Last fall, Joshua Marks, a program officer from the National Endowment for Democracy, met with a group of community activists in a classroom in Abeche, a city in eastern Chad. Many of the activists had received small grants, ranging from roughly $200 to $5,000, to help in their efforts to foster civil liberties, political rights, and transparency in government. Yet democracy was not what they wanted to talk about on that day. "The main concern at the meeting," Marks says, "was 'How are we going to feed ourselves?'"
The former National Guardsman's voice was low and raspy on the phone, and I could barely hear him. Still, I heard enough to be shocked: A gunner in his squad had been awarded a Bronze Star for his courage during a battle near Baghdad in 2005 and had later appeared on the cover of a national magazine. Yet the man was apparently no hero: He had shot and killed at least two wounded prisoners shortly after the battle. The other soldiers in the unit also knew about the murders but had remained silent because, as one soldier told me, if the story got out, "that would have put a stink on the squad."
The “reset” between Russia and the United States has not been going particularly well, especially since Russian officials have balked at agreeing to oppose harsher sanctions on Iran. Nevertheless, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- or START agreement -- between the United States and Russia has been touted as the one area where the two countries are getting along; officials on both sides have promised that they will meet the Dec. 5 deadline for a new version of the agreement, which expires on that date. The agreement is important because it helps reduce the nuclear arsenal on both sides and also allows for inspections of nuclear facilities in the U.S. and Russia.
Hillary Clinton and Obama adviser Michael McFaul may have made it seem as though the United States had become less interested in supporting democracy and human-rights advocates in Russia, but today United Nations experts made their views about these issues crystal clear and addressed the blatant abuses that have taken place in the country in recent years. During the meeting, U.N. experts “grilled” Russian officials on the murders of journalists and human-rights activists, according to Reuters, and one of the U.N. experts spoke about human-rights advocate and journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed three years ago.
Did Michael McFaul, President Barack Obama’s top adviser on Russia, tell the Kremlin on Monday that democracy in Russia was less important to the United States than before -- or was there simply a misunderstanding? Russian officials thought that was what he said, according to The Moscow Times, although later a U.S. Embassy spokesman said that the Russians had misinterpreted his remarks and that McFaul and other American officials still plan to bring up the issue of democracy and human rights on a regular basis with people at the Kremlin. Still, McFaul said that they would use a slightly different approach in the future.