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U.S. Security and Democracy Promotion Aren’t Linked

Paul Miller makes a dubious argument for the link between U.S. security and democracy around the world:

America should foster democracy abroad not because we are a missionary nation out to convert the world to our theory of justice, but out of a stone-cold calculation that democracy is the cheapest way to keep the peace.

This would be a lot more compelling if the “stone-cold calculation” were correct. The missionary case for democracy promotion may be dangerous and wrongheaded, but at least it is based on the intelligible assumption that these are values and institutions that should be spread for their own sake. The idea that we make ourselves more secure by doing this is misdirection designed to persuade Americans that we gain something from promoting democracy overseas, but the truth is that we don’t. Theoretically, it could still be worth doing anyway, but Miller doesn’t make that argument. Besides, Miller’s argument depends on equating “fostering democracy” with the creation of constitutional, liberal democratic governments, when recent efforts at democracy promotion have created illiberal and semi-authoritarian regimes more often than not.

Miller also writes:

But I sense American voters are wary of sweeping claims about the goodness of democracy because it reminds them of what they feel was the oversell on democracy promotion by the Bush administration [bold mine-DL].

Let’s stop right there. Americans don’t just “feel” that the Bush administration oversold the virtues and benefits of democracy promotion. They know this for a fact because the administration did oversell it. When Bush said in his Second Inaugural that promoting self-government abroad “is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security,” he was talking nonsense. Repeating some version of this nonsense to the public isn’t going to persuade “Americans weary of the burdens of international leadership that it is worth the cost,” because it is all too easy for the public to see that the U.S. receives no real benefits from this.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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