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Ambassador Mark Palmer is the author of the recently published Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025 (2003) in which he tells the story of all the world’s remaining dictators, their vulnerabilities, and how they can be can be removed, in most cases without violence. Ambassador Palmer designs a new architecture of international political and military power, one that focuses on bringing together the world’s democracies and democrats, and describes what individuals and non-governmental organizations can do to help open the remaining closed societies. This is a slightly abridged transcript of a presentation he gave at the Secretary of State’s Open Forum, Nov. 5, 2003. It is reprinted with the Forum’s permission.—Assoc Ed.

The Real Axis of Evil: Removing the World's Remaining Dictators Through Diplomacy

The 21st century, it seems to me, offers two scenarios to us as we stand here to-day. One of those is with dictators—either with the current crop that we have, or even more; and the other scenario is a world without dictators. The 20th century taught us very clearly what a world with dictators can be like. It was the bloodiest of all centuries, and it was the bloodiest of all centuries because of dictators—because of Hitler and Stalin and Mao. It was bloody not only because of the wars; it was bloody because of democide—because of the number of people that these dictators killed inside their own country—169 million. They killed more of their own citizens than foreigners. They caused the refugee flows; they caused the poverty; they caused all of the problems of the 20th century. And I argue in my book that if you look at the 21st century—if you look at the current crop of dictators running from North Korea through China in an unbroken arc through Central Asia, Pakistan, the Middle East, North Africa, and down to Angola, with three dictatorships: Belarus, Haiti, and Cuba; if you look at that those 43 men, no women (there are no women dictators I am happy to report); if you look at what they are doing today—once again they are the cause of refugee flows; they are the cause of terrorism, direct and indirect; they are the cause of wars; they are the cause of poverty, in Africa, particularly, but also in the Middle East, where the World Bank recently has shown that if you could have normal governance, democratic governance in the Middle East, that there would be a real spurt in economic growth as well. They are the root of all of our problems. They are together and individually the major security threat to this country, to their neighbors, and to the world.

And, of course, they are gaining power. What Hitler and Stalin were able to do in the way of devastation, the dictators of this century can go much further, because there will be weapons in their hands with the capacity of destruction that dwarfs what their predecessors had. And it’s even conceivable that there could be more dictators; that is, that there could be a reversal of the democratic tide, and that we could see horrors on a scale that are difficult to imagine.

Contrast that with a world, a 21st century, with no dictators. What would a world without dictators be like? What would it mean in terms of the lives of ordinary people in these 43 countries? What would it mean for American security? What would it mean for prosperity? What would it mean for refugees, environment, drugs, and terrorism—every single category you can think about? A world without dictators in all likelihood is a world without war. It is a world in which religious differences can be reconciled; it is a world of tolerance; it is a far better world. There might be competition, which is a good thing. There might be pushing and shoving, but I think there would not be large scale violence.

So, how to get there? Well, I think that one of the key things is to have what my old boss Henry Kissinger would call a conceptual breakthrough. We need to begin to understand that it is possible to have a world which is 100% democratic; that is not some kind of crazy vision, that, in fact, if you look over the past generation from the period in 1974 and 1975 when Spain and Portugal became democratic and look through the end of the last century, one generation, one period of 25 years, half of the world’s dictators were ousted. And they were ousted, most importantly, with barely a single shot being fired. They were ousted by people power, by movements of individuals who…were not willing to tolerate this any longer, got organized and threw these bums out and, as we know, changed the geopolitics of the world in so doing.

There is a tendency in this town and in Europe and elsewhere to think of human rights and democracy promotion as somehow a nice thing to do, but kind of squishy and soft. In fact, the reason that the Soviet Union disappeared and the Eastern Europe bloc countries, many of whom became members of NATO, had nothing really to do with a change in the military balance of power. It had a great deal to do with the change in the political balance of power—the domestic politics of those countries was transformed from communism to democracy. That is what changed the power balance in the world, and that is why in my judgment we need to redefine national security as the spread of democracy and alliances among democracies.

And we need—as a former speechwriter, I am particularly conscious of the im-portance of having goals. We need to have a goal for our foreign policy. It is not enough to have the current situation where if you asked most Americans—or Europeans or others—what is foreign policy for? What are we trying to achieve? You are very likely to get either 100 answers or no answer. And that is not an acceptable situation. There has to be an organizing goal. I think the goal should be universal democracy by the year 2025. I think we need a bumper sticker to motivate not only Americans, but Europeans, Japanese, Koreans, and most of all the people inside the dictatorships. In the Cold War we all knew what we were about. Maybe it was too simple—sometimes it was wrong-headed. But, at least, we knew what we were about. We need now something that goes beyond the war on terrorism. We need, in my judgment, to say that all of these remaining dictators have to leave power by the year 2025.

