Topic Analysis by Sophia Caldera, Chris Kymn, Carolyn Lau and JP Stuckert

Resolved: The United States ought to promote democracy in the Middle East.

By: Sophia Caldera, Chris Kymn, Carolyn Lau and JP Stuckert

This year’s camp topic is notable first for its breadth.  It deals with America’s engagement with between about 18 and 25 countries in the Middle East, depending on how you define the region,[1] and there are a multitude of different foreign policy tools that could be used to promote democracy in the region.  A person outside of debate remarked that it was “insultingly broad” to assume one could discuss a single policy objective for the whole region.  She, of course, did not know about the possibility of plans limiting the resolution to a particular situation – plans will, in all likelihood, be the norm for affirmatives.

The action of the resolution, “to promote,” only increases its ambiguity.  Traditional policy resolutions have a built-in requirement of significance.  But without any such requirement here, there is no pre-existing limitation on what might be reasonably seen as an effort to “promote” democracy.

Because affs can access such a wide variety of plans, the resolution creates an incentive for negatives to prep strategies which can link broadly to any aff.  This includes tools such as bidirectional T and theory, Kritiks with link stories that are generic or unavoidable, and NCs that avoid the substance debate in favor of permissibility or skepticism.  (This is especially true in a camp context, with limited time to research and incentives to create recyclable prep.)

Despite the number of potential plans, the consensus among us is that the neg probably has an advantage on this topic.  K ground is plentiful given the variety of assumptions the affirmative must defend, and critical literature on these topics is extensive.  Moreover, the breadth of the topic bolsters certain T and theory arguments, giving negs easy access to higher layers.  Finally, if affs leave the solvency debate open, the neg can likely back the aff into a corner by engaging solvency on the AC and reading offense on a higher layer elsewhere.  This solvency debate is especially tricky for the aff given the consensus in a large portion of the literature that efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East have and will continue to be unsuccessful.


            The nature of the word “ought” has a few interesting implications in this context.  First, it is very strategic to have permissibility ground, because proving an absolute prohibition or obligation to promote democracy is difficult.  Especially in the absence of a plan, showing that the US should always or never promote democracy is highly unrealistic.  Even side-constraint NCs, as we address below, are very dependent on context.

Second, people may define ought as simply an obligation or governmental obligations rather than as a moral obligation.  This is not uncommon on government topics in general, but tends to be even more prevalent on foreign policy topics since it can be coupled with “states aren’t moral actors” arguments like “the international arena is anarchic” and “states do not have self-reflective intentionality.”  With these arguments, you can claim that the obligations of governments are simply national security or promoting the national interests of a country.  Negatives can also use these arguments to justify a framework while simultaneously taking out AC frameworks based on a moral ought.  A functional definition of ought could also support these types of frameworks, and may provide a way of averting the permissibility debate mentioned above.

Finally, if we think of ought as expressing a logical consequence (not an uncommon strategy at camps) our interpretation of the resolution changes dramatically.  At first, people might assume that this clearly affirms: obviously, the US is likely to continue its current and ongoing attempts to promote democracy.  However, it’s worth noting here that the resolution does not say “The US ought to try to promote democracy” (in fact, wording was specifically rejected); it says it “ought to promote democracy.”  This seems to imply that if the US is going to fail to promote democracy, ought as a logical consequence negates (we discuss this interpretation of “promote” at greater length in the theory and topicality section).


As previously explained, we expect plans to be extremely common on this topic: it is difficult to meaningfully consider it outside of particular situations. Everyone should be well-versed in and prepared to defend at least one or two potential plans.  Even philosophical ACs that one would typically defend for the whole resolution may need plan texts to ensure their links to their offense and rule out extreme but technically resolutional actions.  The most strategic plans will be those with good solvency evidence that are not coercive, thereby avoiding links to coercion bad NCs and at least mitigating links to the most common Ks.  It should be noted that of the 80 or so countries that have transitioned to democracies in the past 30 years or so, only five did so with US military intervention as a factor (Grenada, Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq).[2] Military interventions to overthrow non-democratic regimes typically have justifications beyond democracy promotion as well.[3]

An odd but useful feature of this topic is that a significant amount of old prep can be recycled into it.  The most obvious examples are topics about foreign policy tools the US might use: sanctions, conditional aid, and humanitarian intervention.  Other topics which may be relevant are targeted killing, reparations (some framework arguments), compulsory voting (regarding coercion for the sake of democracy), and ICC.  If you have prep on these topics, it’s probably worth familiarizing yourself with it to be able to engage other people, but we don’t recommend reading an advocacy based on one.  There are two reasons for this: first, it is not strategic to run a position everyone should already have prep against, and second, practicing research is part of the point of camp.

