Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Principled Export?

A year has passed since President Bush declared U.S. foreign policy would favor democracy promotion.
We have seen our vulnerability - and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny - prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder - violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
Today WaPo's Peter Baker assesses what progress has been made in that neoconservative Wilsonian venture.
Bush redefined U.S. foreign policy in his second inaugural address to make the spread of democracy the nation's primary mission, the clarion-call language has resonated in the dungeons and desolate corners of the world. But soaring rhetoric has often clashed with geopolitical reality and competing U.S. priorities.

While the administration has enjoyed notable success in promoting liberty in some places, it has applied the speech's principles inconsistently in others... Beyond its focus on Iraq, Washington has stepped up pressure on repressive regimes in countries such as Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe -- where the costs of a confrontation are minimal -- while still gingerly dealing with China, Pakistan, Russia and other countries with strategic and trade significance.
Intangibles such as freedom tend to cede in favor of the "national interest" when the two clash, but I have to say I was pretty damn supportive of the President's speech that cold January day, whereas my liberal friends gave guff and sulked. My fear was that it was only mere rhetoric, to be paraded out when convenient and retracted quietly when it was not. While this has been the case with larger, more strategic states such as China, Pakistan, and Russia -- where national interests trump idealistic concerns -- the Bush Administration has been more rigid with weaker, more obscure states in the hinterland of international consciousness. There, authoritarian elites must give pause before they irk the world's lone superpower as increased U.S. attention boisters the enthusiasm and heart of the democratic opposition. The U.S. should rachet up this pressure and demonstrate to the masses of these countries that we will support them if they stand up united against their oppressors. To do this, an ideological shift away from the sepulchral realism of Kissinger in DC must occur, which the Iraq debate between liberal interventionalists and realists and neoconservatives and isolationalists shows is happening.

So if Bush's presidency pushes U.S. foreign policy toward being a bulwark for freedom more so than a cynical guarantor of the status quo, then I will have to give this President my grudging respect. But this depends on whether Iraq falls to the new jackals or survives, stabilizes, and democratizes. The outcome will be the litmus test for a foreign policy of freedom. All those who love freedom therefore must wish the U.S. and the Iraqi people well, for this may be the experiment to end all experiments in democracy promotion abroad. Hopefully, the Bush Administration and the next president can recover from the ill-planning that has continually hurt the chances of a successful, democratic Iraq emerging in the Middle East.

We will see.

UPDATE: LD Worldwide has a more pessimistic take on Bush democracy promotion if you're interested.