tv Discussion on Threats to Democracy CSPAN December 17, 2021 5:08am-5:59am EST
countries to support one another. we will talk about all of those issues this morning with an extraordinary lineup of guests. my first is isabel coleman, a pd administrator for policy and programming at the agency that reaches out to other countries on all sorts of subjects including the democracy. isabel, welcome. >> thank you for having me. >> let's start with last week's summit for democracy. i will ask you a basic question. what was the message? especially for russia and china. >> i think in your intro you captured part of the message. there is a strong narrative that democracy is losing. i think that the message of this summit is actually not true. there is a group of countries around the world, many of whom
are very vibrant democracies who care deeply about democracy, who are willing to invest in democracy, who are willing to champion democracy in their own countries. and, globally. we have seen a democratic backsliding, of course, around the world. i think this is the 15th straight year now freedom house has measured democratic progress or backsliding and has catalogued the craddick backsliding in the world. it is a real stamp, a real effort to say that we are not going to just recede into history here. democracy mean -- needs to be invested in. it needs to be championed and the u.s. will help lead that effort with some humility, recognizing we have to invest in democracy at home too. >> let's focus on the points you
made at the end of your comment. i often find that when i am talking with officials from foreign governments, they asked, looking at our election experience and what happened january 6, the turmoil in our country over the last few years, whether we are really a reliable partner. what our staying power is as an advocate for democracy and human rights. i am sure that you get similar questions as you travel. how do you answer them? >> well, democracy is messy. it is messy here at home in the united states. it is messy in many different places. but, i think that while you definitely see a back-and-forth, a give and take in this country, and then end of the day -- at the end of the day there is a strong bipartisan commitment to human rights and rule of law and even though we hear a lot of
in promoting democracy and rule of law and good governance and anticorruption work, i speak to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. many of them on both sides are very passionate about these values and this agenda. >> we had an interesting event yesterday. president xi jinping of china and president putin of russia had their own virtual summit, i do not know what we would call them. i will leave you if you have a name for their summits, i would like to hear it. but, what did you make of that? obviously, there seemed to be a response. what is their counter message as
president biden talked about the need to champion democracy? >> well, they referred to our summit as a so-called democracy summit. i think i can throw that back to their so-called summit. it is interesting. we heard a lot of noise from both russia and china about this marcus he summit -- democracy summit in a way that makes me think it caught their attention at a minimum if not got under their skin in various ways. their response was not to say, hey, we are authoritarian regimes and we are doing great. instead, they both said, we are democracies ourselves. so, there must be some value -- they must see some value in calling themselves democracies even though i do not believe they are. you know, the fact is, i think that getting a group of countries together to commit to their own democratic ideals and
turning in values, i think i is a very important step and it certainly caught the attention of russia and china, enough that they felt compelled to have their own event. >> certainly the fact that taiwan, not a nation independent, but a democracy, was invited, got china's attention. speak a little bit about the decision to do that and why they thought that was right. >> well, i think there is no doubt that taiwan is -- represents vibrant democracy. it has all of the elements that we are looking for in country's you -- to really be champions of a wide range of values on the democracy front. so, it was, i think, logical for taiwan to be there. it was not meant to be a
particular statement about anything other than democracy. >> there is no doubt about the democratic spirit among people living in taiwan. let me ask you a question many of our viewers would be curious about. does usaid do pro-democracy programming in china and russia? is part of your mandate? >> usaid has long supported democracy reformers who work, many of them, outside of russia. we used to have programming in russia and have our space -- have had our space for doing that constrained more and more. so, some of that support goes to very courageous and brave human rights and moxie reformers outside the country.
