The most important outputs of the Agenda are those structural changes and institutionalized practices adopted to implement the Freedom Agenda. On the domestic front, perhaps the most important “outputs” are when the president’s directives have been codified into law by the Congress. For instance, President Bush ordered the Secretary of State to direct her chiefs of mission to meet with supporters of democracy and speak against repression in their host countries. The President also called for increased funding for democracy promotion. In many cases, these ideas developed concurrently with the Congress, ultimately resulting in the Advance Democracy Act of 2007, which does these things and more (outputs). In addition, in July 2008 the president signed a new National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD 58) to institutionalize the Freedom Agenda within the federal government. One can also point to five years of investment in Iraq and seven years invested in Afghanistan, as well as various free trade agreements, and the on-again, off-again Middle East peace process based on the Roadmap’s “two state solution” as “outputs” of the Administration. Some of the outputs turned out to be “lemons,” but in the end, the Freedom Agenda in law was a major success “output” for the Administration.
Nevertheless, outputs again only tell a partial story with regards to measuring success. Real success is not measured just in outputs, but in outcomes. To return to an automobile analogy, a corporation can engineer and build a car, but if no one purchases it, the successful operational “output” can nonetheless be a failure with strategic consequences.
Foreign policy outcomes are intricate and therefore notoriously tricky to parse, both due to the difficulty of examining direct causal evidence as well as the complexity of independent variables affecting the desired outcome. Additionally, the lengthy time horizon makes such analysis problematic (e.g. George Kennan’s containment and the end of the Soviet Union). It is simply impossible to completely control for all the variables involved, just as it is impossible for the U.S. to control world populations and foreign governments.
Can the Agenda point to successful outcomes of democracy and human flourishing? Are we closer to that vision in 2008 than we were in 2000? Are the seeds sown in the last few years likely to make the world a more free and democratic place in the next five years? The next ten years?
The world is a more democratic place than it was a decade ago, largely due to the Color Revolutions and the continuing consolidation of democracy in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. However, these were not caused by the Bush Doctrine. Ongoing democratic transitions and consolidations, from Liberia to Ukraine, did receive some modest “inputs” along the way, but it is unclear that the Freedom Agenda played any role. It is simply too soon to tell in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq-both of which were established as democracies following military intervention justified in terms of U.S. national security interests, not democracy promotion. Similarly, the Middle East Roadmap appears to be dead and, as one scholar points out, we are experiencing a concurrent rise in authoritarian alternatives like China and Venezuela.
It is more likely that the “hard evidence’ of the Freedom Agenda’s efficacy will be in the areas of free trade (establishing new free trade areas), smart development aid (e.g. the Millennium Challenge Corporation) and human flourishing (e.g. PEPFAR, the malaria initiative) rather than in terms of regime change. Perhaps most importantly, these initiatives-when combined with other ventures such as MEPI-weave the Agenda into a larger tapestry of interconnected policies and values that are now well established.
Finally, the Freedom Agenda and its progeny, most notably the Advance Democracy Act, are now a standard by which the content of U.S. foreign policy goals are evaluated by people around the world. The Agenda has forced the U.S. government to decide in favor of universal democracy promotion as a key objective of U.S. foreign policy and willfully connect it to issues of human rights, private property, and religious freedom.
Hence, the U.S. will find itself under increasing pressure to address the anachronisms and perceived hypocrisies that are discordant in its foreign policy, such as support for authoritarian regimes in the interests of “stability.” Most importantly, as the Freedom Agenda was largely embraced by candidate Obama, it seems obvious that American will continue contributing toward the desired outcomes of global freedom and democracy.
Conclusion: Lessons for the New Administration
It is critical for the new Administration to learn from the successes and failures of the Bush era. Both of the recent presidential contenders supported the Freedom Agenda. Senator McCain was one of the primary sponsors of the Advance Democracy Act and Senator Obama got on the bandwagon as a co-sponsor. Regarding the victor, political scientist Amy Zegart writes, “Obama has managed to out-freedom Bush.” She concludes that Bush’s “grand strategy will undoubtedly set the course of American foreign policy for the next administration, and possibly the next generation.”
“Out-freedom Bush?” Consider one of Obama’s most important foreign policy speeches, made in 2007 at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs:
“We have heard much over the last six years about how America’s larger purpose in the world is to promote the spread of freedom-that it is the yearning of all who live in the shadow of tyranny and despair.
“I agree. But this yearning is not satisfied by simply deposing a dictator and setting up a ballot box. The true desire of all mankind is not only to live free lives, but lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and simple justice…. It also requires a society that is supported by the pillars of a sustainable democracy: a strong legislature, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, a free press, and an honest police force. It requires building the capacity of the world’s weakest states and providing them what they need to reduce poverty, build healthy and educated communities, develop markets, and generate wealth…. As President, I will double our annual investments in meeting these challenges to $50 billion…. Part of this new funding will also establish a two billion dollar Global Education Fund that calls on the world to join together in eliminating the global education deficit, similar to what the 9/11 commission proposed. Because we cannot hope to shape a world where opportunity outweighs danger unless we ensure that every child, everywhere, is taught to build and not to destroy…. Finally, while America can help others build more secure societies, we must never forget that only the citizens of these nations can sustain them.
Similar language by the president-elect and his advisors abounds. So, what are the lessons regarding a Freedom Agenda for the Obama Administration? First, remember that the Freedom Agenda was not, and is not, without its skeptics in government. The most important of those skeptics are those within the Administration or within the bureaucracy who do not support the Agenda, or in the latter case, do not support the president. It is telling, for instance, how rarely senior Bush Administration officials spoke about the Agenda, freedom, and democracy in their speeches. This hush is obvious when one combs through the speeches of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his successor’s first year in office, as well as the language of other senior leaders such as Vice President Cheney, Secretaries of Defense Rumsfeld and Gates, the Deputy Secretaries at the Departments of State and Defense, and the like. Many of these individuals are self-proclaimed “realists” and they may have thought that President Bush’s early speeches on liberty and democracy were just rhetoric to smile at. If this is the case, the president ultimately surprised them with his dogged determination to press the Freedom Agenda.