A new administration committed to change should maintain continuity in at least one respect – keeping the door open to democratic dissidents. So argues Jackson Diehl in the latest of a series of recommendations that the Obama administration should not ditch the Freedom Agenda.
He notes that President George W. Bush this week marked Human Rights Day by meeting with dissident bloggers and new media activists, including Cuban-American blog Babalu, Alexander Klaskovskiy of Belarus’s Belapan, Burmese blogger Maung Maung Win, Xiao Qiang of China Digital Times, Iran’s Arash Sigarchi, and (via video link) Venezuela’s Miguel Octavio of The Devil’s Excrement.
Xiao Qiang drew the president’s attention to Charter 08, the manifesto for democratic reform and human rights signed and launched by some 300 Chinese intellectuals and activists this week. Mahmoud Saber reminded Bush of the Egyptian bloggers jailed by Hosni Mubarak’s government and noted that presidential attention hasn’t always helped dissidents like the exiled Saad Eddin Ibrahim or the imprisoned Ayman Nour, “a symbol of one vindictive autocrat’s victory over the ‘freedom agenda.’”
But Diehl concludes that Barack Obama should follow Bush’s lead in meeting with democracy activists since, on balance,…
“….the attention of the American president is precious to dissidents. It gains them enormous attention in their own countries and injects their liberal ideas into arenas from which they are usually excluded. Though some may be thrown in jail on their return from the White House, they also gain a de facto immunity from torture or assassination — otherwise a high risk in countries such as Belarus and Burma.”