-- democracy reformers outside the country. i am sure that your subsequent speaker can speak more about that. but, we have come over the years, invested on a footing in certainly russia and to some extent, so today, in china. in china, the route -- of the work is, again, to the extent that, particularly, with some of the uighur activists, it has been outside of china. >> isabel, more broadly, what role do you see democracy promotion and human rights advocacy playing in usaid grantmaking around the world. let's leave russia and china out of that. how do you go about strengthening those forces? >> it has been a big priority for decades at usaid.
we recognize that economic development cannot fully take route if you do not have countries abiding by the rule of law and human rights. that is having a democratic ecosystem that will be much more sustainable over the long term for all of the economic develop at work -- development work we promote and moreover democracy elements, the freedom of the press and strong institutions and anticorruption measures and rule of law and quick governance. all of these things are values in and of themselves. u.s. id has invested around the world in helping civil society promote all of these elements in their own country. so, it has long been important and will continue to be important that we are wrapping up efforts in a couple of areas
to meet the president's call on this initiative to really restore and replenish democracy, globally. >> let me ask you a question, isabel, that i hear sometimes when i travel abroad. people say to me, sometimes, you americans put so much stress on elections. you must have elections, elections. but, you do not put as must stress on the rule -- as much stress on the rule of law. i think of iran, a country that has regular elections but is so corrupt. the average iraqi citizen is just enraged at the way governments -- governance works in that country. do you think we have the balance out of whack? we should put more focus on rule of law and less on whether we have had nominal balloting? >> that is a good question. i think that rule of law is absolutely critical and
anticorruption work, as the president has noted and elevated in this administration, is also incredibly important and, like the example of iraq, last year, more than half the people who participated in demonstrations around the world were out marching in the streets, taking personal risk to do so, on a platform of trying to combat corruption in a country that is really calling them out. there is commit his frustration around the world on corruption. that is why president biden issued the first presidential memorandum on anticorruption calling it a national security issue. because, i think, there is a clear recognition that anticorruption efforts are critical to promoting your -- promoting democracy in people's frustration about corruption is
-- and people's frustration about corruption is bubbling over around the world. we see it. so, providing people with tools to be able to combat corruption in their own countries is something that usaid has long done and we are stepping up efforts. one of the things i am very proud of here is that we are due -- here that we are doing that i think has tremendous potential is the antidefamation work, the antidefamation fund, that we have launched to help crusaders on the corruption front around the world, many of them, journalists exposing corruption, writing about it, and taking enormous personal risk to do so, the fund -- to do so. the fund began with the intent to find to help them fight back against defamation suits that come their way. even elites in their countries will undermine them but his credit -- elites in their
countries will undermine them, discredit them, take them to court and wrap them up in all sorts of suits they are not well-positioned to defend against. so, this fund is there to support and bolster their efforts because of the work they are doing to expose corruption is so important. >> well said. it is a welcome program. let me ask you about afghanistan, a country that america knows too well to also let -- too little. our troops have left afghanistan, obviously. from everything we read, that country is veering towards starvation and state collapse this winter. i would ask you, as one of the top officials of our usaid effort, what the united states can do to help sustain basic economic activity and life in
what promises to be an absolutely catastrophic winter for that country. -- country? >> thank you, david, for the question. that is something i have been spending a lot of time on here since i arrived. afghanistan is facing a tremendous humanitarian crisis. the u.s. government is fully recognizes that and is cognizant of that. we has -- we had usaid have contributed nearly $.5 billion are ready this year in humanitarian assistance and our food program has reached more than 5 million people in afghanistan with food assistance with ma the way. -- more on the way. the winter months are long and cold and the most fragile point for people in terms of food security. so, we are stepping up efforts there. so, there are numerous efforts underway to not just united states but this weekend there is
a conference in islamabad looking at the humanitarian situation in afghanistan. there are multilateral development they -- development banks. the world bank just released funds for afghanistan, some for unicef, for the world food program. so really trying to pull together to mitigate the very dire circumstances you just described. >> from what afghan friends tell me, part of the problem right now is that their natural system simply does not operate because of u.s. sanctions, primarily, the central bank is in operative. to put you on the spot, what would be your personal recommendation as you meet at
interagency gatherings? to make cash flow in that economy? isobel: just to say, the sanctions are only a part of it. there is a lot of capital flight from afghanistan because people are very nervous about the future of the country. there is a liquidity crisis. people, again, are nervous about what is to come and they are hoarding cash under the beds, under their mattresses, aunt, there is also ash and -- and, there is also a physical cash issue. the government does not print its own currency and it will break down. the amount of currency circulating in the economy. so there are a number of factors here. i do think that a more forward leaning posture by the u.s. is something that is going to be
necessary, i think, to help the afghan people, who we care deeply about, and finding ways to do that does not go through the government. it is under active discussion. david: thank you for that direct answer. we will be watching over the next week, and hopefully, there is action taken by the treasury. let me ask about a neighboring country that was invited to the summit for democracy. that is pakistan. the state department has called out pakistan for its history, sadly, of what is called in legal terms extrajudicial killings among other human rights violations in that country. were you comfortable with the invitation of pakistan? what should the u.s. due to --do -- do to help this ally?
