June 27, 2004

Strangling Democracy (VACLAV HAVEL, 6/24/04, NY Times)

Zimbabwe’s leaders know that the international community will cooperate with them only if they meet certain conditions. That is why they are trying to give the impression of democracy and thus escape international isolation, and why they distort the standard democratic mechanisms in order to create a semblance of citizens’ participation. At the same time, they create legal instruments that violate human rights. Democratic institutions are partly controlled by the leadership, partly circumvented by it.

A report published this year by the International Crisis Group, an international nonprofit group that works to resolve conflict, showed that many opposition members of Parliament in Zimbabwe have been subject to murder attempts, torture, assault and arrest. In parliamentary elections, President Robert Mugabe nominates 20 percent of members, who then become parliamentarians without a democratic mandate. Elections are regularly accompanied by organized violence and intimidation. The independent judiciary, one of the pillars of democracy, has been severely compromised, with the benches packed with Mr. Mugabe’s supporters.

A law adopted before the presidential elections in 2002 requires journalists to provide detailed information about themselves. If they do not, they will not receive a journalist license. The law, called the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, has been used to close Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper and to arrest people for “suspicion of journalism.” The state now claims a virtual monopoly of written and broadcast media; foreign correspondents, meanwhile, are a thing of the past.

Another law restricts the freedom of association. The government in Zimbabwe has used this law, called the Public Order and Security Act, to stamp out any form of protest, to block practically any public activity of opposition groups. Under this law, women have been arrested for giving out flowers on Valentine’s Day.

The Orwellian names of these laws are both chilling and relevant. Totalitarian regimes may differ in small details — by the nature of their deviations, the degree of their representatives’ contrivance, the degree of their cruelty and brutality — but their nature is the same. And so is the manner of resisting such regimes.

President Bush has shown more interest in Africa than any of his predecessors, but it’s still been too intermittent. If he and Tony Blair made regime change in Zimbabwe as much a focus of world attention as it was in Liberia and Haiti they’d succeed.



June 27, 2004

Blair bonded with Clinton, but he shares his beliefs with Bush (Rachel Sylvester, 28/06/2004, Daily Telegraph)

[A]s the British and American governments prepare for the handover of power in Iraq on Wednesday, the truth is that when it comes to foreign policy – the area where the transatlantic “special relationship” really counts – Mr Blair actually has far more in common with George W. Bush.

President Clinton was cautious, pragmatic and nationalistic – he prevaricated over Rwanda and refused to send ground troops into Kosovo, declaring himself wary of “missionary zeal” in international affairs.

President Bush is idealistic, moralistic and willing to take risks. Like the Prime Minister, he interprets the world as a fight between good and evil in which his role is zealously to “spread the word” of Western democracy among the unconverted masses. Christianity is not Mr Bush and Mr Blair’s only shared faith.

There are differences between the two men of course – over Guantanamo Bay, climate change and steel tariffs – but their interventionist instincts are the same. When Labour MPs asked the Prime Minister whether he is supporting Mr Bush simply in order to preserve the alliance with the United States, he replied: “I’m afraid it’s worse than that, I actually believe in this war.”

Perhaps Mr Blair is a neo-Conservative. Like several of the Washington advisers and politicians who have such an influence on Mr Bush, the Prime Minister started out on the political Left and has moved to the Right. Like the American neo-cons, he believes that to defend the national interest following September 11 it is necessary to “re-order the world”, even if that means launching pre-emptive military strikes. He argues that, in an age of globalisation of trade and terror, the limits of the nation state need to be redefined. He agrees with the concept of a “new imperialism”, one not of territory but of values, put forward by the former No. 10 adviser Robert Cooper.

Richard Perle, the king of the neo-cons, thinks that the Prime Minister shares his “moral sense” of international affairs. “Oh yes, Tony’s a neo-con,” says one former minister who supported the war. “It’s terrifying. He’s bought the whole idea about remaking the Middle East.”

They’re actually theocons, of course, not neocons.


June 9, 2004

In Iraq, don’t cut and run. cut and don’t run (Jonathan Rauch, 6/09/04, Jewish World Review)

In an influential Commentary magazine article in 1979, Jeane Kirkpatrick, a Georgetown University professor (she later became U.N. ambassador in the Reagan administration),