Condoleezza and Democracy
LE MONDE | 10.02.05 | 15h07
On Tuesday 8 February, Condoleezza Rice chose the tone of dolcezza, the Italian musical directive for which her parents named her, to mark her address at Sciences-Po. Transatlantic reconciliation, cooperation, a new chapter in Franco-American relations, forgive and forget. The tone is a far cry from the martellato directive with which she delivered her speech of April 2003: Forgive Russia, ignore Germany and punish France.
And yet the past and the rebuke coupled with it were not entirely absent from her speech, which was sweeter than ever before. Its central theme--establishment of a transatlantic partnership based on shared values to promote democracy--somehow sounded like a backhanded compliment handed to France. The toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein, the massive voter turnout, braving bullets and bombs—is that really what France wished to prevent in 2003?
It would be unfair to dwell on only one aspect of Condi’s speech because the Secretary of State did raise some genuine questions. Concerning principals, she reminded her audience that the United States and France, more than any other pair of nations, directly share the principals of liberty and the universality of democracy bequeathed by Enlightenment. One may disagree with the methods employed by the Bush Administration but it remains that the Neoconservative credo, according to which democracy exists for all peoples and for all faiths, is also a French belief. And we share the same enemies: The face of terrorism in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, called democracy `an evil principle. To our enemies, Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité are also evil principles.
To be frank, the speech by Condi Rice and the inaugural address of President Bush on 20 January do no constitute realistic foreign policy aims. The geopolitical and strategic interests of the United States will always hamper the cause of democracy. Yes, America must apply pressure on its non-democratic allies, for example Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, in the fight against terrorism. France is not spared from the same dilemma: America’s dubious allies are also France’s dubious allies. France is very familiar with choosing lesser evil--for example, the compromises which France has made with its close friends, Tunisia and Egypt.
The real question is what are the best policies to promote the cause of freedom? Condi Rice has set out the American vision. But it is up to us Europeans, and perhaps especially to France, to clearly define a vision for the promotion of democracy which is in line with our ideals and effective in a transatlantic sense. Here are what I believe to be five worthwhile considerations.
First, should democracy be imposed from without, including by use of force? Or should we favor its taking hold from within, even if it means a long period of wait? Condi Rice emphasizes that the spread of democracy is an urgent task – she would have us believe that Saddam Hussein would still be torturing his people without US intervention. But at the same time, she says the natural pace of different societies should be respected and that democracy should come from within. She cites as an example the success of the Cold War. But the United States, as did Europe, favored containment and therefore the status quo. The Europeans themselves favored a policy of engagement, coercion and (often timid) conditions to transform regimes from within, with the inherent risk of having little to show.
This brings us to the second question. How does one avoid killing the messenger? Unlike the Soviet era, support lent by the United States to Middle Eastern dissidents, defenders of democracy or moderate Islamists does not strengthen their hand but diminishes their credibility in the eyes of the population. The USA is “radioactive” because people are suspicious of its intentions and critical of its methods. Does this mean that Europeans should ignore these dissidents and condemn them to their fate, put our ideals back in the box and merely whisper our desire for democratic change?
Third question: Do we have to proclaim democracy from the rooftops and make it the centerpiece of our foreign policy as the Americans do (Condi Rice want to it the organizing principal of the 21st century) and run the risk of looking like hypocrites? If George Bush and his Secretary of State can talk about freedom but never mention human rights in their speeches, does that mean that human rights are not applicable, especially to their own administration?—Which, by the way, frequently ignores them (cf. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, etc.).
In contrast Europe insists on the strength of example. Europe takes seriously the alliance of values which Condi Rice mentions. The advances of multilateralism and the law which Europe has fostered – for example, the International Criminal Court – and the impartiality and legitimacy which they confer, are part of a democracy-promoting policy.
Fourth consideration. The Americans believe that freedom is the key for stability, economic development and justice. But the Europeans believe that injustice makes freedom impossible. We see that in the Middle East every step forward in the peace process reinforces the moderates and each step backward reinforces the extremists, who will never bring about democracy. Justice is a condition for democracy and for economic prosperity. Extreme poverty, massive inequality and degradation of the ecosystem do not make a good home for democracy - as Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac said in Davos on 26 January - and European aid programs are necessary pillars for the promotion of liberty.
Fifth and most important, if the Europeans and the Americans wish to implement effective measures in promoting democracy, then they must agree on the priority of competing political objectives. Regime change in Iraq has turned back the clock the war on terror. American refusal to unequivocally back the European Union in its negotiations with Teheran for fear of legitimizing the mullahs risks making Iran even less democratic—and possessing nuclear warheads.
Last, how far is Condi Rice prepared to go – and where does Europe stand – on the terrain of democracy in Russia, where events are evolving in a worrisome manner, and above all in China?
Justin Vaïsse is a historian specializing in United States history. He teaches at the Institut d'études politiques in Paris.