Framing Obama's Democracy Promotion Legacy

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently published an op-ed in The Boston Globe. The piece hits on many of the achievements which the Obama administration intends to use to bolster the president's foreign policy legacy, including the Iran nuclear agreement, the climate change accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and the resetting of ties with Cuba. The piece also hits on the Ebola crisis and Syria's civil war.

Kerry devotes a few sentences to democracy promotion. Here's that paragraph:

The past year also marked important democratic gains in such countries as Nigeria, Burma, Sri Lanka and Venezuela. With U.S. help, Colombia moved closer to ending the world's longest-running civil war. At the UN, countries from across the globe agreed on a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development -- setting important goals in child nutrition, gender equity, education, poverty and health.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke highly of a similar set of countries during a speech he gave at Freedom House in October. Here's what Blinken had to say:

Across the world and against all headwinds, people are affirming their rights. They're bringing a commitment to democratic reform that is proving stronger than the entrenchment of corruption, indignity or oppression.

Tunisia. Burma. Ukraine. Nigeria. Sri Lanka. Vietnam.

While each of these journeys is far, far from complete, we have worked to give the champions of democracy the consistent support they need to translate their aspirations into lasting results.

We also have a recent POLITICO article to consider. Take this paragraph:

Obama has asked aides to set a busy international travel schedule for him in his final year, with "half a dozen" trips already in the works and more potentially coming together. The travel will be aimed at cementing a foreign policy legacy he hopes will include the Trans-Pacific Partnership, increased attention to Asia, an opening of Latin America, progress against the Islamic State and significant global movement on climate change.

Kerry and Blinken both mention Burma, Sri Lanka and Nigeria. It's unlikely that this is a coincidence and is worth considering when one ponders the president's 2016 travel schedule.

Based on the POLITICO article, a trip to Vietnam wouldn't come as a surprise either. When thinking about Obama's foreign policy legacy and his upcoming travel agenda, it's important to keep in mind how much carefully worded language and U.S. government narratives could contribute to this process. The Obama administration can be expected to frame developments in Burma, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Vietnam in a consistently positive light. From Naypyidaw to Abuja to Colombo, 2016 looks like an inauspicious time for U.S. officials to question the extent of democratic gains or to emphasize concerns about the multitude of challenges which lie ahead. The framing of Obama's democracy promotion legacy has already begun.