Embassy Row

Nearly 227 years after the British defeat in the American Revolution, a British official came to Washington this week and declared that one of the leading American patriots who served as the second president of the United States was wrong about, of all things, democracy.

reminded foreign-policy specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that America’s Founding Fathers fostered a deep suspicion about democracy, even though the whole revolution began over the lack of elected representation in the British Parliament.

He recalled that no less a patriot than , a signer of the Declaration of Independence and president from 1797 to 1801, wrote in 1814, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There has never been a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

“Those words,” Mr. Miliband said, “have proved spectacularly untrue. Democracy has been a great survivor.”

Democracy survived the early birth pains of the American republic and the turmoil of the Civil War. It reformed itself by abolishing slavery, ensuring civil rights and extending the franchise to women.

“In the final quarter of the 20th century, democracy marched across Latin America and Africa,” Mr. Miliband said, “and, after the end of the Cold War, across Central and Eastern Europe, too.”

However, Mr. Miliband, that march “has slowed” and “even gone in reverse” in some parts of the world where “fragile democracies face cynicism at home and fatalism abroad.”

Nevertheless, the longing for democracy remains strong, he added, citing public opinion polls that showed eight of out 10 people globally want to live under representative governments that protect their civil rights.

“When a country like Afghanistan, without an election for 30 years, can inspire 8 million people - 70 percent of the electorate - to vote, when countries like Indonesia and Turkey are finding their own ways of marrying democracy and Islam, I believe it is right to assert the universality of democratic values,” Mr. Miliband said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan top the list of Britain’s foreign-policy priorities, he added, noting historical connections to both countries. Afghanistan remains threatened by Taliban terrorists, while Pakistan, he said, “spent 60 years oscillating between military dictatorship and elected civilian government.”

“The dilemmas of democracy in Pakistan and Afghanistan illustrate the dilemmas faced by advocates of democracy worldwide,” Mr. Miliband said.

The finance minister for the conservative Greek government sounded somewhat socialist in a speech this week when he proposed a “new system of global governance” to tackle worldwide economic problems.

However, , a longtime advocate of free-market policies, later explained he was only calling for better coordination among governments to fight recessions, inflation, poverty and other threats to economic growth.

“In recent months, we have all been experiencing the effects of the slowdown in the world economy,” he said, also at CSIS. “The financial turmoil proved deeper, wider and longer-lasting than one could initially expect.”

Mr. Alogoskoufis called for a “common global strategy and the strengthening of a global governance framework that will put in place and supervise the implementation of the appropriate solutions.” He cited the World Trade Organization as a model.

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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