isobel: david, i you probably know that the invitation list for summit like this is as much art as science and there are a noble or -- there are a number of different factors that go in to it. we did try to rely on independent indices of democracy, rule of law, governance, and various factors in making the selection of countries to invite. but at the end of the day, there were other factors that went into it too including whether an invitation to one country might bolster their democratic reformers. whether it invitation would perhaps elicit some countries' commitment to step up and participate actively in this call to action over the coming year.
to realize some of the initiatives that are discussed at the summit and commitments made. pakistan was invited and declined to come. i think that says as much of what pakistan wanted to say about its own decision on where it stands on the democracy front. david tello -- david: president biden at the summit said among other things, we have to prove democracy works. it was old-fashioned. why can't the united states live with countries where they are question -- where they are? is there too much more lysing sometimes in our foreign policy? this is a debate that goes -- more lysing -- moralizing in our
foreign policy? what would be your response to people who say we should back off and start -- stop preaching to people and get along with countries where we are? isobel: there has always been moralism in our foreign policy. but when countries are more democratic, they are better off in so many ways. democracies are more stable over the long-term. they -- people have higher health and education outcomes, generally. this idea of making democracy deliver for people is critically important, but also, acknowledge and do deliver for people. there are a number of studies that look at the long term. democracies do better economically in delivering for
people. on a whole variety of fronts. not just on the economic front, but, on health and education and all of these related factors and that democracy in of itself is a value people value. freedom, freedom of association come and rule of law and protection of human rights. it is not simply more lysing. -- moralizing. it is as president biden said one of the great challenges of our time, to a knowledge that democracy is a -- to acknowledge that democracy is a good in of itself. it does deliver to people and it needs to be nurtured. we cannot just take it for granted. we have experience of democratic backsliding. 75% of the world population this year lives in places where democracy has declined. there are also studies that show that it is a slippery slope.
authoritarian leads to autocracy and we do not want the world to slide down that path. we want people to recognize the value of it and stand up and fight for it in their own countries, including in our country. david: good answer. i want to ask one last question. we have only one minute left. there are a growing number of reasons people are living under less democratic conditions than before. i just want ask you briefly, what is going on? why are we seeing this reversal in our time? can you identify a fundamental reason for that? >> reversal has been going on for a long time. but, i think it has been sped up in some respects i technology. -- by technology.
you know, when the internet came on the scene, we hold -- we all thought it would be this great tool for civil society, democracy, and the good guys. but the bad guys figured out how to use the internet and the tools of social media today to spread disinformation and to be very divisive. i think that is taking an enormous toll. part of this democracy renewal initiative is to focus on technology and on advancing technologies that can actually help democracies move forward in a positive way and realized the challenge head on. because it is a very significant challenge. david: again, well said. i want to thank isobel coleman the deputy director for usaid for joining us for a fascinating new -- discussion. we will be back in a few minutes with my next guest, former
ambassador to russia mike depaul and former director at the department of homeland security chris krebs. stay with us. welcome back. for those just joining i am david ignatius, columnist for the washington post. -- foreign affairs columnist for the washington post. our next guest about threats to democracy at home and abroad is the former ambassador to russia mike -- michael mcfall and the former director of cybersecurity infrastructure at the apartment homeland security, chris krebs. michael and chris, welcome. >> thank you for having us. >> good to see you. david: chris, let me lead with you.
