David Rieff laments the disasters that U.S.-led democracy promotion has caused:

To put the matter even more pointedly, after all the harm the United States has done in the Arab Middle East over the course of the past decade—not least, the comparatively unremarked fact that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein seems to have led not to democracy but to a world-historical tragedy that will be remembered long after Saddam and Bush have become footnotes: the end of Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest loci of the faith—the only sensible thing to conclude is that in fact Washington is very bad at promoting democracy, and that, desirable as democracy doubtless is, its gift is not and therefore must not be asserted by influential policy intellectuals to be within America’s grace and favor.

As I’ve said recently, all we need to do is review the fruits of democracy promotion’s supposed successes around the world to understand that it makes no sense. If helping sectarianism, militia rule, and semi-authoritarianism to flourish under the guise of regular elections is successful democracy promotion, one would hate to imagine what complete failure looked like.

Rieff specifically challenges progressive advocates of democracy promotion:

Here we find ourselves lost deep in the dark forests of Fukuyamaland. Because once democracy becomes the default position of what nineteenth-century humanitarians called “the cause of humanity,” the political conversation is over, and the debate is demoted from whether—which should remain the real subject of the argument—to how. In this, [Rosa] Brooks is in the mainstream of the line of argument that liberals began to craft during the Bush years as an alternative to that Administration’s neoconservative Wilsonianism that sought a way not to throw out the global-democratic mission baby with the war-loving and American triumphalist bathwater.

Of course, it’s extremely difficult to disentangle the two, because the presumption that the U.S. should promote democracy around the world is itself part of the triumphalist delusion. Once one has accepted the necessity and rightness of the mission, all the bad old triumphalist habits re-emerge: the belief that “we” are on “the right side of history” (which validates whatever “we” do), the almost always unfounded expectation that democratization will advance U.S. influence and interests, and the often unstated conviction that any means that “we” use in the course of the mission are ultimately justified by the ends.