In order to do that, we need a new architecture of international power. At the end of the Second World War, all kinds of new institutions were created, and we’ve all benefited from them. …And my book argues that we should take that to the next stage; that is, that the community of democracies should join with a global NATO; that is, NATO should become available for membership to all democracies throughout the world so Japan could become a member of NATO—and others—that the community of democracies and NATO, now global institutions, would have the military power and the political heft to actually achieve the goal that I have set forth.

We would have regional programs and caucuses… I think that this structure—both regional bodies and democracies in the Middle East and Africa and Asia, regional bodies, supported by a global security structure—could transform the UN and make it work, make regional institutions work. It could be the basis for a whole new world.

I think we need to recognize that dictatorship as a class—that dictatorship itself is a crime against humanity. I testified yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about North Korea. It is crystal clear to me that Kim Jong II is a criminal. This is a man who is directly responsible for the starvation of 2 million people. He’s directly implicated in the assassination of South Korean cabinet ministers in Burma in the 1980s and the downing of a South Korean airliner. He’s directly responsible for the drug dealing which the North Koreans do, for all of the other depredations—for the gulag of North Korea, both the literal gulag; that is, the camps themselves; and the fact that a whole nation is a gulag. This is a man who should be indicted and tried, the way Charles Taylor has now been indicted. We should take all of these guys, including Jiang Zemin in my judgment— Mubarak—I know this building will quake when I go through my list, but anyway—Crown Prince Abdullah—all of these guys need to be indicted and tried because they are all criminals. We need most of all to organize the non-governmental democrats inside the remaining dictatorships. They are the legitimate voice of themselves, of the people. The governments are not legitimate governments. And as diplomats we need to recognize that when we present our credentials to a non legitimate government we are not doing the whole job. We ought to be presenting our credentials basically to the people of that country, and a creative diplomacy will find ways to do that. And I offer some thoughts on that in my book.

I really believe, based on my experience working inside these countries that the key to success is opening them up, not walling them off. I am strenuously opposed to programs that further close off closed societies, that reinforce the control of the dictator by sanctions that are broad scale. I think we need a new approach to sanctions targeted on the dictators, not on the people. We need to recognize that it’s the dictator that’s at fault, not, for example, the North Korean people.

We need most of all to have a new policy and budget priority for opening up countries and for democracy programs…I think we need a deputy secretary of State, without… other responsibilities, just for democracy promotion, and specifically to work on ousting these remaining 43 dictators. If my view is right—that they represent the major security threat to this country—then we need to have people who are really single purpose, when they get up in the morning think about how to help the people in these countries oust these 43 gentlemen.

We also need very badly to give greater priority to the classic opening programs, to exchanges, to the kinds of things that I know we are now doing in the Middle East. I want to congratulate this Administration … for being the first to do away with the Arab exception; that is, the view that, yes, we can try to help introduce democracy everywhere else in the world, but not in the Middle East; that somehow Arabs were—as years before people used to say Russians were or Latin Americans were—incapable of democracy. Now we are not saying that any longer about Arabs. And the classic programs that worked in Eastern Europe can work in the Arab world, can work with North Korea.

But we also need some new things. For example, it is in, my judgment, a real disgrace that there is no money around to pay for independent television and radio stations. The stations that are broadcasting out of Los Angeles to Iran don’t have sufficient means to really get on the right sorts of satellites with the right strength. And yet they have immense viewership inside Iran, when they are receivable. So I think we need to have a new fund to do that, and I have lots of other new ideas for specific programs to open up countries.

I am very disturbed that America’s great private foundations and our businesses do virtually nothing to help liberate these countries—virtually nothing. It is the hardest thing…I’m vice chairman of the board of Freedom House, and I also help in a number of other organizations—the Council for a Community of Democracies and others. And it’s so hard to raise money from the Ford Foundation and many others. I don’t mean to single them out; virtually all the foundations are guilty of not being willing to put up money to support struggles inside Burma, or inside China, or inside Saudi Arabia to bring democracy. They are gun-shy. They think this is political. Ha! I mean, I think that’s preposterous. The most important thing they should be doing they are not willing to do because they are nervous somehow that this is provocative or God knows what—right wing—or I don’t—or too far left wing. But, anyway, they don’t do it. And our business community also doesn’t do it. I can understand why an oil company in Saudi Arabia directly is not willing to finance Saudi democrats.

