Friday, September 16, 2005

Rose Colored Glasses Still On

Democracy Hypocrisy: Rose Colored Glasses Still On

Today at the press conference, President Bush attempted to defend the fact that he hasn’t spoken out against the Egypt elections:

“But I was asked about the Egyptian elections, and I said, we expect for the Egyptian political process to be open and that for people to be given a chance to express themselves in an open way, in a free way. And we reject any violence toward those who express their dissension with the government. I’m pretty confident I said that with President Abbas standing here, maybe not quite as articulately as just then.”

Actually, this is the supposedly “firm stance” to which President Bush is referring:

“I also embraced President Mubarak’s first steps and said that those first steps must include people’s ability to have access to TV, and candidates ought to be allowed to run freely in an election and that there ought to be international monitors. That’s — and the idea of people expressing themselves in opposition in government, then getting a beating, is not our view of how a democracy ought to work. It’s not the way that you have free elections. People ought to be allowed to express themselves, and I’m hopeful that the President will have open elections that everybody can have trust in.”

See how all the tough talk disappears when it’s time to actually start talking about the situation in Egypt? Instead, the President toes the line — describing what would be an ideal election process — instead of facing reality. Meanwhile, the run-up to elections in Egypt have turned out to be extremely violent and decidely unfree.

Democracy Hypocrisy: Strike a Pose

Apparently, in the Bush administration, a policy of “democracy promotion” includes having top officials pose in “Hollywood Walk of Fame”-style photo shoots with dictatorial thugs.

There, on the far left, is our energy secretary, Samuel Bodman, all smiles. Next to him stands the murderous Uzbek tyrant Islam Karimov, who just two weeks ago ordered Tiananmen-style massacres of hundreds of his own citizens, and has since refused to even allow an international investigation of the matter. We’d offer our view on Karimov, but the conservative Economist magazine sums it up well:

Even on the most self-interested calculus, the reality is that Mr Karimov is an ally the West is better off without. His help in the war against terror is outweighed by the encouragement he has given to radicals of every stripe in Central Asia and beyond, and by the damage that association with him does to the West’s reputation. … Nor is Uzbekistan of real strategic importance any more. With bases in Kirgizstan and Afghanistan, America hardly needs Khanabad, the base for which it pays Mr Karimov handsomely. He should now be made a pariah, his regime stripped of all forms of aid, and all military assistance withdrawn.

Posing with them is Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev. Just a few days prior to this photo, which was taken last Wednesday, “Azerbaijani police beat pro-democracy demonstrators with truncheons when opposition parties, yelling ‘free elections,’ defied the government’s ban on protests against [Aliyev].”

So why is everyone so happy? They’re celebrating the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, a project certain to enrich and strengthen these repressive regimes. At the ceremony, Bodman read a letter from President Bush lauding the “visionary leadership” of President Aliyev, and offering “congratulations to the people of Azerbaijan” for the pipeline, since they’ll surely see so much of the profits. Uh-huh.

In at least one way, though, this photo is useful. Just print it out and keep it in your wallet, so the next time someone asks why pro-democracy activists around the world no longer see us as a beacon of hope, you can whip it out and save your breath.

Democracy Hypocrisy: Administration Fawns Over Dictator

Last week, the repressive leader of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, ordered his troops to open-fire on a crowd of protestors, killing hundreds of innocent civilians. His regime is infamous for its brutality and attacks against human rights. The White House, however, has turned a blind eye to the problems and cozied up to the dictator in return for an airbase in his country.

Here are some glowing words for Mr. Karimov:

“I was recently in a meeting with the President, with a central Asian leader, with Karimov, in which he said to him, yes, I appreciate what you’ve done in the war on terrorism, this is terrific.” — then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice

“It’s a great pleasure to have an opportunity to spend time with someone with both a very keen intellect and a deep passion about the improvement of the life of the people of this country.” — former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill

Democracy Hypocrisy: Our Man in Uzbekistan

Over the weekend the New York Times reported on evidence that the United States has regularly sent terror suspects to Uzbekistan, an “authoritarian state” known for beating and asphyxiating prisoners, boiling body parts, using electroshock on genitals and “plucking off fingernails and toenails with pliers.” The State Department’s 2005 report on Uzbekistan states bluntly: “The police force and the intelligence service use torture as a routine investigation technique.” But Uzbekistan’s role as a “surrogate jailer” for the United States has been “confirmed by a half-dozen current and former intelligence officials working in Europe, the Middle East and the United States.” The Uzbekistan renditions are the latest in a spate of troublesome allegations about U.S. treatment of detainees, just days after the one-year anniversary of Abu Ghraib.

