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James Traub, author of The Freedom Agenda

Speaker Events - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Which Way for American Foreign Policy Postelection?

On October 29th, the International Peace Institute hosted an evening conversation with James Traub, contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, on the US Presidential election and its impact on American foreign policy. The discussion was moderated by Warren Hoge, IPI Vice President and Director of External Relations.

This event was part of Beyond the Headlines, a series of evening meetings, each featuring a leading personality invited to speak on international issues and to engage in a robust discussion with experts from Permanent Missions to the UN and other members of the UN community.

James Traub is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, where he writes about international affairs, US foreign policy, and national political issues. He recently published The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy [Just Not the Way George Bush Did], and is the author of four other books, including The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2006).

The Freedom Agenda is a reflection on the promotion of democracy and the questions it raises: what constitutes a democracy? Are there preconditions for it? What role can outsiders play?

Americans have been trying to shape democracy around the world for more than a century. But when President Bush declared, in his second inaugural address, that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,” he elevated this cause—the “Freedom Agenda,” as he called it—to the central theme of American foreign policy. Yet, James Traub stresses, the war in Iraq has proven the folly of seeking to impose American democracy by force. As we leave the Bush era behind, the question arises: What part of America’s efforts to spread democracy can be rescued from this failure?

The Freedom Agenda
offers a richly detailed portrait of America’s support to democracy from the time of McKinley and Wilson to the post-9/11 era. James Traub describes the rise and fall of the Freedom Agenda during the Bush years, through interviews with key administration officials and through his own reporting from the Middle East and Africa. In the end, Traub argues that democracy matters—for human rights, for reconciliation among ethnic and religious groups, for political stability and equitable development—but the United States must exercise caution in its efforts to spread it, matching its deeds to its words, both abroad and at home. This nuanced approach is a proposal to support democracy in a “more honest, more modest, more generous” way.

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