Fanning out over the globe to the far-flung backwaters of Azerbaijan and the jungles of Zimbabwe, a modern-day group of missionaries has been spreading the gospel of democracy. Inflamed with the zeal of Jesuits preaching the Good Book to wild Indians, these latter-day saints worship at the altar of pluralism, free elections, and human rights, believing a universal Bill of Rights and the ballot box are the road map and gateway to political salvation. Their mission is to convert the politically unwashed, and they believe recent world events prove that the masses are ready to gather with the saints at the river.

Meet the National Endowment for Democracy. Though created by an act of Congress in 1983 “to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts,” Congressman Dante Fascell had been stumping for such an organization for two decades. The idea was to replace the CIA’ s disbanded covert effort to fund publications and political movements abroad, which was a worthy endeavor, but one that he thought must be pursued openly. Despite Fascell’s best efforts, including congressional hearings on the subject, the idea for a democracy endowment didn’t attract much political support until a meeting of what became its patrimonial triumvirate: Senator Orrin Hatch; the AFL-CIO’s long-time anticommunist foreign minister, Irving Brown; and its president, Lane Kirkland.

At a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Hatch recalls, “We were concerned about the disinformation expenditures of the Soviet Union and felt there ought to be a counter organization” that would promote the American principles of pluralism and civil rights. Mostly because of Brown’s successful postwar struggle against the communist subversion of European trade unions, Hatch and the other supporters of “Project Democracy” (as it was then called) eventually persuaded enough people to back it, and after Ronald Reagan boosted the idea in a speech to the British Parliament, NED was born with a $31.3 million budget.

True to the spirit of bipartisanism, ED’s board of directors and senior officers are prominent Democrats and Republicans, including such political luminaries a5 Charles Manatt, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Republican big wigs Bill Brock and Henry Kissinger, Messrs. Hatch and Fascell, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. The president is Carl Gershman, former executive director of the Social Democrats, USA, a number of whom came to political prominence in the Reagan administration and whose work NED has supported.

NED’s calling is simple: send money to neophyte political organizations seeking democratic reform in other countries. Though NED distributes some money directly, most of its funds are channeled through four organizations: the AFL-CIO’s Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI), the US Chamber of Commerce’s Center for International Private Enterprise (GIPE), the Republican National Committee’s National Republican Institute for International Affairs (NRI), and the Democratic National Committee’s National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI).

The idea behind this four-pronged approach is to harvest the best American political and economic ideas from the myriad of political, business, and labor organizations who work together to make public policy and build similar institutions overseas. Such groups may have different policy goals, NED fans say, but they work harmoniously toward one ultimate purpose: “pluralist” democracy respecting fundamental human rights.

Says the NDI’s Ken Wollock, “pluralism is what we’re trying to support. The idea was to look at what institutions have contributed to American pluralism and sustained our democratic system. [They) would work with counterparts overseas in the belief that strong competing political parties are necessary to sustain democratic society.” NED’s mission is “not so much deciding which democratic philosophy will prevail, but to strengthen all in the spectrum. . . . A democratic system rests with strong democratic institutions. Each plays an important role in the democratic development process and the life of a country.” Adds NED president Gershman, “in our society you have countervailing institutions, all of which make a democracy.” On the surface, it may appear as if NED promotes Democracy on a bipartisan, bipolar basis: Democrats and labor unions on the one hand, Republicans and businessmen on the other. Yet a look at how NED distributes funds to the four main grantees, and in tum at the organizations they support in foreign countries, shows that NED mostly supports social democrats.

NED’s pet beneficiary is the AFL-CIO’s FTUI, which received more than a third of NED’ s budget in 1983 and 76 percent the following year. Though NED dramatically cut the group’s funding in recent years, it still dishes out twice as much to the FTUI as it does to GIPE. The political parties each receive the same amount of money, which makes it appear as if NED is truly bipartisan, but totaling the figures belies the true bias of NED: The FTUI receives $44. 3 million; CIPE, $13.3 million; RI/NDI, $8.9 million ($4.45 million each).

In short, the socialist or social democratic wing of ED’s quartet of grantees has received nearly $50 million, while the capitalist or liberal-democratic wing has received $1 7 million. Gershman argues that FTU l has traditionally received the most money because, as a recipient of US government funds for three decades, it was a preexisting vehicle for spreading NED’ s money and ideas. But that line doesn’t wash with NED’s critics. One Capitol Hill aide says the “NED is a support group for Socialist International,” observing that “its main interest is in Europe and Latin America, where the Socialist International is very strong.”

A principal example of ED’s social democratic bent is what most say is its cardinal success: the Solidarity union in charge of Poland. NED has pumped well over $2 million into Solidarity, supporting its underground and above ground activities by “disseminating information, sustaining union activities and maintaining its administrative infrastructure” in Poland and Western Europe, as one FTUI grant synopsis reports. Though other organizations in Poland have received assistance, NED’s goal has always been Solidarity’s ascension to power.

