8:20 a.m. “Democracy and America’s Role in the World” kicks off Day 4 at the Humphrey Institute’s series of forums entitled America’s Future: Conversations about Politics and Policy during the 2008 Republican National Convention. The discussion is moderated by J. Brian Atwood, Dean, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. The panelists are:
* Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State, 1973-1977)
* Lorne W. Craner (President, International Republican Institute)
* Michael J. Gerson (Roger Hertog Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations)
* Richard N. Haas (President, Council on Foreign Relations)
* Vin Weber (Chairman, National Endowment for Democracy and Partner, Clark and Weinstock)
* Kenneth Wollack (President, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs)
8:23 a.m. Atwood begins by stressing the importance of developing democracy around the world. Atwood sits on an advisory board to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on this issue. Support for democracy development is eroding, largely due to recent U.S. actions in Iraq, Atwood states; he also says we have harmed our democracy abroad by abandoning habeas corpus at Guantanamo, and ‘flirting with torture.’ Atwood says we have made little progress at developing democracy in Iran and Egypt and that we “don’t even try” in Saudi Arabia.
8:31 a.m. Gerson says there will eventually be a crisis in Egypt, because little effort has been made to give an alternative between authoritarianism and radical Islam that is consonant with U.S. interests. Gerson acknowledges “hyprocrisy is an essential element in the democracy agenda.” Haass agrees “inconsistency can be a virtue” in democracy promotion. Haass says democracy should not be a defining principle of our relations with foreign countries. He admits he is a “card carrying realist.” He adds we need to think as much about implementation as we do purpose.
8:38 a.m. Craner describes the League of Democracies, which John McCain is backing, though there are limits to its utility. The concept of the League is not to promote democracy, says Weber, it is based on the promotion of shared interests among democracies and addressing other problems.
8:42 a.m. Secretary Kissinger says society is like an organism – there is only a rate of change it can absorb, and if you go beyond that, violence will necessarily result. Kissinger says he saw American go through a period of self-hatred during Vietnam that did not exist in the 1950s. The domestic debate, he adds, was not over Vietnam per se, but whether the U.S. government was essentially one that preferred war to peace.
8:52 a.m. Regarding China, Kissinger says we need to make sure strong Chinese (anti-Western) nationalism isn’t substituted for communism.
9:13 a.m. Weber says America cannot come in to these non-democratic countries and ‘big foot’ its way into promoting democracy. He says democracy-building organizations are always looking for ‘on the ground leadership’ as opposed to a direct U.S.-led effort which ‘is certain to fail.’
9:16 a.m. Regarding Guantanamo and torture issues, Craner says it has hurt our relations with Europe, but that it is hard to make the case it has hurt our efforts in dictatorships. He says he knows of no person seeking greater human rights and democracy in these countries that would not want our help because of Guantanamo and torture. People around the world know we are not perfect; all they ask is for the institutions to develop democracy.
9:32 a.m. Kissinger says the issue of what to do with Saudi Arabia has defeated every presidential administration. He says it is an unviable system, because almost any possible alternative will most likely be worse than the current regime there. Kissinger says a consumer group needs to be formed to help combat the monopoly that defines the oil ‘marketplace.’
9:35 a.m. Haass says oil is the biggest constraint to realize American interests around the world.Oil impedes the normal democratic evolution of societies and this will continue so long as the U.S. does not have an energy policy, he adds.