Wednesday, July 27, 2005

'Universal Democracy' Is the Goal As Congress Eyes New Legislation

Eli Lake, The NY Sun:
When senators return to Washington this September, they will be set to consider new legislation that would commit America to ending tyranny the world over.

Tucked inside the House version of a bill that authorizes spending on foreign aid is the language of what is known as the ADVANCE Democracy Act. The act instructs American ambassadors and embassy staffs to draw up democracy transition plans for unfree regimes, with input from nonviolent opposition movements in the various countries. While Congress has passed laws that require America to work with democratic opposition groups for specific countries - such as the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act - never before has it considered a law that would, as ADVANCE proposes, "commit United States foreign policy to the challenge of achieving universal democracy." READ MORE

A sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Tom Lantos, a Democrat of California, predicted that in the Senate the bill, sponsored there by Senator McCain, a Republican of Arizona, and Senator Lieberman, a Democrat of Connecticut, would not be opposed. "I don't think there will be any opposition in the Senate," he told The New York Sun.

A spokesman for Senator Biden, a Democrat of Delaware who is the most senior member of his party on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday said that he supported the bill. "We need a sign of readiness from chairman Lugar," the spokesman, Norm Kurz, said in reference to the Republican of Indiana. "Assuming that that is there, the assumption is the committee will take it up and begin working on it. It needs to be cleaned up a little bit." A spokesman for Senator Lugar did not offer a comment yesterday.

The little-noticed legislation passed the House a week ago today as part of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act by a vote of 351-78. Mr. Lantos last week told the Sun that the bill "puts the meat on the bones of the president's second inaugural address." In that speech, President Bush said, "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

The bill would allow the State Department to "use all instruments of United States influence to support, promote, and strengthen democratic principles, practices, and values in foreign countries." It charges the CIA and Treasury Department with tracking the personal assets of dictators and their associates.

ADVANCE would require the secretary of state to approve an annual report designating nations as either democratic, undemocratic, or in transition. Currently, Foggy Bottom does not make such formal distinctions, though a human rights group created by Congress, the Freedom House, does, ranking countries around the world as "free," partly free," and "not free."

The bill would also make promotions in the Foreign Service for diplomats serving in dictatorships contingent partially on how successful they were in convincing their host country to embrace political freedom.

Despite Mr. Lantos's view that he is advancing Mr. Bush's policy, the White House at least officially opposes most of the legislation's toughest measures. A July 20 statement of administration policy by the Bush administration said that it "appreciates the intent" of the proposal but objects to provisions that require the secretary of state to categorize countries according to whether they are democratic. The statement says the bill could "constrain the Secretary's authority to determine appropriate terms and conditions to enable discretionary foreign assistance to best serve our diverse foreign policy objectives." The statement also rejected measures in the bill that would create an undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs.

Mr. Lantos last week said that after conversations with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Secretary of State Rice, he believed that, overall, the administration supported by the bill.

"They are fully on board," he said. "Our legislation has given impetus and focus to allow the president's rhetoric to become reality."

Despite some of the official objections, there is evidence that Foggy Bottom is quietly making preparations for when the ADVANCE Democracy Act becomes law. Two administration officials and one congressional source confirmed this week that the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor has begun asking the State Department's regional bureaus to draw up a list of countries that would be eligible for the legislation's democratic transition plans. The State Department is also looking into better ways of marshaling foreign aid to meet the legislation's objections.

"We like the idea," one administration official said. "But we would also like more flexibility. We want to change some of the 'shoulds' to 'shalls.'"

While Mr. Lantos said he believed that there should be no exceptions for undemocratic countries when it came to drawing up transition plans, he conceded there was no cookie-cutter approach. "What is right for Saudi Arabia may not be not right for Belarus," he said.

The legislation, the formal title of which is the Advance Democratic Values, Address Nondemocratic Countries, and Enhance Democracy Act of 2005, is the brainchild of a former American ambassador, Mark Palmer, who is on Freedom House's board of trustees. Mr. Palmer was the chief American official negotiating the release of Natan Sharansky from a Soviet gulag and served as America's ambassador to Hungary when that country threw off the shackles of its Soviet puppet government.

In 2003, Mr. Palmer wrote "Breaking the Real Axis of Evil," in which he proposed that the goal of American foreign policy should be to assist nonviolent, democratic oppositions in the world's outposts of tyranny. He began shopping the legislation last year to congressional offices and says he found a lot of enthusiasm for the idea among members of both parties.

"The overall vision of this law is that we should take the bipartisan goal of a dictator-free world and institutionalize that in our diplomacy and foreign policy," he said. Mr. Palmer added, "One of the most important things in the bill is that it provides for the beginning of a dialogue between democratic forces and our embassies in nondemocratic countries." When asked whether he believed there should be an exception for China, which has often been excluded from pro-democracy policies in the past, he said, "No, I don't think there should be any exceptions."