Fred Hiatt, Washington Post Editorial Page Editor,  delivered a keynote address at the conference “Civil Society Under Assault” on September 12 in Washington, DC. The conference was co-hosted by Freedom House and Human Rights First.  Below is an excerpt, focusing on the Arab Spring and diminished US global leadership:

 …[T]he Arab Spring did not live up to hopes. In Tunisia and Libya, things still hang in the balance. But in Egypt, neither Islamists nor liberals seemed prepared for the give and take of actual politics. Peaceful demonstrations in Syria spiraled down into terrible civil war. Other leaders intensified repression in an effort to ward off contagion. And it’s not just the Arab world that has some people wondering whether freedom and security can coexist, whether some places might be better off with the stability of autocracy. In Burma, Buddhist nationalists are staging pogroms against Muslims. Buddhists! For Westerners who agonized through the Saffron Revolution just a few years ago, it is disorienting.

To these I would add one more accident of leadership, one that might surprise you: I’m thinking of President Obama, who contrary to expectations is turning out not to be all that inclined toward democracy promotion.

I’m sure this is not how he or his administration think of themselves. It is not how they speak to the world. But the record by now is hard to dispute. President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq, passing up a chance to consolidate hard-won democratic gains. He is on track to withdraw from Afghanistan, and the goals he states for the United States in that country almost never include democracy or women’s rights, but only U.S. security and combating Al-Qaeda. The Obama administration let Iran’s Green Revolution pass with little support or encouragement. The attempted reset with Russia took attention away from that country’s sharp downward slide in rights and civil society freedom… Overall, the administration missed what may have been a once-in-a-generation opportunity to encourage openness and freedom in the Arab world….

The entire speech is worth reading. Indeed, Fred Hiatt is absolutely correct to say that  the U.S. has diminished its leadership in the world  in the last several years, and missed many opportunities to promote democracy in the Middle East. This is dangerous not only for the U.S., but  to everyone in the world who cherishes freedom, who aspires to build a democracy in their homeland.