House Republican Questions Plans to Spread Democracy

A House Republican influential on foreign affairs matters questioned the wisdom and potential effectiveness Thursday of American efforts to spread democracy, a cornerstone of Bush administration policy.

With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice poised to testify to his panel, Chairman Henry Hyde of the House International Relations Committee questioned what he called the "Golden Theory" — that the United States can produce peace and stability around the world by financing and encouraging democracy.

"The magic formula of democracy alone" will not work, said Hyde, R-Ill. It must be paired with "unbounded power" and "an open-ended commitment of time and resources, which we cannot and will not do," he said.

"But without that long-term dominant American position, the odds of success are long indeed," Hyde said.

He did not mention President Bush or Rice, and she did not respond to his remarks. There was no immediate reaction from the State Department.

Hyde's critique of one of Bush's key foreign policy tenets was unusual, coming from a member of his own party. Until now, lawmakers — including some Republicans — have generally been critical of specific aspects of administration policy, such as in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Hyde's spokesman, Sam Stratman, said afterward, "Chairman Hyde strongly supports the president's strategy of promoting freedom around the world."

"In his remarks," Stratman added, "Mr. Hyde provides a cautionary note that promoting democracy is a long-term process, not merely the result of some magic formula."

Hyde and other members of the committee did not pursue the chairman's skeptical admonition that "lashing our interests to the indiscriminate promotion of democracy is a tempting but unwarranted strategy."

He spoke a day after Rice asked Congress for $75 million this year to build democracy in Iran. The money would go to dissidents and scholars as well as fund Farsi language radio and satellite television programming.

Other administration officials acknowledged it could be difficult to promote democracy in Iran through dissidents or anti-government groups because of the risk of retribution and frequent government infiltration of groups advocating democracy.

Hyde's comments also come at a time when a spate of democratic activity around the world has not always resulted in results the United States preferred. The radical group Hamas has won an election for control of the Palestinian parliament, a Shiite religious bloc triumphed in Iraq's elections, and Egypt recently postponed elections. At the same time, though, events have been more favorable in Lebanon, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Rice has played a central, public role in championing the democracy policy.

"The United States wishes to reach out to the Iranian people and support their desire to realize their own freedom and to secure their own democratic and human rights," she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

But Hyde, without referring directly to Bush or Rice, was clear in his message and for whom it was intended.

"For some," he said, "the promotion of democracy promises an easy resolution to the many difficult problems we face, a guiding light on a dimly seen horizon."

"But I believe that great caution is warranted here," Hyde said.