The shrinking financial commitment to Ukrainian democracy highlights a broader gap between rhetoric and resources among budget writers in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill as the president vows to devote his second term to “ending tyranny in our world,” according to budget documents, congressional critics and democracy advocates.
The administration has pumped substantial new funds into promoting democracy in Muslim countries but virtually nowhere else in the world. The administration has cut budgets for groups struggling to build civil society and democratic institutions in Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia, even as Moscow has pulled back from democracy and governments in China, Burma, Uzbekistan and elsewhere remain among the most repressive in the world.
Funding for the National Endowment for Democracy has remained flat for the past two years except in the Middle East, while separate democracy-building programs have been slashed by 38 percent in Eastern Europe and 46 percent in the former Soviet Union during Bush’s presidency. The venerable beacons of American-style democracy, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia, are receiving no sizable increases.
Lorne W. Craner, who until recently was assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said the shifting priorities are a logical byproduct of the post-Sept. 11 world, in which fostering democracy in Muslim communities came to be seen as a means to combat terrorism.
“People in other regions for two or three years after 9/11 said, ‘You’re not giving us as much attention as we deserve,’ and I think that was a fair critique and the reason was we were creating a whole new policy for the Middle East,” Craner said. “A lot of people’s time was taken up by the Middle East that, but for 9/11, would have gone to other areas. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. Certainly I would say we needed to pay more attention to the Middle East.”
The focus on Iraq, he added, will be critical to setting a role model for other regions as well. “If Iraq doesn’t work,” he said, “a lot of people are going to say, ‘Is that what you mean by democracy?’ “
But others took issue with the selective aid. “The president is not putting his money where his mouth is,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch. While giving Bush credit for investing in democracy in the Middle East, he added, “There are just big country-by-country, region-by-region differences when it comes to the administration’s commitment to democracy promotion.”
“There are a number of countries that aren’t getting much democracy aid,” said Thomas Carothers, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s project on democracy and the rule of law. Carothers pointed to mass arrests of protesters seeking restoration of democracy in Nepal this week. “There are places like that where we’re losing because they’re on the edge of the world and people aren’t paying attention.”
Among groups that will lose out is the Asia Foundation, which works to reform legal codes, foster civil society and promote women’s rights in places such as Indonesia, where it is credited with helping the transition from decades of dictatorship. The Bush budget for the 2006 fiscal year cuts the foundation’s grant from $13 million to $10 million. “Any cut at that level would be very difficult for our program,” said Nancy Yuan, a foundation vice president.
Also facing cuts is the Eurasia Foundation, which has been told that the final installment of a $25 million grant to set up a U.S.-European-Russian democracy program in Russia may be delayed despite President Vladimir Putin’s moves to clamp down on political opposition. “We can’t give up,” said Charles William Maynes, president of the Eurasia Foundation. “It would be disastrous if we do.”
The International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the main U.S. agencies that teach political activists how to conduct fair elections, devote about half of their budgets to Iraq and the Middle East, according Craner, who is now IRI president.
Measuring how much Washington spends on democracy promotion is difficult because the money is scattered among programs and much of it is embedded in grants by the U.S. Agency for International Development. But recent trends have been clear. USAID spending on democracy and governance programs alone shot up from $671 million in 2002 to $1.2 billion in 2004, but almost all of that increase was devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan. Without those two countries, the USAID democracy spending in 2004 was $685 million, virtually unchanged from two years earlier.
Bush broadened his focus beyond the Middle East in his second inaugural address when he issued a manifesto to promote democracy around the globe, declaring it U.S. policy “to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture.”
The budget he submitted to Congress two weeks later, however, included no huge new investment in such institutions beyond the Muslim world.
The National Endowment for Democracy, which funds the IRI, the NDI and other programs, received $80 million, twice its budget of two years ago, but the entire $40 million increase went to Bush’s Middle East democracy initiative, leaving everything else flat. Voice of America received an extra $10 million, but it was devoted to expanding programs in Persian, Dari, Urdu and Pashtu aimed at non-Arabic Muslim listeners. The only other broadcasts to get major funding increases were those aimed at Cuba, which went from $27 million to $37.9 million.
At the same time, funding for the Support for East European Democracy Act was sliced by an additional $14 million, to $382 million. The largest part of this program is aimed at Serbia, still in transition from the era of Slobodan Milosevic. And funding for the Freedom Support Act focusing on Russia and 11 other former Soviet republics was slashed by $78 million, to $482 million, down from $894 million in 2002.
“The U.S. government is not well organized right now to realize the administration’s rhetoric on democracy,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, an organization that promotes democracy abroad.
The cuts to the Freedom Support Act have drawn criticism from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.); his panel this month adopted a statement urging the administration “to consider the harm its proposed cuts in funding assistance could have on U.S. interests in stability, democracy and market reform” in the region.
The funding reductions come at a time when such programs have enjoyed successes in Georgia and Ukraine, where U.S.-trained activists helped push out unpopular governments. To help consolidate the gains, Bush attached $60 million for Ukraine to his supplemental appropriation bill funding the war in Iraq, with money earmarked to promote judicial independence, youth participation in politics, legal protections for press freedom and preparations for parliamentary elections.
But even as Bush plans to host new Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, the House cut the funding request nearly in half.
Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, said he focused on programs that will help Yushchenko in the short term and promised to revisit Ukraine in upcoming budget deliberations for fiscal 2006.
“There’s finite resources,” Kolbe said. “There’s never enough to do what you want to do, but I think we’re making a good effort.”Top