you got sacked in the last months of the trump administration for pride to protect our elections. i want to ask you how you would gauge elections at home and abroad, particularly in your area of spencer lesage and -- specialization. what would be your report card as of now? chris: i think i am best situated to talk about the to -- domestic election landscape. the unfortunate reality is we probably are backsliding from an elections administration perspective. it is not to -- not due to the 2020 election, it is because of political interference at the state level in federal elections. in arizona. look at georgia. look at other states that were pivotal in the decision of the 2020 election last year.
you are seeing political operatives, hacks, that have no election experience been the knee to the former president and are looking to take over secretary of state roles. jody has in georgia. i have serious concerns that if they are in the secretary of state role certifying elections in 2022 and 2024, we may not have the brad ratzenberger's and katie hobbs that actually upheld their constitutional duties the next time around. in fact, we may have a different outcome with political interference at the state level. david: chris, avery follow-up. democrats -- a brief follow-up. democrats in congress argue the situation is so serious in terms of election integrity and outcomes that we need new legislation to protect our elections. do you think that they are right? chris: don't just listen to
democrats in congress, listen to ginsberg, a republican election law your who wrote a review in the national -- who wrote in the national review that we need to clarify the role of the vice president and clarify who the state executive is, whether secretary of state or the governors in certifying state elections and what it means when you have contesting a states result and perhaps raising the threshold behind -- beyond just one congressperson that can object to a state electoral slate. i think we need clarity in elections because if anything operatives domestic and abroad have determined that there is ambiguity and they can sit in an unclear gray space and create havoc and undermine confidence in public institutions. david: so, you would support some sort of legislative attempt to clarify, including, ginsberg's proposal.
and i assume some other things might need to be addressed. chris: i think, yes. i would also throw into the bucket, requirements for independent state bodies that can renew redistricting maps. i think that will be one of the key pivotal areas that could be, once again, pointed to for infilling -- influencing future elections for the next 10 years. david: michael, and as we turn to you. we just had -- let me turn to you. we just had president biden's summit for democracy. i am interested in your summit -- assessment of what that achieved and what it did not. yesterday's response from president xi jinping and resin -- russian president vladimir putin was their own virtual counter summit that i am tempted to call the dictators club.
what do you make of their response? give us your assessment of the summit president biden hosted. michael: first, isaac it was a great idea that he had the summit -- i think it was a great idea that he had the summit. some said it was inappropriate. i disagree. it brought attention to it. david, you and i are talking about it now. we would not have been talking about democracy without that summit. so, that might be a small bar to get over, but that was important. second, i do think that the administration did a pledge to do some new things on a variety of issues, supporting independent media, fighting corruption, and, usaid in particular, isabel and samantha power put together an impressive package, modest in my view in terms of numbers, but they are obviously trying to push and to renew our -- and do something to renew our commitment to
democracy abroad. what i thought was underdeveloped was what you talked about with chris. the most important thing we can do to advance democracy abroad is to advance democracy at home. if you are worried about china's growing power in the world and the new cold war 2.0, as many people in washington are and many people in sanford and hoover are, the most important thing we can do is what you and chris were talking about. that is way more important than a $5 million program to support investigative journalism. i would like to see more of that, pledging would we are going to do to be the bigger conversation. but, it is better than not having it and now we have a year of action and i think that is appropriate. i hope there will be a year of action. there has already been some reaction like you said. i called the illiberal international. that is my term. remember communist of the world unite?
this is a liberals -- illiberals of the world unite. there has been more coordination between the autocrats of the world. mr. putin is running a very sophisticated game plan for decades now. it started in 2004 where he is putting massive resources into propaganda, media, cyber, as criswell knows, -- as chris well knows, to undermine democracy and support is ideology. i'm using that word purposefully because i think there are too many people in the world and washington who do not look at the ideological content of what mr. putin is doing. it is an ideological struggle. he has a set of views, conservative, illiberal, orthodoxy, anti-multilateralism. he has been very consistent on it. i have followed him for years and sat in the room where he
explained it to people like then vice president and president obama. he has had successes. there are major movements in most of the european democratic world that lean towards vladimir putin instead of liberal democracies and president biden. yesterday, xi jinping has been more cheerful. he has a different ideology, and antidemocratic ideology. it is a more successful system than the russian system has to offer now. but, they are united in their response to the liberal democratic world and yesterday was a deep powerful response to say, yes, we understand that this is an ideological competition and we are ideologically aligned in this competition. david: a brief follow-up, michael. do you think we are making them nervous by stressing democracy?