So I propose in my book the creation of a business community for democracy to parallel the government community of democracies. I think if the business world, the big multinationals—and not just American companies, but British, French, German, and Japanese companies, if they all came together in a business community of democracies—put up a $100 billion fund. Then that organization, in turn, could fund these movements, these nonviolent movements inside these countries, they’d have a cut-out. They could always blame—they could say, no, no, it’s not us—you know, when the Saudis come and complain—no, no, it’s not us. It’s this organization we happen to be a member of and we contribute to, but it is really not us. That is a way I think that we could get some resources, some serious resources, because, in fact, I want to say as a businessman myself—and I brought a company public on Nasdaq—I have a fair amount of experience in the business. It really is not good for business having to deal with dictatorships. They are totally unpredictable. They do what Putin has just done to Khordokovsky. They take your property. They violate their own laws. You cannot rely on dictators to be good partners in business. So business really has as great an interest as the rest of us do in ensuring this transition to a 100% democratic world.

Another thought that occurred to me as I was working on my book and talking to many of you all—I spent a lot of time talking with friends like Steve Steiner, who is here, and others, trying to tap into their ideas. One of the things that came to me was that we have an extraordinary range of multinational institu-tions and practices directed at bringing about economic development—and very intrusive institutions: the World Bank, the IMF, and USAID, etc., go into countries, and they really dictate to the local governments what the hell to do with their economy.

On the political side, there is no comparable institution. There is nothing on the political side multilateral which works on democracy development, which would go to Hu Jintao, and say: Okay, Mr. President, we think China needs a 5-year political development plan or a 10-year political development plan, and here are our thoughts on how to get there. You know, this is what stage one would be, stage two, stage three; here are the goals that you have to achieve to get there. It would do the same thing the World Bank does, but it would do it on the democracy side. I call this the International Dictatorship-to-Democracy Center. I think it should be part of the Community of Democracies that they ought to be the sponsoring organization. But, as with the World Bank, I think the UN—as Kofi Annan did, for example, when he came to Warsaw in the year 2000, and he endorsed the Community of Democracies, I think the UN should endorse this new center. But I hasten to add I do not think the UN, with its cur-rent make-up, should run the center, because, of course, it would be a disaster in the same way that the Commission of Human Rights in Geneva in many ways is a disaster.

Again, I want to emphasize the centrality of local indigenous democratic forces in doing this sort of democracy development work and planning. When I was in Budapest, my best partners were Hungarians outside governments; Hungarians in the opposition. They were the ones who had the ideas and stimulated me and asked me to do things. And I think for this center to work well in China or anywhere it would have to be encouraging round tables in which local people would participate along with the dictators’ representatives. That’s what happened in Poland and Hungary and other places. Round tables are a great device. In other ways the local people need to be at the center of this planning and programming and change process.

One of the institutions that is almost unique inside … these 43 countries in terms of a foreign democratic presence are the embassies of the democracies. I mean, in many of these 43 countries there aren’t even foreign journalists or very few foreign journalists. But in all of them there are embassies—in some cases, as many as 100 democratic nations have embassies inside a single dictatorship. Embassies have a fantastic opportunity to do things to bring about change…

With a right-thinking Secretary of State—and I think Secretary Powell is right-thinking on this—there are lots of things you can do to stretch the envelope. Harry Barnes, for example, did things in Chile that I record. Smith Hempstone did things in Kenya that I record in my book that are really wonderful things and had a very significant political impact on the change in those two countries.

Another idea that I think is worth exploring—President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill, during the Second World War gave fireside chats, and those speeches did a lot to motivate the people of the English-speaking world, and even people who are not English-speaking, to conduct the war against fascism and eventually to defeat the fascists. I think something comparable could be done today by the world’s democratic leaders. They could, for example, give a weekly talk to the Chinese people—a different prime minister from a different country each week could give a talk, translated obviously into Chinese, broadcast on radio, television, and via the Internet, to the Chinese people to talk with them about China’s future; about how we want to help them get to become a fully modern nation, fully part of the rest of the world.

We did something like this…when Solidarity was banned in Poland in 1981. We persuaded over 20 prime ministers and presidents of the major democracies to tape filmed messages to the Polish people. So there is a precedent for this, and I am convinced that it could be done, and it should become a regular practice.

One of the few things really that holds these dictators in place is that the people of the countries concerned very often feel alone. They feel alone both in terms of their immediate neighbors, and they feel alone in terms of the rest of the world, that they are abandoned to the repression from the man who rules them. It’s very important to break through that isolation, and to make people realize that they are not alone. Because as soon as you begin to feel you’re not alone, then you begin to be willing to go into the streets to organize and eventually to throw the dictator out.

I don’t rule out the use of force. I think there are circumstances in which force is necessary and justified. I think it would be good for all of us to think more about targeted use of force; that is, perhaps, for example, where a dictator is being indicted there could be a multinational force, a small multinational force, which would be like marshals and would go in and remove the dictator—physically take him, for example, in the case of Charles Taylor to Sierra Leone, and put him before an international tribunal. So I think we should think a little bit more about the way force can be used in a limited fashion to help with the democratic process.

