When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. ~The Washington Post

Not only is this a ridiculously self-important claim to make, but the two don’t have any direct relationship. Authoritarian governments were gaining strength throughout the last decade when the U.S. was “advocating strongly” and when it wasn’t. Freedom House has been tracking ongoing declines for several years during both the Bush and Obama administrations*. As the Freedom in the World 2011 report states:

According to the survey’s findings, 2010 was the fifth consecutive year in which global freedom suffered a decline—the longest period of setbacks for freedom in the nearly 40-year history of the report.

Presumably the Post editors believe that Bush “advocated strongly for freedom,” and on his “watch” there were brutal crackdowns on protesters in Russia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Pakistan, and military coups in Thailand and Bangladesh**. Obama has been less enthusiastic when it comes to hectoring other governments on these issues, and on his “watch” there have been brutal crackdowns on protesters in Iran, Egypt, Belarus and Bahrain, and power-grabs by the ruling party in Hungary. There has also been the first successful deposition of an Arab ruler on account of popular protests. Of course, that seems to have had nothing to do with the U.S., and it is doubtful that the crackdowns would not have happened had Obama lectured their governments more often. All of these can be understood mainly by looking at the specific conditions in each of these countries. American advocacy or lack of it has nothing to do with it. Our government’s impact on the internal politics of most countries is understandably minimal, and it is unreasonable to expect that the direction of political developments all around the world somehow hinge on what U.S. officials do or do not say.

* Freedom House rankings are not without their own problems. For example, their net change in the aggregate score for 2003-2007 shows Kyrgyzstan improving its score at a time when it had come under Bakiyev’s authoritarian rule. The net change for 2007-2011 shows Kyrgyzstan losing ground despite Bakiyev’s removal and his replacement by something approaching an elected, constitutional government.

** Arguably, both the Thai and Bangladeshi coups were extraordinary but appropriate responses to deeply corrupt, abusive democratic governments, but they were coups all the same.