Commentary Magazine


Freedom Stagnation?

Freedom House has just released Freedom in the World 2007, the latest installment of its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties worldwide, covering the year 2006. These annual studies are the most essential resource we have for gauging the state of world politics. This year’s gloss is that the global progress of freedom has reached a plateau over the past decade. The new report calls this a potential “freedom stagnation.”

This was seized on by the Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung, a reporter long noted for letting her leftish ideological slip show. Assigned to report on the release of the survey, she spun the story as a rebuke to President Bush. DeYoung’s lead? “If ‘freedom is on the march,’ as President Bush often says, it reversed course or at least took a break last year, according to the administration’s favored arbiter of political rights and civil liberties.”

Note the snideness of the last phrase. Although Freedom House’s key officers are Democrats, the survey is “the administration’s favor[ite]” for the simple reason that it is the only comprehensive assessment of its kind. If you want to get a reading on the overall state of freedom in the world, there is simply nowhere else to go. As for DeYoung’s claim that the trajectory of freedom has “reversed course,” this is sheer concoction. The report says nothing of the kind. It does speak of a plateau stretching back over the past nine years, i.e., a plateau starting three years before Bush took office.

DeYoung is in such a rush to score debater’s points against Bush that she apparently didn’t stop to acquire even cursory familiarity with the data. “Iraq,” she writes tellingly, “garnered a worst possible rating of 6 (on a scale of 1 to 6).” As anyone who has ever glanced at the survey knows, its scale is 1 to 7, in which 7 is the worst. Iraq’s 6 was certainly a poor score, but there were seventeen other states that rated 6.5 or 7.

I’ll report on the real highlights of the 2007 survey in this space tomorrow.