- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Trump administration should do more to boost the struggling state of democracy in countries around the world, lawmakers from both parties said at a Capitol Hill hearing Thursday.

Several expressed alarm that promoting democracy and political liberties was no longer a U.S. priority, and House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ed Royce saying democracy was on the retreat in too many parts of the world.

“There is no doubt: democracy is on the ropes,” the California Republican said. The watchdog group Freedom House “reports that democracy has declined worldwide over the last decade. The question for us is: Do we care? And if so, what should we do about it?”

The hearing comes as the Trump administration is attempting a clear reorientation of American foreign policy, working with leaders such as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who were shunned under the Obama administration. Mr. Trump has taken a hard line of political restrictions in Iran and Venezuela while just completing a friendly summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a bid to end Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.

Democrats on the House panel slammed budget cuts proposed by the administration to foreign aid and democracy-promotion programs.

“The budgets the administration has sent us seek to slash investments in diplomacy and development by a third. So many of the efforts we’ve made across the world would be hobbled if Congress were to go along with these draconian budget cuts,” said New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Mr. Engel also criticized the State Department’s removal of the term “democracy” from its mission statement, a move made under former Secretary Rex W. Tillerson.

“It’s baffling that the administration has decided that democracy is no longer a foreign policy priority,” said Mr. Engel.

But Rep. Tom Garrett, Virginia Republican, defended the administration’s approach, saying that in cases like North Korea, sometimes other priorities should take precedence.

“I heard criticism of this administration as it related to the discourse that occurred in Singapore by virtue of the fact that there was a failure to mention human rights violations in North Korea,” said Mr. Garrett, “I’d ask you all: Is there anything we can do about human rights violations that have already occurred in North Korea?”

Mr. Garrett asked Carl Gershwin, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy who was testifying before the committee, if the likelihood of armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula was lower or higher than it was before Mr. Trump took office.

“It depends on how the negotiations go, but right this second I would say it is lower,” Mr. Gershwin said.

Rep. Bill Keating, Massachusetts Democrat, said some of the debate in the U.S. over press freedoms and democratic values was bleeding over into debate over the role of democracy promotion in foreign policy.

“We’re proponents of issues like freedom of the press and freedom of religion. But privately, we get thrown in our face, ‘Yeah, freedom of the press, but what about “fake news”?’” Mr. Keating said.

Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute, was hesitant to critique the foreign policy of the Trump administration.

“I will tell you that overseas, what people admire most about the United States is not a single individual, but rather the institutions of this country,” said Mr. Wollack.

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