Home/Daniel Larison/“Freedom Agenda” Failures and Failed States

“Freedom Agenda” Failures and Failed States

There is something obviously wrong when Fred Hiatt, friend of warmongers and torture apologists, holds forth on the dangers to liberty around the world. Here was the line that was the most jarring to me:

Taking advantage of their control of television, they mobilized ideologies of nationalism and anti-terrorism to undermine the rhetoric of freedom.

Of course, Hiatt is referring here to various authoritarian states, but he seems to have no notion that apart from the reference to television that statement could just as easily be applied to his own op-ed pages and the politicians he has defended over the last decade. For that matter, the measures he and his allies have favored haven’t just undermined the rhetoric of freedom, but have seriously undermined the limits on government power and significantly damaged the substance of American liberty and the liberty of people in other nations as well. More perversely, they did all of this while pretending to celebrate American freedoms. One might ask why Hiatt expects freedom to be flourishing elsewhere in the world when our own authoritarians have worked so hard to harm it here at home with security measures, power grabs and grossly illegal activities.

Hiatt is quite happy to complain that Obama does not embrace a “freedom agenda” like that of the previous administration, but he completely fails to acknowledge the results of this agenda have been extremely destructive and destabilizing in many cases and outright failures in others. Of all the supposed beneficiaries of the “freedom agenda,” just one country, Ukraine, is listed as free. To Freedom House’s credit, it doesn’t whitewash the flaws of countries that have been held up as examples of democratic reform and liberalization. According to Freedom House’s own report for the previous year, Georgia is only “partly free” and is not considered an electoral democracy, and the same is true for Lebanon. As Hiatt mentions, “[e]leven of the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet republics are worse off than a decade ago [bold mine-DL],” but he neglects to add that two of the eleven underwent “color” revolutions and were supposed to be becoming more free. If this description from Freedom House is correct, not only has Kyrgyzstan gone backwards since the days of Akayev, which anyone can see, but Georgia has actually lost ground compared to when Shevardnadze was in office. That seems hard to believe, but I don’t find it all that surprising.

Not only is Iraq ranked as not free, but it also has the dubious distinction of being seventh in Foreign Policy’s failed state rankings for yet another year. Georgia is 37th and Kyrgyzstan 45th in those rankings. Just three years ago, Georgia was 58th, and it’s unclear whether Kyrgyzstan’s modest improvement in the rankings takes into account Bakiyev’s overthrow and the recent ethnic violence and refugee crisis. Being anywhere in the “borderline,” “in danger” or “critical” tiers of those rankings significantly qualifies any gains in terms of political reform. Potential failed states are among the worst places to test out an agenda of liberalization and democratization.

It is appropriate to be “skittish” about a “freedom agenda” when past attempts have yielded mostly bitter fruit. We would have to question Obama’s judgment and sanity if he were as enthusiastic and zealous as his predecessor. When so much upheaval and instability have been caused in the name of promoting freedom and democracy, it is no wonder that rising democratic powers do not want to replicate this chaos in their own neighborhoods.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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