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League of Democracies – The Next Big Obama Initiative?

June 7, 2009

Barack Hussein Obama, the American president in his much talked about address in Cairo had this to say about democracy:

“The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause) I know — I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other. That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people.

 America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause)

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments — provided they govern with respect for all their people. This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they’re out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause)

So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Barack Obama, we love you!”

Was this a remark in reference to the Muslim countries only or was there more to the utterance? The focus of most observers was on issues like Afghanistan-Pakistan, Palestine-Israel and Iraq. They did not give much importance to two other issues that President Obama made in his Cairo speech – democracy and women’s rights and education. Obviously these issues paled in front of the other more volatile ones facing the world – especially the Muslim world.

Democracy is a very potent force and those nations that have heard people’s voice have experienced the power of the will of the people and they know that there is no better way. Islamic countries have a poor record on this score. There is hardly any Islamic nation that can claim a western style democracy. Perhaps democracy is not the issue at all. I do not for a moment question President Obama’s intentions. He seems to be genuinely concerned about the welfare of his countrymen and that of the world. His philosophical observation in Cairo : “All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart or whether we commit ourselves to an effort, a sustained effort to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children and to respect the dignity of all human beings.” showed the realization of a man bound by destiny. 

Yet I can’t help but wonder that the American president is also acutely aware of the need to secure his country’s interest above all, as he unequivocally said that he was responsible for the welfare of his people. If we look at this in a dispassionate way – Obama’s emphasis on democracy and his assertion about securing his country’s interest, I can’t help but think that he is moving towards some kind of a conglomeration of nations that have common interests; such nations that have one thing that binds them together – democracy.

John McCain floated the idea of a League of Democracies during the presidential elections. Obama forcefully rejected the idea then and said that this would undermine UNO as the primary international body. I must add here that the idea of a League of Democracies was mooted well before John McCain made it his own. Madeline Albright had talked about such an association way back in mid-nineties. There were others, mainly academics who had talked about a body of nations with democracy as the common denominator. President George Bush may not have talked about such a League but I presume he was moving in that direction. His decisive endorsement of the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear deal was a move towards such a goal. This deal secured India as an ally and a strategic partner of the US. This may also have been a move to ensure better integration of India with the western world. Any organization of democratic nations would be a farce without the inclusion of India in the scheme of things. The US and the western world have invested a lot in this concept over the years and it would be foolhardy to reject an idea that has evolved over a period of time.

The idea of a League of Democracies has not left the Obama administration untouched. This is not something foreign to them. The Brookings Institute senior fellow, Ivo H. Daalder who was appointed as US ambassador to NATO in May this year has talked about a conglomeration of democratic nations – effectively the League of Democracies. That Mr. Daalder was Obama’s choice as ambassador to NATO is also significant as such a League will be an extension of the NATO. While the NATO has geographical limits, if one extrapolates such an organization one will come to the conclusion that what one gets is a group of nations that have one thing in common – democracy. It will obviously include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Thailand, India, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brazil, Argentina, Europe, Israel and of course the US, Canada, Mexico and some of the Central American nations. Some of the Balkan and Central Asian nations will also be in the list. From Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and South Africa may be included. From the Muslim nations, I guess, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iraq, Egypt and Afghanistan will make the cut. Obama may not pursue American interests the way Bush did – he wants his place in history not as a president but as a statesman. However, he will not hesitate to make use of the League to put pressure on the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians as well as the North Koreans to tow the western line. Yet he may not do it blatantly so as to undermine the influence of the UN.

It is true that the idea of the League of Democracies was mooted to circumvent the UN and to form world opinion on critical issues. The oft used veto power of the members of the Security Council has been a thorn in the flesh of the western powers for long. The League is thought as the answer to get this irritant out of the way. Many a times the west was checked in its quest to further its strategic objectives and the invasion of Iraq was not the only one. Obama did observe in his Cairo speech that people of Iraq were better off now than in the times of Saddam. Bush would have loved to have an organization with a pious ring to it that could further western interests without any hitch or apology. Obama will not be so pushy. He might float such a League to further democracy in the world that he feels is important for the welfare of mankind. I have no hesitation in saying that were such a League able to see the light of the day it will have a cumulative effect and nations big and small would compete with each other to make it to the exalted League whose members will give each other special status in trade and commerce and would be in constant touch with each other in matters of bilateral and multilateral import. I guess, Obama may not be averse to the idea of such a League because at the end of the day democracy will be the winner. And if such a League helps inculcate democratic values in even one more nation that will mean the emancipation of millions. This will be one constructive way of promoting democracy in the world. Obama may not be able to resist such a move. And then does it not help the US in its strategic aims as well? Appointment of scholars such as Ivo Daalder to strategically sensitive positions may just be the first step towards the goal. It would be of academic interest as to what nomenclature is used to finally unveil the League. Be as it may, if this does come about – and it may happen only if Obama gets a second term, I have no doubt that India would be one of the first nations to join the League. India will be damned if she let go the opportunity this time around as it did during mid forties when we did not join the Security Council of the UN. How such an organization evolves in the future if it is floated by Obama and Europe is open to question.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 18, 2009 10:21 pm

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