Democracy Arsenal‘s Heather Hurlburt spells it out.

5 Simple Rules for Democracy Promotion
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

1.  It’s their democracy.  So shut up, already.  This Administration did considerable harm to democracy activists across the Middle East, as well as the folks who came out of the Orange and Rose Revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia with governing responsibilities, by seeming to take too much credit.  This makes the locals look like puppets (see under:  Iraq) instead of folks who are expressing indigenous forms of an indigenous desire for universal freedoms.  Yes, I want to see this Administration speak loudly and clearly about repression in Burma — but please, no more chest-thumping about what support we’re giving whom.  People who are showing that much determination and courage deserve not to be miscast as our puppets.

2.  Get the money to the right people.  This is the problem with Administration programming for Iran, which shovels money to Iranian-Americans; and with Iraq, which seems to have shoveled money to Ahmed Chalabi and other folks who, it turned out, had absolutely no talent for winning the elections we were so desperate to have.  How to do this effectively?  Refer to Rule No. 1.

Chalabi’s inability to win elections wasn’t his biggest flaw. His biggest flaw was being a corrupt, self-serving warmonger.

3.  Lengthen your time horizonsAung San Suu Kyi has been in military detention 11 of the last 18 years.  She won the Nobel back in 1991.  Nelson Mandela was in prison 27 years.  Transitions to democracy in South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Greece took decades.  Democratization doesn’t happen in State-of-the-Union-friendly timespans.

4.  Read the literature.  We actually know quite a bit about what works well — and what doesn’t — for outsiders who want to support democratic progress.  A great place to start is Tom Carothers’ recent monograph on saving democracy promotion from itself — Democracy Promotion During and After Bush.  His How Democracies Emerge: The Sequencing Fallacy is a nice summary of the last ten years in the literature, for the wonkier among us.

5.  Don’t overpromise.  Helping others attain the freedoms we cherish is a noble goal.  It is not, however, a short-term project; even less is it a short-term answer to pragmatic security and economic needs, or even to urgent human rights and humanitarian concerns.

This isn’t rocket science, folks. It’s called learning from history, and paying attention to the present. Sadly, our current government  has proved unwilling to do either.