The democratic ideal can be presented to peoples and countries that have not yet embraced it in two entirely opposite ways: through persuasion or through coercion and force.
The European Union is a champion in persuasion, often combined with powerful economic incentives. The prospect of joining the largest market of the world has played a crucial role in stabilizing new democratic regimes in Southern European countries such as Greece, Spain, and Portugal. In more recent years, it is playing the same role in Eastern Europe. It can be hoped that the EU will achieve the same result in Turkey and—why not?—further enlargement can also be envisaged with regard to countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean.
So far, the EU has included countries relatively likely to embrace democratic faith and institutions. European countries in the South and in the East already had a high level of social capital and good political infrastructures. But there is also something specific to the EU: it is a civilian and not a military power. People would laugh if anybody in Brussels threatened to “shock and awe.” The fact that the EU has so many different voices also implies that no single nation can fully dominate the others.
There is another reason that made the EU so appealing for those living in nondemocratic countries: political dignity. As soon as a new member is accepted, it enjoys all the privileges of the oldest members of the club. If Turkey ever joins the EU, it will get a number of parliamentarians equal to France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Economic muscle is still very important, but the basic principle is that each member has equal dignity.
The invasion of Iraq has made the Bush administration the champion of democratization through military force. The rhetoric used is also the opposite from that of Brussels. Rather than discuss, negotiate, and reconcile, Bush and Blair have spoken in messianic terms. They have praised liberty and democracy much more than any EU bureaucrat has ever done—and at the same time contributed to the killing of an unknown number of civilians. It is surprising how effective the power of rhetoric is, and there is no doubt that many of those who voted to reelect Bush in 2004 were influenced by his words rather than his actions.
Many Americans perceive their country as the champion of the democracy-exporting business despite the fact that since the end of the Second World War it achieved that goal through military invasion only in two small countries, Grenada and Panama. In contrast, it has failed in a long list of military-occupied countries. The record of historical failure includes (1) South Korea, where a huge U.S. military presence did not generate a democratic government for at least three decades; (2) South Vietnam and Cambodia, where the United States did not even make an attempt to challenge communism through democratically elected governments; (3) Afghanistan, ...
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