The U.S. government badly needs a National Democracy Strategy.
A plan to put democracy promotion and human rights at the center of our foreign policy is just plain naive -- the road to ruin is paved with good intentions. While it would surly make for stirring rhetoric, it would be a geo-political disaster. Don't get me wrong, I would support a humble scaled-down version of something like this as long as it chose its targets wisely.
America needs to be realistic about the limits of its ability to influence the domestic policies of foreign nations. Hubris on this front makes us look weak and ineffectual. Worse yet, we look like hypocrites when we crow about democracy promotion and human rights across the world but continue to bite our tongues when talking to offending allies such as Saudi Arabia or Israel. There is a reason countries like Canada and Sweden have more crediblity when making declarations about these issues, they are consistent and unbiased observers unmoved by the pull of the global power politics game.
The boundaries of a program like this must also be constrained by a savvy understanding of where such policies will be perceived as an act of aggression by foreign leaders with retaliatory streaks. Failure to perform this simple intellectual exercise in perspective taking runs the risk of creating or escalating hostilities needlessly. Democracy promotion should also not be at the top of the agenda in nations that would likely have a more anti-American foreign policy if they became more democratic.
An obsessively Manichaean American foreign policy that cleaves the world between democracies and authoritarian regimes also runs the risk of driving the latter closer together. The downside of a tightly allied Authoritarian Bloc is greater than the benefits of exclusive cooperation among democracies.
We must direct our diplomacy towards both our friends and adversaries alike, for the gravest problems we face -- climate change, pandemic threat, nuclear proliferation etc. -- are global in scale and require global cooperation. In the context of these collective existential threats it is clear that our foreign policy should be guided mainly by shared interests and not simply shared values. Remaking the world in our image is a dangerous distraction from what matters most today: saving the world.