- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Push democracy

“Rice calls for Mideast action” (Page 1, Tuesday) reports on a long-overdue correction to the U.S. policy of supporting autocratic and dictatorial rule for political and economicexpediencies throughout the world.

President Bush has made promotion of democracy a hallmark of his second term, but this was the first time a senior U.S. official delivered that message in the heart of the Middle East, especially to close U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with emphasis on free, fair and transparent elections, freedom to the people and women’s rights.

One country that needs genuine democracy more than others is militarily ruled Pakistan, which has been involved in huge nuclear proliferation and also is home to a large number of Islamic terrorist groups. These Islamic militants have links with al Qaeda and the Taliban and are supported by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. President Pervez Musharraf or any other military ruler only means one-man rule without institutional arrangements for transfer of power and lack of progress toward democracy and social development of its people.

One hopes the Bush administration would show complete wisdom and ask Gen. Musharraf to hold free, fair and transparent elections in 2007, which must be open to all political parties. This would stabilize Pakistan, improve the social development of its population, especially women, and reduce risks to international security and peace.



Training Iraqis

In the article “General hits ‘complacency’ on security” (Page 1, yesterday), Lt. Gen. John R. Vines identifies the general elections to be held in December as a marker for assessment of U.S. troop withdrawal.

The people of Iraq will not be prepared for legitimate elections — an act of self-realization on the pyramid of Abraham H. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — until their most basic physical needs are met. These needs can be met through the deployment of troops that are more highly trained, prepared and experienced in counterinsurgency and irregular warfare, such as those in the Special Forces.

Through integration with the people, Special Forces can train the population in self-defense, while Civil Affairs troops can perform public works projects and provide running water, electricity, hospitals and schools. Only then can the population be trained in local, and later national, governance. This will stabilize the population of Iraq and allow for legitimate elections to occur.

Ari Lynn Tonini

Senior research assistant

National Defense Council Foundation


Vietnam and human rights

Prime Minister Phan Van Khai is in town to woo American investors and to gain U.S. support for Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organization (“Vietnamese premier visits Oval Office,” Nation, Wednesday). His trip, the first state visit by a leader of postwar Vietnam, may signal the country’s strategic move away from China’s overwhelming influence.

Mr. Khai’s presence in the United States shows the power of commerce in healing the wounds of historical enemies. However, trade alone cannot be the basis of an enduring relationship between the two countries. The severe lack of human and religious rights in communist Vietnam clearly is a barrier to full and mutually beneficial relations with the United States.

Last year, the Department of State designated Vietnam as one of the top eight countries with the worst records of religious persecution. With Mr. Khai at the helm, Vietnam earned the designation of a “country of particular concern,” thanks to a series of religious crackdowns. Within the past two years, his government placed the entire leadership of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam under detention, forced Christian minorities in the North to recant their faith, subjected members of the Mennonite Church in the South to physical and psychiatric torture, closed down or destroyed more than 500 Christian churches and killed peaceful Montagnard protesters in the Central Highlands.

In order to forestall sanctions inherent in the “country of particular concern” designation, Mr. Khai signed an agreement with the United States that would guarantee freedom of religion for Vietnam’s 80 million citizens. As Mr. Khai and President Bush signed this “landmark” agreement, Vietnamese authorities continued their virulent assault on the independent churches, their leaders and followers.

The Rev. Than Van Truong of the Baptist Alliance Church remains detained at the Psychiatric Hospital in Bien Hoa. His government-assigned doctor determined that he must be insane for believing in God over communism and for practicing his faith despite the government’s ban. When he protested his incarceration, his doctor quadrupled the dosage of psychotic medications, causing serious mental harm.

On the same day Mr. Khai arrived on U.S. soil, his public security police in Saigon entered the home of the Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang to disband a prayer service being held by his wife and 15 other parishioners. Mr. Quang, head of the Mennonite Church of Vietnam and an outspoken human rights lawyer and advocate, is serving a three-year sentence for confronting the police as they harassed his followers.

At the same time in Dong Thap Province, the public security police surrounded the homes of all key Hoa Hao Buddhist leaders, preventing their participation in the anniversary celebration of the founding of their church.

More than 100 religious leaders continue to be in jail or under house arrest for their religious activity, and the Vietnamese government refuses to issue passports to those whom the United States seeks to bring out of Vietnam.

When asked by foreign journalists about these violations, Mr. Khai dismissed all charges of religious persecution or detention.

“During the thousands of years of history of Vietnam, there has been no religious conflict in the nation,” he replied to reporters in Seattle. This is not the answer of a leader who respects the convictions of his people or American public opinion. Instead, we are reminded of the old, Soviet-style mentality of denial as opposed to Mr. Khai’s self-described persona as a pro-modernizer.

The landmark agreement signed between the United States and Vietnam creates a unique opportunity and obligation for the Vietnamese government to repeal its repressive laws and protect the universal human and religious rights of all its citizens. To reciprocate the good faith Mr. Bush has lent him, Mr. Khai should implement a number of specific gestures of good will.

He should immediately set free all religious prisoners known to the U.S. government, including Mr. Truong, issue passports to all people that the United States offers to resettle and hold accountable all government officials who commit acts of religious persecution.

In doing so, Mr. Khai may lead his country out of the “country of particular concern” designation and remove a major barrier to even closer bilateral cooperation with the United States. More important, he will show that the United States can take him at his word, genuinely promoting Vietnam as a trusted and tolerant strategic partner.

As for Mr. Bush, linking trade and human rights will help secure his vision of the United States being a beacon of freedom and a good steward of our status as the world’s largest economy. Standing by his convictions for freedom and democracy in Vietnam is in the best interest of our two countries.

While achieving his geopolitical goals of nudging Vietnam out of China’s sphere of influence and bringing stability to the region, Mr. Bush can help usher in a sorely needed renaissance of democracy to the people of Vietnam.

Nguyen Dinh Thang

Executive director

Boat People SOS

Kathryn Cameron Porter

Founder and president

Leadership Council for Human Rights


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