Is democracy promotion a failed policy?

Tarek Masoud was once an enthusiastic believer in America’s effort to promote democracy abroad. The Harvard political scientist and many of his colleagues thought the U.S. could sow Western ideals of democracy, freedom, and prosperity by funding political parties and encouraging the growth of democratic institutions in developing nations. Masoud now thinks their reasoning was flawed, and that the mission itself is perhaps impossible.

“We should be much more humble about what the best possible outcomes are,” he told the Boston Globe. The the Arab Spring uprisings that gave way to civil war in Syria and ongoing chaos in Libya have been a reality check, says Masoud: “Maybe in a place like Syria or Libya the best possible outcome is one in which the old regime is at the table.” As the Globe‘s writer, Thanassis Cambanis, puts it, “our desire to see freedom spread has been clouding our judgment about what actually allows it to take root.”