But I believe that overwhelmingly the best thing to use against these 43 men is not force in the classic sense of armies and violence. The real force to use is people power. That’s what’s worked again and again. It’s worked on every continent, in every culture. It worked in the Philippines; it worked in Indonesia; it worked in Argentina, in Chile, in central and Eastern Europe. It almost worked in China in 1989. The most interesting book I’ve ever read is The Tiananmen Papers, and I strongly urge you, after you’ve read my book, to read The Tiananmen Papers, because The Tiananmen Papers shows how close it came in 1989. They almost succeeded in the same year that the Berlin Wall came down to achieve their own freedom. And, of course, it will and be—the Chinese peo-ple who will again develop the will and come forward.

The skills of nonviolence can be taught. I was in the U.S. Civil Rights Move-ment. I was taught how not to react if I was hit or spit upon or pushed off a chair. The skills of organizing in the underground can be taught. The people who have been doing it, in places like Serbia, the students of Otpor—they can teach the people in Belarus and the people of North Korea how to organize and how to have a successful nonviolent struggle.

But outsiders—we have a really critical role to play. I don’t feel that the State Department is yet well enough organized in this arena. There is no office in this building that is specifically dedicated to accumulating the experience of this kind of struggle and to sharing it with others.

One of the things that really drives me absolutely bananas is the argument that many academics, and even some people in government, make that when you look at a place like Saudi Arabia, or you look at China, it’s all a question of culture or religion or tradition or lack of any experience in democracy. And the sort of sense you come away with is that it’s all hopeless. Well, I think that’s ridiculous. I mean, it’s been demonstrated again and again and again that it has very little to do with culture or religion or anything. If you look at the dictators of the Middle East, with one and a half exceptions, they’re secular. These guys are not religious. They are power hungry. They like building palaces. They like staying in power. It hasn’t got anything to do with some idealistic system of religion or tradition or anything else—or lack of democracy. They are corrupt. They are criminals. They want to stay in power. So the game is to get them out.

Now that’s not to say that’s the end of the game. Obviously, the transition to a full, normal democracy can take decades. And I don’t mean to minimize the difficulty of doing that. But the first step has to be to get these 43 men out. And we need to focus on them as individuals. I know that makes people in this building uncomfortable, because you also have to deal with them. And Paula mentioned that with the Hungarian communist leaders I was able to do that. And I’ve seen many other ambassadors—Smith Hempstone did that in Kenya. He used to see Moi all the time. He saw Moi I think 43 times or 44 times while he was there as ambassador—far more than the British ambassador or any other ambassador there, even though Moi was trying madly to get Hank Cohen, who was then Assistant Secretary of African affairs, to pull him back, to throw him out. Fortunately, Smith had friends in Congress who wouldn’t allow that to happen or, otherwise, I think he would have been pulled out.

But the point I want to make is that you can walk and chew gum at the same time. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t take these guys on frontally and still do business. They need us much more than we need them. You know, you look at Uzbekistan and people say: Oh, well, we needed those military bases, so we had to cozy up to Karimov. Karimov wanted the military bases. He had a terrible terrorist threat that threatened his regime, and he wanted us to destroy the IMU, which we did. We destroyed the IMU. And you know the same is true with Mubarak and Musharraf and all of these men; they all need us. And we should be willing to be open and blunt with them about what is required.

And we need, as I said before, to draw up indictments on each of them and keep them up to date. And, when it’s feasible, we need to organize international tribunals and bring them to justice.

Finally, and this is my last point: I think that we need to have comprehensive action plans for each of these 43 countries. It’s not enough to just sort of do what I’m doing and talk broadly about the world. You have to bring it down to an individual country, what is possible in that specific situation, and how to do it. I have a lot of game plans in my book. I gave my North Korean game plan yesterday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But the more important thing is for this building to begin to develop really gutsy—and they can be longish term—but specific game plans for how to transition. And the transitions will vary. I mean, there are eight ruling absolute monarchs in the world, the majority in the Middle East. I think with the monarchs in the world, they can become constitutional monarchs. You don’t necessarily have to take off their heads like Marie Antoinette. I mean, they could have a dignified future. And there are democratic constitutional monarchs in the world, in Thailand and Spain and other countries, who could help with that transition. I propose something called monarchs for democracy, which is an effort to bring all of the monarchs together to talk about how you can still keep a palace or two, and your children can still have the title and all that stuff, but you get out of politics except to guarantee democracy, which, of course, Juan Carlos has done very skillfully in Spain and the King of Thailand has done very skillfully in Thailand.

So we need specific game plans for each of these countries. And I would give highest priority to the greater Middle East and China. Those two categories really, if you can do those, the rest is clean-up. China is 60% of all the people still living under dictatorship in the world. The greater Middle East is the great bulk of the heart of democratic darkness. So if you can break the back of those two things, you are well on your way to having a 100% democratic world.

