Freedom House has just released its 41st annual survey of freedom in the world. It shows an overall erosion in global freedom for the eighth year in a row. Just 40 percent of the world’s population now lives in “free” countries.
Some of the biggest declines in global freedom occurred in Eurasia and the Middle East, with growing repression in Russia and the Caucasus highlighted in the report. Freedom House notes that “Eurasia has declined to the point where its political rights scores are lower than those of any other region.” Not a single country in Eurasia is designated as “free.” In the Middle East and North Africa, only 6 percent of countries surveyed are classified as “free.”
The report’s authors, David J. Kramer and Arch Puddington, describe democratic freedoms as being “under siege” across much of the world, with “the most serious regression in press freedom, civil society and rule of law.” They are sharply critical of the Obama Administration’s weak approach to advancing freedom on the world stage:
The Obama administration has signaled, in words and policies, that the encouragement of democracy is no longer a priority. Witness the administration’s current outreach to the murderous Assad regime… It’s not too late for a reassertion of American leadership and strong pushback against the authoritarian challenge. The alternative is a world marching toward a decade of declining democratic liberties.
This is advice the White House and State Department should heed. Over the past five years, American leadership has been in steep decline, with Washington eager to appease dictatorial regimes as part of its “leading from behind” strategy. The Russian reset, for example, has been a disastrous folly that has only emboldened Moscow to flex its muscle in its near abroad while bolstering the murderous dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Most recently, the Administration has acted like a deer in the headlights as the Ukrainian regime, led by President Viktor Yanukovich, has cracked down on pro-Western demonstrators in Kyiv at Russia’s behest.
The Obama Administration has also failed to stand in recent years with Iranian protestors, thousands of whom have been murdered, tortured, or brutally beaten by the security forces of the Islamist theocracy. All too often, Washington has been silent while repressive regimes crush dissenting voices and seek to intimidate those who stand up to them.
The world’s superpower cannot afford to vote itself absent in the face of tyrannical governments that seek to extinguish liberty. There are clear limits to American global power, but there should always be a determination on the part of the United States to make its voice heard in the defense of freedom and to stand with those who are fighting for liberty, just as President Reagan did during the Cold War in the face of the Soviet Empire. American leadership matters, and when it goes AWOL, the world is a far more dangerous place.