Autocrats are on the rise and democracy faces multiple threats, Rep. Adam Schiff says in lecture

Rep. Adam Schiff, right, answered questions from Kal Raustiala, director of the Burkle Center for International Relations, at the Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture on the Conditions of Peace. (photos by Todd Cheney/UCLA)

Article by Stuart Wolpert, UCLA Newsroom

These are dangerous times, California Rep. Adam Schiff said Thursday afternoon on campus.

“The autocrats of the world are on the rise,” posing a serious challenge to liberal democracies, said the Democratic congressman, who represents Los Angeles County’s 28th District. Schiff delivered the Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture on the Conditions of Peace, sponsored by UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations.

As examples, he cited recent political changes in Europe, including Hungary and Poland, as well as Turkey and the Philippines — and said the threat to democracy from within is greater than the external threats. Schiff told the audience that the United States is led by a president who refers to the press as an “enemy of the people” and who does not respect his own Justice Department or the country’s system of checks and balances.

Schiff said the U.S. government is not doing what it needs to do to deter Russia from interfering in this November’s elections. “We’re too unprepared,” he said.

History will judge this Congress harshly for its complicity and its failure to live up to its oversight responsibility, Schiff said in the lecture at Korn Convocation Hall at UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Burkle Center audience for Adam Schiff lecture

The congressman also discussed Iran, saying that the country appears to be abiding by the international nuclear weapons pact and that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement was a “terrible mistake” that runs the risk of restarting Iran’s nuclear weapons program, isolating the United States from its allies and making a potential nuclear weapons treaty with North Korea more difficult. On North Korea, the congressman warned that that country might seek to get economic sanctions eased while saying it will give up its nuclear weapons but not actually doing so.

He said Russia wants to weaken the fabric of American democracy and that “viable opponents of the Kremlin end up in jail, dead or disqualified” from running in elections.

Schiff ended on an optimistic note, encouraging Americans to remain politically engaged.

Congressman Adam Schiff addresses audience at Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture on the Conditions of Peace, sponsored by UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations.

Schiff, the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also answered questions from Kal Raustiala, director of the Burkle Center and professor of law and the UCLA International Institute, and from members of the audience, including students.

The Bernard Brodie lecture series was established in 1980, and has brought to campus such dignitaries and statesmen as former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, former President Jimmy Carter, former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Admiral Michael Mullen, former chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In February, the Burkle Center’s annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture was delivered by Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” who spoke on the same theme: the erosion of liberal democracies by autocrats who attack the press, the courts, political opponents, and checks and balances on their power.

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