I think we need to be a bit opportunistic about who we work with to do this. …It’s clear that not every country in the community of democracies is going to be willing to work in a forthright fashion on every one of these situations. So I think we have to be willing to do coalitions of the willing democratic nations in regions or in specific situations. The group that works on Burma is necessarily going to be different than the group that works on Belarus. But in both cases we need to have coalitions, and we need to pursue things in a vigorous fashion.

Finally, let me just reiterate that I think we need a new class of sanctions. We need to put on our thinking caps more creatively to work on how to target these men and not their people. I think myself that broad scale economic sanctions simply fail. I strongly oppose what we’ve done in Cuba and Burma and many others places. I think it’s a mistake. We need to get into these places. We need to open up the rooms so that the nonviolent struggle can succeed. We need to open up space so that the people of those countries can overthrow their dictators. And if we’re off on the sideline just making them poorer and poorer, all we’re doing is strengthening the hold of the dictator on his people, and allowing him to plan the nationalist card.

So, there, too, I in the book propose some ways of getting out of the situations we find ourselves in. I am not saying we should tomorrow announce that we are lifting all trade sanctions on Cuba. I really think that what’s important is to do a deal with the Latin American governments and the Europeans, and to say to them, look, we’ll get off our hang-up, our sort of Protestant puritanical hang-up of punishing whenever we see something wrong we feel we’re going to punish. So we cut off everything which is, in fact, really useful for what we are trying to do. Anyway, we’ll get off that hang-up if you Europeans and Latin American governments and Japanese and others will get serious yourselves about promoting democracy and getting rid of these dictators and join us on a country-by-country basis with specific plans for how to do that. And my book is full of those ways…

Q: Okay, my name is Walt Landry (sp). I was involved in human rights in the State Department. I was one of the people who helped draft the American Convention on Human Rights, and I’ve been involved with a group on self-determination. My question has to do with this: Do you think it more important that you just go straight for democracy, or should you first have nations having self-determination in the sense that countries like Pakistan, where there are five nations within it, one little group, the Punjabis, dominate? That’s a different situation from a place like Cuba, where everybody’s a Cuban and a Cuban is the dictator. So can’t you make a distinction there and how do you do it?

AMB. PALMER: Well, I would argue that Pakistan certainly has ethnic differences, but so does India and many other countries that are democratic. And I think the way to deal with those ethnic differences, and to create a national identity is in fact through democracy, through the compromises that come out of the democratic process. And Pakistan of course has had something like democracy off and on for roughly half of the time since Jinnah created it in 1947 and ’48, the military has receded somewhat for about half of that time, and it functioned fairly well during those periods. I think the key in Pakistan is to get the military back into the barracks. And then I think that this radicalism that we see, the fundamentalism which is coming forward, will subside. I think this is a direct result of the military’s policies.

Q: Well, I went—just to follow-up; I went to a meeting in London a month ago with representatives of the other nations of Pakistan. They all want to have their own states. They don’t want to be ruled forever by what they regard as a foreign country — the Sindhis, the Siraikis, the Balochis and the Pashtuns want their own states. You would not grant them that? You would not encourage that?

AMB. PALMER: Let me—this doesn’t fit exactly, but it’s basically the same point. When I was ambassador in Hungary—and Romania and Hungary were both communist regimes; that is, dictatorships—the Hungarians, when you get them drunk enough, would admit that they really hadn’t accepted the results of World War I, when they lost half of their territory and half of their population, and they really wanted to get back, from Romania particularly, that part of their population and territory that was in Romania.

What’s really interesting about the evolution of that situation, now that both Romania and Hungary are young but still democracies—they are democracies—is that that whole recidivism has gone away. I mean, there may be a few kooks out there who still argue for it, but basically it’s gone away. And the reason it’s gone away is that the border has gone away: Hungarians living in Romania are able to run their schools and their local police and their local towns the way they want to. So the importance of revanchism or whatever you want to call it has disappeared in that situation, as it disappeared on the border between France and Germany, and many other places. So I think Pakistan can be unified state, as I think Iraq can and will be. But you have to have democracy. That’s the only thing I’ve ever seen that really addresses the concerns that you accurately identify. I mean, no question they’re there. They are also there between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Balochis and Pashtuns and all—I mean, it’s very big scale, that stuff. It’s the solution for Kashmir, I think, to have democracy on both sides of the border in Kashmir.

Q: [Off mike]- al Jazeera TV. Ambassador Palmer, which countries in the Middle East you did not include in your list? And why you think the State Department does not agree with your views when it comes to countries like Saudi Arabia?

