Nudging toward Democracy Promotion

Below is from a Wall Street Journal editorial, one of many, about the new 2009 Freedom in the World report by Freedom House.  They see Obama’s “principled pragamaticism” as a major weakness which contributed to the trend observed in the report.

If in the days of Jack Kennedy or Ronald Reagan, we worked to fashion the world into a better place guided by the belief that the urge to live in freedom is universal, today we act as if we are resigned to taking the world as it is. We used to nudge countries toward liberal democracy. Now we assume the price of nudging is too high.

Maybe more than Washington seeing the “price of nudging” as being too high, they see the profits of looking the other way to be irresistible (after all, U.S. government debt to China precludes any serious human rights criticism from either Dem or Rep admins).  Besides, can we really say that when democracy promotion was all the rage during the George W. Bush administration, with invasions, occupations, and nation building, that the state of freedom was somehow better?  That’s a tough case to make.

The political and economic mechanisms that keep the world’s dictators in power are somewhat more complicated than these kinds of annual lists are able to capture.