The Troubling Correlation between Dialogue and Dictatorship (COMMENTARY MAGAZINE) Michael Rubin 04/24/12)
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There’s an unfortunate correlation between high-level engagement with
Middle East potentates and their human rights abuses. When Nancy
Pelosi went to Syria, Syrian dissidents ran for cover. Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak knew he was off-the-hook when Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice went to Egypt and failed to mention democracy.
Bush-era Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called Iran a
democracy and signaled regime hardliners that their path to
repression was clear. President Barack Obama called Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan one of his favorite leaders; once an
emerging democracy, Turkey now ranks below Russia and Venezuela in
terms of press freedom and Erdogan rounds up political opponents in
the dead of night.
Earlier this month, Kurdish strongman Masud Barzani joined the club.
During his trip to Washington, he met not only with his usual
interlocutor Vice President Joseph Biden, but also Obama. He gloated
at his reception and calculated that the embrace meant that he would
face no more pressure to curtail rampant corruption or respect basic
The result was this—the arrest of Sherwan Serwani, the editor of an
independent Kurdish magazine by security forces controlled by Masud’s
son Masrour, who also visited the White House. Serwani has since
disappeared. American human rights activists often talk
about “disappearances,” but seldom do they get caught on video.
Barzani added an exclamation point to his crackdown by banning Hell
of Truth, a book by a former employee which detailed corruption
within the Kurdish authority. The author has since fled for his life.
Dialogue can be important, even with dictators. But that’s what Biden
is for. Rolling out the red-carpet for dictators can be very
dangerous indeed, unless Obama is insincere about his call for
democracy and freedom in the Middle East.
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