Biden’s Second ‘Democracy Summit’ Will Be as Useless as the First

On Wednesday, world leaders will hold the second “Democracy Summit” — the brainchild of Joe Biden and his political handlers who are still trying to make the president look like a world leader.

The problem with the first “Democracy Summit” was that there weren’t very many democracies in the 110 nations that participated. The second Democracy Summit will be even worse because it will feature 10 more nations and a slew of civil society groups and technology companies who have very curious ideas about  what “democracy” is.

“I think this administration, like any other administration, has just found that [it] is too difficult” to make the hard choices to actually put democracy front and center, said Tess McEnery. McEnery worked on human rights issues in the Biden administration until August 2022 and is now with the Project on Middle East Democracy.

The inconsistency in who gets invited to this shindig exposes the stupidity of trying to pick and choose which thugs and authoritarians we’ll entertain at a “democracy summit.”

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The same controversies that marred the first summit are sure to accompany this one. NATO allies Hungary and Turkey have once again been left off the list of invitees, while other governments that have been undermining democracy and the rule of law in their countries will still be represented. The snubbed governments may consider their exclusion to be a badge of honor, or they may take offense that they have been excluded again for what they will consider to be arbitrary reasons. Regardless, the U.S. and its co-hosts need to be able to explain why certain states don’t make the cut for events like this and others with similar records do.

For example, India has been sliding toward religious authoritarianism for years but we need India as a counter to China. Daniel Larison, the former editor at The American Conservative, writes, “It will be awkward at best to have the Indian government represented at a democracy summit while that government is openly undermining democracy and press freedom in India. Including India in this year’s summit makes it clear that there is no consistent or principled standard being applied against backsliding governments.”

Related: Kamala Harris Goes to Africa. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

We couldn’t exist in a world where we only deal with nations that share our understanding of democracy. “The Biden administration has gone so far as to … negotiate with one dictator to counter another,” said Christopher Hernandez-Roy with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. So what’s the point of holding a “democracy summit”?

That brings us back to the question of what purpose this summit serves. If it is intended to “bolster” democratic norms and practices and stave off backsliding, it is not working very well. If it is just putting on a show to congratulate ourselves on the superiority of our own system, it is a waste of time and effort. If it is mostly an exercise in providing window dressing for some other policy agenda, we could dispense with the pretense that it has anything to do with democracy at all.

“Given all these pitfalls, another democracy summit doesn’t seem to be worth the headaches that it will likely create for Washington,” writes Larison. That goes without saying, but the chances that anyone in America is taking this summit as anything but chest-thumping by Biden are slim.

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