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Promoting Democracy a Controversial Theme

President Bush has made promotion of democracy one of the core principles of his foreign policy. Yet, public opinion polls show U.S. public support for fostering democracy in foreign countries is declining. On behalf of producer Ivana Kuhar, VOA's Jim Bertel has more.

Defeating terrorism and spreading freedom are among the top goals of President Bush's administration. Mr. Bush says U.S. national security interests depend on promoting global democracy, because, he says, democratic countries do not go to war with each other.

A new report questions those efforts, saying President Bush's policies have actually hurt efforts to promote democracy.

"Bush's policy has done serious damage to the legitimacy of democracy promotion in the eyes of the world and the U.S. public. The constant identification of democracy promotion with the war in Iraq, a war on terrorism that seems to involve serious abuses by the U.S. of the rule of law, has contaminated the whole domain," says Thomas Carothers, author of the report.

He adds, "U.S. Democracy Promotion - During and After Bush", is sharply critical of President Bush's record on advancing freedom. He says security interests, such as the war on terrorism and U.S. energy needs have led the Bush administration to cooperate with many autocratic regimes.

Other analysts are more supportive of the president, saying that a number of countries have tasted democracy for the first time during the Bush administration.

Vin Weber, who heads the National Endowment for Democracy says, This administration is going to be known eventually as having moved us to a higher level in terms of democracy promotion at, admittedly, a very, very difficult time in American history."

He argues the recent ebb in global democratization is not connected with the Bush administration. He says some international trends -- such as the rise of semi-autocratic Russia and China -- have given some totalitarian regimes a boost.

Ambassador Steven Sestanovich says while democratic promotion might be troubled by U.S. engagement in Iraq, it is far from doomed. "I believe now the challenge for American policy, and for European policy as well, is going to be to find ways to support democratic institutions without seeming to call for a sort of subordination [of another country]."

Foreign policy expert Frances Fukuyama says the erosion of public support for U.S. democracy promotion efforts is a passing trend. "My sense is this is all going to disappear once Iraq is off the table as a major issue."

He believes that just as it did after World War II, democratic transformation in the world will make the U.S. safer.