Saturday, March 05, 2005

To See Oursels as Ithers See Us 

Preach, Father Greeley! On Bush's recent visit to Slovakia, during which he lectured his visibly surprised former soulmate Vlad Putin on the inadequacies of Russian democracy:
Suppose that Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Canada and announced that the United States was retreating from its principles of freedom since the World Trade Center attack. The United States, he might have said, has denied due process of law to some American citizens. It has established a concentration camp in Cuba. It has tortured prisoners, indeed often and in many places. It denies aliens the right to trial by jury -- indeed, it acts like the only ones who have Mr. Jefferson's inalienable rights are American citizens, and not always . . . .

How dare, he might conclude, the American pot call the Russian Samovar black?

It is not my intention to say that Russia is more democratic than the United States. Patently it is not. Nor do I propose to argue that American democracy is far from perfect. Patently it is far from perfect. Rather, I am suggesting that for President Bush to come to the edge of Russia (Slovakia) and preach about democracy to Putin is rude, crude and undiplomatic. It is an insult to Putin and to Russia and to the Russian people.

It is also hypocrisy . . . .

Did he expect Putin to accept his insult and promise to do better? Did he think that the Russian people would say that it was time for the Russian leadership to shape up in response to the criticism of an American president? What good would come of his criticism? Why did he bother to make such a big deal out of it?

The answer is that his conservative base expected, indeed demanded that he criticize Putin. Probably Karl Rove, his gray eminence, insisted that he do it. Conservative Republicans don't really believe that Russia has changed. They're waiting for Russia to renew the Cold War. They expect a Republican president to be ''tough'' with the Russians. Russians are still the bad guys, and Bush should ''crack down'' on them. For Bush, lecturing Putin on the failures of Russian democracy is a no-lose situation. He doesn't lose any votes in Russia and solidifies some votes in the United States. He enhances his cowboy image in Europe, but what's wrong with that?

Why not be rude and crude and patronizing? Why not act like an evangelical minister preaching to South American heathens? Why not act like the campus evangelist who tells Catholics that they are not Christian? Why not act like a Catholic bishop refusing the sacraments to a political candidate?
The Russian Foreign Ministry had much the same reaction in its formal response to the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights, issued last Monday: "[D]ouble standards are a characteristic of the American approach to such an important theme. Characteristically off-screen is the ambiguous record of the United States itself." And (courtesy of our indefatigable colleagues at Cursor) China made the same point with no rhetorical assistance from Father Greeley:
China issued a tit-for-tat report card Thursday on human rights in the United States that lambasted the Pentagon for "wanton slaughters" abroad, belittled American elections as awash in special-interest cash and accused U.S. courts of deep-seated racial bias.

The Chinese government report, which portrayed the United States as gun-crazed and unfair to minorities, came three days after the State Department released its annual report on human rights abuses in countries around the world, including China.

It marked the sixth straight year that China has countered the American report with one of its own, but this year's was particularly noteworthy because it condemned the United States for abuses by American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq . . . .

"The United States claims to be `a paragon of democracy,' but American democracy is manipulated by the rich and malpractices are common," the report said. "Elections in the United States are in fact a contest of money." It described the 2004 presidential election as riddled with problems, ballot-counting errors and confusion.

"In Florida, the cases of black people being removed from voter registration list or their votes being denied were 10 times higher than people of other races," it said.

"Most prisons in the United States are overcrowded," even though construction of jails is a growth industry, the report added. "California has seen only one college but 21 new prisons built since 1984."
Apres China, le deluge:
The Venezuelan vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel, said in a statement that the United States was "not qualified from any point of view" to lecture others on human rights. "The State Department report is more of the same, that is to say, more lies, more falsehoods and more hypocrisies, and therefore it has absolutely no worth," he added.

Jose Luis Soberanes, president of Mexico's Human Rights Commission, also said the United States lacked moral authority to pass judgment on others, citing U.S. treatment of Mexicans who sneak across the border into the United States. He compared Washington's criticism of Mexico's record to "the donkey talking about long ears" -- the Spanish-language equivalent of "the pot calling the kettle black" -- "because the United States violates human rights, especially those of our countrymen."

"The U.S. State Department in its human rights report blames countries such as Egypt and Syria for using torture; however, there is not even a mention of the incidents in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq," complained the mainstream Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. "Of course, there is no mention of Guantanamo, either."

Amnesty International, the human rights organization, noted that the Bush administration has turned over prisoners arrested in the battle against terrorism to some of the countries it cites in the report for torturing prisoners. Human rights activists long have charged that U.S. intelligence officers resorted to this practice, known as rendition, as a way to avoid U.S. restrictions prohibiting the torture of prisoners by allowing foreign agents to do so.

"The State Department's carefully compiled record of countries' abuses may perversely have been transformed into a Yellow Pages for the outsourcing of torture," said William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
As our BARBARic colleague Paperwight put it last week:
We've lost even nominal status as the City upon a Hill, visible to all as a shining beacon of what a nation could be if it strove for greatness. The Republicans have turned us into a fortified Citadel upon a Hill, a burning pyre showing the world what a ruling party can get away with if it strives for power.

That should worry every American, not just us liberal idealists, but even jingoistic Republicans and the most brutally realistic consequentialists. Because while it's a truism of international relations theory that liberal democracies do not war with each other, I expect that former liberal democracies would have no such difficulty.

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