Some people suppose that President Bush's freedom agenda was buried last Wednesday by the report of the Iraq Study Group. In fact, history will show that the administration largely smothered its own baby, even before Iraq's descent into civil war propelled the resurrection of James Baker and other "realist" friends of Middle Eastern dictators.Nothat any of this is the least bit surprising to anyone who has been paying attention. Democracy is nothing more than a prop, or a useful buzzword to Bush and the Republicans. By using Freedom and Democracy as rationales for his antidemocratic policies, Bush can cynically and dishonestly accuse his critics of being anti-democracy - and what kind of sorry excuse for an American could be against democracy?
Evidence of that conclusion could be found in Washington on the same day Baker delivered his report, as administration officials, members of Congress and business executives gathered for a glittering dinner in honor of Mehriban Aliyeva, the visiting first lady of Azerbaijan.
...[Azerbaijan] is at a tipping point politically. Aliyev, who inherited power from his father(...) has teetered between installing his own dictatorship and promising to liberalize the political system along Western lines.
For a year after Bush's soaring second inaugural speech, in which he pledged "to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation," the president seemed to be trying to act on his words in Azerbaijan. Through a letter and State Department envoys, he urged Aliyev to hold free and fair parliamentary elections and promised in return to "elevate our countries' relations to a new strategic level."
Unfortunately, Aliyev called Bush's bluff. He staged a vote in October 2005 that even the sympathetic State Department said was marked by "major irregularities and fraud." Days before the election he arrested hundreds of political opponents or would-be rivals, including one of his most pro-Western ministers, Farhad Aliyev.
Last April Bush received President Aliyev at the White House anyway, praising his cooperation with Western energy interests but saying nothing, at least in public, about the rigged elections or political prisoners. U.S. officials argued at the time that it was necessary to ease American pressure on Aliyev because of the risk that he would be driven into the arms of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin has been aggressively courting the autocrats of Central Asia while trying to build a de facto Russian monopoly of the region's energy resources.
Aliyev drew a predictable conclusion: that he could be both a dictator and an American ally as long as he delivered energy and security cooperation. So Azerbaijan is pumping oil to Europe, and has promised gas this winter to pro-Western Georgia. It is allowing the U.S. military to use its airspace, and it reportedly hosts CIA monitoring operations of Iran. Meanwhile, Aliyev's government is systematically attacking the country's pro-democracy forces, while favoring Russia's Azerbaijani allies. The losers are the very "democratic reformers" to whom Bush said: "When you stand for your liberty we will stand with you."
On Nov. 24 Aliyev's administration closed down the country's only independent radio and television station, ANS. The network was charged with "unauthorized broadcasts of several foreign radio programs" -- i.e., the Voice of America, Radio Liberty, and the BBC. Two Russian television networks controlled by Putin's government continue their broadcasts into the country unhindered. U.S. officials who protested the shutdown were told, improbably, that it was the result of excessive zeal by licensing authorities.
Despite this provocation, the Bush administration offered its full cooperation for the visit of Aliyev's wife, a member of parliament who is building her own political career. The trip has received saturation coverage by Azerbaijan's remaining, state-controlled media, which portray it as proof of the close ties between Aliyev and Bush. And no wonder: The day after that gala dinner, Mehriban Aliyeva was received at the White House by First Lady Laura Bush. Did the subject of political prisoners such as Farhad Aliyev come up?
Sadly, less than two years after the freedom agenda was born, the very idea of such principled pressure from the Bush White House has become ludicrous.
I think this tactic is losing effectiveness, most likely due to the obvious lack of democracy in Afghanistan in Iraq. Now all we need is for the general public to realize that Republicans in general, and BushCo. in particular, are actively hostile to democracy. It's almost as if they find the will of the people frightening; I can't imagine why.