Saturday, February 12, 2005

# Posted 12:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES BUSH CARE ABOUT TOGO? Zero Sum takes me to task for assuming that this administration actually intends to promote democracy in every wayward corner of the globe, e.g. Togo. FYI, this is the criticism of a conservative realist, not of a carping liberal just waiting to pounce on the President for his supposed hypocrisy. ZS writes that
Togo has no strategic value for the US , and since most Americans haven't heard of, paid attention to, or care about Togo, there is simply no electoral advantage at this point in saying or doing anything.
Although I do believe that promoting democracy has political advantages on the domestic front, I think it is very wrong to assume that this sort of domestic calculus enters the fray when the White House thinks about places like Togo.

If the President wanted to send a strong message to the government in Lome, he could do so at very little cost. The power differential between us and Togo is so great that even our ambassador or Assistant Secretary of State for Africa could make America's voice heard.

The real issue, I think, is that Togo isn't important enough to command the President's attention. With crises brewing in Iran and North Korea, it's hard to imagine that the NSC, State Department or Pentagon will even want to bother the President with memoranda about Togo.

By the same token, the NY Times and Washington Post haven't devoted any serious attention to the issue, so there's no outside pressure to address the situation. If Bush actually thought about Togo for more than a few seconds and realized how low the cost of involvement was, I'm fairly sure that he would do the right thing.

In conclusion, the presumption that Bush makes decisions on the basis of a narrow domestic political calculus presumes that the President and his closest advisers spend enough time thinking about peripheral issues to determine how they will play on the homefront. But the real problem with places like Togo is that they don't even get subjected to that sort of analysis.

So, is there a way out of this dilemma? Actually, yes. If sustained over time, a presidential commitment to democracy promotion will slowly diffuse throughout the bureaucracy. If the embassy staff in Lome or the West Africa desk officer at Foggy Bottom begin to believe that the President really wants them to promote democracy in Togo, they may take the initiative on their own without orders from above.

(Maybe our folks in Lome are actually doing that right now. But as a general rule, I don't think there is a grassroots commitment to real democracy promotion at the embassy level. In principle, I'm sure all of our diplomats support democracy promotion. However, in any given situation, other interests tend to predominate.)

Over time, lower echelon officials may even come to believe that promoting democracy right now is better than waiting for the African Union or other multilateral organizations to develop a concerted apporach to the country in question. But that won't happen until a long time from now, and it won't happen unless the next President and his successor pick up where Bush left off.
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