American Hypocrisy: H.R. 128

by The Strathink Editorial Team

U.S. Congressman Mike Coffman, a Republican from Colorado, is calling on Congress to put House Resolution (H.R.) 128 to a vote following legislative postponement last month. What is H.R. 128? The resolution calls for the U.S. Department of State to review security assistance for Ethiopia unless certain conditions are met regarding the recent violence in Oromia and the response of the government. It is a companion resolution to S.R. 128.

This legislation is ill-conceived and misguided for a number of reasons: 1) it is not the responsibility of the U.S. Congress to micromanage Ethiopia’s internal affairs; 2) the resolution compromises U.S. security interests; and 3) in view of recent events, the U.S. has abandoned its global leadership role in democracy promotion, both by design and example.

Ethiopia’s Sovereignty and American Security Interests 

The Strathink Editorial Team would like to say up front that it condemns any violence—from civil society or the government. Protestors need to express themselves freely and without fear of violent reprisal. The government needs to provide civil society greater political space to express non-violent dissent and refrain from violence in controlling crowds. One life lost is one too many.

That said, it is not the job of the U.S. Congress to micromanage Ethiopia’s governance. The Ethiopian government is responsible for its actions. Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission is responsible for investigating human rights abuses and the Ethiopian parliament is responsible for acting upon those findings. Ethiopia’s civil society is responsible for holding the government accountable for its actions. We don’t see a role for the U.S. Congress.

We understand the reasons behind this resolution. It is a gesture by certain member of the Congress to appease the Ethiopian American opposition in their districts. Resolutions are

The Ethiopian American opposition, to their credit, has learned how the U.S. political system works. Groups exert pressure on U.S. legislators to represent their interests in the democratic process. The transactional goods are money and votes. The sponsors of this legislation have sizeable Ethiopian American communities and are responsive to their constituents.

Representative Coffman is up for re-election in 2018. Before gerrymandering re-configured his district to include large numbers of Latino immigrants, Representative Coffman took a hard line on immigration. Only two years ago he opposed the “Dream Act” that would make young adults who came to the U.S. with their families illegally on the path to citizenship. He opposed elections ballots written in any language other than English. For twenty-five years, Representative Coffman took a hard line on the American immigrant community. Today, however, Representative Coffman is up for re-election in the Denver, Colorado suburbs with a rising number of Latino immigrants as well as a large number of Ethiopian Americans.

Representative Coffman, in his singular quest to get re-elected, has not done his homework. If he had, he would understand that it was not in America’s best interests to compromise security interests in the volatile Horn of Africa. Eritrea is no friend of the U.S., foisting blame on Washington, D.C. for every ill the country experiences at the hands of President Isayas Afewerki and his cronies. Al-Shabaab continues to threaten Somalia’s future as well as to the overall peace and security in the Horn. South Sudan is an unmitigated disaster, no thanks to the support given to the U.S. to the thieves in power. That leaves Ethiopia, what the U.S. calls an “anchor of stability” in this rough neighborhood.

Representative Coffman needs to understand that Ethiopia will not be micromanaged by the U.S. Congress or the Ethiopian opposition in the diaspora. The U.S. Congress needs to clean its own house. The Ethiopian diaspora can go home and try to change the system through constitutional means.

The U.S. Has Lost Its Way in Democracy Promotion

Strathink has argued before that building and maintaining a democracy is not a linear process. In every democracy there is one step forward and two steps backward. The election of Donald Trump, in our opinion, is two steps backward for American democracy. President Trump is alarmingly authoritarian and has attacked the U.S. judiciary, legislative branch and the media.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the U.S. has served as a model of democratic pluralism worldwide. However, President Trump has made clear his abhorrence for “nation-building” and will focus on military solutions to global problems. By pulling out of international agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and threatening to withdraw from NATO, the U.S., under the current administration has diminished its role in global leadership.

At the same time, the U.S is undergoing a profound paradigm shift in its national identity. No longer are democratic institutions sacrosanct and immune from the authoritarian tendencies of the current president. The legislative progress is carried out in secrecy, keeping the minority party in the dark until proposed legislation is on the agenda for a vote. The Executive Branch has compromised the independence of the Justice Department and the courts are regularly excoriated as “a laughing stock.” Police departments around the country are shooting young African American men and asking questions later. The President has threatened the media with imprisonment and even his political rivals, such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The President’s spokesperson told a scrum of media that it was “inappropriate to question a general.”

America has lost its moral authority to promote democracy globally.

So let’s review. There is a House Resolution, co-sponsored by a number of Congressmen with large Ethiopian American populations in their districts. The resolution was put on the legislative agenda and then taken off. Congressman Coffman, a Republican from the Denver suburbs, has called upon the Congress to put that legislation back on the table because he is up for re-election. American democracy is experiencing a significant setback and, moreover, has nation building.

Representative Coffman, it is best to think twice about bending to the will of expatriate constituents conspiring to overthrow a government that is a partner to the U.S. in the very serious business of counterterrorism.

Ethiopia’s parliament will refrain from any attempts to micromanage American democracy. The U.S. Congress should exercise similar restraint.

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