PRESIDENTIAL VISIT Ukraine's Yushchenko travels to Washington

Some world leaders question U.S. interests in promoting democracy.
WASHINGTON -- Democracy's global march will take the Washington spotlight this week as Viktor Yushchenko -- who rode a wave of people power and braved a near-fatal poisoning to become Ukraine's president in January -- makes calls on the White House and the U.S. Congress.
Yushchenko, who visits President Bush today and speaks to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, will discuss matters ranging from economic ties to prospects for NATO membership.
But symbolically he comes as a poster boy for democracy's spread to new corners of the globe, as the Bush administration settles on democratization -- especially of the Arab and Muslim worlds -- as its principal foreign-policy goal.
Indeed, the parade of new democrats, including leaders who came to power in high-profile elections, will probably maintain a brisk pace. Palestine's Mahmoud Abbas will be greeted at the White House later this spring.
Values and interests
Yet for all the basking in democratic progress, the Yushchenko visit also provides a setting for gauging the U.S. role in democracy promotion. In particular, questions are being asked from Latin America to Eastern Europe and beyond about whether the United States and American pro-democracy groups are promoting universal values -- or siding with favored leaders and furthering national interests.
At the same time, questions are likely to intensify over intervention in nations' internal affairs at a time when much of the "low fruit" -- the easier cases for democratization -- is already picked. This will be especially true as pressures for change mount in countries that may not have a robust civil society to cushion the turmoil that accompanies political change. One example is Zimbabwe, where the regime of Robert Mugabe last week tightened its grip in what are widely viewed as fraudulent parliamentary elections.
"We're at a crucial moment that calls for being especially careful about supporting certain universal values and not political tendencies," said Thomas Carothers, a democratization expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. After a post-cold-war decade of democratic advancement, he added, "barriers may be rising again."

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