Democracy promotion is not election meddling


America’s domestic and foreign critics alike commit a serious category error in placing U.S. democracy-promotion efforts in the same basket as electoral interference, says Thomas O. Melia, previously deputy assistant secretary of state and assistant administrator of USAID, vice president of the National Democratic Institute, and deputy director of Freedom House:

Scott Shane of The New York Times, for example, writes that “in recent decades, the most visible American presence in foreign politics has been the taxpayer-funded groups like the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which do not support candidates but teach basic campaign skills and build democratic institutions and train election monitors.”

There are two important distinctions to clarify, Melia writes for The Atlantic:

First, and most important, is the difference between programs to strengthen democratic processes in another country (without regard to specific electoral outcomes), versus efforts to manipulate another country’s election in order to sow chaos, undermine public confidence in the political system, and diminish a country’s social stability….This approach is embodied in the work of the National Endowment for Democracy and affiliated implementing institutes


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