly with the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq, they have welcomed recent progress in the region. And although European governments are usually more reluctant than is Washington to openly confront Third World dictators, the practice of giving aid to civil society and to democratic groups is something that Europeans have long practiced, for example in the work of the German party stiftungen.

Second, this issue is one that cries out for European leadership. One of the things that has long irked Europeans in the Atlantic partnership is that America has usually insisted on leading in a way that made its partners feel that they had too little voice in shaping the policy. Because of America`s poor image in the Arab world, the project of supporting the region`s democrats is one on which Europeans can lead and America follow. Supporting democrats is not an exact science, and any differences about how to do it or which groups to support are likely to be of little importance. It will be valuable to have a non-American face on this activity. Washington can afford to take a back seat.

Perhaps the Europeans can do this themselves. Why should they carry the luggage of America`s bad image? The answer is first that America brings a lot of resources to the table. But beyond that, such a consortium would lack credibility if the Americans were missing. As unpopular as America is in the region now, still there is an ambivalence toward the US. It is seen as an important force in the region. It is respected, to some extent even feared. For forces in the region to have American support carries some positive as well as negative implications. The goal of Western democrats should be to leverage the positive while diminishing the negative.

Such cooperation holds great potential for helping to heal the rifts that have opened in the Atlantic alliance over the war in Iraq and other issues. Policy toward the Middle East has been a prime source of friction within the alliance. Cooperation for democratization could be a basis of renewed comity. The Franco-American partnership in restoring Lebanon`s independence could be just a first step. What better issue could there be for reminding both Americans and Europeans of the profound principles we hold in common and also of the power of those principles to be deployed against dangers-once Communism, today terrorism and Islamic fanaticism -- that menace us all.

Ideally, a democratic consortium to support democratization of the Middle East should reach beyond the Atlantic to include Japan and other democracies. In the long run such activity might be the natural calling of the Community of Democracies. But to this point, the Community has not been sufficiently organized, and events in the Middle East cannot wait for it. In its current form, the Community it is not a wieldy instrument. For now, a consortium to aid Middle Eastern democrats should begin as an Atlantic project but should solicit participation by other key democratic states.

Such a consortium can help Middle Eastern people achieve their aspirations for political freedom. It can thereby diminish the appeal of violent fanatics in that region. And it can refresh the alliance that has seen the great democracies through so many dark moments. The need for it is urgent, the potential benefits immense.

Joshua Muravchik is a resident scholar of The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research ( He is the author of Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism.