Middle East Authoritarianism IS Getting Better—Look At The Data

December 30, 2008

[first published April 10, 2006] I have been pointing out that the invasion of Iraq, the struggle for democracy there, and the democratic election of a national government was having a pro-democratic impact on other Middle Eastern Muslim countries. Since my view was at sharp variance from what some realists and other foreign policy experts have been saying, I decided to test this.

I used Freedom House ratings, 1973-2005 (see below the map on the page), and tracked the year-by-year change in ratings for Muslim Middle Eastern (ME) countries. These ratings are on civil liberties (CL) and political rights (PR), and vary from 1 for the best (labeled FREE), to 7 for the worst (Not Free). I averaged these two ratings for each ME country for each year 1972-2005, and included the latest for 2006 (see above link). I then averaged all the averages for a year, which gave me a measure of the progress of freedom in the ME. The lower the annual average the more democratic freedom in the region.

The chart below shows the results (if the chart doesn’t show on your browser, see it here):

The list of nations whose ratings were averaged is shown on the left. Each dot in the chart is one annual average of all these countries CL and PR ratings. The higher the average the worse off is democratic freedom in the region. As can be seen, there was a growing improvement until 1978, when the growing traditional and jihadist Islamists groups battled authoritarian governments for control over society, and as a result the ME dictatorships hardened their control of politics and human rights. This control reached its height in 1994, when the democratic wave in Eastern Europe with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 began to be reflected in the ME. Authoritarianism eased off then. This movement toward greater freedom accelerated with the fear of American action engendered by 9/11, and the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and headed steeply down with the invasion of Iraq in March of the next year, the subsequent effort to democratize the country, and Bush’s announced Forward Strategy of Freedom with pressure on these countries to liberalize.

The straight line angling upwards in the chart is a bivariate regression line. It says that the overall tendency in the ME, 1973-2006 was toward greater repression and elimination of civil liberties and political rights. But, then, there is obviously coherent movement around this trend. To determine this, I calculated a 4th degree polynomial regression fit to the points, which clearly shows that there is now a sharp decline in authoritarianism. This has far to go before the region becomes democratic, which would mean an average of slightly more that 2, but it is moving away from an average of 6 or 7, which is totalitarianism at its worst.

What countries account for the improvement from 2001 to 2006? In political rights, it is Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, and Yemen; in civil liberties, it is Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen. In the United Arab Emirates, political liberties got worse, the only ME country on either scale to get worse.

Since it is not Muslim, Israel was not included. However, for comparison, since 1973, Freedom House has rated it between 1 and 2 on political rights, and 2 and 3 on civil liberties, and for every year it has classified Israel as free—that is, a liberal democracy.

What does the chart say about Bush’s impact on democracy in the region? That authoritarianism is retreating could be due to other causes, but what they would be is a question. The Islamic terrorist attack on authoritarian regimes has increased, not lessened, and the only significant countervailing variable seems to be Bush’s post 9/11 democratically oriented foreign policy, which has meant pressure on these regimes to begin democratization. And by hypothesis, it is supposed to have an impact. Therefore, given the above chart, I think we can say it does.

Links of Note

“Saddam’s terrorist ties documented”:

…. The May-June 2006 Foreign Affairs cites a May 25, 1999, text titled “Fedayeen Saddam Instructions” in which Uday Hussein, the tyrant’s older son, orders “special operations, assassinations and bombings, for the centers and traitor symbols in London, Iran and the self-ruled areas” (Kurdistan). As the authors observe, “Preparations for ‘Blessed July,’ a regime-directed wave of ‘martyrdom’ operations against targets in the West, were well under way at the time of the coalition invasion.”…

“The Wrong Time to Lose Our Nerve: A response to Messrs. Buckley, Will and Fukuyama By Peter Wehner:

….In Iraq, we are witnessing advancements and some heartening achievements. We are also experiencing the hardships and setbacks that accompany epic transitions. There will be others. But there is no other way to fundamentally change the Arab Middle East. Democracy and the accompanying rise of political and civic institutions are the only route to a better world–and because the work is difficult doesn’t mean it can be ignored. The cycle has to be broken. The process of democratic reform has begun, and now would be precisely the wrong time to lose our nerve and turn our back on the freedom agenda. It would be a geopolitical disaster and a moral calamity–and President Bush, like President Reagan before him, will persist in his efforts to shape a more hopeful world.

