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The next president has to promote democracy better

Amid democratic recession, the US must rethink its freedom agenda.

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The bloody fighting in Beirut this month is just the latest setback for democracy around the world. Wielding overwhelming force, Hezbollah pressured Lebanon's democratically elected cabinet to rescind orders that banned the terrorist group's private communication network. It also compelled the reinstatement of the airport's chief of security, an important Hezbollah ally.

The antidemocratic backsliding in Lebanon is part of a broader trend. Consider recent events: Georgia's democratically elected president declared a state of emergency in the face of massive protests last November. In Ukraine, after the 2004 pro-democratic "Orange Revolution" ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, the autocratic tendencies of his successor, Viktor Yushchenko, fueled the former president's surprising comeback in recent elections. Neither Viktor's commitment to democracy is clear.

These setbacks have become further evidence that the world is mired in what sociologist Larry Diamond recently called the "democratic recession."

In the light of this "recession," it is time to rethink the past 25 years of American assumptions about democracy promotion, which the US is approaching from the wrong direction. US policymakers should view democracy not just as a right, but as a choice.

A functioning democracy requires a society-wide agreement not to resort to violence as the result of regularly scheduled, potentially destabilizing power transitions (more commonly called elections).

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