Policing the world for First Freedoms – World Watcher
Llewellyn D. Howell
LET’S PRETEND THAT THE U.S. AND GREAT BRITAIN invaded Iraq in order to rid the country of Saddam Hussein and bring in a government that we decided was “representative” of the people and granted freedom. We agree to cast aside all other arguments about (unfound) Weapons of Mass Destruction, (unfound) close connections with Al Qaeda and the attacks of 9/11, (unfound) imminent dangers of attack on its neighbors and even the U.S., and/or (found) control of Iraq’s oil.
Let’s just say that the goal of the U.S.-led invasion was to topple a despot who had led his tribe in killing tens of thousands of people from other tribes and cultures that happened to be inside the artificial boundaries of a European-designed nation state. We also can presume that there is a global strategy involved here. Invading a country without provocation (having a despotic government hasn’t been considered a provocation in the past; many have been our allies) is a big step in American foreign policy.
If one of our long-term goals is to rid the world of despotism on the way to freedom and democracy, and it surely is, then there would have to be a target list. Yet, there is always the question of “Where do we start?” I have long argued that the First Freedom is the freedom to eat (i.e., to survive) and, the second, to procreate. Freedom from fear also rates as a critical element in constructing what we want to regard as freedom for an individual. This may qualify as the third freedom. Political rights and civil liberties come after the human needs that are biologically determined, and although they are important in the ultimate concept of a human life, they are still fourth in the chain of freedoms.
We don’t know if the Bush Administration had or has a list of those countries that are least free, using any list of freedoms. However, if the objective in the ongoing Iraqi war is to provide freedom, we hope so. We do know what such a list would look like. Freedom House provides, in several parts, such a list.
Based in Washington, D.C., Freedom House is a nonprofit organization that sees itself as a voice for democracy around the world. Founded nearly 60 years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, and others, it is a nonpartisan proponent of democratic values that opposes dictatorships of the right and the left. The organization clearly has a Western bias toward what constitutes freedom, but has been systematic in assessing and measuring exactly the same phenomena as those we now espouse as our reason for invading Iraq. Many in the Third World, like Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, do not accept the usual Western definition of democracy, but in the civilization that cradles it, the Freedom House definition works. The organization’s background, objectives, and country ratings can be seen on their website (http://www.freedomhouse.org).
Freedom House provides a number of ratings of countries that are relevant in any attempt to increase the level of liberty around the world. If we take the First Freedoms I suggest–the right to eat, drink clean water, and to procreate–its figures on Real Gross Domestic Product Per Capita and Life Expectancy become useful.
The primary interest of Freedom House is in its ratings on Political Rights and Civil Liberties, where it provides categories of freedom ranging from one (the most free) to seven (the least free) on each of the two variables and then combined with an average. The 1 to 7 range is then divided up into three categories: Free, Partly Free, and Not Free.
Nine countries populate the lowest of the low (mean of seven) in the category labeled as “Not Free.” They are, alphabetically: Burma (Myanmar, according to its military junta), Cuba, lraq, North Korea, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan. There is a familiar ring here. If we are going to police the world and clean up those countries that are Not Free, we started at the right place. Others in the group are already on the “next” list and should be: North Korea, Syria, Libya, and Cuba. Then we mn into trouble. Burma? First locate it. Turkmenistan? Is that a recognized country? Sudan? Well, they’ve been cooperating with the U.S. lately.
That brings us to Saudi Arabia, a nation posing a real dilemma. Here is an ally, with oil that we need, and use. Could it be that those that are Not Free get a pass if they are linked economically with America? In Iraq’s secular despotism, at least women had some rights, could serve in the armed forces, and didn’t have to cover their heads or faces. There is some freedom in that. Saudi Arabia is one of the clearest cases of being “Not Free” for anyone. Why are they not on the hit list?
Let’s think hypothetically for a moment about the First Freedoms. The Life Expectancy list provided by Freedom House is revealing. Countries range in life expectancy from two generations to four (81 years). There are enough nations with less than two generations (40 or less expected years of life) to compete with the bottom rung of “Not Free” in political freedoms. If we attack, with humanitarian aid, the countries with the fewest First Freedoms, we would target Zambia (37), Mozambique (38), Zimbabwe (38), Botswana (39), Rwanda (39, in part because roughly 800,000 people were killed in acts of genocide in the last decade), Sierra Leone (39), and Swaziland (40). In case you didn’t notice, these are all African nations.
Pres. Bush made a trip to Africa in July and pledged $15,000,000,000 over five years to combat HIV and AIDS, the biggest factors in life reduction in Africa. Therein lies the tale of fighting for freedom: $15,000,000,000 for five years in Africa, or $15,000,000,000 for 15 weeks in Iraq. Even in pursuit of despotism, there could have been a better choice.
Llewellyn D. Howell, International Affairs Editor of USA Today, is a senior research fellow at the Pacific Asia Management Institute, University of Hawaii at Manoa, and professor emeritus at Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management, Glendale, Ariz.
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