The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2021

28 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL O ver the past 14 years, my organization, Freedom House, has tracked a steady erosion of political rights and civil liber- ties around the world. The decline has affected not just the states that were already repressive, such as Russia and China, but also new democracies such as Poland and Hungary and long-established democracies, including the United States. Our reports show a long-term decline in the vitality of our own democracy, a trend that has become especially pronounced in recent years and undermines our credibility as a champion of human rights globally. The disturbing global trend is a direct threat to U.S. interests, as our country benefits from being surrounded by democratic allies with whom we can work effectively to tackle shared challenges such as terrorism and climate change. The advent of COVID-19 makes it even more urgent to halt and roll back the assault on democracy, as we have seen strongmen use the American diplomats can play an important role in addressing the global weakening of democracy. BY M I CHAE L J . ABRAMOWI TZ Michael J. Abramowitz is president of FreedomHouse. Before joining FreedomHouse in 2017, he was direc- tor of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Levine Institute for Holocaust Education. Previously he was national editor and then White House correspondent for The Washington Post . He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a board member of the National Security Archive. health crisis as cover to attack the free press, curtail freedoms of association and assembly, decrease government transparency, disrupt elections and engage in other abuses of power that could further erode democratic governance. As the son of former State Department officials, I am well aware of the difference that diplomats can make in the world. Stationed in Bangkok in the late 1970s and early 1980s, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Morton Abramowitz, my dad, and my mom, Sheppie, who worked closely with the International Res- cue Committee, labored to mobilize the U.S. embassy to address the refugee crisis created by the communist regimes in Cambo- dia and Vietnam, in which millions of people fled to Thailand and neighboring countries. Thanks at least in part to their efforts and the efforts of other diplomats in the mission, hundreds of thousands of refugees were accepted by the United States, even- tually becoming productive and engaged citizens of our country. This is one reason why I am so convinced that American diplomats can play an important role in addressing another great challenge of our times—the global weakening of democ- racy and the return of authoritarianism as a dominant form of governance in many parts of the world. While we have not always lived up to our aspirations, most administrations of both political parties have recognized that addressing attacks on democracy and human rights must be a key component of U.S. foreign policy. President Jimmy Carter established a human rights bureau at the State Department that DIPLOMACYAND DEMOCRACY: PUTTINGVALUES INTO PRACTICE FOCUS PHILFOSTER