michael: they would be nervous whether you stress it or not. that is a great question. i am writing a book now about lessons from the cold war for how to deal with china and russia. i think there is a really important lesson. david, you and i could sit here at stanford in the faculty lounge and say, it would be better if we were just more realpolitik about what we will do abroad and not talk about democracy and just forget about it. i want to be clear that we need to manage this ideological contest and -- in ways we did not manage it in the cold war that led to travesty. many of the lessons of the cold war are not to be repeated, in my view. even if we said that, it is not matter for two reasons. one, the very existence of our system of democracy threatens the legitimacy of xi jinping and vladimir putin and every other
autocrat in the world. so it does not matter what we say and do. it is what we practice that matters. what we do not -- when we do not practice democracy well, that strengthens their legitimacy. that is the key point between the best again international politics. conversely, and this is something i think we need to be honest about too, the very existence of an effective economic model, autocratic economic model, threatens the united states. when it is combined with power, as it is in it a case of china, that threatens the united states . and no amount of talking about not having ideology involved in u.s., china, -- u.s./china and u.s./russia relations will diminish that. the second point is whether it is a good or bad thing, i am a gnostic, i think it is a good thing myself. -- agnostic, i think it is a good thing myself.
even if president biden got up one night and said i want to be more like nixon, i don't want to talk about all of this ideology. i don't want talk about this. this summit on democracy, let's pull it down. what if he said that? as you know well, president biden is not the only foreign policy decision-maker in the u.s.. if he did that, if he said, we will no longer have morals, we will not have orbit of issues in american foreign policy, -- normative issues in american foreign policy, there are parts of our political system that which aaron -- challenge him. sarah cruz, senator rubio, the washington post would challenge him. our friend fred hiatt who easily passed away, the op-ed page of the washington post would challenge him. speaker pelosi would challenge him. human rights groups would challenge him.
religious groups would challenge him. you cannot, as rick kissinger once said famously, be metternich in the american political system because you do not have the same control over making policy. we are a democratic system. therefore, it is part of who we are. you said in an earlier interview that it goes all the way back to the founding of our republic. when we were faced with, do we support our allies, the french monarchy, or, those that are ideologically aligned with us during the french revolution, that is when that debate really started. it has been with us for 230 years and i did not think it will go away. david: thank you, michael. i look forward to the book and we will have you back to talk about it when it is on. chris, let -- when it is done. chris, let me ask you, you understand cybersecurity, what -- one of the paradoxes of our age is that this wonderful gift of the internet has turned out to help autocrats stabilize
their countries, suppress freedom, and it has produced greater disorder in democracies. it was supposed to work the other way around. i am just wondering, as you think about it, you see anyways to address that -- do you see anyways to address that gross imbalance? it empowers the bad guys and seems to harm the good guys. how do we deal with that? chris: when i about technology, it is inherently not good, not people, it is how people use it. this has always been the case in human history starting with common languages as you move through technology with radios, the mimeograph, tv, fax machines. and now, the internet. that is what is so remarkable. just as the velocity of information. if you think to the dichotomy
of human growth, but the flipside has a darker and a much more limited space for opportunity around it and continues in those cracks in russia and china and in their government systems. let them bloom here and let them show what the opportunities are. >> chris, click follow-up -- quick follow-up. you were responsible for cybersecurity during the trump administration. how do you think the biden administration is doing on that front? how are they doing? chris: they are brimming with
talent. it is remarkable the team they have been able to put together throughout the various departments, an agency -- i couldn't be more proud of the agency i had the honor to lead. jen easterly is doing a remarkable job there. and under incredibly trying circumstances. across the internet, there is a very a big otis and open source vulnerability that i.t. teams across the world are patching. and one of the interesting trade-offs that we have to make is there's other things going on in the world right now. i would look squarely at the russian soldiers are massing on the ukrainian border, those geopolitical tensions there, increased attention between china and taiwan -- if those escalate further, it will not
just be little green men in tanks rolling across the border, there will be digital operations that a company any first movement. so there is a significant amount of preparation that should be happening here in the u.s. and in allied countries, to support ukraine and some of the other areas of operation that may be affected. they are doing a fantastic job. the cards are stacked against them, but given that they are making progress. >> thank you for that. i want to note for the audience, you know, in our discussion of democracy, there has been bipartisanship, that these are things that democrats and the public and share a, perspective on. michael, i want to ask about the issue that the press raised. you could argue the most
immediate, visceral threat to democracy is 100,000 russian troops along the ukraine border that appear to be preparing for possible invasion. you konw vladimir -- know vladimir putin as well as any former ambassador. you have been tongue-lashed by him. is he bluffing? is he going to go over that line? is there a way -- to -- his demand for guarantees of russia's security without doing something they will regret for decades? michael: i do not know, david. and nobody else knows. that's the first thing i want to say. i met putin in 1991, so we go way back. i have written about him. the other thing i know is vladimir putin likes ambiguity and uncertainty.