A few plans that initially struck us as worth considering: Egypt, which receives a large amount of aid from the US,[4] may be imminently turning toward authoritarianism,[5] suggesting a conditional aid plan[6] or something similar; the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative (MEPI)[7] is a potentially non-coercive plan that both the Bush and Obama administrations have been supportive of;[8] and USAID[9] and the National Endowment for Democracy[10] might be used similarly to facilitate the development of democracy in the region.

The Solvency Debate

The process of “democratization,”[11]where a government adopts a democratic regime, is well-examined in a large body of literature.  In the history of the world, of course, some countries took centuries to become democracies.  This seemed to coincide with certain economic developments, though this connection is not necessarily a given.  Intentionally promoting democracy, though, has not proven to be easy.

In Chile, El Salvador, South Korea, Taiwan, Georgia, and the Ukraine, long-term US efforts arguably[12] contributed to eventual democratization[13] –  it does seem possible for the US to effect change in other regimes if undertaken patiently.  Two possible objections could be made: first, this is near-useless in the case of an imminent scenario, and second, these examples lie outside of the Middle East and its particularly complex relationship with democratization efforts.[14]

Previously, experts tended to view the heavy entrenchment of regimes and leaders as the primary obstacle to a lot of democratization efforts.[15]  The Arab Spring, however, seemed to cast doubt on this theory, causing some disruption to virtually every regime in the region and spelling the downfall of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.[16]  Exploiting momentum from these transformations could put the US at a unique juncture for facilitating major changes in the region.[17]

Here, though, we have a dilemma: should we attempt to suddenly make significant changes in this brief window of opportunity, or focus on long-term strategies as past experiences suggest?  This question will likely define how much of the solvency debate plays out.

On another note, Barbara Wejnert, a very famous political sociologist, recently came out with a book that contends that international factors play a bigger role than domestic factors in leading to democratization.[18]  Her research may suggest a spillover effect when governments in the region transition to democracy, and could also lend support to certain consultation/multilateralism counter-plans.

Finally, of course, the solvency debate depends to an enormous degree on the particularities of the AC advocacy.  This does not simply mean solvency varies if you are running a conditional aid plan, a MEPI plan or a sanctions plan; the particularities of the implementation of these methods vary.  For instance, in the case of conditional aid, Chong[19] and Schimmelfennig[20] each lay out various conditions necessary for its efficacy.

Neg Policy Arguments

Very few DAs will be applicable to every AC.  Instead, you’ll need specific DAs to specific plans.  A few that could apply to any aff might include arguments about the relationship between the US and some regional or global power and soft-power DAs that claim the US will lose credibility when it tries to promote democracy.  The impacts of relations and soft-power include a diminished ability to solve human rights crises, more terrorism (or difficulty countering it), and overt war with other powers. Given the multitude of plans susceptible to similar DAs, it may be worthwhile to construct a file for one of these and include more specific links for different countries.

Other DAs will claim that aff action could disrupt something good currently about to happen. For example, US interferences in the Middle East right now might undermine the Obama administration’s recent deal with Iran (but make sure your evidence is up to date).  There is also a wide range of politics DAs.  Promoting democracy is increasingly less and less popular in the US, and tends to stir resentment from the far right and far left.  This may specifically be framed as undermining the Iran deal (it’s possible but unlikely that Congress could derail it[21]) or something else entirely.

Next, we anticipate a variety of theoretically questionable counterplans on this topic.  Some consultation counterplans will solve for harms to our relations (either with regional countries or with competitive powers like China or Russia).  These may also mitigate links to colonialism Ks because talking with regional powers can lessen claims of overt domination over other countries.[22]

Advantage CPs provide the neg with a valuable tool against the wide variety of advantages affs can claim access to. For those unfamiliar, advantage counterplans present an alternate way to solve some affirmative offense for the purpose of leveraging other offense. Many advantages affs may claim, such as decreasing conflict or terrorism, may be solved much more effectively by methods other than promoting democracy, and smart negatives should take advantage of these solutions.