AMB. PALMER: My definition of a dictatorship of a not-free country comes from Freedom House’s annual report. So in the Middle East that means that the countries that are outside of my scheme of dictatorship are those that are listed as partly free, which includes, for example, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, and some others. I’m probably forgetting a few. But, anyway, those countries… My outsider view is that we have a very particular history with the Saudis. We helped to found the state. We have been in bed with them in lots of ways. And I think that generations of Saudi specialists in the Foreign Service and in this town in business are political leaders, have liked the royal family, have trusted the royal family, and have not seen beyond the royal family. I was on a plane not long ago with a young Saudi woman who had graduated from the University of Miami. And we listen to young Saudis about what they want for their country. I think the fact that so many of them came out on the streets in Riyadh and tried to demonstrate in three other Saudi cities, and that there have been so many petitions now submitted to Crown Prince Abdullah arguing for a normal government system in Saudi Arabia, with elections and free press and all of that. I mean, to me that is the real voice of the Saudi people. I spent 3 years trying to build television stations in the Middle East. I built six national network stations in central and Eastern Europe, and then I tried to do it in your part of the world—and I would have beaten al Jazeera if I had been able to get on the air properly. But anyway, I beat all other stations in Eastern Europe that were behind the scenes, owned by government figures. But it is my strong impression, based on doing a lot of viewer surveys, which I did do. I had partners in six countries in the Middle East—all local people, in several cases women, actually. I had an Egyptian woman partner who wanted to be a manager of my station. It’s my impression that the people of the Middle East dramatically want by and large what the Japanese want, the Chinese want, Europeans want, etc. And so that’s why I’m very optimistic that if we in Saudi Arabia really got on the side of the people, there could be a peaceful transition there to a very modern and good state, profoundly better for the Saudis.

Q: Thank you. I am the Ambassador of Eritrea. First of all, I would like to thank the organizers of the forum for this open and candid forum. And, second, I would like to commend Mr. Palmer for his efforts to alleviate the suffering of people all over the world. Having said that, I was writing him a letter, because he mentioned something—I read the entire book. And after I read the entire book, I found some discrepancy when it came to Eritrea, and particularly to my president. Then I wrote you a letter, and when this forum was established, and when I received an invitation, I felt I should say it here for the record. It should be an open letter so to suggest the point, maybe just short, one minute.

An open letter to Mr. Mark Palmer. “Dear Mr. Palmer: In your recent book, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil, you have recklessly attacked the President of Eritrea, a person who is loved and respected by his people for his visionary and humble leadership… A seasoned diplomat like yourself is wittingly or unwittingly contributing to the dissemination of baseless accusations and the defamation of a president of a sovereign nation. Your attack on the President of Eritrea, a dedicated fighter for democracy and justice in Eritrea, specifically, and in Africa as a whole, is unwarranted and cannot be taken lightly. While you possess expert knowledge on the subject of global issues and international relations, your lack of knowledge, serious analysis, and in depth research concerning the people of Eritrea and the character and vision of their leaders is clear. In your book you speak of a president whom you have never met and a country which you have never visited. You make sweeping comments and generalizations of Eritrea and the president, without providing any supportive evidence or credible sources. The false and groundless statements you make about Eritrea and its leadership are reprehensible. Not only is your attack on the president unwarranted, but it is also a grave insult to the people of Eritrea who fought tirelessly for over 30 years against all forms of dictatorship, oppression, occupation, with their blood and sweat to ascertain the right to independence and to build a prosperous and democratic Eritrea.

Taking the case of your analysis of Eritrea and its president, it leads me to question the credibility and factuality of the content of your entire book. Moreover, while you claim to believe in the people’s capacity to fight for justice and democracy, you clearly discredit and marginalize these people with your paternalistic approach, in which you call for massive financial and diplomatic intervention by external forces. Even you are elaborating on what kind of an institution should be set all over the world, including therein.

Is your book a prelude to setting up an NGO that you will lead or be a board member, or is it simply a moneymaking sensational story? I hope not. I hope not, because I respect you. I respect your fight whoever you fought, especially in the Eastern Bloc, the former Soviet Eastern Bloc.

In conclusion, as a citizen-diplomat I hope that you will heed this comment seriously. I also expect that you will take the time to conduct a professional research and analysis of Eritrea by engaging its people in general—officials, embassies, in particular—so that you can rectify the mistakes you have done. Sincerely yours, Girma Asmerom, the ambassador.” Thank you, sir…

AMB. PALMER: … Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. I respect you for coming today, and I respect you for reading that letter, and I would be happy to meet with you to go over the details of Freedom House’s research about your country. Freedom House, which is one of America’s oldest human rights organizations, has been producing an annual review of every country in the world, including of the United States, now for some 40 years. And the part of my book that deals with Eritrea is based on that work; that is, the annual survey by experts on your part of the world who each year look in great depth, and against specific objective criteria in both writing a descriptive language about a country and what’s happened over the previous year and over a number of years, as well as actually giving a numerical rating to each country. And those ratings are very carefully considered and debated among our experts. But Jennifer Windsor is here, who is the head of Freedom House, and we have met with some of your colleagues in the diplomatic corps in the past who have not been thrilled with their scores or their descriptions in our various publications or in my book now. So we would be happy to go over with you our methodology and our findings.

