Comments & Responses

Comments & Responses

Mini Teaser: Comments and responses to previous issues.

by Author(s): Steve ClemonsLudovic Hood

I wanted to echo some of the points that have been raised in recent issues of The National Interest, including in Dimitri Simes' editorial, "Ending the Crusade" (Jan./Feb. 2007).

Solving Iraq, if it can be solved, now means getting real about and engaging in a broad range of Middle East deal-making between internal groups inside Iraq and among its neighbors.

It means working to establish a Palestinian state in a manner that maintains the viability and security of both Israel and Palestine. It means offering Syria a Libya-like route out of the international doghouse. It means massaging Iran's ego in the region without handing the entire Middle East over on a golden platter-which America seems to be doing with its counterproductive strategy. It means figuring out what China and Russia want most in their foreign policy objectives and doing what we can to trade their needs for our own.

This all means that we must have an end to diplomacy on the cheap-and national security on the cheap. And a surge in troop levels without a plan, without the other component parts of a credible and believable grand strategy, is sending more soldiers off to die unnecessarily-or to kill Iraqis, many who are absolutely innocent in all this mess and who will no doubt hate the United States for a long time ahead.

There are alternatives-but nearly all of them require a creative, bold approach that might enable us to leapfrog over our massive failures in the region.

Steve Clemons
Senior Fellow and Director,
American Strategy Program,
New America Foundation
The Washington Note blog

In the sensationally titled "The Regime Change We Need", (Nov./Dec. 2006), Messrs. Groo and Khanna attempt to explain the failure of several fledging democracies to rein in the power of their presidents. Employing a mishmash of fleeting case studies intended to demonstrate how chief executives from Georgia to Egypt wield unfettered power, Groo and Khanna assert that development agencies need to develop "mechanisms . . . to effectively contain, decentralize or counterbalance executive power." Astonishingly, the authors fail to consider the very institutions and mechanisms inherent to any functioning democracy: a functioning parliament, robust judiciary and confident civil society, all of which serve to counter-balance executive power.

Groo and Khanna are right to draw attention to executive branches' concentrations of power, particularly in nations that recently underwent democratic "revolutions" of the ilk in Georgia, Ukraine and Serbia. However, their purported solution-increasing the transparency of executive offices-overlooks the time-honored democratic mechanisms designed to do just that, including parliamentary oversight committees and independent courts. Such institutions already receive significantly less development aid than executive branches, which benefit from development agencies' large "capacity building" programs. In most developing countries, parliaments receive a mere fraction of the donor funds spent on the executive branch, despite the former's critical role in holding the latter to account. Groo and Khanna's assertions serve to perpetuate this imbalance, the very imbalance they purport to decry.

Deeper reflection on the authors' very own case studies illustrates the potential role of the legislature in reining in executive power. In Georgia, prior to the Rose Revolution, Mikheil Saakashvili took full advantage of his role as chairman of a critical parliamentary oversight committee (charged with creating a new electoral system, an independent judiciary and a non-political police force) to rebuke then-president Eduard Shevardnadze and become leader of the opposition. Additionally, the seminal events of the Rose Revolution played out in the Parliament itself on November 22, 2003.

In Ukraine, Victor Yushchenko's attempt to consolidate power in the wake of the Orange Revolution was met by fierce resistance from parliament, including members of his once-grand coalition. Additionally, the electorate voiced its discontent with Yushchenko's early performance by bolstering the parliamentary opposition. In both these cases, would Groo and Khanna really have urged donors and development agencies to focus their attention on executive branch transparency? Surely an emphasis on time-honored accountability mechanisms such as parliaments, not to mention free and fair elections, would better serve the cause of limiting executive power.

It's not clear how the authors' references to the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia bolster their core argument. As they point out, electoral politics and parliamentary posturing have resulted in barely functioning executives in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, not the strong executive they lament. It is certainly far too early to tell if Poland's Kaczynski brothers intend to resort to authoritarian means to push through their agenda, given Poland's membership in the EU.

Groo and Khanna lost an opportunity to call for dramatically increased support by the international community to core accountability institutions such as legislatures and judiciaries. The authors have identified a glaring problem afflicting the "Third Wave" of democratization, yet their remedy strangely ignores mechanisms that have served the world's established democracies well for many decades.

Ludovic Hood
[email protected]
The author is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. Any views expressed herein are solely those of the author and not those of the United States Government or the U.S. Department of State.

Essay Types: Essay