[Mb-civic] The Realities of Exporting Democracy - Washington Post
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Wed Jan 25 03:56:49 PST 2006
The Realities of Exporting Democracy
A Year After Bush Recast Foreign Policy, Progress Remains Mixed
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 25, 2006; A01
Sitting in a prison cell halfway around the planet, an Egyptian
opposition leader forced President Bush this month to confront the
question of how serious he was when he vowed to devote his second term
to "ending tyranny in our world."
Ayman Nour, who dared challenge Egypt's authoritarian leader in
manipulated elections, was sentenced on Christmas Eve to five years on
what U.S. officials consider bogus charges. Inside the administration, a
debate ensued over whether to shelve a new trade agreement with Egypt in
protest. In the end, the trade talks were suspended and an Egyptian
negotiating team invited to Washington last week was told it was no
In the year since Bush redefined U.S. foreign policy in his second
inaugural address to make the spread of democracy the nation's primary
mission, the clarion-call language has resonated in the dungeons and
desolate corners of the world. But soaring rhetoric has often clashed
with geopolitical reality and competing U.S. priorities.
While the administration has enjoyed notable success in promoting
liberty in some places, it has applied the speech's principles
inconsistently in others, according to analysts, activists, diplomats
and officials. Beyond its focus on Iraq, Washington has stepped up
pressure on repressive regimes in countries such as Belarus, Burma and
Zimbabwe -- where the costs of a confrontation are minimal -- while
still gingerly dealing with China, Pakistan, Russia and other countries
with strategic and trade significance.
In the Middle East, where the administration has centered its attention,
it has promoted elections in the Palestinian territories such as today's
balloting for parliament, even as it directed money aimed at
clandestinely preventing the radical Islamic group Hamas from winning.
And although it has now suspended trade negotiations with Egypt, it did
not publicly announce the move, nor has it cut the traditionally
generous U.S. aid to Cairo.
"The glass is a quarter full, but we need more of it," said Jennifer
Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, a group that promotes
democracy. "The administration deserves credit, but it's just a start."
In its annual survey ranking nations as free, partly free or not free,
the group upgraded nine nations or territories in 2005 and downgraded
four. Among those deemed freer were Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, where
peaceful revolutions overthrew entrenched governments; Lebanon, where
Syrian occupation troops were pressured to withdraw; and Afghanistan and
the Palestinian territories, where trailblazing elections were held.
Overall, Freedom House concluded, "the past year was one of the most
successful for freedom" since the survey began in 1972.
At the same time, Human Rights Watch released its annual report,
upbraiding the Bush administration for undermining its credibility in
promoting freedom abroad through its embrace of abusive interrogation
tactics in the battle with terrorists. "There's no question that the
issue of torture in particular has compromised the U.S. voice, and not
only torture but a manifold list of other human rights issues," said the
group's associate director, Carroll Bogert.
The broader question is the degree to which Bush's speech marked genuine
change in policy rather than so much talk. In many parts of the
government, democracy promotion seems still to take a back seat to other
After the government in Uzbekistan massacred hundreds of protesters in
Andijan, for instance, the Pentagon resisted any tough response to
protect its military base there. Ultimately, even the restrained
statements by the U.S. government alienated the autocratic Uzbek
president, Islam Karimov, who threw out the U.S. military.
"They come into conflict every day," a senior official said of rival
priorities inside the administration. "The question becomes the weight
given to the intangible interest in freedom versus the tangible interest
in having a base in Uzbekistan, for instance."
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing
administration rules, called Bush's speech "a weapon in the hands of
everyone in the administration who is pushing for a stronger and
stronger democracy agenda."
"Anytime there's a question, should we say this or say that . . .
someone can pull out a copy of the president's speech and say, 'Wait a
second, may I quote from what the president said?' " the official added.
Outside the United States, the speech inspired many fighting for freedom
but also raised expectations that are hard to fulfill. "All they do is
talk right now," said Gulam Umarov. His father, Sanjar Umarov, head of
the opposition Sunshine Coalition in Uzbekistan, has been in prison
since October. "I don't know what actual moves they take. But they are
talking, which is really good."
In other places, the United States has done more than talk. In
Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. government funded pro-democracy groups and provided
generators to print an opposition newspaper before its revolution. Edil
Baisalov, director of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, can
quote extensively from the Bush inaugural speech. "The Kyrgyz people are
much, much better off today than they were a year ago, and I think the
U.S. government should take pride in taking credit for that," he said.
