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On Capitol Hill, support is strong in both parties. In 2003 the House overwhelmingly passed a bill, still awaiting Senate action, requiring (among other things) that the U.S. seek a democracy caucus. "It's a very high priority for a number of us who want to push it through," said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., who is the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, and whose co-sponsor is House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif. In the Senate, Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations, is sponsoring a similar resolution.
Partisanship is nowhere to be seen. The Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, supports the idea, and, said Lantos, "There is not the slightest doubt in my mind, although I haven't talked to him about it, that John Kerry will be just as enthusiastic."
Jimmy Carter and Scoop Jackson, together at last! Rarely have liberal idealism and neoconservative realism converged so completely. That confluence assures the democracy caucus a future, regardless of which party is in charge.
But how big a future? Democracies can be a fractious bunch, as the United States found in its collision with France last year. "It's not a guarantee," Williamson said of the democracy caucus. "But it's going to help."
Eventually, officials say, the United States would like to see the caucus shape policy not just in the Human Rights Commission but throughout the U.N. system. As of now, that seems ambitious. Getting the democracies to coordinate their committee nominations is about as big as anyone is thinking.
But consider the long-term potential. By the time the Community of Democracies becomes strong enough to act coherently inside the U.N., it will also be strong enough to act coherently outside the U.N. It will contain most of the world's countries, including most of the strong ones. It will be unencumbered by the vetoes of tin-pot tyrannies. As it gains confidence and skill, it will attract money and authority. It may sprout an aid budget, a relief program, a peacekeeping arm, perhaps treaty powers.
In other words, the Community of Democracies may begin as a voice within the U.N. but go on to become a competitor to the U.N. Perhaps—one can dream—it may someday be the U.N.'s successor.
"United Nations" is an oxymoron. Democracies and dictatorships are mongoose and cobra, with no real hope of uniting except opportunistically. But a community of democracies—that might just work. It already works in NATO and the E.U. The new community is a fledgling, but many readers of this article may live to see it soar.