What George Bush Means When He Talks About Promoting Freedom

Some people continue to misunderstand the meaning of George Bush’s inauguration speech. Here’s an excerpt from an article in the Times Online that typifies the sort of commentary I’ve been reading from the left in particular…

“PRESIDENT BUSH’S pledge to spread freedom to the darkest corners of the Earth has been greeted with scepticism at home and hostility abroad.

The day after he vowed to work towards ending tyranny, analysts questioned how his rhetoric meshed with the realities of US economic and military interests. In its pursuit of the War on Terror, the US depends economically, logistically or politically on at least six countries that could fall into the category of “oppressors”: Russia, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. “The US is closing its eyes towards dictators who serve its own interests, but attacks those that damage it,” Abdul Hussein Shaaban, an Iraqi analyst, said.”

…If he tries to live up to his words, the speech will radically change many of Washington’s relationships around the world. The US receives 20 per cent of its oil imports from Saudi Arabia, a critical strategic ally. Yet the State Department states that the kingdom is guilty of “prohibitions or severe restrictions on the freedoms of speech, press, peaceful assembly and association, and religion; denial of the right of citizens to change their government; systematic discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities; and suppression of workers’ rights”.

Egypt is second only to Israel in the amount of US aid it receives and a critical US ally in the Middle East peace process. But President Mubarak presides over limits on freedom of speech and retains a veto on which groups receive the $2 billion annual American aid.

The US renewed arms sales to Pakistan after President Musharraf joined the War on Terror. But General Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup, and the US has put him under only minimal pressure for reneging on a pledge to step down as head of the military.

“Uzbekistan is not a democracy and does not have a free press,” says the State Department. Yet Washington signed a declaration of “strategic partnership” with Uzbekistan after it allowed the US to pitch a military base on its soil ahead of the 2001 Afghanistan war.

Washington sees China as a major trading partner, and has been highly diplomatic towards Beijing, yet a State Department profile lists human rights abuses as “arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention, forced confessions, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners”.

Next month Mr Bush meets Mr Putin, who has been a US ally in the War on Terror; and Mr Bush has all but turned a blind eye to Russian atrocities in Chechnya. He has said that Mr Putin was a man he could do business with. That was before Mr Putin tried to influence the Ukrainian elections away from the pro-Western winner.”

Much to our chagrin, reality dictates that we must at times work with tyrannical regimes. We had to work with Stalin during WW2, we cooperated with numerous dictators during the Cold War, and today, during the war on terrorism, we have little choice other than to cooperate with various unsavory regimes if we’re going to accomplish anything.

As I’ve said before, were there a practical way to overthrow every totalitarian regime on the planet and replace them with Democracies, I would support it. However, as Bush understands, doing that would be far beyond the capabilities of even the world’s only super power. So instead, he’s confirming our commitment to freedom and democracy around the world.

That means you support Democracy when you can, by whatever methods are practical, whenever it looks like it may have a chance to bloom. Furthermore, it means that when Democracy and tyranny conflict, you support Democracy, even if in the short term, it doesn’t seem to be in your best interests.

In his first term, George Bush helped to bring Democracy to Afghanistan and Iraqis will be voting later this week. In the Ukraine, even though it meant butting heads with Russia and supporting a candidate who had pledged to pull Ukrainian troops out of Iraq, America supported the side that believed in Democracy, not the election rigging tyrant who was “on our side”. We’ve even seen elections in the Palestinian territories, although how fair they are is questionable, in part because George W. Bush insisted on it.

What does supporting freedom mean in George W. Bush’s 2nd term? Continuing to help Iraq and Afghanistan move towards Democracy. Perhaps supplying freedom loving groups in Iran with money and weapons, pushing Syria to move out of Lebanon, and who knows — maybe taking the opportunity of Castro’s death (cross your fingers) to help the Cubans become a free people. Even when we must cooperate with despots and thugs, there’s no reason we can’t use limited diplomatic and economic pressure to try to aid the forces of democracy in their nations.

In his first term, George Bush did more to promote Democracy in the world than Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, & Clinton combined. We can only hope that he will have as much success on that front in his second term as he did in his first…

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