In the 1990s, Western supported and funded democracy assistance programs, including support for civil society and rule of law, technical assistance to political parties and legislatures, and election monitoring to ensure free, fair and democratic elections, played an important role in the expansion of democracy throughout much the former Communist block, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. Over recent decades these tools have been integrated into the foreign policy apparatus of the West, but a funny thing happened on the way to the agora: The environment changed and the programs did not. - See more at: http://www.the-american-interest.com/article.cfm?piece=1421#sthash.3dkmdOrk.dpuf
With regards to North Africa, western democracy assistance proved to be a minor player in the recent breakthroughs. Although democracy assistance organizations were active in Egypt and elsewhere in the months and years leading up to the Arab Spring, support for these organizations was outweighed by such a substantial degree by western support for the authoritarian regimes, that the west, and the U.S. in particular, has been broadly viewed in the region, probably accurately, as being responsible for keeping the old regime in place for so long rather than for helping accelerate its downfall.
It is still too early to know whether or not the extraordinary events earlier this year in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in North Africa will lead to meaningful and enduring advances for democracy, but the resignations of Hosni Mubarak and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and the threats to the leadership other autocrats in the region have not been lost on authoritarian and semi-authoritarian leaders seeking to remain in power in other parts of the world.
The Obama administration is behind the curve and sounds strangely out of it with regards to the developing situation in Egypt. Although this is not altogether surprising, it is still disappointing. The U.S. policy towards Egypt, as well as other countries in that region — essentially providing financial and other support to non-democratic leaders in exchange for some stability and cooperation on some security related interests — was always a short term strategy which could never last for very long. In fairness to the administration, this policy has been a bipartisan problem which has gone on for decades, but, it has exploded now during the Obama administration’s watch.
While civil society advocates all over the world should be happy to see Ben Ali and Mubarak depart from power, celebrating recent events in North Africa as a democratic breakthrough is premature. There is still a lot of hard work to be done. For the United States, viewed as the deus ex machina in the Color Revolutions and as the dictators’ patron in North Africa, the challenge will be to find a way to become part of this process, and to become relevant to political development in post-Mubarak Egypt and post-Ben Ali Tunisia.
The Belarusian regime has already resorted to violence and repressive measures, arresting presidential candidates and numerous activists, cracking down on demonstrations and beating demonstrators. In this regard the Lukashenka regime is significantly different than the regimes in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan in 2003-2005 who were all either unwilling or unable to use violence to crackdown on demonstrators. This suggests that if regime change occurs in Belarus, it will not be as peaceful as it was in these other countries.
Regardless of how events play out in Kyrgyzstan, it is now clear that US policy there in recent years has been misguided. The U.S. allowed itself to be manipulated into supporting a government that was not only corrupt and undemocratic but also weak and incompetent because of the strong need to have access to the Manas Air Force Base which is only a few miles from Bishkek. It is worth noting that the U.S. had to provide Bakiev thugocracy a contract worth roughly $180 million, in the form of loans, grants and contracts, all of which was looted by the ruling clique, in exchange for access to the base.
All of these events certainly had significant impacts on the world, or on part of the world, but focusing too much on how events like September 11th changed the world only tells one side of the story. This is exacerbated by a media and punditry that focuses often overstate the impact of political events. The other side of the story, that even world changing events are usually as much about continuity as change, does not get as much attention, but is also important. Ignoring this continuity, or focusing on the changes to a degree that precludes and understanding of the continuity is a mistake.
In other words, maybe the Orange Revolution never really happened at all. Obviously, the events on Kiev’s Maidan in late 2004 happened, leading to Yuschenko’s becoming president, but it is possible that in the excitement of the moment, too much was read into these events. The victory in December of 2004 by a former prime minister under Leonid Kuchma over Kuchma’s sitting prime minister may simply not have been the pivotal and revolutionary moment which it looked like at the time. Rather, it may have been another stage in Ukraine’s continuous path from Soviet republic to something else.
Speculation about who will win the election, and how that person will govern, can overshadow the democratic advances Ukraine has made since the Orange Revolution of 2004, particularly when contrasted with Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, the other two post-Soviet countries to have Color Revolutions in the last decade. All three Color Revolutions were, at the time they occurred, hailed as democratic advances, but Ukraine is the only one of the three countries that can accurately be said to have experienced greater democratization since those dramatic events. According to Freedom House, for example, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan have the same level of democracy as they did before the Rose and Tulip Revolutions, while Ukraine has become more democratic that it was before the Orange Revolution.
When this decade, which is now only a few days old ends, we will almost certainly be confronting foreign policy challenges that are hard to foresee right now. In January of 2000 few would have foreseen that a terrorist attack on the U.S. would so radically reorient and drive our foreign policy for most of the decade or that we would spend most of the decade embroiled in a seemingly endless war in Iraq. However, it is likely that some of the foreign policy issues confronting the U.S. now will not go away and will remain confounding problems throughout the decade. Some issues such as the problem of combating terrorism or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will remain, but may take very different forms over the course of the decade. These five are likely to remain substantially unchanged over the next ten years.