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The expression “I have your back” has been in the news since President Obama used it to try to reassure Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. But a much more dramatic exercise of covering someone’s back has been on display between Russia’s former and future President, Vladimir Putin, and Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad. While Assad sends heavy weapons, snipers, and thugs to bleed his subjects into submission, Putin sends him shiploads of arms and blocks United Nation (UN) actions against him. And that is just the beginning of the story of how well Assad’s back is covered. He also enjoys the benefit of advisors, lethal materials, and perhaps specialists in violence sent as gifts from Iran along with manpower from its local satrap, Hassan Nasrallah, the kingpin of Hezbollah and would-be ruler of Lebanon. Back at the UN, the representative of mainland China’s Communist dictatorship makes sure that Putin’s man does not stand alone in shielding the Syrian killers. What all this signifies—beyond a world of suffering for the Syrian people who have known more than their share of suffering at the hands of their rulers—is a new solidarity among the world’s despots. And understandably so; they are an endangered species. In its authoritative annual survey, Freedom House categorizes every country as either “free,” “partly free,” or “not free.” The trend over the past 40 years that Freedom House has conducted this survey has been sharply in the direction of freedom, and the steepest change has come in the shrinkage of the number of countries that are “not free” at all. In 1988, these “not free” nations constituted 41 percent of the countries of the world. Today they are only 24 percent. About a decade ago, observers noticed a distinct increase in collaboration among the world’s surviving tyrants and autocrats. Frightened by the global tide of freedom, they stepped up their support for one another, including sharing information on techniques to keep their peoples in chains. Of course, free people have helped their brothers and sisters across borders in the pursuit of freedom going back at least to the 1780s when Ambassador Thomas Jefferson helped the French revolutionaries draft the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Americans have contributed much in this vein since then: establishing the principle of the self-determination of nations following World War One, insisting on decolonization following World War Two, and succoring the victims of Soviet rule during the Cold War. Fearing their days are numbered, the world’s remaining tyrants and autocrats have intensified their mutual assistance. The challenge is now in the court of the world’s free people to do likewise - that is to augment and improve our efforts on behalf of men and women abroad who are struggling, and often risking everything, to secure the blessings that light our lives. This post was written by Joshua Muravchik, a Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute.
Joshua Muravchik is the author of nine books, including The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East (2009), Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (2001), and Exporting Democracy: Fulfilling America’s Destiny (1991). He has published more than 400 articles on politics and international affairs. Muravchik is an adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an adjunct professor at the Institute for World Politics. He is also a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies.
Muravchik serves on the editorial boards of World Affairs, Journal of Democracy, and Journal of International Security Affairs. He formerly served as a member of the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion, the Commission on Broadcasting to the People’s Republic of China, and the Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Previously he was a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.