Agent counterplans suggesting that the UN or some NGO takes action in the place of the United States may help to mitigate backlash arguments and solvency deficits as well as relations DAs.  Moreover, action by agents other than the US may be less imperialist or colonialist (or potentially worse).

There are also a few possible PICs.  One possibility is a word PIC out of problematic but commonly used names of countries appearing in plan texts.  The term “Middle East” or even “democracy” could also be indicted.  Finally, the neg could take advantage of an affirmative’s failure to specify a country by PICing out of one country where there is good evidence that democracy promotion would be counter-productive.

Phil Cases

A variety of framework-heavy cases on this topic likely go different ways given different plans.  As such, we have decided not to address philosophical ACs and NCs separately but rather consider what philosophies might be prominent and how they can be implicated.

The first thing to consider is frameworks based on International Relations Theory.  Realism[23] can go both ways.  If your framework directly claims that it is moral for the US to do whatever is in its national interest (also accessible via definitions of “ought” discussed above), the offense seems to come down to a solvency/quasi-utilitarian debate about the consequences of the policy advocated by the aff.  (Other non-utilitarian framework arguments could also act as impact calculus for this type of position.)  Realism in a different sense might conclude that all actions done for the sake of promoting the US interests are permissible.  This suggests a strategically layered neg: first, that the intention behind promoting democracy is not to help the US’s national interests; second, that the consequences of promoting democracy do not help us, and finally, that even meeting these burdens would prove mere permissibility, which negates.

The implications of Wendt’s constructivism[24] and related theories are even less clear.  Arguing that we should be consistent with international norms or law certainly depends on the content of the aff.  A significant body of literature claims that military intervention is usually a violation of international law[25] (with a possible exception for UN-approved actions,[26] suggesting a potential consultation or alternative-agent counterplan).  But for the most part, affs are unlikely to defend overt military intervention.  Giving aid almost certainly does not violate international law, but conditional aid might[27].  Supporting rebel groups in another country is common in the international domain, but may be frowned upon.[28]

Kant himself advocated for the expansion of republican institutions in order to bring about a “perpetual peace.”[29]  However, it is unclear how well this meshes with the traditional Kantian frameworks people run. The ideal Kant aff would explain why a lack of democracy in the Middle East is a hindrance of US citizens’ freedom, though a longer route would be to justify intervention via the duty of beneficence, and then explain why democracy itself is necessary for freedom.

Whether or not he would actually affirm, Kant is regarded as a founder of cosmopolitanism, which could be a source of plausible ethical principles for an aff.[30]  “Cosmo” underpins or relates to a wide variety of authors and frameworks we read in debate, including Rawls,[31] Butler,[32] Derrida,[33] Levinas,[34] Habermas[35] and even God frameworks;[36] each of these puts its own twist on the theory.[37]

Rawls negates fairly explicitly in his book The Law of Peoples,[38] where he says that we cannot interfere with a non-democratic state so long as that state protects human rights.  However, some have accused Rawls of inconsistency and argue that a traditional Rawlsian framework affirms.[39]  Moreover, democracy empirically seems to go hand-in-hand with certain protections of human rights.  As for Levinas, our initial suspicions are that he would negate because imposing a way of life on other peoples constitutes totalization.

There may be a strong naturalism-esque/Aristotelian aff based on the idea that democratic participation is an essential part of human flourishing.[40]  If civic participation is virtuous, those who have the virtue would be concerned with bring about the virtue in others – by having the virtue, they are necessarily committed to recognizing it as good.  However, this is likely limited by the intuition that you cannot coerce someone else into being virtuous: if someone held a gun to your head and forced you to give to charity, then you are not acting in accordance with the virtue of charity but rather because you fear for your life.[41]  Coercion might be useful in developing some virtues (as when a parent forces a child to behave) but is likely insufficient.  The fact that we dealing with international relations complicates this further because while a state may care about fostering virtue in its own citizens, it is unclear to what extent, if any, it ought to care about virtue in the citizens of other states.[42]

