It was a borderline reckless field trip for the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia to visit the Tanjung Priok slum in N. Jakarta for a Muslim "fast-breaking" ceremony during the holy month of Ramadan. Just a few years earlier, Suharto's ruthless army had killed over a dozen protesters at an Islamic rally there; the very name of the neighborhood evoked the specter of violent repression for most Indonesians. Carefully-worded praise came from a couple of the capital's more independent newspapers. One account said that it was quite interesting that a diplomat would visit a poor urban area which no minister of the "New Order" government would venture into.
Thus it was throughout Paul Wolfowitz' tenure there (1986-89). Having been a top official at the State Dept. during the Reagan years, he was a key architect of geopolitical protection for the kleptocracy and its U.S. corporate partners. This gave him access to information on scads of skeletons in a hangar-sized closet. Once in awhile, then, he could rhetorically poke at or probe issues off limits to reform-minded Indonesians and give the impression of pressing for democratic change. There were also credible reports that he threw some sharp elbows behind the scenes - in the labor rights area, for example, where misery-level wages and forced overtime had sparked massive protests at for-export shoe and apparel factories.
His jawboning would not ultimately change anything in the factories where the military continued to push workers back into factories at bayonet-point. Nor did his talk about democratic reform bear any fruit. Nothing happened on that front until Suharto's botched handling of the Asian financial crisis drove him from power in 1998. What did happen was the stoking of Wolfie's hubristic view of the U.S. role in the world: as long as we had this overwhelming military and economic might, we could shape things in a way that suited us, justifying our meddling with human rights and "liberty" verbiage.
On a parallel track, "democracy promotion" started to gobble up an increasing share of foreign aid funding, for good and ill. The "good" took place mainly in the Central and Eastern European states and the fact that several of these countries are now members of the European Union after just a decade of governance "therapy" is a staggering fact, really. But the "ill" has been a pretty dreadful failure, even before the radical "regime change" mission cooked up by Cheney, Rumsfeld and advisers such as Wolfowitz.
To be sure, many in the "democracy promotion" field are not neo-cons or, necessarily, Republicans. Most government-funded theorists, however, did share a distrust of what can loosely be described as populism. Examining their key tenets reveals an over-reliance on institution-building (such as party recruitment or policy-research projects) - the infrastructure of polyarchy.
One major deleterious impact of this approach on the "democracy development" debate has been the squeezing out of conflict - a key driver in early democracy-promotion literature. According to Dankwart A. Rustow, back in the early '70s, "What infant democracy requires is not a lukewarm struggle but a hot family feud." He was even more explicit in asserting that there was no case he could think of where notable advances in democracy had been made except as the result of crisis.
The implications of the move away from contestation were clearly expressed by Samuel Huntington as he observed foreign investment shifting from newly-democratic Korea and Taiwan to military-backed regimes in Beijing and Jakarta: "If China develops economically under authoritarian rule in the coming decades and expands its influence and control in East Asia, democratic regimes in the region will be significantly weakened."
"Democracy is not achieved simply by the hidden process of socio-economic development bringing a country to a point where it has the necessary 'prerequisites' for it; it is not delivered by the grace of some sociological deus ex machina; and neither is it simply the result of the divisions, strategies, tactics, negotiations and settlements of contending elites. Political scientists who conceive of democratic transition simply in this way miss an important element. That element is struggle, personal risk taking, mobilization and sustained imaginative organization on the part of a large number of citizens."
Unfortunately, this "old school" approach cannot be found in any of Larry Diamond's academic writings and there are very few examples of this lucidity in the fifteen-year history of his Journal of Democracy , most of which is turgid and formulaic. With his base at the mostly-conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford, Diamond is one of the best-known and best-funded democracy gurus. To his credit, he spoke forthrightly about what he found in Baghdad after doing an 8-month stint with the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004. He's written an entire book on the Bush/Wolfowitz debacle.
What he has not written yet is an expansion on the quote above with the full recognition that, when mobilization occurs in the developing world today, instigators often end up in jail, or worse. In far too many cases, repression is accepted as the normal course and that is especially true when U.S. corporate interests are benefiting from that repression.