Michael Signer’s book is a worth the read for those interested in how to take political theory and relevant examples from history and apply them today’s policy challenges. As I saw Michael develop his central thesis and ideas when we were colleagues at the Center for American Progress, the one question that I kept circling back to was: Can the United States actually translate these ideals into policy in 2009 and beyond, especially in challenging places like Iraq and Afghanistan?
I’m in favor of promoting democracy, human rights, and constitutionalism around the world, and I spent several years in places like Egypt, the Palestinian territories, and Iraq engaged in democracy promotion efforts, working with groups outside of the government. These experiences left me with a healthy sense of skepticism about how well the United States actually does in promoting these ideals of democracy and constitutionalism. I’m doubtful that the United States, particularly the United States government, is currently capable of doing a good job at this without implementing major reforms and policy shifts in its overall national security infrastructure, as I argued in this recent paper on democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East. This question of efficacy is particularly important at a time of economic crisis at home and reduced credibility globally, but I think it must be overcome if we are going to get to the root of some of the most pressing national security challenges.
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