The Foreign Service Journal, December 2022

62 DECEMBER 2022 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL comes to a similar conclusion. “Although the U.S. is the only state with the resources to be a global democratic leader, height- ened partisanship will make it harder for the Biden administra- tion to increase protections at home,” she told the author in an interview in January 2022. Bata noted that the U.S. has long struggled with issues of voting rights and racial equality, and worked to correct these problems “by listening to criticism and allowing for input from civil society.” Nevertheless, she added: “the U.S. must do more at home to be credible when it says it values democracy and equality for all.” Thomas Carothers and Frances Z. Brown, co-directors of the democracy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agree that the U.S. needs serious political reform and that our democratic standing and diplomatic negotiating position have been damaged. However, they argue in a March 10, 2021, post for American Purpose , this isn’t the time to hold back: “The global condition of democracy is too dire for that.” Rather, the Biden administration should “move forward with an active democracy support policy”—but back away fromAmerica’s “almost reflexive” role as the natural leader and exporter of global democracy. Show some humility, they wrote, and “acknowledge our missteps as evidence that “democracy requires constant tending and self- correction, both at home and overseas.” The Biden administration reflects a similar attitude. The New York Times reported in September that the administration is committed to the reinforcement of democracy as a foreign policy priority—although, the Times noted, the emphasis now is more on the “resilience” of democracies rather than democracy promo- tion. Aides to Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the news- paper their approach would be to strengthen democracies and encourage cooperation among them rather than work to change political systems. As the White House’s planned in-person democracy sum- mit approaches, veteran diplomats cite the need for open and honest analysis and acknowledgment of our own history. “Our own struggles in recent years make it clear that no democracy is perfect, and that it’s always a work in progress, but the key to credibility is sincerity,” Ambassador Carlson said. “Humans are very adept at recognizing someone who is sincere in their beliefs, honest about their motives, and open to questions and merited criticism. If American support of democracy and human rights is sincere, it will have the necessary credibility.” A Work in Progress Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon Jr. suggests taking a look at our not-too-distant history. “Remember, when the U.S. was fighting a war to keep the world safe for democracy, Americans were being lynched. Jim Crow laws were in place. Political intimidation was being used, not only against minorities but against political outliers,” Shannon pointed out during a Nov. 3, 2021, American Purpose event. “All democracies have had times when we were promoting bigger visions of ourselves that didn’t necessarily correspond to the reality of the moment.” It’s also worth recalling that not everyone shares our defini- tion of democracy, says Robert Cekuta, U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan from 2015 to 2018. In a February 2022 interview with the author, Ambassador Cekuta noted: “Each society has its own history. We might say a country isn’t democratic, but the people in that country say, ‘OK, but this is what we want.’ Should we be imposing democracy on them? At what point are we helping, and at what point are we meddling?” One Senior FSO still in service agrees that a one-size-fits-all message about democracy won’t work. “Talking about democ- racy overseas now is going to be different than before,” the diplomat says. “Whether in established democracies that might have trust issues with us or with developing democracies, our approach will need some reshaping and tailoring in each coun- try in order to be effective.” Ambassador Munter notes that we’re in tumultuous times, and the present global democracy crisis doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s been helped along by economic and other cyclical factors. “We should avoid apocalyptic hand-wringing” about democracy’s current decline, he counseled; the pendulum can swing back. But that doesn’t absolve us of looking after our own democ- racy, Munter adds. “I hope that an honest reckoning with our difficulties, carried out by people of good will, is not impos- sible,” he said. “But without such a reckoning, it will be hard for America’s message to have the power and coherence we would like. It will be awfully tough for us to continue to claim the mantle of ‘leader of the free world’ without it.” n How do we advance democracy in a world where democracy seems to be falling out of favor?