Jennifer Rubin asks:
It is a moment, as in the Carter administration, when it is critical for conservative thinkers to, well, do some thinking and rethinking. What have we learned from the Arab Spring, the successful democratization of chunks of Central and South America, and China’s dubious undertaking to increase economic liberty while quashing political freedom?
If it is so critical for conservatives to revisit assumptions and “rethink” things, it is telling that Rubin doesn’t do any of that. She poses these questions, but doesn’t directly answer any of them. Insofar as the popular uprisings in Arab countries over the last year and a half represent democratic political movements, it is evident that U.S.-backed democracy promotion has been mostly irrelevant to their development. The specific policies associated with the “freedom agenda” retarded their development for the better part of a decade. The Iraq war did the most damage to the reputation of democracy promotion.
Democratization in Latin America is a reminder that the U.S. isn’t always going to approve of or welcome the establishment of elected majoritarian governments, and democratization in developing nations is more likely to produce independent or even anti-American governments rather than reliable satellites. That is one reason why many American democratists take such a dim view of left-populist governments in Latin America. As the cases of Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador show, democratization is no guarantee of good government, and democratization can and does produce illiberalism and populist authoritarianism. The Chinese model of authoritarian state capitalism may not be sustainable over the long term, but up until now relative economic liberalization has not produced political liberalization, and it is probable that a Chinese middle class would be no more enamored of the results of democratization than their counterparts in other countries such as Thailand.