January 25, 2005
Condoleezza Rice's "outposts of tyranny" may join "axis of evil" as one of the most dubiously memorable phrases to come out of the Bush Administration.
In her confirmation hearings last week, Rice listed six "outposts of tyranny" around the globe--Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Burma, Belarus, and Zimbabwe.
The list is as interesting for the countries it leaves out as for the countries it includes.
Why Iran and not Saudi Arabia, for instance? While Iran's governing system has deep flaws--in the constraints on democracy and in the Islamic rigidity that the regime imposes--it is certainly more enlightened than that of Saudi Arabia. At least there is a struggle going on for power in Iran between moderate elected officials and hard-line clerics. There is no struggle for power in Saudi Arabia between democrats and diehards. It is headed by an absolute monarchy in cahoots with the most fundamentalist clergy in the world. End of story. Perhaps it is too much to expect oil-tanker-named-after-her Rice to publicly humiliate the biggest oil producer in the world.
But Saudi Arabia is by no means alone among its neighbors in its transgressions. Don't get me going on the other monarchical dictatorships in the region, from Qatar to Kuwait to Bahrain to Oman to the United Arab Emirates--all buddies of the United States, and none of them privileged enough to be part of Rice's select club.
Moving on to Africa, why Zimbabwe and why not, say, Equatorial Guinea? The regime of Colonel Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in this tiny West African country has a horrendous human rights record, too. "State Department reports have for years cited the regime for human-rights violations, including torture, beatings, and abuse of prisoners and suspects, sometimes resulting in death," a September 9, 2004, article in The Washington Post notes. Why would Rice ignore reports from her own Administration, even from the department she is about to head? Again, that one word answer: oil. Equatorial Guinea is sitting on a lot of it, and the United States wants some of that precious fluid. Colonel Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo would not take too kindly to his country being named an outpost of anything.
From Latin America, we have that old warhorse Fidel, who would be included on any such list since 1960. While Castro should be condemned for suppressing political freedoms and jailing dissidents, it is quite clear that politics, Floridian and otherwise, plays a big role in Cuba's membership. Besides, is Cuba worse than Haiti next door, where a U.S-imposed regime that overthrew a democracy last year has, according to Amnesty International, been guilty of several illegal arrests and extrajudicial executions?
And why only Belarus from a region that has more than its share of horrendous dictatorships? The grapevine is that the inclusion is meant to be a poke at Putin, since Belarus's Aleksandr Lukashenko is very chummy with Vladimir. Otherwise, there are a number of regimes from that corner of the planet for Rice to choose from. I could provide her a list from a piece I did for the February issue of The Progressive: Kazakhstan, with its jailed opposition figures; Azerbaijan, with its tortured political activists; Uzbekistan, with its more than 6,000 political detainees and the ghoulish practice of boiling prisoners to death; and Turkmenistan, with its cult of personality that is unrivaled outside of North Korea. (And I left out a few others, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.)
Which brings us to North Korea and Burma. This has to be said--they are among the worst human rights violators on Earth. But what if they were allies of the United States? Would they still be on the list? I seriously doubt it.
For this Administration, it is all about playing politics. Whether it is President Bush's speech on spreading liberty and freedom or Rice's newly concocted list, human rights is heavily subordinate to U.S. strategic and economic interests. You are included on lists such as Rice's only if you aren't of value to the Bush Administration. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to take a reality check.