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US Democracy Promotion in the Arab World: Beyond Interests vs. Ideals

Mieczysław P. Boduszyński
US Democracy Promotion in the Arab World: Beyond Interests vs. Ideals
ISBN: 978-1-62637-817-9
ISBN: 978-1-955055-13-0
2019/241 pages/LC: 2019009322
"[An] inside look into the intricate policy process that many scholars tend to neglect." —Gregory Aftandilian, Middle East Journal

"A fascinating read.... this book is certainly an original work of scholarship, which carefully delineates the policy making process in US democracy promotion between 2011 and 2019. It is an important contribution."—Zerrin Torun, Democratization

"An important and nuanced account…. Providing a wealth of practical and theoretical insight, Boduszyński traces US democracy promotion in the Middle East since the Arab Spring, explains why the US failed to support democratic transitions in that critical moment, and examines the initial consequences of the Trump administration's abrupt retreat from democracy on the world stage.” —Susan Hyde, University of California, Berkeley

"At a time when President Trump and his administration seem disinterested in promoting democracy abroad, Mieczyslaw Boduszysnki has written an important new book that explains why this current era of neglect is a short-sighted mistake. Boduszysnki digs deep in the history of US democracy promotion to uncover the opportunities lost. His well-researched study not only contributes to the study of US foreign policy, but also provides practical, policy, and normative advice for how to take advantage of democratic breakthroughs in the future."—Michael McFaul, Stanford University, author of From Cold War to Hot Peace: A U.S. Ambassador in Putin's Russia

"A fascinating and engrossing account…. Boduszynski's analysis is lively and engaging and offers valuable insights into both the individual predispositions and the bureaucratic interests that led the United States to lean in at first, but then ultimately back away from a robust policy of democracy promotion…. It also provides a compelling theoretical framework for understanding the role that external actors can play in supporting democratic movements, as well as how and why the US came up short in its response to the Arab Spring." —Michael Carpenter, Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement

"Mietek Boduszyński was on the ground as a US diplomat during the upheaval of the Arab Spring,  and he had an intimate view of the tragic consequences and contradictions of US policy in the region. Now he has also gone behind the scenes to conduct scores of interviews with key policy makers back in Washington. With extraordinary clarity and insight, his book cuts through all the usual clichés and hypothetical debates to address critical questions about why it all went wrong…. Anyone who wants to understand the US role in the unhappy outcome of the Arab uprisings must read this book.” —David D. Kirkpatrick, international correspondent, New York Times

"Combining a lively narrative, theoretical sophistication, and trenchant policy analysis, this is a magisterial book. Moving beyond a simple 'interests vs. values dichotomy,' Mieczysław Boduszyński accounts for oft-neglected contextual factors in explaining the course of US policy after the Arab uprisings of 2010-2011…. The case studies of Arab states, informed by an impressive range of interviews, make for riveting and sobering reading…. An authoritative and accessible work that deserves a wide audience among scholars and practitioners alike." —Frederic Wehrey, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

"A wonderfully detailed investigation of US foreign policy decisionmaking that adds dimension and insight on a range of topics in international relations and comparative politics. [Boduszyński] combines social science analysis with personal experience to make for an enjoyable as well as an insightful read."—Tamara Cofman Wittes, Brookings Institution


Whether democracy promotion should play a role in US foreign policy continues to be a subject of considerable debate, perhaps nowhere more than with regard to the Arab World. But looking beyond the "whether," what explains why, where, and how the United States promotes democracy? What caused the shift from the Obama administration's support of the Arab Spring protests in 2011 to its retreat from democracy promotion only two years later? What explains the Trump administration’s focus on relationships with autocrats?

In the context of these questions, Mieczysław Boduszyński explores the tensions between interests and ideals in US foreign policy and the possibilities and limits of US democracy promotion in a region where Washington has often supported autocracy over freedom.


Mieczysław P. Boduszyński is assistant professor of politics and international relations at Pomona College.


  • US Democracy Promotion in the Arab World.
  • On US Democracy Promotion.
  • Individuals.
  • Institutions.
  • Challengers.
  • Trump and the Demise of US Democracy Promotion.