Democracy Summit guest list puts Biden in trouble | International

Joe Biden, president of the United States, at the White House, this Wednesday, December 8.
Joe Biden, president of the United States, at the White House, this Wednesday, December 8.TOM BRENNER (Reuters)

The success of a party depends a lot on your guest list. The president of the United States, Joe Biden, has summoned one this Thursday and Friday and the list of assistants (but, above all, that of excluded) threatens to hold it. This is the Summit for Democracy, a virtual initiative that will bring together 110 countries to discuss the challenges posed by authoritarianism, the best way to combat corruption and the defense of human rights.

Since its announcement last August, the idea, which Biden already put on the table during his presidential campaign, has not ceased to arouse controversy. It is controversial because of what underlies the making of a list that divides the world between “good” and “bad”, that if it could ever be interpreted in binary terms, that time is far away, but above all by who is left inside and who out of. Brazil, Iraq and the Philippines? Let them pass. Turkey, Russia and Egypt? They are not invited. Neither will Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Morocco, China or Cuba, for whose Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, this summit is a symptom of Washington’s “weakness”.

Beijing, upset both by its exclusion and by Taiwan’s invitation, responded this weekend with a document titled China, a democracy that works, in which it boasted of its credentials as the rule of law, despite decades of evidence to the contrary, and argued that “there is no fixed model of democracy.” He also doubted the validity of the United States, a country that has proven to be “polarized in the response to the pandemic,” as arbiter in these matters.

It has been the last stone in a plot edifice erected by the Xi Jinping Government for weeks to answer Biden’s initiative, which included the publication last month in the conservative magazine on international relations National Interest of a rostrum signed by their ambassador in Washington, Qin Gang, and by the Russian, Anatoly Antonov, in which both dispatched the summit as a “product that shows their mentality [de Biden] anchored in the Cold War ”, which“ will only fuel ideological confrontation and create new divisions ”.

The exclusion of Hungary, a member of NATO and the only EU country that is not on the list, also provoked the anger of its prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who has managed to prevent, with the exercise of the veto, the Union from participating actively and make common legal or financial commitments at the summit. Both the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will attend, but will have their hands tied when it comes to offering binding commitments, and their interventions must be limited to the principles set out in the Treaty. of the Union for Community foreign policy.

Ted Piccone, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, has compared the list, which the State Department published on its website on November 24, with the latest index of the World Justice Project, which orders the health of the rule of law in 139 countries, to dwell on some “strange” examples. Pakistan has been invited, although at the last minute it declined to participate, despite ranking number 130 in that index (in its case, as in Ukraine’s, the status of strategic allies of the United States has weighed in). Poland will also participate, despite the fact that since 2015 “it has fallen 10 points”, as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which is ranked 137). And other countries, such as Bolivia or Sierra Leone, better positioned in this index and in others such as the Economist Intelligence Unit, have not been summoned.

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One of Biden’s favorite phrases says that “democracy does not arise by accident”, that “it must be defended, fought for, strengthened and renewed.” This ideal is due to this initiative, which has forced his Administration to a closed defense. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, explained on Monday that “inclusion in the list or the mere invitation is not a quality seal of the democracy of this or that country admitted to the summit, nor does it imply exclusion of a certain club or the disapproval of those who are not.

“No democracy is perfect, not the American one, and that is why we undertake this project with humility,” said a senior White House official the next day, asking to remain anonymous. He also explained something that members of the Biden Administration have been repeating in public and in private: “The United States does not want to set itself up as an arbiter of what a democracy is and what is not.”

Although it has been inevitable that it is so interpreted. At least, the summit, which will also include representatives of NGOs and members of civil society, will be virtual this year, due to the coronavirus. So at least Biden will save himself the hassle of deciding how to seat guests, another slippery slope when planning a party.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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