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The Democracy Promotion Paradox

By Lincoln A. Mitchell
The Democracy Promotion Paradox

The Democracy Promotion Paradox raises difficult but critically important issues by probing the numerous inconsistencies and paradoxes that lie at the heart of the theory and practice of democracy promotion. For example, the United States frequently crafts policies to promote democracy that rely on cooperation with undemocratic governments; democracy promoters view their work as minor yet also of critical importance to the United States and the countries where they work; and many who work in the field of democracy promotion have an incomplete understanding of democracy. Similarly, in the domestic political context, both left and right critiques of democracy promotion are internally inconsistent.

Lincoln A. Mitchell provides an overview of the origins of U.S. democracy promotion, analyzes its development and evolution over the last decades, and discusses how it came to be an unquestioned assumption at the core of U.S. foreign policy. His discussion of the bureaucratic logic that underlies democracy promotion offers important insights into how it can be adapted to remain effective. Mitchell also examines the future of democracy promotion in the context of evolving U.S. domestic policy and politics and in a changed global environment in which the United States is no longer the hegemon.

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Lincoln Mitchell is a scholar, writer, and practitioner of democracy promotion. He was formerly on the faculty of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and is currently the national political correspondent for the New York Observer. His previous books include Uncertain Democracy: U.S .Foreign Policy and Georgia’s Rose Revolution and The Color Revolutions.

Praise for The Democracy Promotion Paradox

The belief of American policymakers that they can make other countries more democratic, liberal, just—in short, more American—is founded not on experience, but on national character. The United States promotes democracy, Lincoln Mitchell says, "because we cannot help ourselves." Mitchell would know. He is a recovering democracy promoter, a skeptic (though not quite a cynic), a wise and witty guide to self-delusion, folly, and old-fashioned American optimism. The paradoxes at the heart of this important book describe not only a vexed policy but the burden of a superpower that desperately wishes to do good in the world.—James Traub, author, The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did)

Lincoln Mitchell, a deeply knowledgeable veteran of democracy promotion efforts abroad, surveys with a gimlet eye the track record and contradictions of America's democratizing mission. Foreseeing a hard uphill climb, this admirable realist counsels a strategic approach that concentrates limited resources on situations and methods that will yield the greatest payoff.—Jack Snyder, Professor of International Relations, Columbia University, and coauthor, Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War

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