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Experts Discuss Global Democracy

Journalists, international policy experts and a former Bush administration official talk about the spread of democracy around the world and in particular President Bush's plans to promote democracy.

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    It's been one of the rhetorical themes of the Bush presidency: the spread of global democracy and freedom. It was the theme of the president's second inaugural address and remains at the center of his foreign policy.


    And I was impressed by the growing Vietnamese economy.


    Just two weeks ago, he told the visiting president of Vietnam — one of the world's more repressive dictatorships — that democracy is as important as new markets for trade.


    I also made it very clear that in order for relations to grow deeper, that it's important for our friends to have a strong commitment to human rights and freedom and democracy.


    Mr. Bush has also carried that message abroad, most recently on his trip to Europe.


    Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly.


    He spoke in Prague, in a country that made the transition from communism to democracy just 18 years ago.


    The most powerful weapon in the struggle against extremism is not bullets or bombs; it is the universal appeal of freedom. Freedom is the design of our maker and the longing of every soul. Freedom is the best way to unleash the creativity and economic potential of a nation. Freedom is the only ordering of a society that leads to justice. And human freedom is the only way to achieve human rights. Expanding freedom is more than a moral imperative; it is the only realistic way to protect our people in the long run.


    But in recent years, the spread of self government has been slow, stalled and even reversed in some countries, and, for the first time since the Cold War, from China to Russia to Venezuela, there are competing ideologies and systems proclaiming themselves in opposition to U.S.-style democracy.

    Freedom House, a nonpartisan group that tracks the progress of democracy around the globe, described the current situation as "stagnation." It said, "The year 2006 saw the emergence of a series of worrisome trends that together present potentially serious threats to the stability of new democracies, as well as obstacles to political reform in societies under authoritarian rule."

    And while three billion people, nearly half of the world's population, are now living in free societies, some of the recent setbacks have been glaring, especially in the Middle East, where President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a special target for spreading democracy.

    Palestinians held legislative elections in January 2006 that resulted in a Hamas victory that the U.S. and European Union refused to recognize. And after two weeks of civil war in Gaza, the Palestinian territories are now split into two, with Hamas controlling Gaza, and President Mahmoud Abbas in charge of the West Bank.

    In Iraq, several elections and referendums have produced an elected legislature, presidency, and constitution, but sectarian deadlock in government has been mirrored by armed conflict in the streets. In Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, the U.S.-backed monarchies and autocracies have done little or nothing to implement democratic reforms.

    And beyond the Mideast, the struggle over democracy continues. Just last week, the president of China again rejected multi-party democracy and said his country would forge its own forms of political expression.

    We now get four perspectives on U.S. efforts to promote democracy abroad. Nikolas Gvosdev is editor of the National Interest magazine, published by the Nixon Center in Washington. Lorne Craner is president of the International Republican Institute, which works on overseas elections and democracy projects on a nonpartisan basis. He served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor during President Bush's first term.

    Amr Hamzawy is an Egyptian political scientist and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. And Anne-Marie Slaughter is dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. She's also the author of "The Idea That is America." Ms. Slaughter and Mr. Craner are members of the State Department's advisory committee on democracy promotion.

    And, guests, as we mentioned earlier, the president began his second term sending out a call to the world, putting the world on notice that America was in the business of democracy promotion. It's been two-and-a-half years since that speech.

    Nikolas Gvosdev, what do you think?