Saturday, January 22, 2005

DAVID BROOKS on Bush's inaugural address last Thursday:
With that speech, President Bush's foreign policy doctrine transcended the war on terror. He laid down a standard against which everything he and his successors do will be judged.

When he goes to China, he will not be able to ignore the political prisoners there, because he called them the future leaders of their free nation. When he meets with dictators around the world, as in this flawed world he must, he will not be able to have warm relations with them, because he said no relations with tyrants can be successful.

His words will be thrown back at him and at future presidents. American diplomats have been sent a strong message. Political reform will always be on the table. Liberation and democratization will be the ghost present at every international meeting. Vladimir Putin will never again be the possessor of that fine soul; he will be the menace to democracy and rule of law.

Because of that speech, it will be harder for the U.S. government to do what we did to Latin Americans for so many decades - support strongmen to rule over them because they happened to be our strongmen. It will be harder to frustrate the dreams of a captive people, the way in the early 1990's we tried to frustrate the independence dreams of Ukraine.

It will be harder for future diplomats to sit on couches flattering dictators, the way we used to flatter Hafez al-Assad of Syria decade after decade. From now on, the borders established by any peace process will be less important than the character of the regimes in that process.

The speech does not command us to go off on a global crusade, instantaneously pushing democracy on one and all. The president vowed merely to "encourage reform." He insisted that people must choose freedom for themselves. The pace of progress will vary from nation to nation.

The speech does not mean that Bush will always live up to his standard. But the bias in American foreign policy will shift away from stability and toward reform. It will be harder to cozy up to Arab dictators because they can supposedly help us in the war on terror. It will be clearer that those dictators are not the antidotes to terror; they're the disease.
And Cori Dauber wisely comments:
After this speech no doubt every time that happens there will be those who will argue that that very fact will mean that the administration is violating its own standards.

But a certain amount of realism is inevitable and unavoidable. As Peggy Noonan said, this ain't heaven, and you need leverage to move the ball along.

The question is what you do with your leverage, and how you behave in those meetings, and what you get for your foreign aid.

Better to meet with those leaders, get assistance in the War on Terror, scold, if mildly, at least not praise, and get some dissidents out of prison, get some wiggle room for newspaper editors, and columnists, for political parties.

Better that, after all, than the way Jimmy Carter talked the talk about human rights and then embraced the dictator Ceausescu as a fellow human rights advocate.

But in any event, there's no question that there are real implications of this speech. Brooks is right about that.

Just consider the difference in underlying assumptions between this speech, which says that we care what happens inside a country's borders, and are right to care and have a right to care, and the assumptions underlying the United Nations, formed in the aftermath of the horror of World War II, which was triggered when internationally recognized borders were violated. For the UN, it's national sovereignty above all else, and if sovereignty is protected, well, all good.

And what you do behind your borders is pretty much your business.

It's like a 1950s attitude towards wife beating, isn't it?

Hey, whatever happens behind closed doors . . .

If you want an analogy for Thursday's speech, the president just announced that we may not always be able to charge into the world's bedrooms, but we will no longer turn a blind eye to domestic abuse.