Sunday, January 23, 2005

Iraq as Foreign Policy

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.

America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one….

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way. …

We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies….

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you…

The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side.

These are incredibly powerful words. They could be plucked directly from writings of American patriots of the 1770s. They are noble words, concepts that can be defended by nearly anyone who believes in the tenets of liberty and democracy.

These are the words of George Bush in his 2005 inaugural speech. In that context, they are potentially dangerous.

U.S. foreign policy has historically been a bifurcated model, driven by two goals: the spread of our democratic ideals to other nations, and the protection of American interests. Sometimes those elements conflict. We have supported totalitarian governments in order to protect our needs; the Shah of Iran was certainly no scion of democratic principles in the 1970s, but he sat on a huge pool of oil that we needed. We have also professed one goal in order to defend another: our entry into Vietnam was to ‘contain the spread of communism’ and protect the democratic rights of the Vietnamese people, when actually we were worried about Soviet expansion into a friendly economic sphere in the Indian Ocean. We used to thump our chest about keeping all foreign intruders out of our hemisphere (that old chestnut, the ‘Monroe Doctrine’), claiming that we wanted to spread our umbrella of democracy to all our neighbors. But it was certainly in our interests to keep more powerful European countries out of our trade routes.

Bush has declared that our highest priority is the spread of liberty and democracy. He used the prime directive of government as his reason: protection and security of the American people. Terrorism is a threat to our security. Democratic countries would not let terrorism thrive within their borders. Therefore, we must convert the world to democracy.

The President has now extended his rationale for the invasion of Iraq to his entire foreign policy portfolio. The Iraq rationale was misapplied, used as an excuse after all other reasons were proven wrong – the existence of WMD, the elimination of Iraq as a breeding ground for terrorism. We have paid a price for that misguided decision: 1300 Americans killed, thousands wounded, and billions of dollars spent. We are now committed to rebuilding Iraq, which will take a generation.

A President’s vision, and our national foreign policy, has been created out of the same poor strategic thinking.

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