Let me just say, Mr. Ambassador, that it’s, I think, important to recognize that there are dictatorships in the world. You mentioned that you thought what we had done in central and Eastern Europe was good. It’s always painful to have criticism of one’s own regime or government—I understand that. I’ve been on that side myself. During the Vietnam War I remember appearing before audiences of students who almost lynched me because, of course, I was defending our policy in Vietnam, with which I disagreed, but, nonetheless, that was my obligation as a Foreign Service officer, and I did it. So I respect that in you, too. But I sincerely would be happy to sit down with you and go over our specifics. And, of course, I disagree with your conclusions but would be happy to talk with you…

Q: My name is Courtney Radj (ph). I’m a graduate student at Georgetown School of Foreign Service, and I worked at the Daily Star in Beirut this summer. And you’re talking about democracy, but you sound like it either is a democracy or it’s not a democracy, and you haven’t defined what is democracy. Do you mean simply that there are elections, or do you mean that’s a liberal democracy with freedom of the press, etc.? And I think it’s important that you have to define what you mean by a democracy and realize that it is a continuum and not an either/or.

And it concerns me that you want to turn everyone into a democracy, and there is very little focus on what often occurs after that transition. How will you, with a lack of institutions, a lack of structure in these governments, especially in rentier states where there is very little services structure, etc.? How are you going to prevent conflict, prevent the outbreak of the civil violence, and prevent during this transition another dictator from coming to power, or from states just breaking up into their little ethnic conclaves?

AMB. PALMER: Well, I think the issues you’ve raised are very legitimate and serious issues. My book specifically says in the beginning that it addresses only this issue of how do you oust dictators. It does not address the problems that you’ve mentioned. That’s not to say they aren’t important problems; they are important, and I think they deserve attention. And, in fact, they get a lot of attention. If you look at the literature on democracy and transitions, if you look for example at the Journal of Democracy in the back at the books that are submitted for review or consideration, every issue in the Journal of Democracy, I would argue that they are overwhelmingly focused on the problems that you’ve mentioned, which are overwhelmingly important problems. There’s very little literature that I have been able to find on the issues I’m trying to address in my book, which is: How do nonviolent movements get going? How do outsiders help them? How do you take the first step—only the first step—down the road that I sense you agree with my view, which is achieving a completely full and liberal democracy? Going the whole way down that long historical path is not easy. In my humble judgment, America is not quite there yet, and we certainly weren’t at the beginning of the last century, when women didn’t have the vote, when I went to the South as a freedom rider, blacks didn’t have the vote in the ’60s in this country. So we are not a perfected democracy either. Money still plays too strong a role in our politics, I think. So I agree with you, it is a process, and it is a process that is not simple, and it can involve even violence. We had a civil war.

But I think it’s important for some people at least to look at the first step; that is, how do you get these men out of power peacefully? How do you do it? And there’s very little literature on that…

Q: Thank you very much. I’m Zac Nsenga, I am the Ambassador of Rwanda. When I got this invitation, I was very excited, because you are talking about dictatorships. But I went and bought your book and read it through. I got the shock of my life when I found that my president, President Kagame, was among leaders like Saddam Hussein, whom I know—[inaudible]—people. And I read through on the piece on Rwanda, and I want to also quote a bit something that shocked me; that Kagame is a leader of RPF, which invaded Rwanda from Uganda in the 1994 genocide of the majority Hutu over minority Tutsi. And I thought this was a—[inaudible]—move to have stopped the genocide when other people had sat aside, and I wonder whether this is a dictatorship really.

And you go on to say in the book that RPF invaded RIDC, which harbored Hutu refugees as they rearmed around the border. Everybody knows from 1994 to1996 how people in the camps were training and coming and killing people in Rwanda. So when RPF went into Congo, it was—[inaudible]—Congo. It was then trying to dislocate the—[inaudible] —militias who were holding people hostage so that the great monopoly of refugees could come back.