Corrective justice will also probably be common.[43]  It was run on the reparations topic at camp last year and used by some debaters in reparations-type cases throughout the year.  The position’s key twist lies in its analysis of past harms: it must demonstrate that the US has disrupted the workings of other countries in the past and now has an obligation to fix them.[44]  This may especially be true for Iran, where the US intentionally reversed progress into democracy for strategic reasons.[45]  However, debaters developing this type of position will need to invest in justifying why promoting democracy is the appropriate remedy (as opposed to a further harm).  It is possible to take a Kantian route to justify corrective justice,[46] although this might not be the most efficient method.  Aristotle also includes a corrective aspect in his conception of justice[47] so this could form a plank of a more developed Aristotelian AC.[48]

Generic descriptive standards also apply on both sides of the topic, again depending on the plan.  We’ve already discussed I-law, but constitutionality might be a decent side-constraint neg against some plans.  Arguments that certain plans are unconstitutional can also serve as solvency takeouts, given that they would be struck down by the courts.  Polls also vary based on the proposed action. There is a potential theoretical case to be made against someone reading polls without a plan text, because while people may say “yes democracy is good,” it is unlikely they are expressing a blanket approval for any action taken to promote it.  In general, it seems that polls negate.[49]

Coercion bad NCs also require AC-specific links.  They can be justified either by commonly-seen methods or with appeals to state sovereignty – a potentially more strategic route given the topic, but susceptible to 1AR Ks of the notion of sovereignty. To make these NCs apply generically, one might search for literature that says all US actions are actually coercive even if it is not immediately apparent.  Some of this literature will have a critical element to it.

Libertarianism NCs also have potential on this topic.  The offense overlaps somewhat with coercion bad positions, but includes the idea that the government extends beyond its proper role when it interferes with the domestic affairs of other countries.[50]  This can also reference critical arguments that say US foreign policy perpetuates a military-industrial complex and/or surveillance apparatus.

Critical Cases

The K literature on this topic is rich and varied.  In the past, Ks have been read directly against the idea of promoting democracy with impacts like promoting warfare.  On this topic, of course, this is less an indict of aff assumptions than a straight-forward neg position.  It may be the instinct of some people to simply run a series of imperialism bad cards and call it a K.  While this could be a good first step to learning to write Ks, if you are unfamiliar with the process, you might consider making it a goal over the course of camp to improve the K in terms of sophistication and strategic value.  A series of generic cards may not share all the same assumptions and could be incompatible in ways not immediately apparent.  Moreover, being familiar with the vocabulary of a particular way of analyzing and criticizing imperialism and/or colonialism can provide you with the conceptual tools to deploy the arguments more effectively.  And finally, working through writing a particular type of K probably has a great amount of educational value.

The first major set of Kritiks revolve around the idea of cultural imperialism where the US attempts to export its own culture and take over other cultures.  This is related to an Orientalism Kritik based on the work of Edward Said.[51]  This Kritik is about the way in which Westerners have patronizing representations of the Middle East which essentialize Middle Eastern states/cultures as underdeveloped and eternally problematic.  This relates to cultural imperialism Kritiks because this essentialism can be the basis for a drive to replace Middle Eastern cultures with Western culture in order to solve certain “problems.”[52]  There are, however, other vocabularies and methods of critiquing cultural imperialism.

Another twist on imperialism Kritiks is the Empire Kritik[53] based on the work of Hardt and Negri.  This Kritik says the traditional vocabulary of imperialism and is no longer adequate to talk about the way domination works in geopolitics.  Instead of one state exerting global influence and dominating other states what we now have is a collection of leaders of states, NGOs, and corporations which attempt to exert control.  There is some evidence for this view of the world, and Hardt and Negri have seen themselves as vindicated following the Iraq War[54] because they think it showed the US is no longer capable of ruling the world on its own.  To be clear, the point isn’t that China or someone else will replace the US, it is that imperialism no longer works in the same way.  Links to affs take the form of “some ‘problem’ is inevitable given Empire but the AC’s attempt to compensate for it re-entrenches Empire” and there are a variety of links to ideas that will be common on this topic.  The K could be strategic because of the wide variety of ideas on the topic it can criticize including other leftist positions.  Unfortunately, learning the intricacies of this K can be relatively cumbersome for a camp and there are not a lot of people in LD who can help you learn it.

