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  • Print publication year: 1996
  • Online publication date: July 2011

2 - Political operations in US foreign policy


A US stance in favor of democracy helps get the Congress, the bureaucracy, the media, the public, and elite opinion to back US policy. It helps ameliorate the domestic debate, disarms critics (who could be against democracy?), provides a basis for reconciliation between “realists” and “idealists”… The democracy agenda enables us, additionally, to merge and fudge over some issues that would otherwise be troublesome. It helps bridge the gap between our fundamental geopolitical and strategic interests… and our need to clothe those security concerns in moralistic language… The democracy agenda, in short, is a kind of legitimacy cover for our more basic strategic objectives.

Howard Wiarda

Support for democracy… is becoming the new organizing principle for American foreign-policy.

State Department policy document, 1987

The policy shift from promoting authoritarianism to promoting polyarchy was a lengthy process drawn out over several decades, and reflected in the mainstream social sciences in debates over modernization, economic development, political development, democracy, and so on. It involved the gradual emergence of a working consensus in the foreign-policy establishment in support of the new political intervention. As well, it involved the development of new modalities, instruments, and agencies for actually accomplishing the transition, in intervened countries in the Third World, from authoritarianism to polyarchy. This reorientation entailed, in particular, the expansion of what is known as political operations in US foreign policy.

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Promoting Polyarchy
  • Online ISBN: 9780511559129
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