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The Fight That the GOP’s Next Presidential Contender Shouldn’t Forget

The Fight That the GOP’s Next Presidential Contender Shouldn’t Forget

As part of a Republican vision of American leadership in the world, the next Republican presidential candidate needs to recommit to supporting economic and political freedom around the world — and finding new ways to do so against the shifting geopolitical landscape. The International Republican Institute (IRI), part of the National Endowment for Democracy’s affiliated network (and not technically part of the Republican Party), offers perspective and lessons learned to a wide spectrum of Republican candidates running in 2016. On Sept. 9, the IRI will use its annual dinner to do just that.

When Reagan gave his famous Westminster Speech in 1982 the world was a lot less free than it was today. That speech led to the founding of the National Endowment for Democracy and the four democracy "institutes": the National Democratic Institute, the Solidarity Center, CIPE (the Center for International Private Enterprise), and the international Republican Institute. Clearly, America has a role to play in midwifing freedom in the world — we have done so in dozens of countries — and these democracy institutes are key assets in this very long term project.

IRI has played an important, if often not glamorous, role. It has supported dissidents when no one else would, trained political candidates in dozens of developing countries struggling to foster democratic processes to run for office, taught professionals the mechanics of politics, organized political parties, and used internet and cell phone technology effectively to get messages out. These activities take a long time to carry out, they are hard to measure and may sound intuitive, but if you have lived in a repressive regime where will you learn these skills? If you are living in a repressive regime who will support you? There is very little corporate or philanthropic dollars for this very important work. This is a legitimate use of U.S. foreign aid dollars, and the United States takes necessary risks on behalf of seekers of freedom.

Bad guys exist and they share "best practices" about stopping freedom movements such as cutting off the internet, infiltrating democracy groups, and using violence against legitimate opposition. Unfortunately for America and seekers of freedom, the bad guys have gotten better.

The other big challenge has been what Ken Wollack, the respected leader of the National Democratic Institute, calls "delivering on democracy." America and its allies have had a number of setbacks in immature democracies including Ukraine because democratically elected leaders (remember the Orange Revolution) did not follow through on their promises, failed to deliver public services in effective ways or engaged in corruption. Freedom House, a well-respected democracy promotion group, calls the situation a "democracy recession." IRI and other NED groups have been working on this problem of delivering on democracy by improving good governance.

We need to carry out the decades long work that will be necessary to bring about democracy in the Arab world, Iran, China, and even Russia. We have to take the very long view, and we have to use all our tools at our disposal. IRI is one of those important tools, and IRI’s Freedom Dinner is a showcase of its essential efforts. (Those interested in more information about the event can find it here.)

More economic and political freedom, less corruption, and effective government are outcomes that IRI helps make happen. These outcomes are in the American interest, are accepted principles of international development and should be a central focus of our 2016 Republican Presidential candidate’s foreign policy.