From the perspective of NED’s critics, Solidarity wasn’t the only or even best game in town as far as US interests arc concerned. The pro-free market, anti-Soviet Confederacy of Independent Poland (KPN) was ready and willing to accept NED’s assistance to help oust the Jaruzelski regime, but never got a dime from the agency. It practically begged NED for assistance, received endorsements from Congress men Jim Courter and William Lipinski, and appears to have been the perfect sub-grailtee for the NRI and CIPE. But it’s been treated like a skunk at the garden party.

According to KPN’s New York-based representative Marek Ruszczynski, NED funds Solidarity because it is “ideologically left-wing. American taxpayers are supporting only one orientation in Poland,” a statement with which congressional critics agree. NED board member Hatch denied the agency has an ideological bias, saying the decision not to fund KPN probably “comes down to money.” Maybe so, but Solidarity is nonetheless an avowedly socialist organization, and when its leaders took control of the government after trouncing the Communist party in last year’s election, they assured Mikhail Gorbachev that Poland would remain a firm member of the Warsaw Pact.

The story is much the same in Chile. In December 1987, Congress appropriated $1 million for NED to monitor the plebiscite that would determine whether General Augusto Pinochet’s rule would continue for another eight years or whether he’d be forced to call the election that was held in December. At the time, Gershman told the pro-Pinochet El Mercurio, “we do not support any campaign in favor of a vote in any specific direction, neither in support of a YES nor in support of a NO vote.” Yet NED dumped more than half-a-million dollars into the hands of Pinochet’s opponents: $366,400 wound up in the coffers of the anti-Pinochet National Command for the No, $150,000 in the treasuries of the anti-Pinochet National Yorkers Command and Democratic Workers Command, trade unions supporting the No vote, and $50,000 in the purse of the anti-Pinochet, Christian Democrat newspaper called La Epoca.

Moreover, the National Journal reported that NED’s Democratic Party sub-grantee, NDI, “persuaded several American political consultants, including pollster Peter D. Hart and media specialist Frank Greer, to help Chileans mount a campaign against Pinochet—the Command for the No, as it was known. Also participating were the other core groups: the Republican Institute, organized labor’s Free Trade Union Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce’s Center for International Private Enterprise.” In designing Chile’s first nationwide poll, “the consultants helped the opposition use the data to shape its message. The poll identified a large slice of undecided voters, and the No Campaign set out to reach them with a positive theme: ‘Happiness is Coming’.”

Says Jennifer White, a former House Foreign Affairs Committee staff member who monitored the plebiscite, “it was very blatant that the money was used to support the ‘No’ position. . . . They were kind of giggling about it.” Supporting the intervention but denying NRI’s participation, NRI’s chief Keith Schuete says, “it was a horrible mistake for Pinochet to run, 1 considered it a legitimate work of the endowment . . . I am not made particularly nervous about” funding the No campaign. In any event, Pinochet’s left-wing Christian Democratic opponent, Patricio Aylwin, won the election.

NED has been active in Nicaragua for years, and now is assisting the opposition group UNO, which is anticommunist only in its opposition to totalitarian rule and to the Sandinistas’ foreign policy. UNO is not opposed to the junta‘s program of socialist central planning, and while UNO’s presidential candidate Violetta Chamorro has said that if victorious she would remove the junta leadership from power, she also promised that the Sandinista bureaucracy would be welcome to continue working for her administration. She and her late husband were early Sandinista supporters, and her running mate was a labor minister in the Sandinista government and has yet to denounce it. For its part, the UNO coalition of fourteen or so political parties includes the pro-Soviet Nicaraguan Communist Party, the Nicaraguan Socialist Party, and Sandinista front groups that lent a “democratic” veneer to an election process marked by machete attacks against UNO as NED’s stunned missionaries looked on.

Yet communist countries and Third World despots aren’t NED’s only targets for democratization. Countries that most observers would say already pass the democracy test are also on NED’s roster of potential converts. In Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, NDI “is helping the efforts of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the communal conflict.” (Humorously, the SDLP is a supporter of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, which NED opposes.) NED and its subalterns are also active in Spain, Portugal, and India (the “world’s largest democracy”), and FTUI even gave $1.4 million to a “right-wing” trade union and student group opposing the socialist Mitterrand government in France.

NED’s African programs are biased as well. It didn’t support the democratic forces in Namibia’s recent election, and hasn’t contributed any money to any group opposing the communist governments of Angola, Mozambique, or Ethiopia. The one-party Marxist state of Zimbabwe has been the target of only one NED grantee in the last three years, two in the last four. Instead, most of NED’s African resources have been saved for a number of anti-government groups in South Africa.

NED also makes what it calls “regional” grants. Of 19 regional grants slated for Africa between 1986 and 1988, the Free Trade Union Institute received 16 of them for a grand total near $2 million. In fact, FTUI receives most of these regional grants, whether in Asia, Africa, or Latin America.