There are also criticisms of democracy itself which can be run.  One relatively simple critical impact (perhaps simply a part of an NC or DA) is that in the context of a few of these countries if democratic elections happened there might be oppression of a minority group.[55]  One might make two responses to the left of this, however.  First, one could read Orientalism or a related argument claiming that representing the Middle East as “tribalistic” is problematic.  Second, one could argue that this disguises the oppression of minorities in the status quo.

There is also a Foucauldian Kritik of democracy. Foucault writes about two different types of power. Foucault argues that disciplinary power creates democracy as a false facade. Disciplinary power is distinct from sovereign power because under disciplinary power, people are controlled through social conditioning and the fear of punishment while sovereign power is exercised through the spectacle of the power of the king (monarchy). Disciplinary power sustains itself through the creation of an ideal subject. This results in an underclass that is used to protect the legitimacy of democracy. Impacts to this include mass surveillance and incarceration.

Capitalism Ks can be used either to criticize democracy or in relation to imperialism.  Democracy can stimulate growth in the short term which may keep capitalism alive.[56]  It can also give the elite capitalists a new method for domination through the use of money in politics.  It might also appease the working class which prolongs capitalism’s domination.  Zizek also criticizes the modern obsession with direct democracy on the left (because strong leadership might be necessary to unify the left and destroy capitalism).[57]  A similar criticism might be derived from this analysis (though not necessarily of direct democracy).

Regarding imperialism, Cap Ks can take the form of Neoliberalism Ks.  These point out the relationship between economics and politics.  Notions of development, human rights and advocating for foreign aid are all indicted by standard Neoliberalism Ks as are any sort of economic agreement or treaty.  Democracy is also indicted by some authors[58] as not possible in the context of neoliberalism because it will only reinforce the power of elites, and the promotion of democracy is really just a disguised attempt to expand US power in order to economically dominate others.[59]

Finally, there are Kritiks in the vein of Security Kritiks.  The standard argument is that threats are constructed and this perpetuates systems of power.  There is also the Der Derian[60] variation of this Kritik which has more abstract impacts such as otherization.  These Kritiks would criticize almost any util type case that has huge impacts, but specific links to the types of impact scenarios the aff has are preferable.  Related to this are Kritiks of Islamophobia and the Terror Talk K.[61]  Islamophobia would criticize discourse that represents Muslims as a danger to the rest of the world and Terror Talk talks about how obsessing about the threat of terrorism can lead to more terrorism itself.  There are also other security Kritiks of terrorist threat construction regarding the way it is used to justify surveillance[62] and the harassment of Muslims and Arabic people (or people who look Arabic) domestically.[63]

Theory and Topicality

A major factor when considering T and theory is, of course, the topic’s immense breadth.  Spec theory will point out that it is almost impossible to debate the topic without some limitations.  Spec bad, on the other hand, will point out that it is very difficult for the neg to predict the aff advocacy.  These arguments, while generic, are truer on this topic than most, and so spec good/bad will be more common strategies than ever (and again, increased further by the nature of camp).

We also anticipate extensive T debate to determine what exactly is topical.  Countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Caucasia and North Africa are only sometimes included in definitions of the Middle East, so any plan that acts in these countries should be prepared to offer a robust defense of their inclusion.

Next, as previously mentioned, the phrase “to promote” can mean virtually anything. By some readings, it raises several odd questions of solvency: if an action by the US is ultimately counter-productive, did it actually “promote” democracy?  If a failed action does not entail promoting democracy, does the aff get to fiat their success?  If affs must succeed to be topical, solvency indicts also function as T.  Some of these problems can be avoided with a definition of “promote” emphasizing aim rather than success.  For instance, it seems coherent to speak of someone whose advertisements “to promote” a play are a failure.  But this is certainly an argument to watch for.