he's very comfortable in this moment right now. whereas americans, we are not comfortable with and certainty -- uncertainty and ambiguity. that was a lesson i learned in working in the government. i was in president obama's administration. and we are engineers. if there is a problem, we want to fix it, get in there with the gusto and find a solution. vladimir putin is comfortable with ambiguity, about sovereignty, about wins, and very vividly, right before i left from moscow in 2014, actually the day putin invaded ukraine was the day i ended my tenure as ambassador. and in the run up to that, to my viewers and listeners, we were in a contest on whether the president of ukraine would sign up with the european economic union, their reagent economic union versus the european union, and in that initial
battle of the russians won, they give them more money. and i saw a official around that time and he said, here is your problem, you americans, he said number one committee -- we care more about ukraine then you do. two, you have short attention spans. so, we will be here forever. you will forget about us and time will move on. i think about that quote, because here we are now, we are not talking about them, we are not talking about crimea -- those are the parts we do not talk about, we talk about the new invasion, the new guarantees we have to make to putin.already because of that that is a major victory for vladimir putin, that he has pocketed those victories and nobody is talking about those interventions, those violations of sovereignty that happened before. and number two, he likes the
fact that he so far has done -- he's given nothing, he's indicated no concessions, and we are now talking about concessions. from his point of view, and the proposals at that will be talked about today and tomorrow, that is already the second victory. the third victory we have to avoid is things we will live to regret, as you said. i feel pretty good about where president biden is so far. i thought the meeting he had committed is always good to meet with adversaries, i agree with that. but it was also important the messaging that he said. otherwise, we actually do not know what they really said in the meeting, let's be clear about that. i wrote rate ups for president obama and they are not exactly every word of what happened in the meetings, we left things out, you would not be surprised. so in the russian read out,
quite different from the american read out, by the way, but the main message the president delivered is there will be real consequences of military intervention. and i think that was the appropriate thing to do then. the devil will be in the details now, if there will be continued negotiations. and to oversimplify, vladimir putin wants a yell to -- yalta 2.0. he wants to sit with joe biden, he does not want the brits there anymore, but he wants to sit with president biden and carve out a new sphere of influence for russia, green to the rules of the road for european security. that would be a mistake to agree to that, both in substance and form. in form, we should want a helsinki 2.0, where we talk about european security, i think that is appropriate and there have been erosions of institutions over the last several years, and some of that was on our side, i want to be clear.
the imf treaty recently, the trump administration they want away from it and that was a mistake, in my view. it's not good not to have that in place. so, i think that a big conversation about new european security issues, and maybe even new norms, probably treaties -- but a big conversation, but it has got to be with ukrainians in the room, not the ukrainians being the subject of the negotiations. and that i am not sure vladimir putin will agree to. david: a super helpful answer. that's as good a catch you can get on the big problems from two of the biggest -- two of the smartest people i know, ambassador michael mccaul and chris krebs. thank you so much for joining us. mike: thank you for having us. david: please check out all the