Should America Tackle All Authoritarian Governments?

By Hunter DeRensis

This past February, California Democrat Adam Schiff, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote an open letter to his Republican colleagues in the Washington Post. In it, he stated, “The time for silent disagreement is over. You must speak out.”

Since then, Schiff has moved steadily not only to investigate the Trump administration’s ties with Russia, but also to launch a broader crusade against authoritarian regimes abroad, defining their very existence as a threat to American democracy.

By his logic, America should embark upon a permanent campaign against autocracy, anywhere and everywhere it might appear.

This past Tuesday marked the first hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in the new congressional term, now under Democratic control. While there is a laundry list of topics the committee could have chosen to begin with, Schiff was adamant about tackling what he refers to as “an issue that may surpass them all in importance, and yet underlies each: the rise of authoritarianism and the threat to liberal democracy around the world.”

His arguments were prefigured in an essay that he wrote earlier in the week for the Atlantic in which he stated:

“Across the globe, democracies are mired in an ugly brand of populism often directed against ‘the other,’ and are displaying a troubling receptivity to autocracy as an alternative model of governance. If these trends continue, it will be a tragedy for humankind and a disaster for our national security.”

The language is apocalyptic, the claims sweeping.

What amounts to Schiff’s personal mandate for leadership inadvertently underscores that much of the Washington foreign policy establishment continues to cling to the verities of the Cold War….

In theory, this might sound like a good idea, but in practice it raises a host of questions—none of which were really addressed by the speakers that testified to the committee.

America has long practiced a selective morality about what regimes it supports. Is Saudi Arabia less heinous than Iran?

At what point does a regime qualify for autocratic?

Should the so-called “illiberal democracies” such as Hungary be banned from polite society?

And so on.

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