Worse, the abuse isn’t limited to foreign regimes. Sgt. Erik Saar, a soldier who spent three months in the interrogation rooms at Guantanamo Bay, told CBS’ 60 Minutes this week that the approach of U.S. military interrogators is “ineffective” and “inconsistent with American values.” According to Saar and a series of FBI e-mails obtained by CBS, abusive methods and sexual humiliation are used routinely in Gitmo. Saar describes a female interrogator smearing fake menstrual blood on the face of a Saudi detainee, then depriving him of water so he could not ritually clean himself and pray that night. The FBI e-mails confirm Saar’s accounts.

Democracy Hypocrisy: An Election Mess In Mexico

As the Bush administration continues to tout its efforts to promote democracy in such places as Afghanistan and Iraq, it has overlooked a serious challenge to democracy in Mexico. With 15 months left until the 2006 presidential election, Mexico City’s left-leaning, 51-year-old populist mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, may be forced out of the race due to a highly undemocratic Mexican law.

At the heart of the scandal is a 2001 lawsuit over the city’s construction of a hospital access road on disputed land in Mexico City. Rival political parties PRI and President Fox’s own PAN are uniting against the popular mayor, who currently leads in the polls. Their effort (despite the fact that many Mexicans feel the case to be a minor infraction) attempts to strip Lopez Obrador of the immunity from prosecution he maintains as a public official. Taking away Lopez Obrador’s immunity would bar him from running for further office, since Mexican law states that politicians cannot run for office if under indictment, unlike his majority leader neighbor to the north.

If the Bush administration is so serious about promoting democracy abroad, how can it ignore such flagrant abuse of power by the Mexican Chamber of Deputies? President Bush’s Inaugural Address spoke of his desire to support democracy whenever and wherever necessary; however, unless you are from the Ukraine or Central Asia, such promises are for naught.

- Jay Heidbrink

Democracy Hypocrisy: Abdullah at the Ranch

The Guardian reported on Saturday that “[d]ozens of Saudi men caught dancing and ‘behaving like women’ at a party have been sentenced to a total of 14,200 lashes, after a trial held behind closed doors and without defence lawyers.”

The very next day, in the UK Independent, we learned that the Saudi government had executed six men “without sentence,” bringing “the total [number of executions] so far this year to 40, more than the country’s 33 executions in the whole of 2004.”

And today, respected Saudi Arabia analyst John Bradley writes that the Saudi regime…

…is not giving up power or changing its historically repressive domestic policies in the face of opposition, but - more predictably - closing ranks and reasserting its totalitarian rule. Emboldened by its success in the domestic “war on terror”, which got under way only after their rule was directly threatened, the al-Saud is flexing its other muscles so that the masses, too, are left in no doubt that it is back in total control.

The Bush administration’s reaction: a call for the Saudis to commit to basic human rights principles? A stern diplomatic admonition?

How about a prized invitation to President Bush’s Texas ranch for Saudi crown prince Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz.

Democracy Hypocrisy: Why Campaign When You Can Imprison?

Despite President Bush’s sense of “validation,” the march towards freedom in Egypt is off to a rocky start:

The only man who has dared to challenge Hosni Mubarak for the presidency [Ayman Nour] was charged Tuesday with forging signatures to win approval for his party — an escalation in the government’s confrontation with the most prominent figure in Egypt’s fledgling reform movement.

Are the charges legit? You be the judge: “Fifty such papers were necessary. Nour received thousands, which have been in government hands for months.” And this isn’t the first time Mubarak’s government has harrassed Nour. In January, he “was called before Parliament and stripped of immunity [in Egypt, members of the parliament are generally immune from prosecution] on 30 minutes’ notice, with no chance to mount a defense.” Officials “dragged him down the street, then put him in a police van in the middle of Cairo’s busiest square, apparently as an example to the public.”