You should also be prepared for extra-topicality and effects topicality debates.  Extra-topicality might be relevant to indict plans with a broader goal than simply promoting democracy.  Effects topicality is another one of the most important theory debates to have well-prepped.  Many of the plans we have discussed may violate it because the topical action – promotion of democracy – does not come from the plan itself, but rather from its effects.  Here again, though, the question of what it means “to promote democracy” will be significant.  If promoting implies success, then effects-topical plans may be legitimate.  If it is instead a claim about aims, they are not.  Cutting specific definitions will aid you in drawing a clearer line.

What to Research and Prep

Now that you have this information, what are you supposed to do with it?  We recommend four key elements to get ready before camp or complete in the first few days.

First, find a plan or two and become very acquainted with them.  As explained, even framework-heavy cases will almost certainly need to be phrased as a plan.  These cases do not necessarily need as much plan-specific evidence, but will still require you to be well-versed in your advocacy and ready to defend its theoretical legitimacy.

Second, prep an indict of effects-topical affs.  Effects T is probably the most vital and applicable shell to run against a variety of ACs.  This should include frontlines and variations for different situations.  If you are not comfortable writing theory on your own, even drafting an early version to revise over the course of camp will be helpful.  If the argument is confusing to you, then try and write extra-topicality bad which is a more intuitive concept.

Third, poke around in the literature about democracy promotion and different types and conceptions of democracy.  This should help you generate ideas beyond what we have outlined here for unique cases and positions, including interesting frameworks and Ks.

Finally, familiarize yourself with some of the K literature, especially about imperialism. Depending on your level of comfort, you can start cutting some cards for a K and even working on an early draft if you find a position you are interested in.  Your research may also lend itself to a critical NC, another very viable option.  This should also help you develop an aff aimed at avoiding common critiques.












USAID Democracy Assistance has been increasing:



[12] There are of course disputes about what the role of the US was and during the Cold War the US probably prevented democratization in several of these states


[14] Of course, seeing democratization as especially difficult in the Middle East may link to an Orientalism K.



[17] Of course it may be too little too late.  Momentum has largely died down from these revolutions:

[18] “Diffusion of Democracy: The Past and Future of Global Democracy” (Cambridge University Press, 2014)




[22] Credit to Ben Koh for this idea.



[25] “”


[27] In cases where it is humanitarian aid it probably violates international law but it is doubtful there is a restriction on other types of aid: williamson.htm

[28] A powerful aff constructivist argument might be developed from this article:


[30] Daniele Archibugi, The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward a Cosmopolitan Democracy, Princeton University Press, 2009.


This article is a side of Kant quite untouched in debate but is kinda weird:


This one explains some of the stuff in the prior article:,%20Democracy,%20and%20History%20I.pdf



[32] Judith Butler, “Restaging the Universal,” Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left, eds. Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj Zizek (New York: Verso, 2000).

[33] “Drifting – Architecture and Migrancy”  edited by Stephen Cairns Chapter 2 by Derrida: On Cosmopolitanism.



[35] This essay talks about the relationship between Habermas and Kant in terms of international relations.It is a very well-written summary:


[37] Also of interest:

[38] The original article which the book is based on:  (I couldn’t find a pdf of the book)



[41] This example was floating in the back of JP’s head and since most violent examples about ethics in JP’s head originate with Marshall Thompson we’ll give him the credit.

[42] A cursory search found no articles addressing the issue an Aristotelian reason to promote virtues in non-citizens.


[44] Some examples:


[46] For those who attended NSD last year, recall the case Jessica Levy read in the demo debate.


[48] However, this may not be the most strategic use of limited time if you are reading something Aristotelian.





[51] Said, Edward 1978 Orientalism. “New York: Pantheon.” SaidOrientalism1978.

[52] Mamdani, Mahmood. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.

[53] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Empire” 2000.


Michael Hardt, Professor of Literature and Italian, Duke University, Ph.D in Comparative Literature, University of Washington, and *Antonio Negri, Former professor in State Theory, Padua University, Multitude, 23, 2004

[54] See this lecture in the first few parts






[58] Jodi Dean is a professor of political science at Columbia University, Democracy and other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left politics, Duke University Press





[63]Critical Perspectives on Counter-terrorism.” Lee Jarvis, Senior Lecturer in International Security Lee Jarvis, Michael Lister. Routledge, Dec 17, 2014

Terrence Lonam