“Iranian Reformist Website: The Regime is Trying to Silence Internal Dissent Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program”:

The reformist Internet daily Rooz recently reported that several reformist papers and news agencies had been threatened by government officials for publishing criticism of Iran’s nuclear policies.

“Remembering Saddam’s slow war” By Austin Bay

The latest quip accusation that the United States “rushed to war” with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq conveniently ignores 12 years of combat, terror and crime. 
    Perhaps The Slow War — Saddam’s war against the U.N.-mandated sanctions and inspections regimen that halted Operation Desert Storm — has slipped from public historical memory. It shouldn’t, for The Slow War is the long, violent bridge connecting Desert Storm to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“”The Head of the Snake”” Michael J. Totten’s Middle East Journal:

The Iraqi Kurds I met who have been to Iran wanted me to know – and they want you to know, as well – that the distance between the Iranian people and their hideous regime is galactic. I heard the same refrain over and over again: “Persians are just like us.” In other words, they are liberal, secular, pro-Western, and fed up with tyrants. “Iranians love America,” the Kurds told me. “They have nothing to do with Ahmadinejad.”



The Washington Post Exhibits Its Leftism to China

December 30, 2008

[First published March 15, 2005] Recently, Philip Bennett, Managing Editor of The Washington Post, was interviewed by Yong Tang, People’s Daily Washington-based correspondent ( interview here). The biased leftism disclosed by Bennett is chilling and dangerous when one considers that we are at war, that he is speaking to the Chinese ruling thugs and people, and that China supports the terrorists and the other anti-democratic thugs of the world. So far, the media comments on the interview, including by conservatives, have not really caught much of what I find damning. So, I am quoting below the most revealing parts of the interview. I am not including the questions by Yong, unless necessary for understanding Bennett’s answer. I have tried to keep quotations in context so that they will not be misleading.

Bennett: The world image of US is so clearly linked to its foreign policy and particularly its policy toward Iraq and Middle East, say its support of HYPERLINK “http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/data/israel.html”Israel and its occupation of Iraq. . . . Another source of the resentment is the perception that Bush administration wants to act unilaterally in the world, outside of alliance that traditionally governed the ways Bush made foreign policy decisions.

RJR: A perception for which Bennett’s management of the news is partly responsible.

Bennett: The Bush administration believes that there isn’t a contradiction between defending its self-interest and promoting friendly and democratic regimes. Because they believe that promoting those kinds of governments would make the world more friendly to the US and therefore it is in the interest of America to do that.

RJR: He just does not understand the Bush foreign policy. True, democracies will be friendlier to the U.S., but the basic drive of the policy is that it will promote peace and an end to terrorism.

Yong Tang: Since the standard is not applied equally in the world, it is damaging Bush’s effort to promote the so-called democracy, isn’t it?

Bennett: If you look around the world in strategically important places, is the US actively engaged there promoting democracy or not? I don’t think there is much evidence that promoting democracy is what the US is doing. It is what it says it is doing.

RJR: My God, how can he not see what Bush has done in, or regarding, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Lebanon, Egypt, and Indonesia?

Bennett: No, I don’t think US should be the leader of the world. . . . I also think it is unhealthy to have one country as the leader of the world. That is also a sort of colonial question. The world has gone through colonialism and imperialism. We have seen the danger and shortcomings of those systems. If we are heading into another period of imperialism where the US thinks itself as the leader of the area and its interest should prevail over all other interests of its neighbors and others, then I think the world will be in an unhappy period.

RJR: He simply does not understand that if the U.S. does not lead, some other country or countries will, such as France and Germany, or even China as her power grows. He also shares the view of many on the left about U.S, imperialism.

Yong Tang: So the world order should be democratic?

Bennett: Democracy means many things. How do you define democracy? As a Chinese journalist, you may have your own definition of democracy which corresponds to your history and your way of seeing the world. I may have another definition. Someone else may have their own definitions. Democracy means a lot of different things. . . . So democracy is not a cure that could turn everything bad into good. It has its own advantages and its disadvantages.

RJR: There you have it. Hardly an encouragement to democratic forces in China

Bennett: We have a little bit different roles in newspapers compared with our counterparts in Europe and other countries. We don’t have any political point of view that we are trying to advance. We don’t represent any political parties. We are not tied to any political movement. On the news side of the paper we try not to give opinions.

RJR: Typical we-just-report-the-news view of the liberals and leftists who run the major American media.