Surely, the White House must be outraged — or maybe not. Yesterday, the L.A. Times asked Secretary Rice specifically about the Nour situation. Describing her response as “uncritical” would be an understatement. Here’s a taste: “The president always said … that this process of democratization will happen, at a pace that is different in different societies. But in many ways, a sophisticated, great culture like Egypt, he has said, could lead in this regard, much as they’ve led in the search for peace by signing the peace treaty with Israel. So we’re watching, we’re encouraged and we’re encouraging the Egyptians to make these real reforms.”

Democracy Hypocrisy: Zimbabwe

Before his 2003 trip to the continent of Africa, President Bush claimed that his administration had been “outspoken” on the issue of elections in Zimbabwe as “a democracy in Zimbabwe will improve the lives of all the citizens of that important country.” Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, recognizing the regional intricacies of the situation, wrote an op-ed that pushed for South Africa to “play a stronger and more sustained role in resolving matters in Zimbabwe.”

Two years later and with a new Secretary of State, the Bush administration claims to still regard Zimbabwe as an “outpost of tyranny” to which the “United States must help bring freedom.” Now a recent report by the Human Rights Watch documents “a climate of fear and intimidation” in the run up to “next week’s parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe.”

So will President Bush live up to the promises of his inaugural address and his rhetorical commitment to democracy? Will Secretary Rice publicly stand by the Zimbabwe people as she did with the Iraqis? If over two months ago Secretary Rice was ready to declare the time for diplomacy as now, will the Bush administration finally stop their four years of dallying and put pressure on the Southern African Development Community to really bring a semblance of democracy to Zimbabwe?

Or when Africa cries freedom, does the Bush administration just stay silent?

Democracy Hypocrisy: Party Like It’s 2002!

Secretary Rice put on her kid gloves with Musharraf today:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday praised Pakistan’s progress in instituting democratic reforms leading to elections in 2007 and its cooperation in the war on terrorism.

“This is not the Pakistan of Sept. 11. It is not even the Pakistan of 2002,” Rice said at a news conference.

The top U.S. diplomat gave no indication that she pressed President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, about giving up his control of the armed forces, a longstanding U.S. demand.

Asked about Musharraf’s status, Rice declined to answer, focusing instead on the country’s move toward reform.

Rice is correct, Pakistan has changed since 2002. Here’s an update on the “democratic reforms” Musharraf has instituted recently, from the State Department’s Human Rights Report:

In December 2003, the National and Provincial Assemblies passed the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. The Amendment transfers a number of powers from the Office of Prime Minister to the President, affirms Musharraf’s presidency through 2007, sets the terms under which the President could dissolve the National Assembly, and exempts Musharraf from a prohibition on holding two offices of state until the end of the year, allowing him to remain as Chief of Army Staff. In October, over opposition protests, Parliament passed another bill that exploits a loophole in the Constitution to extend the exemption until 2007. The judiciary was nominally independent but remained subject to corruption and political pressure.

Democracy Hypocrisy: Validation

President Bush is “in a buoyant mood, aides said, seeing the recent moves as vindicating his expansive vision [in the Middle East]. ‘He feels validation,’ said one aide.”

Hmm…

Palestinian Elections

TIME: In Washington, many think the growing democracy movement in the Middle East comes from President Bush’s pressure.

ABBAS: I don’t think that we made democracy because President Bush pushed us. We decided that we should have a democratic process, and we did it without any pressure.

Iraqi Elections

The White House “resisted the idea of holding elections [in January] and only succumbed under pressure from Iraq’s most powerful cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.” Iraq expert Juan Cole charges, “It was Sistani who demanded one-person, one-vote elections. So to the extent it’s a victory, it’s a victory for Iraqis. The Americans were maneuvered into having to go along with it.”

Protests in Lebanon

In Lebanon, “opposition leaders say they have consciously imitated the popular uprising in Ukraine,” not Iraq.

Democracy Hypocrisy: Asking the Right Questions

Though officials were “careful not to gloat,” the Washington Times reports that the White House was “heartened by the speed with which President Bush’s foreign policy of introducing liberty to the Middle East appears to be bearing fruit.” Conservative pundits took care of the gloating. “Without the Bush Administration, none of this would be happening,” one wrote. And conservatives can’t restrain their rage that the New York Times only attributed a “healthy share of the credit” to the Bush administration for the recent advances in the Middle East.

