In the weeks after a popular uprising toppled a corrupt government in Ukraine, President Bush hailed the so-called Orange Revolution as proof that democracy was on the march and promised $60 million to help secure it in Kiev. But Republican congressional allies balked and slashed it this week to $33.7 million.
The shrinking financial commitment to Ukrainian democracy highlights a broader gap between rhetoric and resources among budget writers in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill as the president vows to devote his second term to "ending tyranny in our world," according to budget documents, congressional critics and democracy advocates.
The administration has pumped substantial new funds into promoting democracy in Muslim countries but virtually nowhere else in the world. The administration has cut budgets for groups struggling to build civil society and democratic institutions in Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia, even as Moscow has pulled back from democracy and governments in China, Burma, Uzbekistan and elsewhere remain among the most repressive in the world.
Funding for the National Endowment for Democracy has remained flat for the past two years except in the Middle East, while separate democracy-building programs have been slashed by 38 percent in Eastern Europe and 46 percent in the former Soviet Union during Bush's presidency. The venerable beacons of American-style democracy, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia, are receiving no sizable increases.
Lorne W. Craner, who until recently was assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said the shifting priorities are a logical byproduct of the post-Sept. 11 world, in which fostering democracy in Muslim communities came to be seen as a means to combat terrorism.
"People in other regions for two or three years after 9/11 said, 'You're not giving us as much attention as we deserve,' and I think that was a fair critique and the reason was we were creating a whole new policy for the Middle East," Craner said. "A lot of people's time was taken up by the Middle East that, but for 9/11, would have gone to other areas. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. Certainly I would say we needed to pay more attention to the Middle East."
The focus on Iraq, he added, will be critical to setting a role model for other regions as well. "If Iraq doesn't work," he said, "a lot of people are going to say, 'Is that what you mean by democracy?' "
But others took issue with the selective aid. "The president is not putting his money where his mouth is," said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch. While giving Bush credit for investing in democracy in the Middle East, he added, "There are just big country-by-country, region-by-region differences when it comes to the administration's commitment to democracy promotion."
"There are a number of countries that aren't getting much democracy aid," said Thomas Carothers, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's project on democracy and the rule of law. Carothers pointed to mass arrests of protesters seeking restoration of democracy in Nepal this week. "There are places like that where we're losing because they're on the edge of the world and people aren't paying attention."
Among groups that will lose out is the Asia Foundation, which works to reform legal codes, foster civil society and promote women's rights in places such as Indonesia, where it is credited with helping the transition from decades of dictatorship. The Bush budget for the 2006 fiscal year cuts the foundation's grant from $13 million to $10 million. "Any cut at that level would be very difficult for our program," said Nancy Yuan, a foundation vice president.
Also facing cuts is the Eurasia Foundation, which has been told that the final installment of a $25 million grant to set up a U.S.-European-Russian democracy program in Russia may be delayed despite President Vladimir Putin's moves to clamp down on political opposition. "We can't give up," said Charles William Maynes, president of the Eurasia Foundation. "It would be disastrous if we do."
The International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the main U.S. agencies that teach political activists how to conduct fair elections, devote about half of their budgets to Iraq and the Middle East, according Craner, who is now IRI president.
Measuring how much Washington spends on democracy promotion is difficult because the money is scattered among programs and much of it is embedded in grants by the U.S. Agency for International Development. But recent trends have been clear. USAID spending on democracy and governance programs alone shot up from $671 million in 2002 to $1.2 billion in 2004, but almost all of that increase was devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan. Without those two countries, the USAID democracy spending in 2004 was $685 million, virtually unchanged from two years earlier.
Bush broadened his focus beyond the Middle East in his second inaugural address when he issued a manifesto to promote democracy around the globe, declaring it U.S. policy "to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture."