City of Brass

City of Brass

democracy promotion and liberal interventionism

Further to the debate at Talk Islam earlier, I think that it is critical that the broader foreign policy principle of democracy promotion not be discredited by the imperialism-lite of the neoconservative movement.Liberal interventionism is not a purely military effort, but is the “smart power” to which Sec. Clinton referred. The ongoing war in Iraq and the Afghanistan campaign fail to meet the “smart power” test, and can not be characterized as liberal interventions, because they were done with military power as the priority, were mostly unilateral instead of being implemented via a broad coalition of allies, employed aerial bombardment that results in massive collateral damage, and have been riddled with strategic errors in their execution. For all these reasons, the actual promotion of democracy has been hampered, though not prevented outright.


It is important to understand just what “democracy promotion” means, so that in debates (such as the one at Talk Islam) the term can not be misunderstood as being equivalent to the foreign policy of the past eight years alone, but rather seen as a broad umbrella of varying policies. Via the indispensable POMED Wire, there is a very useful overview of all the issues relating to democracy promotion, written by Robert McMahon of the Council on Foreign Relations. POMED summarizes it as follows:

McMahon compiles recommendations from Republican, Democratic, and
nonpartisan foreign policy experts that suggest a shift away from
Bush’s freedom agenda. Recommendations include drawing a distinction
between democracy promotion and regime change, establishing more modest
goals and taking a more realistic approach to democracy promotion in
the Middle East, improving coordination on democracy promotion across
U.S. agencies, increasing involvement with multilateral organizations
that deal with democracy, and emphasizing governance and rule of law
over elections in transitioning countries.


This is “smart power” indeed and I think makes a compelling counterargument to the accusation that Western liberal interventionism is akin to imperialism. It is well-worth a read (here).

Related – excellent opinion piece in the Guardian calling for an end to aerial bombardment. I would go further and argue that the logic of Just War demands that “collateral damage” not be minimized, but be outright forbidden, as a moral imperative.

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