The actual question at hand — Does the war in Iraq have anything to do with recent regional political developments? — is similar to the false “debate” about whether the world is better off with Saddam Hussein out of power. Considered in a vacuum, everyone answers yes. The actually debatable questions were A) Were our goals in Iraq achieved honestly/ethically/legally/effectively? and B) Were the costs (including opportunity costs) of our strategy as low as they could have been? Regarding Iraq, the answers to all five questions were easy — emphatically, no.

Unfortunately, the same answers likely apply to the links between Iraqand Middle East democracy. Remember, it wasn’t our $200 billion effort in Iraq that infused Arabs with a “favorable view of American freedom and democracy,” or opposition to their own authoritarian governments. Arabs held those sentiments before the Iraq war, particularly in those places where reforms are now taking place, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria/Lebanon.

Democracy Hypocrisy: Pandering to Pakistan

Yesterday, the Pakistani government solidly dismissed legislation “which sought to strengthen the law against the practice of ‘honour killing.’” There is nothing that is honorable about so-called honor killings, in which “a man can kill a woman, claiming that she brought dishonour to the family, and still expect to be pardoned by her relatives.” If the pardon is granted, the murderer becomes immune to any actions by the state; the victims of these crimes against humanity are disproportionately women who want to marry of their own free will. Though the Pakistani Law Minister claims there “is no need for further amendments in the country’s penal code,” last year’s supposed amendments left gaping loopholes when it came to dealing with a law that human rights organizations state “has been grossly misused and has contributed directly to an alarming increase in the practice.”

When hobnobbing with his “friend” President Musharraf of Pakistan, President Bush praised the Pakistani leader for a “clear vision of the need for people of goodwill and hope to prevail over those who are willing to inflict death in order to achieve an ideology that is — the predominance of an ideology that is just…dark in its view.” The statement is bold and the intent is there but it would be more convincing if President Bush had an equally harsh indictment for the continued practice of “honor killings” that take the lives of more than a thousand Pakistani women every year. Though even his own State Department acknowledges the horrific human rights abuses committed in Pakistan, President Bush continues to turn a blind eye to what is going on instead of demanding decency in the countries with which we ally ourselves.

Democracy Hypocrisy: Blame Canada

Canada’s decision on Thursday to opt out of missile defense was met with a sharp U.S. response.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice abruptly announced she was cancelling her planned trip to Canada next month, and U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci hysterically warned that by not signing on to the continental missile shield, Canada was “in effect giving up its sovereignty and would be ‘outside the room’ when the United States made a decision on whether shoot down an incoming missile.” Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin snapped back, “This is our airspace, we’re a sovereign nation and you don’t intrude on a sovereign nation’s airspace without seeking permission.”

Clearly, heads of state have a responsibility to discuss and debate policy differences. But does Canada really deserve such a caustic response given the clear — sometimes overwhelming — Canadian opposition to involvement in the missile shield as evidenced by virtually every public opinion poll? For such vocal proponents of democracy, the White House sure can get bent out of shape when a government takes the same position as the majority of its electorate.

Democracy Hypocrisy: Neglecting Nour

The administration talks a lot about its principled policy of democracy promotion.

Let’s look at the situation in Egypt. Ayman Nour is “one of only about three dozen opposition members in the 444-seat [Egyptian] Parliament.” Nour was “calling for changes in the Constitution that might allow, among other things, a direct challenge to President Hosni Mubarak if he runs for a fifth term to extend his 24-year rule” — certainly a step forward for Democracy in the region.

In Egypt, members of the parliament are generally immune from prosecution. On January 29, Nour “was called before Parliament and stripped of immunity on 30 minutes’ notice, with no chance to mount a defense.” Here is what happened next:

Nour was thrown into jail, in a textbook example of the way Washington’s Arab allies thwart hopes to expand freedom…They dragged him down the street, then put him in a police van in the middle of Cairo’s busiest square, apparently as an example to the public….Nour is now locked up for at least 45 days of interrogation, and has been refused bail. The charges? Alleged forgery of affidavits used to win legalization last year for his El Ghad (Tomorrow) Party. Fifty such papers were necessary. Nour received thousands, which have been in government hands for months.

What is the administration doing in response? Pressing forward with $1.795 billion in direct aid to the Egyptian Government.