Admitting NED’s bias in programming, the NRI’s Schuete says, “I would agree that NED’s work runs in the social democratic orbit. It works pretty directly with more center-right philosophy. Nicaragua is as good an example as you can get. NED is in the social democratic orbit, but its part of the conservative agenda.” Though “some people do count AFL-CIO programs as allegiant to the Democratic side, I think that’s a risky way to count the dollars. Some of the stuff is stuff Republicans could get real excited about.”

As one unexcited Republican Senate aide put it, what NED “considers democratic is always socialist.” NED’s supporters unanimously agree that it has been crucial in providing order and stability in countries where democratic rule is a distinct possibility; that the evolution of stable democracies is a vital national security interest of the United States.

The NDI’s Ken Wollock says NED “serves our long term interests and values because it promotes a more stable world environment. The international effort to strengthen the democratic center ultimately serves the interest of the United States.” Adds his Republican counterpart Schuete, “stable democracies help our national security. They go to war less frequently.”

Senator Hatch’s praise for NED is nothing short of effusive. “NED has shown a unique institutional democratic assistance openly and fairly . . . it’s been shocking to see how $15 million [a year] have stultified $3 billion of Soviet weapons.” NED, Hatch says, silenced Fidel Castro supporters in the US by publishing Armando Valladares’ Against All Hope and promoted capitalism in Peru by publishing the work of Hernando DeSoto. It has assisted democracy in Paraguay, Guatemala, the Philippines, South Korea, and Pakistan.

True, it assisted the “democratic” forces in those countries, but in the last three cases the “democrats” were also the electoral opposition to a government with which the United States had diplomatic relations, which trespasses NED’s charter. Yet that is NED’s only logical recourse, there being no purpose in sending money to a country where the opposition is already permitted to operate freely. Though NED’s charter says “democracy involves the right of the people freely to determine their own destiny,” the agency’s evangelists are always on the scene to make sure the masses know which destiny to determine.

The question is not only what is the NED’s real mission, but also does the NED really help American interests? Asks one NED critic, “Shouldn’t we be willing to accept the outcome that’s decided by the people if the elections are free and fair?” As Representative Jim Leach asked when NED was chartered, “what happens if a party comes to power in a foreign country that is opposed with funds distributed by our President’s political party?” In other words, what happens if the wrong candidate wins? Are we going to support the Sandinistas if they beat the NED backed Violetta Chamorro? And what would happen if the Chamorro ticket wins and the Sandinistas claim Yanqui dollars influenced the election?

No matter the outcome, it wouldn’t All serve American interests. Valladares’ Against All Hope may have silenced Fidel Castro’s propagandists in the United States, but it hasn’t toppled his regime or materially assisted Castro’s indigenous opponents. NED-subsidized forces op posed Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, but his successor, Corazon Aquino, who has just put down a fifth coup attempt, is under increasing pressure from the left to close American military bases there. Solidarity won in Poland, but as a member in good standing of the Warsaw Pact, that country is no less a threat to American national security now than it was before Solidarity “democratized” it. NED helped push Pakistan’s Bhutto regime into power, but Bhutto’s expression of gratitude has been to cover up the assassination of President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq and the US ambassador and Army general who were with him.

Far from promoting what is good about the United States, NED promotes a sterile procedure by which governments are supposed to be elected. Its foremost concern isn’t promoting a vision of the good and virtuous life as the Founding Fathers understood it, but promoting political relativism in the name of pluralism, which no longer describes free societies where different beliefs compete publicly in the hope that only the truly virtuous will eventually emerge from the multitude to become public policy. For the NED, pluralism means that no single idea represents truth, that no single group is worthy of American support, because the authors of competing ideas, however wrongheaded those ideas may be, must be allowed to flourish for a truly free society to develop. Thus, the failed manifesto of socialism deserves as much or more support as the time-tested successful system known as capitalism, the best we can hope for being a fragile “stability” between the two.

Says former Senate foreign relations staffer Christopher Manion, an NED foe: “This is precisely the problem NED faces . . . Our founding fathers reconfirmed the need for virtue as the centerpiece of a free society.” But the NED doesn’t promote virtue, Manion says, “so we are left with an empty mechanism: money and elections.”

This mischievous agency’s problems aside, NED is convincingly claiming credit for helping foment the “democratic” upheaval in Eastern Europe because the agency’s apostles have been thumping the Bible of Democracy among the heathens for several years. No one is sure what future the epiphany behind the Iron Curtain will usher in, but NED’s acolytes are convinced that whatever the changes are, they are at minimum “democratic.” For the less sanguine, blind faith in the NED’s epistles aren’t enough. Will the West have “won” if Eastern Europe’s new leaders remain in the Warsaw Pact? Or does victory over the East entail the dissolution of the enemy’s armed forces as well? What role will the Communists play in “democratic” post-communist Eastern Europe?

Whatever the answers to these questions, the fact that some change has occurred in the communist world and that most perceive it as “democratic” is a blessing to those who believe the focus of American foreign policy should be promoting “democracy.” Unfortunately, no one living in the democracy inside the Potomac dares ask whether the United States should be trying to “export” any kind of democracy at all. ¢