Russia's attack on democracy shows the value of Independence Day

Russia's attack on democracy shows the value of Independence Day
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Liberalism and democracy are under serious assault — particularly by Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinIs America Back? A view from Europe Russia says warning shots were fired at British destroyer in Black Sea Russia deems Bard College program a threat to 'order and security' MORE’s relentless campaign against the West. Putin paints liberalism and democracy as obsolete, while the opposite is actually the case. One need only observe the news reports of the immediate past to see that the global hunger for liberty (the root of liberalism) and more democratic government is reasserting itself.

This year alone we have seen major popular demonstrations for and affirmations of democratic governance in Sudan, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, Prague, Istanbul, Ukraine and Venezuela. We even see rising discontent and socio-economic unrest in Putin’s Russia. In other words, the thirst for democratic rule is global — and growing.

In all these displays of popular support for better governance and freedom we see not only a demand for dignity but an attack on the principles beloved by Putin. Those “principles” are autocratic government masquerading as populism, governance without accountability, brazen leadership flaunting corruption and defiance of the law. These regimes rule by combining repression of dissidents, immigrants and ethno-religious minorities, with appeals to and incitement for racism, religious intolerance, and belligerent. These regimes have nothing to offer their peoples but more corruption, economic stagnation and repression.


Thus, the tools of these rulers are the exploitation of modern communications and information technology. Putin’s domestic ideology repackages that of Russia’s Nicholas I, a paranoid view that the revolutionary wave of 1848 threatened Russia and was orchestrated by some unnamed and unseen hand. Like its current descendants, this ideology extolled worship of the Tsar, his autocratic state, Orthodox Russian Christianity and Russian state nationalism. This message did not work then, and it is failing now in Russia and these other countries, as public protests indicate.

To be sure, liberal governance and democracy are under serious attack. This attack will only grow because Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Hungary’s Victor Orban and their analogs can only offer their people more repression and invocations of the threat against them.

Venezuela, for example, now subsists on the revenues accrued from drug running in North and South America. And in China, the regime’s 70-year failure to come to terms with its Muslim minority has led Beijing to the actualization of the Orwellian nightmare depicted in 1984. Even as the foundations of their own rule atrophy, these regimes continue to see the West as senile, venal, corrupt, weak and indecisive. Nevertheless, the public in all these countries is increasingly fed up with the long-term economic stagnation, stifling political atmosphere, and in some cases outright desperation. Venezuela has come to characterize regimes that are increasingly failing their people.

None of this implies that we should be complacent, quite the contrary. The comprehensive assault on democracy will have its victories and liberalism will suffer its sacrifices in this struggle.

This July 4, we should remember that it is in both the U.S.’ interests and values to uphold international treaties that support human and civil rights — as well as our own system. Therefore, we must wage a counter-information war upon those who seek to corrupt and subvert the U.S. and our allies’ democracies, as well as their own peoples’ human rights. Those despots who can retain power only by warring against their own people will inevitably carry that war to their neighbors and even beyond. This is what Putin and Xi are doing, whether they do so violently in Ukraine or elsewhere, by means of economic corruption and information warfare.

Lincoln famously stated that all his political ideas originated in the Declaration of Independence. Clearly, the evidence shows that its universal message of hope is alive in the minds of men and women across the globe. They fight to uphold the values that constitute the bedrock of this country’s strength and idealism. Our society and government must advocate for them both in the name of our interests and our common humanity. American greatness can be measured in the scope of democracy’s global appeal, not in the embrace of dictators whose regimes are characterized by lies, excessive force and corruption.

Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia. He is a former professor of Russian National Security Studies and National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is also a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College.