The report, which was obtained by The Washington Post, lays out nonpartisan prescriptions but is clearly aimed at giving Democrats talking points to promote and defend a traditional foreign-policy approach based on strengthening democracy and projection of American values.
“At the very moment when liberal democracy faces its greatest ideological challenge since the Cold War, President Trump has chosen to reject America’s historic role as leader of the world’s democracies,” the report says. “While U.S. democratic institutions have shown resilience in the face of his challenges, it is already clear that some of the damage Trump does will outlast him.”
The report recommends that the United States adopt “policies to help vulnerable democracies, including our own, to resist authoritarian influence and strengthen a growing global democratic community.”
Although its authors include politically liberal alumni of the Obama administration, the report embraces a defense of democratic values and the projection of democracy abroad often associated with Republicans, including the late senator John McCain (Ariz.).
“I am very encouraged to hear more and more Democrats stress the importance of values in our national-security strategy,” said former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who will help present the report on Thursday.
“President Trump’s attacks on democratic institutions and his embrace of authoritarian leaders have damaged America’s global standing,” Albright said. “The only way to recover is to once again embrace democracy at home and abroad, and to hope that our resilience will be an example to the world of America at its best.”
The United States should not stop trying to promote basic values such as free elections, an independent judicial system and free speech around the world even though “its own democracy is in trouble,” the report said.
The report reads at times like a Cold War call to arms about Soviet aggression, but the authors warn of threats from both inside and outside the country. It identifies efforts by Russia and China to exploit open societies in the United States and elsewhere, and says democracy is at peril in countries from Turkey to Hungary to the Philippines.
“It’s almost like Bush stuff” about democracy as an organizing principle of foreign policy, said James Jay Carafano, vice president of the Institute of National Security and Foreign Policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, referring to the George W. Bush administration.
But the report’s criticism of Trump will undercut its value because the current administration can easily dismiss it as a partisan document, Carafano said.
“When you’re trying to promote democracy and you’re basically yelling to the world that we are losing our democracy, that doesn’t exactly give you the moral high ground,” he said.
Supporting democracy is sometimes misunderstood by the political left and right, said Derek Mitchell, president of the nonpartisan National Democratic Institute.
“It’s important to who we are but also very important to our interests. It should not be mistaken for the way it was done in Iraq or equated to the way Russia has been doing things of late,” Mitchell said. “We are providing transparent assistance rather than shadowy subversion, which is what the Russians are doing. We are there when we are invited, and acting in good faith in helping people make their own decisions.”
The CAP report acknowledges liberal skepticism and notes that democracy promotion may seem less of a priority for liberals than addressing economic inequality or other domestic issues.
“The selling of the Iraq War as an act of democracy promotion and America’s lamentable Cold War history of supporting the overthrow of democratically-elected governments fuel suspicion of U.S. foreign policy to this day,” the report said, noting other examples such as the close U.S. partnership with authoritarian Saudi Arabia under both Republican and Democratic presidents.