Politics & Policy

Prague Diary

Democrats gather in Europe.

Dozens of dissidents and current and past political leaders who have championed their liberation, including U.S. President George W. Bush, begin a conference today in Prague to take stock of the effort to spread democracy and protect human dignity across the globe.  Last week the president foretold his message to Europeans, including to the G-8 Summit on Wednesday, June 6, in a speech casting America as “a compassionate nation.”  Such a nation will seek to reduce chaos and suffering abroad because “our conscience demands it” and it “is in our interest” — benefiting both “this economy and our security.” 

While rose-colored glasses may be fashionable in the vicinity of the Rose Garden, the Prague pro-democracy dissidents, activists, and politicians will be faced with some obvious rifts currently pitting America (and Israel) against European forces.  Can the moral leverage of a group which includes some of the world’s most celebrated former political prisoners like Václav Havel and Natan Sharansky and the spouses of others lost along the way, open a common causeway to defeat the mortal enemies of freedom everywhere?

In most international fora dedicated to human-rights protection the focus of discussion turns sooner or later to the evils of American intervention in Iraq and the alleged root cause of Islamist terrorism — the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.  This week’s 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, for example, is not being remembered as the date Israel succeeded in staving off the latest annihilation plans of its neighbors, which began in earnest the minute of Israel’s birth in 1948.  Instead, June 5, 1967, has been cast as the start date for another failed attempt at Western colonialism. 

According to the president, however, colonialism is not on our agenda. Compassionate Americans are merely striving to tie development assistance to democratic reform — which to him “seems like a fair deal.”  But compassionate Europeans are equally busy pushing any American agenda to the periphery, allowing a European kingmaker to rise between “extremists” on both sides.  In the result, Americans find themselves begging for European support to take more aggressive action against Sudan and Iran.  Europeans use U.N. platforms like the Human Rights Council to water down resolutions critical of Sudan and appear content to spin out the negotiations with Iran until it’s too late.  The African Union gets the mixed message, and two days ago put more roadblocks in the way of a beefed-up peacekeeping force for Darfur.  Iran just issues another nonchalant up-yours.

The verbiage associated with the spread of democracy and the international protection of human rights is, therefore, utterly incoherent.  The U.N. touts “the responsibility to protect” — but just not by America and not in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and so on.  America is the problem;  the U.N. is the solution.  On May 31, the Egyptian Chief of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, called anyone thinking of preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons by the use of force, regardless of whether all other avenues had failed, the “new crazies.”  Of course, this is the same man who has run interference for Iran for years, only last week claiming Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium under his watchful gaze. 

The background paper for the Prague conference, written by Marc Plattner, editor of The Journal of Democracy, argues against isolating all nondemocracies and granting instead “a certain degree of respect and recognition to their governments.  For these reasons, there is a clear need for all-inclusive international organizations such as the United Nations.”   How ironic that the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of the enemies of liberal democracy today is the U.N. — the mechanism by which democracies are constantly driven apart in a desperate attempt at coalition-building aimed to trump the greatest democracy of our time, the United States.

The challenge for this group of disparate and genuine do-gooders will be to overcome the one-upmanship so characteristic of European-based governmental get-togethers and the blame-America-first syndrome that is the calling card of every major human-rights nongovernmental organization today.

Anne Bayefsky — Professor A.F. Bayefsky, B.A., M.A., LL.B., M.Litt. (Oxon.), is a Professor at York University, Toronto, Canada, and a Barrister and Solicitor, Ontario Bar. She is also an Adjunct Professor at ...


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