Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Gadflyer : : Democracy Promotion Redux

From the Fly Trap:
That Bush claims to be committed to global democracy is not the same thing as actually being committed to it. As Glenn Wright and Robin Kessler pointed out in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago, the Bush administration has in fact cultivated cozy relationships with some of the least democratic, most abusive regimes in the world...


Blogger Management said...

Democracy Promotion Redux
Jonathan Weiler (8:20AM) link

This morning on NPR, one of the news item teasers was how high oil prices "would complicate the Bush administration's plans for promoting democracy around the world."
I know it's too much to ask, but it would be nice if news outlets would stop taking this administration at its word. That Bush claims to be committed to global democracy is not the same thing as actually being committed to it. As Glenn Wright and Robin Kessler pointed out in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago, the Bush administration has in fact cultivated cozy relationships with some of the least democratic, most abusive regimes in the world, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the nightmarishly oppressive Uzbekistan. Furthermore, its view of democracy has been reduced to holding elections, a conception with dire consequences for citizens' day-to-day lives.

Back in 1993, Aryeh Neier, now president of the Soros Foundation characterized Reagan-Bush democracy promotion efforts in the following terms: "The right to take part in free and fair elections then became the ultimate human right from which all other rights would flow. In consequence, so the argument went, it was not necessary for the United States to publicly criticize violations of human rights in countries with democratically elected governments: The self-correcting mechanisms of the democratic system itself would deal with such abuses."

Neier was wary of such efforts, believing that they would undermine the struggle for protection of human rights more generally, including freedom from torture and politically motivated violence. In fact, the experience of the 1990s and beyond has born out his concerns: the legacy of "illiberal democracies" from Latin America to the former Soviet Union is that there is little to no self-correcting mechanism in these newly "democratic" states and elections are merely a mask behind which violence, corruption and disregard for the law continues at unacceptable levels.

This conception of democracy as nothing more than electoralism is so impoverished that by itself it should scarcely merit the appellation "democracy." Jon Stewart summed this up well following the President's state of the union address. After showing Republican members of congress holding up painted fingers in solidarity with Iraqis who bravely voted on January 30, Stewart commented that those members of congress also showed solidarity with Iraqis by "shitting into buckets in unlit shacks."

Where Bush administration policies don't expressly contradict the claim that they are interested in democracy, their view of democracy entirely degrades the term itself, stripping it of the content that makes it worth the commitment that most of its advocates have historically used to justify its superiority to other systems. NPR should correct its own guilelessness in this matter.

3:34 AM  
Blogger Management said...

Bush's Words On Liberty Don't Mesh With Policies
U.S. Maintains Close Ties With Repressive Nations

By Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 21, 2005; Page A25

President Bush's soaring rhetoric yesterday that the United States will promote the growth of democratic movements and institutions worldwide is at odds with the administration's increasingly close relations with repressive governments in every corner of the world.

Some of the administration's allies in the war against terrorism -- including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan -- are ranked by the State Department as among the worst human rights abusers. The president has proudly proclaimed his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin while remaining largely silent about Putin's dismantling of democratic institutions in the past four years. The administration, eager to enlist China as an ally in the effort to restrain North Korea's nuclear ambitions, has played down human rights concerns there, as well.

Bush's speech "brought to a high level the gap between the rhetoric and reality in U.S. foreign policy," said Thomas Carothers, co-author of a new book, "Uncharted Journey: Promoting Democracy in the Middle East."

"The rhetoric is seamless, but the policy is very muddled. In fact, the war on terrorism has pushed the U.S. to be friendlier with nondemocratic regimes," said Carothers, director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Administration officials say Bush's goals are a "generational challenge" and should not be judged by the results of one or even two terms. In the speech yesterday, Bush said that "success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people." But often in the first term, Bush's objectives on democracy were set aside for more pressing and immediate concerns, such as need for cooperation in the war on terrorism.

Autocratic rulers in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, moreover, would be likely to be replaced by opponents of U.S. policy if free and fair elections were held there today.

Since shortly before the invasion of Iraq, the president has advocated democracy in the Middle East in a series of bold statements and speeches. But the follow-up has often fallen short. In a speech before the National Endowment for Democracy on Nov. 6, 2003, Bush pointed to Egypt, ruled for almost a quarter of a century by President Hosni Mubarak, and declared that the Arab country "should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East."

But Mubarak, who appears likely to run for president this year in yet another tightly controlled election, has sidestepped possible U.S. pressure to reform by providing key assistance in bids to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To this day, the government of Egypt retains veto power over which nongovernmental groups can receive any of the nearly $2 billion in annual U.S. aid.

Egypt has helped the war on terrorism in less savory ways. Bush expressed support yesterday for "democratic reformers facing repression, prison or exile." But in late 2001, U.S. authorities forcibly transferred an Australian citizen to Egypt, where, he alleges, he was tortured for six months before being flown to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Human rights experts said Bush's commitment to freedom is undercut by such actions, as well as the administration's treatment of detainees and terrorist suspects at Guantanamo, the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, was struck by the fact that Bush mentioned "liberty" repeatedly but did not use the phrase "human rights" as an overriding goal.

"The decision to speak in terms of liberty instead of human rights was deliberate," Roth said. "Liberty is an abstract concept, but human rights bind everyone, including the Bush administration. It's easy to say I'm for liberty but difficult to say I'm for human rights when he's overseeing what we know is a conscious policy of coercive interrogation, including inhuman treatment and sometimes torture."

During her confirmation hearings this week, Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice also stressed that she would focus on spreading democracy and freedom around the globe. Several senators questioned her on the inconsistency of the administration's approach, notably Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.). He challenged her to explain why the administration looks the other way when it comes to countries with near-dictatorships, such as Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, while heaping scorn on nations with some level of elections, such as Venezuela and Iran.

"Some of this is a matter of trend lines and where countries have been and where they are now going," Rice replied. Countries are "going to move at different speeds on this democracy test. I don't think there is any doubt about that. But what we have to do is that we have to keep this item on the agenda."

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup, reneged last month on a promise to give up his title as army chief of staff, eliciting little protest from the administration. At her hearings, Rice said she felt that Pakistan has "come a long way" in recent years because Musharraf broke ties with the Taliban, which had ruled Afghanistan, and assisted in fighting al Qaeda.

The State Department, in its annual human rights report, has cited Uzbekistan for its "very poor" human rights record, including the torture and killing of citizens in custody for political reasons. There is virtually no freedom of speech or of the press.

Yet Bush met with Uzbekistan's president in 2002 and signed a declaration of "strategic partnership," and senior officials such as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have visited the country. The United States "values Uzbekistan as a stable, moderate force in a turbulent region," the State Department said late last year.

Jennifer L. Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, said Bush's goals are laudable, but "my sense from the first four years is that you didn't see that consistency of message in all parts of the administration."

She noted that the administration signed free-trade deals with Morocco and Bahrain, which, after some promising steps toward political reforms, have begun to crack down on human rights groups.

3:34 AM  

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