In the aftermath of Egypt's relatively bloodless revolution, it is worth considering the apparently contradictory role that our own government played: American foreign aid programs in Egypt were simultaneously promoting democracy and propping up an autocratic government.
According to the Unites States Agency for International Development in Egypt (USAID/Egypt), we spent $25 million on "Democracy and Governance" programs for fiscal year 2010. In the same year, the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program was providing $1.3 billion to prop up Egypt's very undemocratic government.
So why is our posture so muddled? Gerald Hyman, former USAID director of the Office of Democracy and Governance from 2002-2007, told The Examiner that "the main reason" behind how our foreign aid money is spent in many countries is to win votes in the United Nations General Assembly. Carol Adelman, USAID’S assistant administrator from 1988-1993, did not go quite as far, but noted that U.N. votes are an important motivator.
Adelman served as the Vice Chairman of HELP (Helping to Enhance the Livelihood of People around the Globe), a bipartisan commission that produced a major report on U.S. foreign aid for Congress in 2007. The HELP report details the workings of “20 largely uncoordinated departments, agencies, initiatives, and programs manage U.S. assistance," and notes that "in some countries, the United States does not speak with one voice; separate policy and program decision-making processes lead to multiple conclusions and conflicting recommendations on program priorities.”
“In the field of democracy and governance (D&G), the separation of our efforts into a State Department program and a USAID program has led to such a lack of agreement on core issues that the Senate Committee on Appropriations noted: ‘The committee remains concerned that the State Department and USAID do not share a common definition of a ‘democracy program.’”
If the right hand is actively working against the left hand, perhaps it's because we have a State Department run by people who say things like this:
“Labeling states as democracies or non-democracies, or labeling movements pro-democracy or not, is too simplistic. The people in the streets of Tunisia and Egypt are calling for new government. They’re calling for freedoms they have not had; they’re calling for jobs. That’s a much more complicated picture than [whether they are] calling for what we think of as democracy or not.”
The quotation is from Anne-Marie Slaughter, who until this month served as the State Department's Director of Policy Planning, and it appeared in this week's National Journal.