Democracy Hypocrisy: Hitchens Fears Nexis, Not “Arab Street”

Christopher Hitchens jumps on the Democracy in the Middle East bandwagon this morning with a doggedly unresearched opinion column on Slate entitled, “The Arab Street: A Vanquished Cliché.”

The point of Hitchens’s article is that President Bush’s heroic quest for Democracy in Iraq has eliminated the idea of the “Arab Street,” as it is traditionally understood - that is, an element in the Arab world that is widely and sometimes violently opposed to Western foreign policy.

“The return of politics to Iraq has had many blissful secondary consequences,” writes Hitchens, “one of them apparently minor but nonetheless, I think, important. When was the last time you heard some glib pundit employing the phrase ‘The Arab Street’? I haven’t actually done a Nexis search on this, but my strong impression is that the term has been, without any formal interment, laid to rest.”

You know, it’s important we have writers like Hitchens around to challenge journalistic norms. For instance, who needs a searchable press archive when you’re writing an article about the disappearance of a specific phrase from…the press?

Incidentally, if Hitchens had done a Nexis search, he would have seen the term remains widely in use (and not just by “glib pundits“). More importantly, he might have come across an article in last week’s Gulf News, which recaps a study by the Center for Strategic Studies and the University of Jordan. The title of that study? “Revisiting the Arab Street: Research from Within.”

The report, which, unlike Hitchens’s article, actually involves research and survey data from within the Arab world, concludes Arabs remain broadly and increasingly opposed to virtually all the things Hitchens says they are now for. “It is important to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem,” the report says. “Most specifically, attitudinal data from youth, university students, and national sample populations suggests that there is a growing sense of dissatisfaction…Improving Arab-West relations vitally depends upon changing Western, especially US, foreign policy, particularly as it relates to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the war in Iraq.”

Democracy Hypocrisy: Horrors in Haiti

Following the ouster of Haiti’s president one year ago this week, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke of “bring[ing] democracy, prosperity and hope to the people of Haiti” through a combination of a new U.S.-backed government and a fresh infusion of global aid. Months later, freedom is clearly not on the march in the “hurricane of violence” known as Haiti:

U.S.-backed gov’t? Weak, not credible: “Almost a year after the abrupt departure of former President Aristide, the political, security and social-economic situation in Haiti remains in crisis. The transitional government is weak and fighting to maintain credibility, and there are no clear signs of either political reconciliation or economic reconstruction.” (International Crisis Group, 2/8/05)

Promised aid? Still waiting: “The situation in Haiti has gone from bad to worse since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted from that desperate country this year. … Little of the $1.3 billion in foreign aid promised by the United States and other international donors in July has been delivered.” (Dan Erikson and Adam Minso, Baltimore Sun, 11/24/04)

Freedom on the march? Not quite: “After ten months under an interim government backed by the United States, Canada, and France and buttressed by a United Nations force, Haiti’s people churn inside a hurricane of violence. Gunfire crackles, once bustling streets are abandoned to cadavers, and whole neighborhoods are cut off from the outside world. Nightmarish fear now accompanies Haiti’s poorest in their struggle to survive in destitution. … There has been no investment in dialogue to end the violence.” (Center for the Study of Human Rights, University of Miami School of Law, 2/8/05)

The Silencing of the Saudi Women

Yesterday in one of her first speeches as the nation’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paraphrased the 2003 words of President Bush: “Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.” However, it seems that the Bush administration is perfectly content with matching the price of liberty against the price of foreign oil. Although Scott McClellan claims that President Bush “never hesitates to point out when countries can do more when it comes to human rights and religious tolerance,” the president has essentially kept silent on the Saudi decision to not allow women to vote in their upcoming elections.

Citing the organizational difficulties of allowing women to vote, the controversial Saudi government will not be permitting female citizens to vote even though not only do women “make up more than half the Saudi population,” but the laws give the right to vote to “citizens over 21 years of age, except military personnel.” President Bush’s response to this affront to basic human rights was inconsequential, as he essentially glossed it over in the recent State of the Union: “The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future.”

The president can demonstrate his commitment to freedom and liberty — words that he has been throwing around quite often as of late — by speaking out against the actions of the Saudi government, be it friend or foe. Yesterday, Secretary Rice herself declared, “[S]preading freedom in the Arab and Muslim worlds is also urgent work that cannot be deferred.” We can either spread democracy or peddle hypocrisy; we cannot do both.




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