Gorbachev's Political Tonic

National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman points out in the Washington Post that autocratic (or quasi-autocratic) regimes use the holidays to increase their grip on power as democratic capitals "go into semi-hibernation." Gershman goes after China, Russia, Belarus and Venezuela for recent human-rights crackdowns and says these "repressive" regimes actually care about the international reaction, which is why they go about their business when the rest of the world isn't looking.

Fresh off his New York Times op-ed on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is also concerned about Russia's democracy (or lack thereof). Writing in the Moscow Times, Gorbachev says that Russia's problems "all come down to politics," and calls for "a democratic and competitive environment, initiative at all levels" of society. While he doesn't mention ex–Yukos Oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky's recently extended prison sentence on what are widely believed (see Gershman) to be trumped up charges, the Perestroika initiator does highlight last summer's wildfires outside Moscow, when "the elite’s isolation took on a menacing nature." This, in turn, made Russians "more demanding." Gorbachev finishes by urging current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to bolster the country's educational and economic sectors.

Turning homeward, George W. Bush's "Brain," Karl Rove, has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal downplaying the effect that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay has on al-Qaeda's recruiting numbers. He notes, contrary to President Obama's recent claims, that the terrorist organization rarely (reportedly only once) has mentioned the prison as a reason for jihad (and then goes on to state, without any sense of irony, that "far more numerous" are other complaints such as Israel's existance and "the U.S. military presence in the Middle East"). But even if they did single out Guantanamo more often, it apparently wouldn't matter because "Al Qaeda will invent any excuses to justify its war on America and the West. If one excuse is no longer salient, another pops up." And putting the extremists on trial would only turn them into "martyrs" where they could publicly "inflame passions in the Islamic world." Therefore, Rove concludes, "our commander in chief's wisest course of action is to keep Guantanamo Bay open." Of course, Rove doesn't mention that the White House has already admitted that the detention facility would remain so for the foreseeable future.