WASHINGTON—Democratic countries’ inability to deal with the fallout from the Syrian civil war, including the “unprecedented numbers” of refugees and rise of terrorist groups like the Islamic State, has contributed to a decade-long decline in global freedom, according to a report released on Wednesday by Freedom House.
Syria tops the list of least politically free countries and poses the “most complex challenge to peace and stability in years,” the report said.
In addition, the U.S. and the European Union– by failing to quickly help moderate opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and therefore indirectly contributing to the rise of terrorist organizations and the tide of Syrians fleeing those groups – are “not being perceived as the force of the future, the force of assurance,” said Freedom House Senior Vice President Arch Puddington, one of the report’s authors.
UN Ambassador Maria Leissner said she was “concerned to see fundamental democratic principles under threat in stable democracies.”
The annual report released by Freedom House, which researches political rights and civil liberties around the globe, highlighted a global decline in freedom scores. Since 2005, the number of “Not Free” countries has inched upward to 26 percent, while the number of countries with overall losses in their ratings overshadow those with overall gains.
The European handling of the refugee crisis, as countries such as Hungary have built barbed-wire border fences and Islamophobic hate crimes have spiked, also damages the European Union’s liberal reputation, the report said.
Although the United States does not face the same influx of refugees as the EU has, the report said that the overall global crisis has led to a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric in American immigration debates. The U.S. commitment to “fundamental democratic principles” within its borders also has declined thanks to the rise of economic inequality and the influence of wealthy individuals on elections and on Capitol Hill, according to the report.
However, it may not have been realistic to assume Europe and the U.S. would provide more aid, said Washington Post reporter Karoun Demirjian, who has written extensively on foreign policy and defense. The European Union has been dealing with problems with the euro and the government-debt crisis in Greece.
And in the U.S., polls show Americans were wary of any involvement in Syria. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll said that 61 percent of the population believed that there were “no good options” in how the U.S. could deal with the country.