Bennett: One of the jobs of our correspondents in Baghdad is to tell our readers what the Bush administration is trying to hide. Bush says democracy is advancing in Iraq, but our correspondents say the situation there is much more complex than that. Our job is to put that in the public domain and challenge the government and hold them accountable.

The government of the US is becoming much more secretive, much more hostile to the press in terms of giving us access to the information. So a lot of what we do here is to fight for access to the information that we think the public should have. . . .It is true that in the areas of national security many more things are becoming secrets since after 9/11. So it is a big thing for The Washington Post to be the first major newspaper in America to publish the pictures about the Iraqi Abu Ghraib prisoners abuse scandal. . . . So our reporters are trained, encouraged and supported in going out and finding things that the government is trying to hide from the public. That is a lot of what we do.

RJR: So, he wants to, in effect and blindly, act as the intelligence service for the enemy.

Bennett: Where the news gathering part of the Post failed was to be sufficiently skeptical about the administration’s claims that there are weapons of mass destructions in Iraq. . . . For me, this episode is a good example of how difficult it is to independently verify the government’s claims when the government is lying to you. . . .

RJR: This is one of the most prevalent and enduring mantras among the left. I’ve heard and read virtually all of Bush’s speeches on foreign policy, and he did not lie. He said what he believed, based on intelligence reports to him from not only the CIA, but the intelligence services of other democracies. Moreover, we are now finding out that indeed there was WMD in Iraq that Hussein had removed just before our invasion.

Bennett: Neither The Washington Post, nor The New York Times, nor any other big newspapers, refer to China today as a dictatorship regime. We don’t use these words on the paper any more. Now we say China is a communist country only because it is a fact. China is ruled by the Communist party. . . . On the contrary, we are trying to understand the complexity of China. . . . There are many things happening now in China. Sometimes it is extraordinarily contradictory because it is a big country and it is a country which includes many things happening at the same time.

RJR: Freedom house rates China among the worst in political rights and just below worst in civil liberties for 2004. Its thugs judicially execute more of its subjects than any other regime (from which still warm bodies they harvest the organs for top officials or for sale); return to Kim Jong Il’s hands thousands of poor North Koreans who have escaped from his border to border prison, many to be executed; beat, torture, and kill those who just want to exercise their religion; and allow no freedom of political speech. Moreover, they rule by conquest Tibet, Sinkiang (sovereign and independent as The Turkish Islamic Republic of East Turkistan until invaded by communist forces in 1950), and all of Manchuria, never fully part of China until taken over by the communists.

Bennett: When I went to China, I felt I was seeing into the future. I think it is a deeply fascinating country. Every time when I go there, I see and learn things that I never expect to see and learn. It is a country with such beauty and potential. I also think how China resolve the challenges it face today will be a major force to decide the future of the planet . . .

I was very impressed by the degree of preparation, engagement, knowledge and vision that they [ruling thugs] have of China and China’s role in the world. There is no more complex job in the world in trying to run and administer a country so big with so many different issues, with people living in good wealth and poverty as well. The job is much more difficult than being an American President though they are different jobs in some ways.

RJR: Yes, you know, not much difference between a communist thug whose rule depends on his henchmen’s guns, and a democratically elected president, whose leadership depends on the support of the people. They are just “different jobs in different ways.” Deep sigh.


Link of Note

”China Puts Threat to Taiwan Into Law” (3/14/05) By Philip P. Pan, The Washington Post

BEIJING, March 14 — China enacted a law Monday authorizing the use of force against Taiwan if it moves toward formal independence, codifying its long-standing threat to attack the island. The measure could provoke a popular backlash in Taiwan and quickly unravel recent progress in cross-strait relations.

The National People’s Congress, the ruling Communist Party’s rubber-stamp parliament, approved the anti-secession law by a vote of 2,896 to 0, with two abstentions, defying U.S. appeals for restraint and strong protests by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian as well as some of his political rivals.

It is interesting to follow up the Post’s Managing Editor’s interview above with the papers’ treatment of the latest move by China’s ruling Hu Jintao. Pan does mention that the “law” was passed by the China’s rubber-stamp parliament (which some media do not mention), but the rest of the article’s tone gives more meaning to the “law” than it deserves. This is not a law in a democratic sense. It is not something passed by an elected legislature that governs the people and government. It is, pure and simple, a tool for misleading its own subjects and the world, and to lay down a marker to the United States and Taiwan. No law as we understand it governs China. In place of law are only communist party dictates that its thugs can violate or change as they will.