And you go on to say that Kagame, who came to power in 2000, and after the resignation of Bizimungo, and extended a transition to 2003. Actually this extension had been before he came to power. That Kagame controls the media, which was used by Hutus to incite slaughter of Tutsi genocide. Actually you remember even after the Holocaust in the 1940s not only some of those newspapers which carried bad things—even papers that were Nazi-oriented—way back that was really dictatorship. But that’s not what happens in Rwanda…

You conclude that to—[inaudible]—identity makes sense, and that this is the past dictator, Paul Kagame’s decade, and—[inaudible]—uniting the people of Rwanda is a good thing and then that doing so is a dictatorship. So the question now I really ask myself is, should we call someone a dictator, someone who has fought the genocide and is trying to return native—[inaudible]—over the Rwandan refugees back home and resettle them, and in the process of uniting them through what we accept, and also bringing issues—[inaudible]—to bring reconciliation, and also someone who was elected recently after a transition, after the first-ever multi-party elections ever the country has had, and you call this person a dictator—this makes me feel that really maybe the meaning of the word “dictator,” [that] I should go back to school and learn what it means. And how can he— how can someone who fought and defeated a regime which caused genocide in Rwanda? Actually at this moment I—[inaudible]—not President Kagame now, because Kagame defeated that regime that caused genocide in order to bring in the democratic policy that is taking place now…

My concern is how do you call such a person a dictator, which is actually an insult to me and my people who elected him recently in the first-ever multi-party elections. Thank you.

AMB. PALMER: Well, I’m delighted, Mr. Ambassador, that you don’t want to have your country considered a dictatorship. That’s, of course, the beginning of the process. We all should admire an ambassador who says he wants his country to be considered a democracy, because that’s precisely the point of my book, is that that’s what’s the goal. And so, I think, we agree on the goal. We, obviously, don’t agree on the description of the current situation…

I don’t want to in any way leave you with the impression that I don’t think there has been progress in Rwanda; there has been, and it’s wonderful that there’s been progress, and we will talk about from our side at least thoughts about how to get the whole game on the road so that next year or the year after Freedom House won’t consider you a not-free country.

Q: Hi, Mark. I’m Stan Riveles. I’m in the Office of the Science Adviser. I really enjoyed your presentation, and I look forward to reading your book, which I haven’t done yet. But what I would like to ask is what I hope is a provocative question.


Q: The United States has certainly felt free to support dictatorships when it felt it was in its interests, and to support democracy when it felt it was in its interest. That usually reflects some sort of struggle over our interests. As you know, there’s always a struggle for the heart and soul of American foreign policy throughout the government. But in the last analysis we generally tend to act in our interests. Are you suggesting—what’s wrong with that formula? In the last analysis, our—the responsibility of the State Department is to serve what it determined after due deliberation to be in our interests. Why should we now assert that simply and purely the proliferation of democracy is the alpha and omega of our foreign policy?

AMB. PALMER: Let me just quickly respond by saying that I am in fear and trembling. Stan Riveles was the greatest football player in my class at Yale, and Alan Parker and Steve Steiner, who also are here, and were in the same class at Yale, will attest to that fact. Jerry Bremer also was in our class, the most distinguished current member perhaps of our class.

No, I think we should always act in our interests. What I am trying to argue, Stan, is that we should change our definition of our interests. I don’t, for example, think that it’s in our interests in Pakistan or in Egypt to be so—or in Saudi Arabia—to be so almost undilutedly effusive about the leaders, the dictators in those three countries. I think we should be more nuanced, and we should be pushing harder to do what I know Under Secretary Dobriansky does, in fact, do, which is to recognize that our interest is in having a stable democratic system in those three countries and in the others. That is our security interest—not to continue an unstable, volatile situation which encourages the growth of extremism inside that country and the export from those countries of extremism. And that is the result of cozying up to dictators. When we all joined the government, I joined specifically because I hated the fact that we did deal with, quote, “friendly dictators” in a friendly way. I’ve always felt that was inconsistent not only with our values, but with our interests. And I think we are slightly better, but we are still not very good at it. We are still saying things that are patently untrue about these governments publicly. And we are giving the wrong message to the people of these countries about where we stand. And that’s one of the reasons why in the Middle East, I think—in countries that we have supposedly good relations with—the people are very often hostile to the United States. And in countries that we have hostile relations with, the people are very often friendly to the United States. I mean, this makes this point, I think, in spades. We should see our interests as coinciding with the people and not with these temporary dictators. We constantly suffer as a result of that. We did in Iran. I think we’ve done that now in Algeria. We do it again and again. American presidents and secretaries of state of both parties have a tremendous proclivity—and ambassadors do, too—career and professional and noncareer—have a tremendous proclivity for falling in love with whomever it is that they see across the table and working with them regardless. It’s a “short-termitis,” and it’s not a question of what our interests are. Our interests dictate that we recognize that these people are not the long-term partners for the United States and our interests.


Ambassador Mark Palmer served in policy positions in the State Department in the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and first Bush Administrations, including launching the National Endowment for Democracy. From the outside, he has worked with both the Clinton and present Bush Administrations, helping per-suade them to initiate new democracy policies, including the Community of Democracies and abolishing the so-called Arab exception, for the first time promoting democracy in the Arab world.


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