Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A History Lesson

The National Endowment for Democracy held a conference entitled “Middle Eastern Democrats and their Vision for the Future” with a full cast of high profile democracy types from across the Middle East and Washington.

Before reporting on the day’s acts, I must give a bit of a prologue regarding NED. Think what you will about democracy promotion, but please note that it has its roots in noble minds. There is a name for those who oppose human freedom – in English we call them tyrants.

The NED was established in 1983 by congressional mandate. While NED has its own programs, it has the greater responsibility of managing funding from Congress to its four core institutes – the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the Solidarity Center. The activities of NDI and IRI are well-known – NDI is the Democratic Party’s political reform program and IRI is the Republican Party’s. CIPE is an affiliate of the United States Chamber of Commerce, and Solidarity Center is an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Current NED and core institute programs in Lebanon include:

NED - You can find a list of NED projects in Lebanon here.

NDI - NDI is very active in Lebanon, helping the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform and Lebanon Budget Project and groups like Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, Development for People and Nature Association, Nahwa al-Muwatiniya, Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, and a coalition of seven civic organizations to implement Citizen Lebanon, a civic education and advocacy program taking place in 30 municipalities across the nation.

IRI - IRI does polling and political party development in Lebanon.

CIPE - Lebanese Anti-Bribery Network with Lebanese Transparency Association

SC (none)

Each of these programs involves local Lebanese NGOs who seek to improve democracy in the country. These are hardworking folks who rise above politics and put the good of their country first. I’ve met many of them, and they all are inspiring human beings. There’s nothing cooler in the world than to watch democracy in action (real democracy involving real people doing real things for their country not involving bombs, religions, or egos).

What I’m getting at is that despite an occasional controversy and the persistent conspiracy theories regarding NED programs, NED really does have people at heart. Is there a national security element to democracy promotion? Of course. The old adage “democracies don’t fight other democracies” tells us that we are safer with more democracies in the world.

Quite honestly, if you meet staff of one of these organizations, you’ll come to find that they’re all a bunch of bleeding hearts intent on saving the world from its own mutually assured destruction.

I suppose I had to perform this narrative because I’ve often been confronted by anti-NED rhetoric and accusations that NED and its core institutes are a front for the CIA! (Can we say X-Files?) The bottom line is that NED and its core institutes do great work.

Up next: Part two of this NED event - a post about what actually transpired at the event.

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