Elections can be stolen. But as repeated recounts and rebuked lawsuits prove, that didn't happen in the U.S. this year.
Belarus is another matter. It's highly likely that an election was stolen in August by Alexander Lukashenko, who has cruelly ruled Belarus as president for 26 years. The widespread perception of theft in that vote should have galvanized the West. But the righteous protests in Belarus have been mostly drowned out by President Donald Trump's phony claims in America.
The situation is even more dire now that it's known that the thuggish government in Minsk is torturing detainees, a crime attested to by Belarusian exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. "Such crimes have only strengthened the conviction of the Belarusian people that Lukashenko has to go," Tikhanovskaya wrote in the Washington Post. Tragically, many have paid heavy prices for their convictions. Several have died at the hands of security services, who according to reporting from the Economist are color-coding detained protesters to signal the severity of torture they face.
These atrocities alone should inspire global support for the Belarusian people in their quest to jettison a despot, who's been supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sees the former Soviet republic as Russia's sphere of influence.
Yet the West need not wade into this kind of geopolitical construct to be constructive, Olga Oliker, program director for Europe and Central Asia at the International Crisis Group, told an editorial writer. Oliker said via e-mail that "overall, the protesters ... have, up to now, avoided framing their protests as a geostrategic contest. They are looking to get rid of Lukashenko, not to pick a side in someone else's fight."
The U.S. can heed this objective while still rallying allies to speak up about Lukashenko's abuse of power. To be sure, the West, including the U.S., has taken some steps, including expanded sanctions on some Belarusian officials. But Tikhanovskaya urges "more help from the United States, even in this complex transitional period." She specifically calls for Congress to pass the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act of 2020, designed to widen the sanctions net and support media options to evade state censorship. "Access to information is the strongest weapon in our possession," Tikhanovskaya wrote.
Information has been key to previous success in the region, Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, told an editorial writer. "We won the Cold War not just because we beat them economically and militarily, but because our ideas were better and they believed in our political system," Bremmer said. And yet, those ideas and the perception of our political system are now compromised from inside.
"How can the United States," Bremmer rhetorically asked, "possibly criticize other countries for their election practices when our own president is saying our election has been rigged and nothing is being done about it?"
This is why Trump should speak out about Belarus' election, not obsess over America's, which he lost. The man who won, President-elect Joe Biden, is sending his own strong signal by inviting Tikhanovskaya to meet with him at his inauguration in an unmistakable message that America intends to reprise its role in protecting and projecting democracy and human rights.