Rice reflects on the state of democracy

BY DR. GLENN C. ALTSCHULER
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

A staunch supporter of Poland’s Solidarity Movement, Lane Kirkland, the head of the AFL-CIO, proclaimed in the 1980s that the transition to democracy “is not decided in the palaces of power but on the streets and in the workplaces.”

If civil society – labor unions, courts, health care services, a free press – is “already well developed,” adds Condoleezza Rice, the scaffolding of democracy will be stronger.

In “Democracy,’’ Rice, who is now a professor at Stanford University, draws on her scholarly expertise and her experiences as George W. Bush’s national security adviser and secretary of state to examine the challenges faced by dozens of countries which are trying to build the infrastructure of democracy.

Global survey
Success, she maintains, depends on accepting the paradox of democracy: its genius rests on its openness to change, but its stability comes from institutions that exercise restraint.

Rice’s lessons also include working with existing institutions; recognizing that “first presidents matter”; the essential task of connecting with “the people”; and patience and persistence.

“Democracy’’ is a useful survey of “the state of play” in countries around the globe.

Tunisia, Rice reveals, relied on an independent labor movement, which was part of a coalition of civil society groups, and a new political party backed by allies of the old regime, to help prevent its Islamic group, the Ennahada, from dominating (as the Muslim Brotherhood did in Egypt).

In Kenya, Rice indicates, the constitution of 2010 may help the fragile democracy stay on course.

Then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, center right, stands with female members of the Afghanistan military during a visit to the Pakistan Air Force base in Chaklala, Pakistan, on Oct. 12, 2005.
(COURTESY OF TIMOTHY SMITH/US NAVY NEWS/TNS)

Unwieldy, uneven
Informative though it is, however, “Democracy’’ is unwieldy and uneven. Rice’s first chapter “on the long transition” to democracy of the United States is at times simplistic and not all that relevant to 21st-century champions of democracy.

Rice’s discussion of Iraq is, by turns, a defense of the policies of the Bush Administration and an attack on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for failing to supply sufficient U.S. forces to occupy the country and for disbanding the Iraqi Army instead of using it for reconstruction and security.

When Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated that (without getting Rumsfeld’s permission) he had asked a group to take a fresh look at Iraqi strategy, Rice tells us, she “wanted to jump up and hug him.”

Guidance lacking
Unfortunately, Rice does not offer all that much practical guidance to reformers who want to bolster civil institutions – or to policymakers in the United States. Her conviction that circumstances in the transition to democracy differ dramatically from country to country, it seems, has deterred her from offering up best practices.

Nonetheless, Rice might have explained why the arrests and repression of protestors in Kenya did not keep them from returning to the streets. Or given examples of American foreign aid that was not siphoned off to corrupt officials. Or specified how a free trade agreement with the United States advanced Columbia’s “journey from civil war to democratic security.” Or indicated why she’s convinced that President Obama’s withdrawal of American troops from Iraq derailed a country that “was on its way to a better future.”

‘Good for the world’
Rice’s irrepressible optimism is admirable.

Citing a Freedom House study that deemed 145 out of 195 countries as either “free” or “partly free,” she concludes that the spread of democracy “through most” of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and the emergence of free countries in Eastern Europe has “been good for the world…a reason for celebration even if there have been setbacks and reversals along the way.”

Readers may suspect, as I do, however, that the philosophy of this consummate diplomat could actually be “pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will.”

Dr. Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He wrote this review for the Florida Courier.

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