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U.S. Senator Craig Says Democracy Is Universal Value

U.S. Senator Larry Craig at RFE/RL (RFE/RL) PRAGUE -- A prominent U.S. policymaker said today during a visit to RFE/RL in Prague that Western-style democracy is suitable for all cultures, as it has its roots in the universal right to freedom. Senator Larry Craig (Republican, Idaho) also warned about the danger of “petro-nationalism” -- political pressure applied by oil- or gas-rich countries on those dependent on energy imports.

Craig is is a member of the Appropriations Committee, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and is the ranking member on the Veterans' Affairs Committee. He spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc.

RFE/RL: Senator Craig, some think that democracy is a Western idea which does not fit comfortably with other cultures. Do you agree with those who say democracy is a universal value, or with those who opine that it is only a western way of governance that cannot be applied everywhere?

Senator Larry Craig: I think human freedom is universal. Everyone wants to be free. For themselves, for their families, they want the future for their children to be one optimum opportunity. I think democracy and freedom and representative forms of government that allow free expressions are one and the same. I think any time a person's spirit is controlled by a government or by a policy that denies the right of free expression, the right to choose, to move around to pursue a job, an opportunity, a religion, is in itself limiting the human spirit. I think democracies have proven to be one of the greatest ways of promoting the freedom of the human spirit.

The Right To Free Expression

RFE/RL: Which is, in your opinion, the best means to successfully promote democracy in those parts of the world living under various forms of religious or ideological tyranny?

Craig: Freedom of expression. The right of the person to know and certainly to express their own points of view. Most totalitarian forms of government control. They put people in the situations and deny them the right to all free expression. Clearly one of the hallmarks of the freedom the citizens of the United States enjoy, for example, under a democratic form of government -- the first amendment to our Constitution -- is that right of free expression. A free press, a free radio, that has all the underpinnings of humans' ability to express themselves freely.

RFE/RL: What role do you see for soft diplomacy in advancing both America’s interests and its ideal of democracy? How would you envisage using public diplomacy to achieve the perfect balance between pragmatism and democratic ideals?

Craig: That's a very, very tough question. But again, soft diplomacy is that which promotes freedom of expression and the opportunity of one having certain rights to choose. I don't deny the need to be pragmatic and realistic about the environment in which one lives, but to suggest that you deny the right of free expression because it does not fit for the moment probably means you continue to extend a totalitarian regime -- authoritarian regimes that deny those basic principles that I think are given to us by the character of human spirit.

RFE/RL: So basically what you’re saying is that the showdown with authoritarian regimes shouldn’t be postponed indefinitely only because of pragmatic, momentary interests?

Craig: When you don't force a showdown you simply extend human misery, if that's part of the product of that kind of totalitarian regime.

Responding To Russia

RFE/RL: There is growing concern in the West about Russia’s backtracking on its path to democracy over the past several years under President Vladimir Putin. What do you think America could and should do in order to support democratic progress in Russia?

Craig: This interview is taking place in Central Europe, where the Russian presence exists in part because of their ability through their policies on energy to extend itself. It appears there is a good deal of re-entrenchment on the part of Russia as it relates to Putin and his policies, and the support of a greater level of authoritarian control over a free market, and all of that. And what do we do about it? First of all, we ought to be clearly aware of it, and then I think that as we promote a variety of policies through the EU in Western Europe, or NATO, for that matter, as it relates to military policy, we've got to recognize what Russia is doing and express it openly.

Part of the intimidation that occurs -- whether it was in Georgia or whether it is in other places -- Putin, I think, is less likely to succeed if he is constantly and openly talked about. So that the rest of the world and all the neighbors know. So that when one country is trying to deal with Russia as it relates to energy policy, its knowing of the circumstances it is dealing with would help them in their overall negotiations. Putin can't hide if what he does is openly exposed.

RFE/RL: Because of rising oil and gas prices and their dependence on Russian energy, America’s western allies appear to have less and less leverage on Moscow when it comes to influencing democratic development. Is the United States worried about the impact of energy needs on its European allies’ foreign policy toward Russia?

Craig: I think we're growing increasingly concerned about what I and others call petro-nationalism. If you have oil today you have power. Especially power over those nations you supply and the dependency those nations have, because oil or gas is energy and is directly tied to our economies today.

I just came from Turkey, where Iran has stopped the flow of gas coming into Turkey because, they argue, the cold winter that's going on in Iran is having substantial impact on Turkey. Reliable supplies, predictable supplies are key to economic growth and stability. And if you are the supplier and you know that and you can manipulate it and you're willing to manipulate it, then you can have substantial control over foreign policy.

We Americans are growing increasingly aware of that because it is more openly being talked about. The president of Turkey was in the United States visiting with our president most recently talking about additional pipelines coming out of the Caspian area and all of that, which would give greater flexibility to European users against a Russian-dominated supply.

RFE/RL: The United States is also dependent on oil imports, mainly from the Middle East, and has been increasingly competing for energy resources with the booming economies of rising Asian giants, such as India and China. Have we reached the critical point where Western democracies need to radically redefine their strategy toward energy independence in order to ensure both continued economic progress and international political leverage?

Craig: Western democracies, the United States in particular, are awakening to the reality that they are growing increasingly dependent on unstable sources of energy. We are now, as a country, importing over 60 percent of our hydrocarbons, and many of those are coming from unstable areas of the world or from sources that use them as a form and a tool of foreign policy.

I've spent a good deal of time in energy and I am constantly speaking more than ever before about the ability of our country to become increasingly energy-independent and how we get there. The National Energy Policy Act of 2005 is a good example and a step in that direction. Radical reform of our policies relates to the ability to build and bring online nuclear reactors. We've rapidly advanced alternative energy sources -- ethanol, for instance.

I myself am preparing a series of speeches which I will give on the floor of the Senate in the coming months that will be laying out a plan for energy independence in our country by the year 2030. It will take us at least that long to gain the kind of energy independence that allows us greater flexibility in certain areas of foreign policy. And our efforts often bring the technology that assists other countries in becoming more independent.