U.S. President Barack Obama voiced support for Ukraine’s newly elected president and called for the international community to “stand solidly behind” him Wednesday, CNN reports:
Obama’s meeting in Warsaw, Poland, with Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko can be seen as a sign of U.S. support for the government in Kiev as it battles to quell a pro-Russian separatist uprising in Ukraine’s East….In remarks at a ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of Poland’s return to democracy, Obama also voiced his backing for Ukraine, and said the United States would stand up for freedom across the region.
“In that age-old contest of ideas — between freedom and authoritarianism, between liberty and oppression, between solidarity and intolerance — Poland’s progress shows the enduring strength of the ideals that we cherish as a free people,” he said:
Here we see the strength of democracy: Citizens raising their voices, free from fear. Here we see political parties competing in open and honest elections. Here we see an independent judiciary working to uphold the rule of law. Here in Poland we see a vibrant press and a growing civil society that holds leaders accountable — because governments exist to lift up their people, not to hold them down.
Surrounded by throngs celebrating Poland’s quarter century of democracy, Obama pledged not only to defend Eastern Europe against new threats — but to support democratic movements throughout the world, The Washington Post’s Zachary A. Golfarb reports:
But the truth is far more complicated. Obama, like presidents before him, has made uncomfortable choices in deciding when to promote democracy or when to compromise those principles for other interests. ……Obama has used diplomacy and, on one occasion, military action to support democratic movements in places as varied as Libya, Burma and Ukraine. But more often, he has decided to work with regimes that are either authoritarian (Saudi Arabia and China) or turning that way (Egypt and Russia) because of other U.S. priorities.
“Obama seems to have under-reached,” Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, said in an e-mail. “He clearly cares about democracy, civil society and human rights, and often speaks eloquently about these values. But at a time when these are clearly in retreat around the world, one sees little sense of an overall Obama strategy to renew global democratic progress and counter the efforts of Russia, China and Iran to suppress and subvert democratic movements worldwide.”
Other analysts are more critical.
“His democracy promotion is a study in schizophrenia — like foreign policy before him,” said Timothy J. Lynch, a University of Melbourne professor who has co-edited a book on U.S. democracy promotion.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, insists that democracy remains a vital component of foreign policy.
“We’ve made a democracy a central part of our approach in every region that we operate,” he said, although he acknowledged a lack of progress in Russia, China and Egypt. “We’re going to be very clear when we have differences with those countries, even as we are going to work with them on some issues of mutual interest, whether it’s Iran negotiations or removing Syria’s chemical weapons.”
White House advisers insist there is a logic to the strategy even if “there is not a unified-field theory of democracy promotion,” in the words of Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state in charge of the bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the Post’s Golfarb adds:
Looking back at the democratic movements of a quarter century ago, Malinowski said there is a bit of revisionism in evaluating the successes and failures of U.S. foreign policy.
“When we look at American foreign policy in hindsight, it looks much more well-planned and triumphantly successful than it appears in the moment,” he said. “At the time, people were confused and it wasn’t clear what would turn out well. And that’s how we feel now. It really isn’t very different.”
“The effort to befriend and engage Russia in this administration was heartfelt and very serious, but it separated the democratic deficit in Russia in a different lane,” a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to a reporter.
But it is clear in retrospect, this official said, that Putin sees civic dissent — whether within Russia’s own borders or in neighboring countries — as a threat to its power.
“People now agree that domestic despotism is related to international aggression,” the official said. “What other reason would Russia offer so much support for Syria?”