Toward a Community of Democracies

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 22, 2005 | Go to article overview

Toward a Community of Democracies


Byline: Alejandro Chafuen, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and delegates from 140 other countries met earlier this year in Santiago, Chile, to discuss international efforts to promote and strengthen democratic institutions.

Before we read too much into the "Community of Democracies" initiative, however, we should remember an important lesson: Such efforts are needed because many of the same governments represented at the diplomatic gathering restrict their citizens' freedoms. They give with one hand while taking away with another.

Founded in 1999 in President Clinton's second term, the little-known Community of Democracies forum initially had just 10 members: Chile, the Czech Republic, India, Korea, Mali, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, South Africa and the United States. Today, it has nearly as many members as the United Nations. But there's a notable difference: Despite the admirable U.N. Charter, even thugs and tyrants can claim seats at the world body, so long as they hold "legitimate" power. To join the Community of Democracies, leaders must hold more than power; they must at least endorse certain beliefs.

While the Community of Democracies is a worthwhile forum, and should be enthusiastically supported by the United States as part of its expanded global outreach effort, experience shows governments can only do so much. They can encourage and assist development of democratic institutions - open and transparent government, free elections, a free press, religious tolerance, competitive enterprise, and an independent "civil society" - but the heavy lifting must be done by the people.

Despite the sterling rhetoric we typically hear from national leaders, we know from history that governments are much better at erecting barriers than tearing them down.

The world norm are laws, regulations and red tape that impede commerce, restrict speech, shackle the press, and make it more difficult than necessary to earn a living. Indeed, throughout history, from the ancient Israelites' 40-year exodus from Egypt to the storming of the Bastille and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the story of democracy has been written by the people, not their governments.

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