"And [it] should never apologize that it wants the people to be free."
In Belarus, another former Soviet republic ruled by an iron-fisted
leader, Bush's words also stir hope. "We draw strength from these
statements," said Vladimir Kolas, chairman of the Council of the
Belarusian Intelligentsia opposing President Alexander Lukashenko. "We
understand there are limits to what the U.S. can do. But we do need
strong and decisive statements . . . that they will not recognize
falsified election results."
The Bush administration has been willing to stay tough on Belarus and
others it labeled "outposts of tyranny," such as Burma and Zimbabwe.
Bush lobbied Asian leaders at a November summit in South Korea to bring
Burma before the U.N. Security Council, and as a result the council had
an unprecedented discussion last month. The United States also renewed
economic sanctions adopted in 2003.
Opposition activists in Burma said they were grateful for U.S. efforts
to highlight repression in their country. But despite these measures,
little has changed, and some diplomats believe the situation has
deteriorated. More than 1,100 political prisoners are behind bars,
according to Amnesty International, and all regional offices of Aung San
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy remain shuttered.
In Zimbabwe, U.S. Ambassador Christopher W. Dell has been so outspoken
about President Robert Mugabe's government that he has been threatened
with expulsion. David Coltart, an opposition member of parliament, said
Zimbabwe has been on the Bush administration's radar screen, even if not
the president's. "George Bush is too preoccupied by Iraq to be
personally engaged in the Zimbabwe crisis," he said. "But Colin Powell
certainly was a friend of those struggling to bring democracy. It's too
early to say whether Condoleezza Rice is focused on Zimbabwe."
Elsewhere, the U.S. hand is not seen as readily. In East Africa,
newspapers are filled with columns asking why the Bush administration
ignores their undemocratic leaders. After violence spilled into the
streets of Uganda's capital when President Yoweri Museveni changed the
constitution to run for a third term, Washington was silent. Museveni
also jailed his opponent on what critics call trumped-up charges of
treason and rape.
In Ethiopia, where 40 people were killed by government forces firing
into crowds protesting fraudulent elections, Ethiopians complained that
it took months for U.S. officials to speak out. "Does the Bush
administration care about fighting terrorism for its citizens or does it
care about the political situation in a Third World country like
Ethiopia?" asked Tamrat G. Giorgis, managing editor of Fortune, one of
Ethiopia's few independent newspapers. "I think Africans are asking that
question, and we know the war on terror is more important."
When it comes to places such as China and Russia, the Bush
administration prefers private friendly advice to ringing public
denunciations. Sometimes it passes on both. Although U.S. officials have
said they would like Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who took over Pakistan in a
military coup, to give up his army post and govern as a civilian,
Musharraf said last year that Bush has never raised the issue with him.
"I know presidents and diplomats are not dissidents and when they say
they can achieve more in private talks, they may be sincere," said
Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights
organization under pressure from the Kremlin. "But I would still like to
hear more. And maybe it will have an effect on our president."
Then there are Iran and North Korea, the two top enemies on Bush's list.
The president appointed a special envoy on human rights in North Korea,
but Abdollah Momeni of the Office for Fostering Unity, an Iranian
student group, wants more constructive help. "If they only make noises
about this, or if they think that through military action democracy can
be achieved, they are moving on the wrong path," said Momeni, who is
appealing a five-year prison sentence. "Military action against a
country would dry up the democratic blossoms." But, he added, "more
action and less talking is needed."
And there is Egypt, one of the most problematic places for the Bush
democracy push. When President Hosni Mubarak agreed to let challengers
run against him for the first time, a visiting Laura Bush praised the
"wise and bold" move. But shortly after she left, Mubarak supporters
orchestrated attacks on democracy demonstrators. The presidential
election was manipulated, and a subsequent parliamentary election
degenerated into violence and mass arrests.
The arrest of Nour, who won an unprecedented 7 percent against Mubarak,
presented a singular challenge to Bush, who promised in his inaugural
address to stand with "democratic reformers facing repression, prison or
exile." The White House pronounced itself "deeply troubled" and demanded
Mubarak "release Mr. Nour from detention."
Nour remains behind bars.
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