US Emphasis on New Democracies: Rhetoric and Reality

By David D. Newsom. David D. Newsom, former undersecretary of state, is Cumming Memorial Professor of International Affairs, University of Virginia. | The Christian Science Monitor, April 22, 1992 | Go to article overview

US Emphasis on New Democracies: Rhetoric and Reality


David D. Newsom. David D. Newsom, former undersecretary of state, is Cumming Memorial Professor of International Affairs, University of Virginia., The Christian Science Monitor


IN his first term of office, President Ronald Reagan adopted the global promotion of democracy as a main objective. His administration saw the theme as an alternative to the human rights emphasis of the Carter administration and a rhetorical weapon against the "evil" Soviet empire. The Bush White House continued this policy. However it is encountering some of the problems Jimmy Carter did in his human rights efforts: rhetoric unmatched by result, conflicting objectives, and charges of inconsistency.

President George Bush and his team benefit from the genuine march toward democracy in much of Latin America and in Eastern Europe and the international support that exists for this democratic resurgence. Congressional and public attention in the US, however, is on hard cases where progress seems hampered by economic problems, fears of extremism, and authoritarian regimes: Haiti, Peru, Algeria, and China.

In Haiti, the strong support by the US and the Organization of American States for the return of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has failed to produce results, and the rhetoric accompanying the efforts seems hollow. Emotions are heightened by the problem of refugees and Haiti's deplorable economic conditions.

In Peru, President Alberto Fujimori pleads that his actions in overturning democratic institutions are necessary to reduce the threats of terrorism and the power of the drug lords, an objective clearly in Washington's interest. Facing the agonizing choice between appearing to support the disruption of a democratic system or withdrawing help to a war against drugs, Washington has suspended military aid but kept Drug Enforcement Agency support. At best, the policy is a compromise.

In China, the administration has chosen to help Beijing by awarding Most Favored Nation status, despite the 1989 massacre of a democratic movement in Tiananmen Square. This, too, seems at variance with the emphasis Washington has placed on the development of democracy in the former Soviet Union.

Such decisions bring charges of inconsistency. Haitians supporting Aristide ask why the US took military action to restore a tribal monarchy in Kuwait but will not do so to reestablish democracy in Haiti. …

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