SILVER CITY, New Mexico - Political terms like ”movement,” ”revolution” and ”global citizen networks” that have their origins in the left are now forming part of the foreign policy language of the U.S. government and its dependencies.
Shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Pres. George W. Bush gave speeches at the American Enterprise Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) trumpeting less bellicose but equally interventionist dimensions of his administration's foreign policy.
In his 2004 State of the Union Address, the president called for the doubling of NED's budget for democracy-building in the Middle East.
A year later, Bush took the idealism of Washington's self-imposed mission to spread democracy and freedom to new heights of idealism, committing the United States to the tasks of spreading democracy around the globe and ”ending tyranny in our world.”
Neoconservatives inside and outside the Bush administration have been central players in an array of government-backed initiatives such as the World Movement for Democracy (WMD) and the Community of Democracies, as well as in the democracy promotion programs of such neocon-led institutes as Freedom House and the American Enterprise Institute.
Although the World Movement for Democracy states that it ”does not advocate positions on particular political issues,” the network's website and publications, such as NED's ezine DemocracyNews, largely reflect the U.S. government's foreign policy positions with respect to countries such as Venezuela and Cuba.
NED and the WMD are also promoters of the U.S.-led Community of Democracies -- which has been greeted with widespread skepticism by many European nations who regard it as a U.S. strategy to skirt U.N. authority.
Addressing the meeting of the Community of Democracies last April, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that this forum with its commitment to ”principled multilateralism” was creating a ”balance of power that favors freedom.”
Carl Gershman, the neoconservative president of NED who has since the early 1980s been promoting ”democratic globalism” as a central thrust of U.S foreign policy, says that the U.S. government-supported World Movement for Democracy is ”an imaginative new mechanism that can facilitate networking, sharing, and solidarity among democrats around the world.”
Pres. Bush has positioned himself as the leading champion of what he frequently calls the ”world democratic movement” and the ”global democratic revolution.”
Not only is the U.S. government now committed to supporting what the president describes as the ”forward strategy of freedom” led by non-governmental forces throughout the world, but Washington has embarked on an ambitious, innovative strategy to create, guide, and support these movements and revolutions.
Central players in this strategy are the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and NED.
Since 1983, when Pres. Ronald Reagan launched what he called a ”crusade” to foster ”free market democracies” and bring the ”magic of the marketplace,” both USAID and NED have channeled U.S. government development and public diplomacy funding into the democratization programs of the international institutes of the Republican and Democratic Parties, the AFL-CIO labor union, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as a wide range of institutes, political parties, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) abroad.
In the mid-1990s, the U.S. government and quasi-governmental NED concluded that the democracy-building strategy needed an overhaul. Taking its cue from the anti-globalization and other transborder citizen movements, NED began to establish networks of center-right foundations, research institutes, youth groups, parliamentarians, and NGOs. In 1999 NED, with U.S. government and U.S. foundation support, organized the founding assembly of the World Movement for Democracy in New Delhi.
With NED as its ”secretariat,” the World Movement for Democracy is functions, according to NED, as a ”network of networks,” much as the anti-globalization forces are described as a ”movements of movements.”
In the age of global communication and transnational cyber-networking, as exemplified by the anti-free trade movement, NED decided to start its own global citizen's movement.
The ”movement's” objective is to ”offer new ways to give practical help to democrats who are struggling to liberalize authoritarian systems and to consolidated emerging democracies.”
U.S. taxpayer revenues cover the cost of having NED function as the logistical and infrastructural secretariat for this multifaceted democracy movement. Annual State Department allocations cover the four NED staff members who oversee the network from their positions in the office of NED President Carl Gershman.
But most of the funding for NED's WMD comes from right-wing foundations in the United States, led by the Bradley Foundation, which has provided the start-up and general support funding for an array of other neoconservative foreign policy projects, including the Project for the New American Century.
NED has created regional portals for participants in the network. For example, for Latin America and the Caribbean there is the ”Portal de la democracia de las Américas,” which opens to the webpage of the Red Ciudadana por la Democracia en las Américas (Citizens' Network for Democracy in the Americas).
In addition to its regional portals to ”citizen networks,” NED through the World Movement for Democracy has established regional forums with more restricted participation, such as the Democracy Forum in East Asia and the Africa Democracy Forum.
NED does not inform the participants in the World Movement for Democracy that this global citizens' network is a line item in the U.S. State Department's allocation to the purportedly independent National Endowment for Democracy while also closely coordinated with USAID's democratization program, which in key countries such as Iraq, Cuba, and Venezuela has larger programs than NED.
Also under the umbrella of the World Movement for Democracy are several other global ”pro-democracy” networks that NED has been developing over the past decade, including International Movement of Parliamentarians for Democracy, Network of Young Democracy Activists, Democracy Information and Communications Technology Group, and the Network of Democracy Research Institutes.
The latter, which includes as members think tanks and policy institutes throughout the world, receives research and technical assistance from NED's Democracy Resource Center.
In Asia, NED has worked closely with the government of Taiwan to organize regional networks of center-right think tanks, foundations, and business associations. As part of its effort to create a ”network of networks,” NED in 1995 convened a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan in conjunction with Taiwan's Institute for National Policy Research, a regional partner of the American Enterprise Institute, that aimed to spark the creation of ”democracy foundations” around the world.
In 2003, Taiwan's government ”following a period of consultation with NED” created the Taiwan Democracy Foundation.
Today, there are three dozen foundations that participate in the NED-initiated World Conference of Democracy-Support Foundations.
But already there signs that U.S.-government driven democracy movement may prove counterproductive. Throughout the Middle East, as in Cuba and Venezuela, democracy-building is getting a bad name since it is so closely associated with U.S. ”regime-change” efforts by undemocratic means.
Tom Barry is the policy director of the International Relations Center (IRC), online at www.irc-online.org, and a frequent contributor to Inter Press Service.
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