More than Rhetorical Support Needed for Democracy
Yesterday, on the occasion of International Day of Democracy, the Embassy of Lithuania organized a half-day public event on Capitol Hill. The discussion featured political leaders from many democracies that have emerged in the past couple of decades, some pro-democracy voices from the Arab world, and numerous members of Congress from both parties.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pledge his “allegiance” to the “critical work” of supporting democracies abroad and noted that “freedom and governance don’t come on the cheap.” Eliot Engel (D-NY) declared that “we need to continue working together to keep democracy on the move, especially where there are places that are trying to stop it.” Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) asserted that “we shouldn’t hesitate to be pro-democracy for fear of rocking the boat.” David Price (D-NC) noted that “the Arab Spring reminds us of courageous activists everywhere that need our support.”
On one hand, it’s nice to hear members of Congress voice support for democracy and the democratic transitions. On the other, it would be much nicer to see Congress back up such sentiment with action – it rings hollow to hear Boehner say “freedom and governance don’t come on the cheap” while the House works to slash all international affairs funding for the second consecutive year. As the Soviet Union fell in 1989, Congress responded with the Supporting Eastern European Democracy (SEED) Act, resulting in billions in aid to Eastern European nations as they struggled to transition to democracy. At this moment of similar historical significance in the Arab world, Congress has failed to provide any support beyond rhetorical expressions of congratulations.
The only relevant Congressional initiative this year – a very modest proposal to support the private sector in Egypt and Tunisia through enterprise funds – has stalled in the Senate after being approved by the Foreign Relations Committee in June and has failed to even get out of committee in the House. Rather than advance new initiatives to support the Arab spring, Congress has instead interfered with administration efforts to do so.