Hillary Clinton’s impending visit to Burma will be the first by a U.S. secretary of state in 50 years. It comes after a year of tentative reform by a nominally civilian government that has raised hopes for a more comprehensive political opening, but this optimism needs to be tempered by caution.
It is a core belief of Freedom House that American foreign policy should be grounded on support for democratic values and the global expansion of freedom. Practically every aspirant to the American presidency would agree that the United States should remain the world’s beacon of democracy. But especially in an era of rival claims for global leadership and calls for fiscal austerity, the development of a U.S. strategy to propel freedom forward poses a serious challenge. Thus far, the presidential candidates have failed to grapple with the complexities of this challenge, and the discussion has been far from illuminating, to put it mildly.
In a recent New York Timesopinion piece entitled “To Save Our Economy, Ditch Taiwan,” Paul V. Kane advanced a scheme that he claimed would, among other things, fix the American economy and lead to a new and mutually beneficial relationship with China. The United States, he proposed, should jettison its support for Taiwan—firmly, absolutely, and forever.
The victory of opposition Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata in Zambia’s September presidential election was a welcome example of an almost entirely peaceful rotation of power in a maturing African electoral democracy. President Sata can now carry Zambia further into a position of continental leadership by quickly making good on three campaign promises: revising Zambia’s draft constitution to better protect basic freedoms, fighting corruption, and properly protecting the rights of all Zambian workers, especially those employed in the growing number of Chinese-owned mines and related industries.
On November 4, to mark the release of this year’s edition of Countries at the Crossroads, Freedom House and the Atlantic Council hosted a discussion on the prospects for successful democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)—particularly in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, which were among six MENA countries examined in the new Crossroads report.
Eight years and a day after President George W. Bush laid out a broad agenda in support of freedom and representative government in the Middle East at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood before the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on November 7 to essay a detailed overview of the Obama administration’s response to the Arab Spring. The secretary’s remarks did much to advance and clarify the administration’s policy. But their historical continuity with the Bush policy was equally striking. Call it the Bush Freedom Agenda 2.0.
Threats to media freedom inSouth Africa—which has had one of the most open press environments on the continent since the end of apartheid more than 15 years ago—have increased in recent years, raising fears of backsliding in a country seen as a model in the region. These threats have occurred in the context of multiple challenges to democratic consolidation, including recent encroachments on judicial independence and other institutions that provide checks and balances on executive power. In addition, an upsurge of inflammatory rhetoric directed at the white minority, particularly by the faction headed by Julius Malema, president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, has led to the overt injection of race into various debates on political and socioeconomic issues and resulted in increased self-censorship by non-blacks on a range of issues.
At an October 22 briefing designed to tout the enhanced relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan ahead of the first visit to the Central Asian country by a U.S. secretary of state in seven years, a senior State Department official was asked whether this strategic partner was still boiling people alive. The fact that this question needed to be asked is a worrisome sign for U.S. moral authority.