For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the world is steadily becoming less democratic. The true culprits are dictators and counterfeit democrats. But, argues Klaas, the West is also an accomplice, inadvertently assaulting pro-democracy forces abroad as governments in Washington, London and Brussels chase pyrrhic short-term economic and security victories. Friendly fire from Western democracies against democracy abroad is too high a price to pay for a myopic foreign policy that is ultimately making the world less prosperous, stable and democratic.
The Despot's Accomplice draws on years of extensive interviews on the frontlines of the global struggle for democracy, from a poetry-reading, politician-kidnapping general in Madagascar to Islamist torture victims in Tunisia, Belarusian opposition activists tailed by the KGB, West African rebels, and tea-sipping members of the Thai junta. Cumulatively, their stories weave together a tale of a broken system at the root of democracy's global retreat.
This efficient and thought-provoking plea for the U.S. and other Western countries to prioritize democracy promotion is a must-read, especially with the pending development of President Trump's foreign policy. Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, is no armchair academic, and his analyses of policymaking challenges are informed by extensive, and sometimes dangerous, field work. This accessible read does not sacrifice depth for breadth as Klaas reviews the history of democracy before making convincing cases for his 10 principles for nurturing its expansion, which include "stop trying to improve democracy with war," and "encourage new democracies to include the old regime during transitions." He's a vigorous opponent of Kissinger-style realpolitik, but he also advocates positions that he anticipates will be opposed by the left. The volume's seriousness, appropriate given democracy's global decline over the past decade, is leavened by gallows humor, as when he notes that a USAID program reported that Cambodia had exceeded expectations for democratic values a year after an anti-democratic coup. Klaas is able to make his points simply and clearly, as in his observation that democracy, like free speech, must be protected regardless of whether it yields a preferred result.