Paul Lachine

Democracy Promotion Reconsidered

George W. Bush was famous for proclaiming the promotion of democracy a central focus of American foreign policy. But a liberal constitutional culture is more important than the mere fact of elections, and, as the Obama administration has recognized, promoting such a culture abroad requires adhering to it at home.

Cambridge – President George W. Bush was famous for proclaiming the promotion of democracy a central focus of American foreign policy. He was not alone in this rhetoric. Most American presidents since Woodrow Wilson have made similar statements.

So it was striking when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to Congress earlier this year about the “three D’s” of American foreign policy – defense, diplomacy, and development. The “D” of democracy was noticeable by its absence, suggesting a change in policy by Barack Obama’s administration.

Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush frequently referred to the beneficial effects of democracy on security. They cited social science studies that show that democracies rarely go to war with each other. But, more carefully stated, what scholars show is that liberal democracies almost never go to war with each other, and it may be that a liberal constitutional culture is more important than the mere fact of elections.

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