Thursday, September 20

Gordon Brown speaks truth to evil

Writing in today's Independent, Britain's Prime Minister said -- not through a diplomatic intermediary, mind you, but in a direct address -- that he would not attend the EU-Africa summit if Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe attends. Mr Brown carefully explained his decision but this came after his blunt assessment of Mugabe's savagery and its consequences. He wrote, in part:
President Mugabe is the only African leader to face an EU travel ban. There is a reason for this – the abuse of his own people. There is no freedom in Zimbabwe: no freedom of association; no freedom of the press. And there is widespread torture and mass intimidation of the political opposition.

President Mugabe's attendance would mean lifting the EU visa ban that we have collectively imposed. I believe that President Mugabe's presence would undermine the summit, diverting attention from the important issues that need to be resolved. In those circumstances, my attendance would not be appropriate
Western critics dismiss Brown's decision as hypocritical, counterproductive or quixotic. And Zambia has already threatened to pull out of the summit if Mugabe does not attend, a threat that could be picked up by other African nations.

But speaking truth to evil is catching -- isn't it? I recall that President Sarkozy recently accused France's diplomatic corps of "cowardice," then stepped up to the plate himself to soundly denounce Iran's government.

Yes yes, Pundita knows diplomacy can't work if everyone is calling everyone else evil, but there is a world outside diplomacy -- a world of tyranny, a world of state-created famine and disease. Britain is the second largest aid donor to Zimbabwe so if any national leader has a right to call out Mugabe, it's Gordon Brown. Mr Brown acted responsibly by refusing to lend credence to a summit that would be a sham if Mugabe attended.

Mexico's former president Vicente Fox observed that President Bush is the "cockiest" person he ever met. Given Mr Fox's cowardice in the face of his political party and Mexico's wealthiest, would that an iota of Bush's cockiness had rubbed off!

At some point, diplomacy became its own goal: say anything, do anything, to keep the lid on things so business can proceed as usual. That approach reaps horrific results in a highly networked world, where tyranny is very catching.

Let the diplomats continue their work, but under the close direction of leaders who speak with courage and clarity about evil. Portugal's Prime Minister Socrates, take note.

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