Thursday, December 22, 2005

Conductor’s Reading Room: WSJ

I’ve never been much of a newspaper reader. The medium just didn’t appeal to me. And the liberal bias in the newspaper business is so transparent and nauseating that I basically ignore most papers, with one notable exception. The Wall Street Journal provides clear thinking and unbiased coverage on a wealth of topics that go well beyond the stock market. My degree is in economics and I’ve always had an interest in political science. The Journal does a wonderful job reporting where these two fields converge. I recently rediscovered what I like about The Journal and I think I’ll be posting their editorials and articles here more often. They won’t all be related to Cuba, in fact a lot of them won’t, but I’ll start with the following article that reports that democracy is spreading around the world. Notice the mention of Cuba as one of the hellholes that still suffers under despotic tyranny. You won’t see this type of plain English in the editorial pages of papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Emphasis mine.


Global View / by George Melloan

Freedom House in New York yesterday released its annual report on how many people live in free societies. The news was again good, with 27 countries and one territory showing gains and only nine showing setbacks. “The past year was one of the most successful for freedom since Freedom House began measuring world freedom in 1972,” the report said.

Arch Puddington, the organization’s director of research, found it “impressive” that freedom could thrive despite “terrorist violence, ethnic cleansing, civil conflict, catastrophic natural disasters and geopolitical polarization.” But it did. Nearly 3 billion souls (46% of the world’s population) now live in countries that have “open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties, significant independent civil life, and independent media.” A further 1.2 billion are “partly free,” meaning that they have limited rights that are tainted by such defects as rampant corruption or entrenched one-party rule.

The remaining 2.3 billion (35%) are denied basic civil liberties and political rights. China accounts for half the “not free” numbers, and Russia seems to be relapsing into a repeat of the Soviet past. Both rate better, however, than the eight worst hellholes: North Korea, Cuba, Burma, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The spread of electoral democracy feeds the trend. Today 122 countries, 65% of the world total, have democratic elections – three more than last year. Obviously, this is reflected in greater political rights, most of gains coming in countries moving to “partly free” from “not free.”

Freedom House is cautious about expansive claims for Afghanistan and Iraq, no doubt in part because both still depend on foreign military forces for security. But there could hardly have been a better demonstration of the human yearning for political rights than the election in Iraq last week. Something like 70% of the registered electorate turned out to vote for a new parliament, despite death threats from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s terrorist gangs. While politicians safe inside the beltway preach cut-and-run, Iraqis and American soldiers and civilians on the ground in Iraq are getting on with the task of building a democratic state.

The idea that there is something in Islam or in the Arab character that militates against freedom and democracy is one of the favorite laments of defeatist politicians and media pundits in the U.S. But Thomas O. Melia, acting head of Freedom House, observed that measurable improvement this year in several key Arab countries “reminds us that men and women in this region share the universal desire to live in free societies.” As for predominantly Islamic countries as a whole, both Indonesia and Malaysia are making important democratic advances.

In Iraq, the new legitimacy awarded to politicians by the voters last Thursday already seems to be engendering greater seriousness. On Saturday, Adnan al-Dulaimi, an academic who heads a Sunni group that will likely have some power in the 275-seat parliament, said he would be willing to form a coalition government with the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance.

Sunnis and Shiites together, after years of being pitted against each other by Arab despots? Why not? Would it be much different from the grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in Germany? The bedfellows of political convenience sometimes aren’t as strange as one might think. Maybe the Iraqis are gearing up for the kind of political compromises routine in parliamentary democracies.

The big electoral turnout of the Sunni minority could be a signal that their leaders have decided to accept a role in democratic governance, abandoning the hope of regaining their former dominant position through violence. If so, they have made a wise choice, consistent with the wishes of the Iraqi people. That’s bad news for the former Saddam Hussein Sunni henchmen allied with foreign jihadists in terrorist attacks. Whatever support they ever had from Sunnis is waning.

Democracy is not easy, as was made plain on these pages Saturday in an interview with Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko by my colleague Matthew by my colleague Kaminiski. Last year’s “Orange Revolution” catapulted Mr. Yushchenko to power and made the Ukraine the poster child for this year’s upbeat Freedom House report. But now that the tumult and shouting has subsided, Mr. Yushchenko must deal with all the knotty problems of governance, such as rooting out ingrained corruption,

However, running a well-established democratic government is no piece of cake either, as George Bush learns every time his natural enemies – and occasionally his natural friends – whip up some new issue. But that’s the whole point of democracy, to keep powerful leaders humble with the daily realization that they are accountable to the voters and the opposition.

If the Iraqis and Afghans pull through under far more serious and lethal pressures and establish reasonably stable governments and economic bases, Mr. Bush will have won his big gamble in taking the war on terror to the places where terrorism is hatched. There will still be Iran and Syria to deal with, but the tide will have turned in the U.S. favor. The people of the Middle East will have won as well, gaining the promise of a better future.

That kind of future is being sought, particularly by young people, in benighted places all around the world. In such diverse societies as Belarus, Cuba and China – as well as Iran – there is ferment below the surface. New generations are becoming more politically conscious and increasingly aware that they are being denied their human dignity and individuality. Access to modern means of communication allows them to see how the other half of the world lives, not only in a material sense but in freedom from fear of violence and abuse practiced by ruling thugs. It is not easy to overthrow police states, but it isn’t easy either for politicians to rule people who resent brutal dominance.

The message of the Freedom House report is that while there are still many horrors in many places, political rights and civil liberties are gaining ascendancy in many places as well. For the world’s more fortunate, aiding that process is a high calling worthy of reflection in this holiday season.

1 comment:

Albert Quiroga said...

The Wall Street Journal: 180 degrees removed from that pretend-"newspaper" rag known as "Granma," isn't it?