The US Declaration of Dependence
It is unusual to see a country as large and as lumbering as the US reverse itself. With so much momentum propelling it toward seeking ‘stability’ in its foreign relations, George Bush made a U-turn as nimble as any football player and is now heading for the goal of ‘freedom.’
During his Inaugural speech, setting the tone for his second term, President Bush shocked even the most seasoned observers by changing US policy. ‘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,’ he announced.
He didn’t say a policy or one policy: no, now supporting democracy is the policy, a radical change from decades, even centuries, of American accommodation of tyranny.
During his address, President Bush intertwined the logic of the realists and the idealists, merging Hobbs and Locke into one word: freedom. ‘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.’
Apparently, it was not hollow rhetoric when President Bush apologised to the world many months ago for America’s long support of dictators. Indeed, his close advisor and now Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, foreshadowed the President’s speech at her confirmation hearings: ‘In the Middle East,’ she said, ‘President Bush has broken with six decades of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the hope of purchasing stability at the price of liberty. The stakes could not be higher. As long as the broader Middle East remains a region of tyranny and despair and anger, it will produce extremists and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends.’
‘America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one,’ George Bush intoned from the windy platform. Careful to clarify this was ‘not primarily the task of arms,’ and that ‘Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen,’ Bush unveiled what he believes are the most powerful weapons of all in the War on Terror-freedom, liberty, democracy. America’s policy is now to ‘help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.’
And thus Zarqawi’s hopes for a precipitous US withdrawal from Iraq were dashed, and bin Laden’s dream of a global Taliban-like regime became yet more unrealistic. Without naming names, Bush issued a rebuke to the obstructionists of democratisation efforts, ‘Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom’s enemies.’
During the speech, in a nearby park the protesting class was chanting, ‘No justice-No peace. US out of the Middle East!’ Within minutes of the speech’s end, the chattering class of Bush’s domestic critics began their own narrative: Too much money! We need our despots! Not realistic! Over-reaching! Ending tyranny, impossible!
So ingrained is the acceptance of tyranny that many were stunned. Peggy Noonan, contributing editor to the Wall Street Journal, opined: ‘The inaugural address itself was startling. It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike. It carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonise Mars.’
All the world leaders who blustered so heartily against the Greater Middle East Initiative because it was named wrong, presented wrong, and just plain pushy must have blustered again upon hearing, ‘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.’
Experience with this president has shown his words are not to be taken lightly. So these words are of import: ‘We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed.’
Yikees! Free dissent?! But, but, but jails were made for journalists! Participation?! Surely Bush doesn’t mean that presidents should be elected more frequently than every thirty years! What about economic reforms, human rights conferences, and magnanimously accommodating NGO’s and their literacy programs— are all of these not good enough anymore?
The metric was clarified earlier at Ms. Rice’s hearing. ‘If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square,’ she said, ‘and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, and physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society.’ The fate of those in the ‘town square,’ President Bush believes, has a direct impact on the security of the Americans he is sworn to protect.
This American president cannot single-handedly free the world’s people, but his earlier statement that ‘You are either with us or against us,’ now has a corollary: ‘We will stand with you.’ It is America’s declaration of dependence on the liberty of all, and it may be a declaration as profound as its earlier founding documents.
The writer is an American political analyst and a regular columnist in the Gulf, Middle East, South Asia