WASHINGTON: A bi-partisan bill proposed in both chambers of Congress would spend $250 million for the promotion of democracy overseas as an essential part of US foreign policy and national security.
The proposed legislation would create a fund where money could be used for various purposes, including distribution of news and educational programming about successful democratic movements, and the "production and distribution of materials promoting and celebrating democracy."
In the Senate, the ADVANCE Democracy Act is sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), while in the House, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) are co-sponsors.
Rob Sawicki, Lieberman's deputy press secretary, said, "Some of these projects could involve helping civil society groups create and advance PR strategies."
But Susan Rice, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and a former foreign policy advisor to Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) presidential campaign, said that would be a bad idea.
"I don't think you build democracy through public relations" but through hard work at the grassroots level and respect for the rule of law, she said.
Danielle Pletka, VP for defense and foreign policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a former staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said money for democracy promotion "tends to be spent in a feckless fashion."
The US post traditionally responsible for such promotional efforts, undersecretary of state for public affairs and public diplomacy, has been vacant since June of last year, when Margaret Tutwiler left after just six months on the job to head up communications at the New York Stock Exchange. Patricia Harrison, assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, has filled the role in an acting basis since then.
The State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Web site states that the existence of human rights, which is an important national interest, helps strengthen democracies.