Talking Sense: Guidelines for International Democracy Promotion

In this chapter from Democratic Responses to Terrorism (Routledge, 2007), Ted Piccone writes about democracy promotion as a goal of U.S. foreign policy, with a primary focus on the Islamic world. Piccone addresses and clarifies some assumptions about democracy promotion and offers guidelines for the future. In May 2008, Piccone joined the Brookings Institution as senior fellow and deputy director of Foreign Policy.


A vigorous debate is underway among foreign policy experts and democracy and human rights advocates in the United States on the ends and means of democracy promotion, especially in the Muslim world. It is taking place at a time of growing doubts about the historically bipartisan consensus on the goal of spreading democracy as an important aim of U.S. foreign policy. The debate has intensified due in part to the counterproductive way in which the Bush administration has pursued its “freedom agenda,” principally its decision to invade and occupy Iraq, as well as the alarming results of election in Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt where parties not friendly to the United States performed well. For some, the U.S. government’s approach has given democracy promotion a bad name and has made it even more difficult, practically speaking, for democratic reformers in the Arab world and elsewhere to work cooperatively with the United States government.

Given the controversial nature of the issue, it is worth reviewing some basic assumptions about the topic of international cooperation for democracy promotion in order to move beyond what should be non-controversial aspects of the subject. Then I will try to elaborate some guideposts that, given recent experience with democracy and human rights promotion, should inform the democracy promotion community as well as the larger national security establishment as the United States and its allies embrace the inherently difficult yet worthwhile task of promotion democracy around the world.