Here are some selected excerpts from a recent opinion column by Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations:

"…it is neither
desirable nor practical to make democracy promotion the dominant
feature of American foreign policy….
There is no realistic way that
democracy will arrive in either North Korea or Iran before nuclear
weapons do….
The United States has a vital interest in China helping to
eliminate the North Korean nuclear program, in Russia helping to
eliminate the Iranian one, in Pakistan going after al Qaeda, in
Israelis and Palestinians making peace. We may prefer that China,
Russia, Pakistan and Palestine also be democratic, but a preference
is something markedly less than a vital interest….
as President Bush acknowledged, "The great
objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of
generations." In the interim, the United States needs a foreign
policy that deals with the world as it is."

Haass brings up a very important problem; while we want to promote democracy, freedom and prosperity the world-over, we must admit that this can be none other than a long-term goal. In the short term, however, situations will arise (and ongoing situations will continue) to which we cannot react by rigidly sticking to a doctrine of punishing tyranny and rewarding freedom. The fact is that we cooperate with autocracies and will have to continue to do so in the future. To say that we will not work with Pakistan because it goes against our moral commitment to promoting the spread of democracy would be foolish. Rewarding Pakistan for its undemocratic practices would be equally so.

In other words, we must strike a balance between long-term goals and short-term reality. Foreign policy decision makers have been weighing these two elements for centuries, but in the past, they have had far less of an informed public to deal with. In today’s democracies, and especially with the help of modern media technologies, ordinary citizens can inform themselves on the policies, actions and rhetoric of governments and individual politicians. Happily, this contributes to transparency and to the maintenance of a healthy democracy. But it also makes communicating the necessity of a seemingly contradictory balance in policy very difficult, not only within the country setting that policy, but around the world. When is something just plain bad policy … and when is it a necessary evil?

Read Haass’s full article here.