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Recently, the Bush administration completed a proposal that has shocked conservatives and their Democrat counterparts alike: Bush wants to literally pay third world countries to become democratic.
In the opinion of at least one aspiring politician, a president that is able to stun both political parties must be doing something right.
The Millenium Challenge Account will give the world’s most impoverished nations five billion more reasons to join the western democratic world; all in the form of dollar bills.
Over the next three years, the Bush administration wants to raise the amount of nonmilitary aid that the United States grants to third world by 50 percent to over $5 billion. To qualify for the aid, countries will have a gross domestic product of less than $1,445 per capita and must work to reduce corruption, spend more on education and clearly demonstrate free market principles.
The over-arching question is whether western ideals like freedom and democracy are able to be sustained in poor countries simply through financially enabling them to expand their respective free markets.
In almost every political science class that I have taken at Quinnipiac, a question is always raised that analogizes itself to “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”: What comes first, free market integration in the third world or democratic principles?
Perhaps there is no question that has troubled policymakers and politicians around the world for quite so long. This latest proposal perfectly illustrates those questions which are so often illuminated in the intellectual world.
In Latin American countries, there was a resurgence of democratization in the last 15 years, but recent economic setbacks threaten to destroy the democratic process. It seems, essentially, that where there is money and financial stability, citizens and governments are willing and able to relegate freedoms to private citizens.
With economic crises, however, the opposite is true and the poor are always the first to face repression and poor nations dictatorships.
While the Bush policy is good in that it revives the idea that the poorest nations in the world should be helped to democratize, it is risky because of its reliance on subjective terms to define what democratic integration really means.
How can it be determined whether or not a country is really becoming more democratic? In countries that are plagued with corruption, is it possible that staged elections and falsified results might take place to qualify for aid?
Furthermore, is the United States willing to commit the necessary resources to oversee the implementation of these billions in every single country that qualifies for aid? Additionally, as a conservative, does this role expansion of the government and nation-building overtone put Bush in jeopardy of seeming too liberal?
The timing of this suggestion could not have been more perfect. The new Congress will see this request put before it in the proposed budget. A less ambitious plan was shot down by Republicans in the Clinton era, but let’s be mindful that many in the new Congress owe their political existence to the President and will be unlikely to question the proposal. Also, Democrats do not want to seem like they are playing partisan politics and will therefore unable to start off the new session setting the tone in such a way.
The end result is that Bush looks like the self-proclaimed pragmatist he wants to be and a little more positive and kind to the third world than the Palestinian and Iraqi conflicts that may have marred his image with liberals.
Bush can chalk this up as another foreign policy victory already, yet another calcualted move that will earn his administrative cohorts praise inside the beltway.