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January 22, 2005

Dictatorships for Liberty

A few commentators, including Matt Yglesias, highlighted that for all Bush's paean to "liberty," our actual allies in the war for that "liberty" include dictatorships like Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, along with looking the other way as Russia consolidates new tyranny and China continues its oppression.

The easiest answer by the neocons is that change only comes step by step. Each country won to democracy strengthens the global commitment to that value, weakening the position of the remaining dictatorships. So a few tactical alliances now are excuseable.

The problem is that the "war on terror" is in tension with the "war for liberty," since Bush's own assaults on civil liberties and human rights here and abroad just opened the door for Russia, China and Pakistan to actually tighten their dictatorships.

  • No major Western country has condemned General Massarraf for breakng his promise to step down from his military position, since his value to the war on terror means that blocking his consolidation of dictatorship is not a priority.
  • China has used the rhetoric of the war on terror to crack down on ethnic Uighurs in the northwestern Xinjiang province, including in the words of Human Rights Watch, "arbitrary arrests, closed trials, extensive use of the death penalty, [and] religious discrimination."
  • And Vladimir Putin has largely eliminated the vestiges of emerging democracy in that country, while the "war on terror" has allowed it to justify continued "enforced 'disappearances,' rape, torture and extrajudicial executions by [Russian] federal troops" in Chechnya and surrounging areas.

    Since these three countries contain almost a third of the world's population, it is pretty poor tactical logic of exchanging the increased sanction of tyranny in those countries for what are ambiguous gains in Afghanistan and what may turn out to be no gains in Iraq if civil war cannot be contained.

    There was at least a realpolitick logic to the "war on terror" alliances -- enemy of my enemy alliances are hardly new -- but glossing the Bush strategy with the rhetoric of a global fight for liberty is a cynical exercise.

    Posted by Nathan at January 22, 2005 09:14 AM