Democracy on the march, in spite of political pessimism

Despite the political pessimism that permeates much of the western world, the community of democratic nations is actually expanding; but ironically, the success of America’s project of spreading liberal capitalism across the globe will effectively herald the end of its status as the world’s dominant superpower, Bill Emmott of The Economist magazine predicted at an Athens lecture on Thursday. Notwithstanding the quagmire in Iraq, disquiet over Iran and North Korea and insecurity about global terrorism, liberal economies and democracies are gaining ground as the prevailing economic and political trend is one of global openness to the exchange of people, goods and ideas, the editor in chief of the world’s leading current affairs weekly said. «The spread of democracy has been steadily increasing its market share politically around the world; now more than 50 percent of the world’s population live in democracies and we see the struggle taking place in Ukraine even as we sit here,» Emmott said. He was referring to the massive demonstrations by the former Soviet republic’s pro-Western opposition triggered by reports of widespread ballot manipulation at the recent elections. The White House and European leaders have called for the Russian-friendly regime to investigate the fraud allegations. The lecture, focusing on developments in the US, Europe and the Middle East, was organized by the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and was held at a National Bank amphitheater in central Athens. Emmott, author of the recently published «20:21: Twentieth-Century Lessons for the Twenty-First Century,» said the dynamics of free trade, liberalization and technological progress will bring new states into the global power play such as China, India and potentially Brazil. The outcome of this trend, he said, «will be a more equally balanced world in economic terms, which will increasingly have its effect politically. It will be a world in which multilateral solutions and structures will actually become more involved as these powers become more significant.» Emmott brushed away suggestions that the West’s export of free-market democracy is an act of cultural imperialism. «Accountability is a universal demand, even though it can take many forms,» he said before rejecting criticism that the liberal political project is impossible outside the West. «We do see democracy spread in East Asia, although some said that democracy would be impossible in places where it had not existed until now,» Emmott said. A serious roadblock to the US drive for democratization in the Middle East, Emmott noted, is its legitimacy deficit generated by a genuine clash between its seemingly irreconcilable short-term and long-term foreign policy goals. «The democratic transformation of the Middle East is in contradiction with short-term aggressive policies that the administration has itself been carrying out to meet with more limited objectives, particularly in Iraq,» he said. Barring some signs of delusion in the US administration, Emmott said, US President George W. Bush is not so disconnected from reality as not to see the damage done to American credibility. «Bush sees himself as a noble historical figure, not as a brutal realpolitik figure, and so he will try to prove that he meant what he said,» Emmott said, referring to the American promise of a free, democratic Iraq. Too many democracies blooming in the desert will ironically make America a victim of its success, Emmott suggested. The forces of free trade, liberalism and democracy will eventually undermine America’s power for they are paving the way to a multipolar world, he explained. «The US is encouraging a process that will in the long term undermine its status.»