Freedom-loving Americans will miss Nikki Haley. At a time when the president of the United States appears to be dismissive of promoting liberal republican democracy abroad, Haley’s commitment to liberty was unyielding. That singular focus is needed now more than ever.
A familiar darkness is descending across the globe. Illiberal governments are bolder in their attacks on human freedom, and the citizens of the world’s democratic states are struggling with a crisis of confidence. The threat this condition poses is particularly grave, not because it is unique, but because those who could once be counted upon to confront these trends no longer exhibit the will to resist.
Several weeks ago, Interpol President Meng Hongwei disappeared after arriving in his native China. This week, security officials in the People’s Republic revealed that Meng was being held in captivity amid allegations that he had accepted bribes. No further elaboration was given and Meng, likely another target of an anti-corruption campaign that some informed observers believe is a veiled effort by Xi Jinping to consolidate power, resigned his post, presumably under duress. Meng’s resignation was accepted. The PRC will suffer no consequences for this brazen subversion of an institution designed to coordinate international criminal policing efforts.
The news comes amid reports that China’s government has formally “legalized” the existence of re-education camps, in which up to one million Uighur Muslims are being subjected to “ideological transformation” designed to rid them of their attachment to their faith. Detainees are subjected to harsh conditions without adequate medical care. They are reportedly forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, recite pro-Communist slogans, and rehearse codes of conduct reserved only for China’s Turkic Muslims. And as Human Rights Watch noted, the flagrant way in which this campaign has been conducted—a campaign accompanied by “human rights violations” on a scale unseen since the Cultural Revolution—suggests Beijing does not fear repercussions.
The conditions that the Muslim minority endures in China is downright benevolent compared to their treatment in Burma/Myanmar, where “Never Again” has been exposed once more as a lie. The state has targeted the Rohingya Muslims in what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” More chillingly, United Nations-appointed investigators confirmed that sufficient evidence exists to investigate Naypyidaw for its complicity in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and state-sponsored genocide—a charge the UN does not issue lightly. But no one is coming to the aid of the Rohingya Muslims, and those lucky enough to escape are just as likely to be returned to their persecutors.
This has been a particularly bloody year for reporters, and not just in places like Russia, where the conduct of journalism has represented a major personal health risk for well over a decade. Viktoria Marinova, the Bulgarian journalist who recently uncovered the flagrant misuse of European Union funds by local politicians, was found raped and murdered in a park over the weekend. Daphne Caruana Galizia achieved international acclaim for her work uncovering global money laundering efforts, which surely contributed to the motives of those who killed her with a sophisticated remote-controlled car bomb in April. Twenty-seven-year-old Jan Kuciak and his fiancé were gunned down in their home last month after Jan exposed corruption within the Slovakian government. And last week, Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Saudi Arabian dissident, is believed to have been assassinated and dismembered amid a routine visit to a Saudi consulate in Turkey on what a Turkish source said were “orders from the highest levels of the royal court.” A regular contributor to the Washington Post, Khashoggi was preparing to launch an advocacy group promoting freedom and popular democracy in the Arab world.
Three years after the brazen murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov within eyesight of the Kremlin, the United States has accused the brutal Venezuelan government of involvement in the slaughter of opposition councilman Fernando Alban. Two years ago, German Mavare, the leader of Venezuela’s political opposition, was shot in the head in a “politically motivated” assassination. The murder of opposition politicians is a feature of political life in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Serbia, and Tajikistan. Cambodia and Bahrain have all but criminalized the practice of politics. Religious freedom around the world is declining, and the persecution of religious minorities is on the rise. And in places like Turkey, Nicaragua, Poland, Hungary, and the Philippines, democratic institutions are being systematically dismantled to the sound of applause.
The illiberal political movements taking control of governments across Europe did not seize power. They won it. The rise of militant “neo-Maoists” in China and the rehabilitation of Stalin’s legacy in Russia has accompanied periods of increasing prosperity and interconnectivity that was once thought to represent a bulwark against 20th-century-style authoritarianism. Quite the opposite has occurred.
Populist movements have mobilized collective grievance through these channels. Prosperity is real, they say, but unevenly distributed. Liberalism is a virtue, but too much yields disorder. Free-market democracies disaggregate and disorient. Many have argued that a global turn away from post-Cold War pieties and toward a reassuringly familiar status quo ante nourishes the communitarian spirit and does not necessarily have to be accompanied by the persecution of minorities. The evidence increasingly suggests this sanguine presumption is wrong.
Some in the Trump administration make a point of arguing forcefully for the virtue of liberal democracy, but the president himself is rarely among them. A world in which the United States and the geopolitical structures it once championed are no longer the dominant force is rapidly taking shape. That world will be a darker place. In some ways, it’s already here.